The fearful dog: The obstacles are worth the pay off
I have been rescuing dogs for nearly ten years. In this time I have primarily rescued timid dogs. In many cases these dogs histories are unknown, but one thing is clear, it has left them with some serious anxiety about very common place situations and objects.
One thing I can say is if you lack patience or the ability to leave behind what your “expectations” of what a dog should be able to do without issue, these fearful orphans may not be for you. The hardest thing for many is bringing a new dog home and realizing that the dog has minimal interest in them, and lacks a desire for closeness. Don’t worry this is normal and your dog with trust exercises and positive experiences will become over time an amazing companion. Your new dog may be afraid to go out to use the bathroom in the dark, it may be terrified to walk past a tree or a mailbox, and can sometimes seem to not settle as if they are waiting for the sky to fall. The thing is, these fears likely have been developed through a series of situations that the dog has survived and left very unpleasant emotions leaving them traumatized. They don’t know that you and their new life is any different from what they experienced prior. I can’t impress upon you enough to make all situations as positive and as fun as possible, do NOT push these dogs beyond their threshold as you can prevent any progress. Your new dog afraid of the leash? Hold the leash talk to it in a happy kind way act like it’s a bag of hundred dollar bills when the dog approaches to investigate give them a treat reward the fact that they even made the attempt to check out the perceived threat. That goes for everything. Reward any behavior you want/desire and ignore any you don’t (unless it can harm the animal or others), punishment serves you no good and will likely make the dog nervous of you.That pesky mailbox at the end of the driveway, you greet it like it’s your long lost best friend. Your excitement is contagious! If you ever find yourself becoming frustrated or angry, please discontinue the activity. Your dog feels everything you do and those things can turn a brief positive training session or walk into your dog’s worst nightmare.
As you and your new friend grow closer and conquer the small things, don’t get cocky! You’re dog has been doing great so you take it to a cookout with thirty people this may set you back ten steps. These dogs revert back to their previous behavior quickly, and any undoing puts you right back to square one many times. Start small, visit a friend or relative with only one or two people present, tell them not to acknowledge your dog, allow your dog to acclimate to them, after a short time your pet may settle and without warning 50 minutes later it’s up frantic in a chicken little moment “the sky is falling”. That’s your cue to leave, this is threshold. It isn’t rude to say thank you for having us, but we need to head home now. Leaving is the reward when your dog is anxious about something. You following your pets lead will help you become a team.
These exercises/daily life are all great opportunities to gain the dogs trust. It can take months or sometimes even a year to really develop a healthy trusting relationship with an animal like this. The payoff is priceless. My best friend and companion is a six and half year old hound mix. She was neglected, abused, and left on the side of the road. The day I almost ran her over, then rescued her changed my life. She is my most reliable, faithful, watchful, and loving dog. I cannot imagine a day without her. It took her six months to eat out of a dish, to not run from me if I was slightly too loud even if it was out of happiness. It took over a month to teach her not to door dart and run away from me. Every time she came back to me I fell to the ground with joy and told her how perfect she is, never once did I punish any of these behaviors. I have gone on walks that lasted 30 seconds because she couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that I thought we could walk calmly past a garbage can or a rain grate. I have been aggravated, angry, and frustrated. I am glad I learned to not direct that at her, but to put those feelings where they belong, with the person who wronged her. If you can gain the love and trust of a timid dog, you have essentially won the lottery.