Luna at 5wks-fearful then?

Learning to live with a fearful dog ain’t easy. Not only because of the dog, but often because of other people’s ideas of how to “deal” with them. As you may know from reading previous posts, my 9-year-old dog Luna is considered fearful. She doesn’t like trying new things. She is uncomfortable being touched, unless she solicits it, and then only in specific parts of her body. She’s never licked me on the face, and rarely allows herself to lie next to me. If I change my position, she’s gone. She bows her head when people reach for her.  She has phobias that vary from day to day, or they’ll last for months. If she’s not around my other dog Frisbee in a strange place, she barks barks barks barks whines–or hides.

She’s Abused, Isn’t She?

Luna has had labels bestowed upon her. The one I hear most is: “Oh, she’s been abused, poor thing,” when they come near her, because she lowers her head in a nervous way, then looks away, licking her lips.

Luna next to her bro Dash

Well no, she wasn’t abused. She was born from a Border Collie mom who was left when she was a month or two pregnant at the doorstep of the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue founder Nickie Vaneck. Luna was the runt of the 5-pup litter, born with a broken tail, wouldn’t eat, even though her mother tried to feed her. Nickie nursed her to health, brought her everywhere with her, even took her to her son’s grade school classes. Luna played with her littermates. Then I adopted her. That’s when this tale began…

Flooding with Scary Things

But right away, I did all the wrong things–a trainer told me to “socialize” her and take her to a pet store the first full day she was home. I cluelessly followed the trainer’s instructions, put Luna in a shopping cart. Store customers crowded around the cart, reaching out to pet her. Puppies are cute, right? Luna bit a hand (luckily, just a puppy bite). I then put her on the floor. She scrambled under a set of shelving units, peeing all the way. Hey, how come she shivered and cowered whenever I tried to put her in the car again? My fault. Did she get more scared around me? You bet. I set her up. How could she trust me if I put her in scary situations? Snapping helps keep people away, so that’s what she did for awhile, until *I* changed.

Luna in one of her happy moments!

Why Can’t She Just Get Along?

Luna was definitely shy upon meeting me during her adoption, but I just thought… well, it doesn’t matter what I thought–but I wanted my new pup to be just like “regular” dogs, with confidence, flair, and fun. A dog that would “fit into” every situation. After all, I had, Frisbee, Mr. Dog-Aggressive  (and I found out, fearful in some ways), and I didn’t want another challenging situation… I wanted to mold Luna into the dog *I* wanted her to be. But I didn’t keep her safe the first day home, or many subsequent days, partly because of my ignorance and poor judgment in listening to trainers then told me “don’t coddle her if she’s afraid; it will make her think the frightened behavior will be rewarded.” Hmmm. Wow, she really wanted reassurance. Why wasn’t I supposed to give it to her? I put a lot of pressure on her to fit in.

And the phobias! Sometimes it’s the kitchen floor. Sometimes it’s coming in the dog door. You name it, she’s probably had it, and continues to find new things to worry about. She won’t be coaxed into doing something when she’s nervous. Would you?

Recognizing How To Free Fear

Over the years, I’ve learned much more positive and successful ways to help Luna–from recognizing triggers to helping her solve problems. She’s come a long way despite her tentative beginnings with me. I’m her biggest advocate now! I’ve actually become adept at training folks who have fearful animals, from my own experience working with rescue dogs and by learning from the best trainers around (not those I first approached!) in certification seminars and through soaking up all the books available.

Read this book!

Help Is Here!

However, my all-time favorite book on the topic is new from Debbie Jacobs, who wrote A Guide to Living With & Training A Fearful Dog. I was so thrilled to get it that I sat down and read it in one fell swoop! And guess what! Luna plopped down next to me and put her head in my lap as I was dog-earing pages! Was that a sign, or what?

Debbie’s book dispels all the old myths (reassuring your dog is okay!), and outlines creative ways for owners to help their fearful dogs cope and begin to love life in an easy-to-read-and-understand style. She is careful to say that there is no cookie-cutter approach to rehabbing a fearful dogs; each one is different–requiring keen observation before determining a modification program. She covers the triggers and thresholds of fearful dogs, how to recognize them, and what to do about them. “You can’t force a dog not to be afraid of something.” That’s so true…

Listen to The Bark Out Loud Podcast!

Want more? Join us on Bark Out Loud Monday, March 7! Here’s the podcast of Debbie’s frank and honest discussion about fearful dog behavior, then she’ll be available for a chat in our Dog Den at 9pm EST! I’ll be there, hoping to gain more nuggets in helping Luna on her continued journey to a calmer life. Won’t you join me?


9 Responses to “Freeing The Fear In Fearful Dogs”

  • Aly:

    This book sounds great! Different methods always work for different dogs.. I’ve found Clementine needed some reassurance, she needed to trust me that thing’s were going to be ok. Once we established that, it was much easier to get her over things and I didn’t have to coddle.

    After doing more and more research, I’m learning that what I used to brush off as just bad behavior with TeeVee, is actually high anxiety in stimulating environments. We’re looking forward to taking a class soon on how to deal with the anxiety in a positive and relaxing way.

    I love all those pictures of Luna, she looks like such a sweetie!!!

    • Thanks, Aly–the book IS really wonderful. As you say, not all dogs who are fearful show it in the same way. The book does cover trust as reassuring, too. Fascinating behavior stuff, isn’t it? And we’re always learning… Are you going to take TeeVee to a Control Unleashed class? Those exercises are so helpful, I think.

  • Debbie:

    Wow, what a journey you’ve had with Luna. She’s lucky she found a human willing to learn from her. I wouldn’t be surprised if you both needed to go through all the versions of training to get where you are today. I can’t wait to meet her!

    • Thanks, Debbie M! I’ve learned so much from both of my dogs and their issues–that’s one reason why I became a trainer: to help others learn what their dogs are telling them, and teach people to become their dog’s advocate.

  • Great review. I enjoyed Debbie’s book as well. So much great information. I hope I can make the chat on Monday.


    • I hope you can come to our chat, too, Deborah! I listened to a preview of the podcast, and it’s really a treasure trove of information!

  • I need to get a copy. I have not read it yet, but I do adore Debbie and look forward to seeing all her ideas in detail, in one place. I’ll try to make it Monday night.

  • […] popular Ebook is now also available in hard copy. Our own chat moderator, Hilary Lane, offers a review of Debbie Jacob’s book in her Fang Shui Canines Blog, as does Deborah Flick of Boulder Dog […]

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