It’s A Dance

Sunny is one of those fearful dogs that will likely never be totally comfortable with people. He spent the first year of his life in the company of dogs, not people. The mental and emotional development that occurs during that time of life for dogs is important for their ability to interact socially with whatever animals and humans they will deal with in the future. The damage from the lack of early socialization is often not repairable. But even all that said, Sunny continues to learn skills that make it easier for him to be around people.

Knowing when to ask Sunny to deal with more than he has in the past, or to let him find a safe and comfortable place to hang out away from people, remains a challenge but I like to believe that over the years Sunny has learned to trust my choices for him. Rather than digging in his heels and resisting, he follows my lead and I try not to step on his toes.

I was away during the New Year and 4 people stayed at our house caring for our dogs. Two of the people Sunny was familiar with, two he was not. By all their accounts, Sunny did great. He was able to go outside when offered the chance and come back in when called. He was his frisbee stealing self when games were played in the yard and though he wasn’t snuggling on the couch or snoozing in bed with people as the other dogs were, he was not aggressive, the biggest behavioral risk owners of fearful dogs need to be on guard for. But both Sunny and his caregivers knew the routines, averted glances, no petting, some hand targeting, so there was no need for Sunny to completely avoid all the action.

The dance is different for each dog. It takes practice and patience to learn the steps myself, but the results are fantastic to behold. I am honored and complimented when any dog chooses to join me when the band starts playing. Right now my dance card is full, and I’m loving the music.

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7 comments so far

  1. Pat Steer (Gaelen) on

    There’s a certain magic in watching a ‘project’ dog from a distance, and recognizing progress. There’s magic in hearing good-behavior reports from caretakers who see him with different eyes.
    Every dog presents his own challenges, but I know that ‘project’ dog feeling well, and I treasure the magic moments, too.
    Here’s to strong moments for you and Sunny in 2010.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks. Got me a bit teary eyed with that one Pat.

  2. Lizzie on

    Me too Debbie, you have a wonderful way with words.

    It would be good for me to spend some time away from Gracie, but as it is that time will not be any time soon. She is barely comfortable around my husband so I could not even think about leaving her with any one else.

    Still I’m not complaining about her progress, as you say each dog has it’s own dance, lovely way to describe it BTW, and Gracie will make it in the end, albeit little steps 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      I would also say that Sunny is not totally comfortable with anyone but me, but given the fact that I used to spend a fair bit of time traveling, I didn’t have much choice. I found people who I trusted would follow my instructions, left them numerous cans of squeeze cheese, and in this case, Sunny just had to ‘deal with it’.

      I think that when given a foundation of how to predict the behavior of humans, i.e., they are not going to pet me, they are not going to grab me, they are going to give me cheese, they are going to throw balls, Sunny was able to handle having other people fulfill his needs. I suspect that if my husband was able to be Sunny’s primary caregiver, Sunny would ultimately forgive him for being a man 😉

      Having the opportunity to practice being with other people, so long as he has the ability to escape from them if he feels overwhelmed, has been good for Sunny. I know he doesn’t have as much fun when I’m gone (or so I like to think perhaps), and he can’t enjoy a good scratch from a stranger, but he learns from the experience. This weekend Sunny was able to walk through a room full of people, off leash, to get to me and the door we were going to out of for our walk. He was obviously nervous, but he did it.

      Sunny displays more acts of courage and bravery on a daily basis than I may in my entire life.

  3. Lizzie on

    WOW another tear jerker.

    Sunny has for sure come along way, and although he has a very good teacher, ultimately he has to find the courage to progress for himself.

    I continue to look to the pair of you for inspiration.

    Thanks Debbie.

  4. Laurie on

    I sometimes wonder if a dog’s disinterest in other people is just that or fear-related. I’ve met many confident dogs that are just not into people besides their owner. I’ve noticed that especially with border collies.

    If you’re not going to play ball or frisbee with me, just move on, will you? lol

    However, once we get to know our dog’s body language, it becomes pretty easy to read their cues.

    It took a long time for Chewy to be comfortable around my adult son. She wouldn’t even let him put her outside. When he expressed frustration after months of this, I finally suggested he spend some one on one time with her on a consistent basis. Just being around doesn’t get you there with her.

    Fetch was a great ice-breaker. I had to go outside with them the first several times, but once he started throwing the ball and engaging her in play on a semi-regular basis (without me around), she has really warmed up to him. I also asked people to throw the ball for her a few times at the dog park in the earlier days.

    It’s hard to give up the reins when I’ve got such an emotional and time investment, but it has done wonders for her confidence and trust of others.

    • fearfuldogs on

      That’s a very good point. There are plenty of not fearful dogs out there that prefer not to be handled or interact with strangers. It’s even listed as a trait for some breeds.

      I wish I had more people who wanted to come over and toss frisbees for Sunny.


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