There is a sunny side!

It’s probably just me, maybe it’s cabin fever or hormonal, but I’ve been particularly bothered lately by all the bad press that dog owners have been getting in blogs and tweets that I follow. Sure there are bad owners out there, negligent and even criminal ones, who should never be allowed control of a dog again. There are owners who are naive, or who display an ignorance of what their dog needs, or who don’t seem to care, the relationship being more about what ‘they’ need. But all of those aside, I prefer to believe that there are more owners who truly care about their dogs and are struggling to work with challenging dogs that even professional trainers would not choose to live with.

Although I have not seen statistics on this, chances are good that the majority of the problems people have with their dogs could be remedied by changes in the dog’s routine, training and an adjustment in the expectations that owners have for their dogs. Young puppies should not be expected to behave like adult dogs, and untrained dogs should not be expected to perform like Lassie. Dogs should not be expected to be content spending the entirety of their day waiting for their owners to return to free them from inactivity and boredom. And although I have not seen statistics on this either, I get the impression that an unfortunate high number of the dogs that people are either purchasing or adopting are bringing to the table severe behavioral issues that someone who is looking for a pet, should not be expected to know how to manage or deal with, nor do I necessarily believe they should be required to in order to be considered a good pet owner.

Dogs are dogs because they have lived with people for thousands of years and developed an extensive, and remarkable set of skills for figuring out what we want from them. I applaud the advances we humans are making in regard to understanding our dogs, and as much as I’d like to see everyone educated in the field of dog behavior, I don’t think one should need to be a dog trainer, nor require the services of a trainer, to live happily with a dog. And for the dog to live happily as well.

Those of us who are living with fearful dogs are often accused of being the cause or source of our dog’s problems. Were we only calm enough, assertive enough, a strong enough leader, if we didn’t try to protect our dogs from the things which can in some instances literally scare the poop out of them, they’d be happy, ‘balanced’ dogs. This is both unfair and wrong. Yes our behavior can affect our dogs, and by changing our behavior we may find that our fearful dogs can learn to feel safer in certain situations, but this will not ‘cure’ them.

Every time I hear trainers complain about dog owners I cringe. I have been berated on a public forum by a trainer who, although unwilling to identify themselves, was more than willing to accuse me of having failed my fearful dog. Most of the dog owners I meet truly care about their dogs. They want what is best for their dogs and struggle to incorporate dogs with challenging behaviors into their lives. We don’t have to look far to find pet owners who are not doing right by their dogs, but we also don’t have to go far to find others who have made huge changes in their lives to accommodate their fearful dogs and are pouring their hearts into their animals.

17 comments so far

  1. Crystal on

    Thank you for this entry!

    I was something who did everything wrong in getting a dog. She was an impulse, pet store puppy. I did take her to training, but let’s not pretend I was particularly good at it. I didn’t recognize her early signs of fear and stress, didn’t know how to manage her, didn’t know how to protect her.

    I’m one of those people dog trainers could have talked about.

    But because I’ve had kind, caring instructors who have been willing to gently guide me, who have supported and taught me, Maisy and I have grown a lot. Have I failed her? Yes, certainly I have. I’ve made mistakes along the way, and have undoubtedly contributed to her reactivity. But I do my best, and I’m thankful for the people who’ve accepted my mistakes and helped me learn.

    I love your blog.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Failed her? Seriously Crystal, you believe that? Sounds to me like this fearful dog is darn lucky to have landed with someone who was willing to go to the trouble of looking for a trainer and trying to help her. If knowing exactly what to do for our behaviorally challenged dogs, all the time, makes one a failure, you can add me and other pet owners to the list. Your pup was failed by her breeders, before she was even born. Her life could have ended up being far more tragic and full of more suffering had she not ended up with you. I’m not encouraging people to make impulsive pet shop buys to save these sad, doomed dogs, but having brought her into your life you have acted in in an intelligent and humane way by looking for help.

      Thanks for reading, sharing your story and appreciation of the this blog. I appreciate that!

  2. Crystal on

    Ha- my wording was unclear, wasn’t it? Have I failed her at times? Yes, in the sense that I’ve made mistakes. But overall? I don’t think so! I love this little dog with my whole heart and soul, in a way I never dreamed possible when I impulsively brought her home. We are truly lucky to have found each other- we fit well together. She’s not an easy dog, but she is absolutely what I want and need.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Whew, glad you weren’t beating yourself up!

      • Crystal on

        Only sometimes. 🙂

  3. Lizzie on

    Wow! Debbie I read your thoughts and felt like you hadn’t even taken a breath as you were typing. Such is your passion for doing right by our dogs.

    As you know I am one such naive owner, well not so naive, as I knew what I was getting myself into when I took Gracie on, just didn’t realise how she would change my life so dramatically.
    But there are more positive than negative aspects to living with Gracie, and I continue to be amazed by her on a daily basis. I feel that we have come through the worst of it now, as we have such a strong relationship. Of course I do have to manage her environment, but she can, and does make some decisions for herself now. Only just the other day she finally nudged open a door to get out of her room, something I’ve been encouraging her to do for months, hurrah!

    The single most important thing I have learnt is to have patience and that rubs off in all aspects of my life, and that’s down to Gracie 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Great minds thinking alike!

      What more can any of us hope for than to live with someone who cares about our well being and looks out for our welfare, despite our limitations?

  4. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    I’ve been offline with life lately, so I must have missed the hubbub … though, I myself, ranted about a clueless dog owner who baited my dogs into barking so that he “could train” his dogs … to do what I don’t know.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You know how it can get sometimes, trainers whining about clients. Everyone has a point, and most of it is probably just venting, but it got to me and that’s my problem.

  5. Life With Dogs on

    I see the same as I surf dog news for items of interest. It would seem the ratio of good to bad news is about 30/70. Sadly, there are more good stories out there to share, but the ratings game skews what we eventually are offered for consumption. Just ugh.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I suppose it has to do with how titillating the horrors can be. I try to skip clicking on links to read about the horrible plights of dogs across the planet, but despite myself, I still do! I use the excuse that I need to be informed and educated but at some point they all become an unpleasant static that I am forced to live with. I have neither the unlimited funds to support the people doing all the work to help these animals, nor do I have the energy or inclination to drop what I am doing in my life to go off and do the work myself. Imaging the pain that animals suffer and endure, the emotions that can override all the others is a supreme sense of disappointment and disgust in our own species.

      Hey but on a happy note, this morning my shy dog Sunny, who has lived with us for over 4 years, took himself for a little exploration to the far side of the bedroom. He usually is on the floor on my side of the bed, or on the bed, but today, of his own volition he checked things out on the other side, slinking, stretching and sniffing as only a scared dog can. Until you’ve lived with a seriously damaged dog this kind of good news seems trivial, but it was certainly noted by me.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, it’s much appreciated!

  6. Ruthy on

    It’s a matter of understanding, of willingness to learn, on the part of the people who don’t know about fearful dogs. Maybe it can be compared to emotional or neurological problems (depression, autism, PTSD) in humans, about which uninformed people may form wrong but opinions. I only knew about socially and emotionally healthy dogs (shall we say ‘easy’ dogs?), before I got my fearful rescue border collie. It’s been such a ride that I frankly wouldn’t expect the average person in the park to understand, but I’ve been encouraged every once in a while by a person who is curious and well-meaning and takes the time to ask questions.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think that you’re right in that many of the ways people think about their fearful dogs is similar to how they think about people with mental illness, phobias, and other disorders. If only they’d just put their ‘mind’ to it, they’d be fine. Suck and deal with life, I did.

      They just don’t get it. I hope this blog and website help them.

  7. DogBreed on

    I am doing a research for a project about dogs, and I found your blog very interesting. Thanks for the info

  8. Aison on

    Quote ” And although I have not seen statistics on this either, I get the impression that an unfortunate high number of the dogs that people are either purchasing or adopting are bringing to the table severe behavioral issues that someone who is looking for a pet, should not be expected to know how to manage or deal with, nor do I necessarily believe they should be required to in order to be considered a good pet owner.”

    Unfortunatly this has happened to myself and my husband. We went to a Border Collie rescue and told them our circumstances.I only work for 8/10 hours a week. We have a caravan which we go to most weekends (an hours drive away)and do a lot of walking..quite a bit on roads with no pavement. I wanted a dog around 7/8 years old, as these tend to get overlooked. It wasn’t a rescue centre where you can walk around and look at all the dogs..they match you up with the dog they think is best for your circumstances. Jasper was brought out to see us and we fell in love with him. He was a big softie that sat immediately gave a paw and looked at you with big eyes that would melt any heart. He had been given in to the centre due to a marriage breakdown.
    So we took him home in the car where he sat on the floor in the back all the 2 hours drive home. Once we had him home we did as instructed..don’t take him out at first, dont allow lots of people visitors for a few days, don’t allow him on furniture blah blah blah….
    On the plus side he is a very friendly dog who loves people. He sleeps downstairs without a murmur al night. However he is scared of nearly every noise you can think of, especially bangs. Anything electrical sends him running to hide under a bed. Cockerals crowing, ducks quacking, sheep baa-ing, cows moo-ing. Vehicle noise. If he is on a lead he either freezes and shakes or tries to run, if he is off lead he will just bolt. Our weekends away in the country are a thing of the past as he just can’t cope with all the noise.I can’t believe that this behavior has just appeared out of no-where so either he wasn’t assessed at the centre of they chose not to tell us. I can’t return him as we love him now, so I was very glad to stumble across this site during an internet search and am in the process of reading my way through it. Hopefuly I will learn enough to help turn Jaspers life around, and we can go back to our old way of life. Thanks

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’m so sorry to hear about that. Sound phobias are hard to deal with and miserable for a dog. If you haven’t visited go have a look and there is a link for sound and storm phobias. Since we cannot control the environment of sound, and the unpredictability of when they occur, contributes to the overall anxiety an animal can experience (imagine never knowing when the next scary explosion is going to happen). Here in the states we have over the counter access to melatonin which has been shown to help with sound sensitivities. There are links on to different options. Your best bet might be to speak to a vet and find out what you can do to help lower the dog’s overall anxiety and stress and begin to use counter conditioning techniques to change the dog’s association with loud noises. Do anything you can to help the dog. These problems rarely resolve on their own and often get worse.

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