Guest Blogger-Maizey’s promise

Katie from Lessons From 4 Legs has been kind enough to share the story about her life with Maizey, a fearful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The promises Katie had made to Maizey should be ones which we all make to our fearful dogs, and you will no doubt find similarities between their experiences together and your own.

cavalier king charles spanielHaving a fearful dog is a journey of unique challenges and joys. Each challenge leads to its own lesson, each lesson to its own larger joy.

My journey with a reactive dog started before I ever realized that it was a reactive journey.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are friendly, out going, loving dogs. But a combination of genetics and poor early puppy socialization combined to give Maizey a predisposition to be fearful.

Now at two years old her fear issues are not severe, but the signs of fear were evident from her first day home. I just did not know they were signs of distress.

Looking back, you can always see more clearly when the fear started or escalated. You wish you knew then what you know now and had done things differently. The “if only’s. . .” are one of the sorrows of owning a fearful dog.

“If only I had given higher reinforcement in that situation.”

“If only I had spoken up for her and not been intimidated by people.”

And for me the worst feeling, “If only I had protected her better.”

But from these “if only’s” can come some of the best lessons and what I call ‘Maizey Promises‘. The main promise I make to her-

“I will always protect you. If I don’t do a good enough job, I will learn and do better next time.”

Maizey is a happy, playful girl. She loves to snuggle, train and learn. She is an expert at figuring things out. She is thinking all the time.

She is my emotional side-kick. She reads human emotions better than most humans I know.

This sensitivity is one of her greatest gifts, but also leads her to hyper-sensitivity. One of her greatest stresses, and my greatest sorrows.

Seeing her inability to handle stress is always sad. She can go from being a happy, playful girl to a stressed out, reacting girl in seconds. After an episode, she will remain watchful, alert and unable to calm down for hours.

This sorrow leads to another challenge. Helping a fearful dog takes full time thought. As Debbie said, “Few people realize the time, energy and patience involved with working with a fearful dog.”

One thing that is vital is the need to control the environment. Unfortunately, at times this is impossible. You can not, even in your own home, fully control everything.

Recently the shadow of our cat was on the door to the next room. Maizey was relaxed, not stressed at all, and the next thing I know she was reactively barking and lunging at the cats shadow.

There is no way I can control shadows, but I can try! I promise to protect her, but when it comes to controlling the environment I have another Maizey Promise. “I promise to help you have the skills you need to cope and I promise to help you use those skills. If I don’t know how to help you, I will learn and do better next time.”

The human element can be a challenge too. People have varying reactions to you and your barking, lunging, 10 pound ball of Cavalier ears and tail.

On a walk one day, a dachshund ran out of his house towards us. I tried to use the skills we have conditioned, but it all happened so swiftly that she briefly put on her best barking, lunging attack dog impression.

It would have been ideal to move along, but the neighbors came out and wanted to visit. Although I repeatedly stated I needed to go, they kept talking. Short of just walking away from my neighbor in mid sentence all I could do was use our skills to help Maizey cope.

When the other dog was contained, and Maizey had calmed down, I tried to salvage the situation by letting her say hello. She ran up with a friendly greeting for our neighbor, who quickly backed away. She was so scared of this “ferocious” little dog that in her haste to get away from her, she almost fell over! I felt terrible, for her and for Maizey.

It’s difficult to convince people who were raised on talk of dominance and aggression that this is a fear based behavior. It’s hard to explain that this happy little puppy with tail and ears flying is not the same threatening, barking apparition of a few minutes before.

So I have developed a new language to help people see Maizey for who she truly is. I have learned to overlook what is not useful in what people say and take away what will work for her.

Although what I do to help her doesn’t always make sense to observers, I know it makes sense to her. Which leads to my next Maizey promise, “I will put your needs first. I will not be swayed by public opinion, I will do what is best for you.”

Though the challenges can seem overwhelming, the joys of having a fearful dog are often found in the smallest things and far outweigh the sorrows.

There are no titles, no strings of letters after their name to show how far they have come. No fancy ribbons and registries that show, “My dog took a relaxed and fun walk today.” Or, “Today my fearful dog played happily with a new dog.” These are the kind of things that make me happy and proud.

Those things, like seeing her think through a problem and choose to offer me a simple behavior instead of reacting automatically show her progress. Even silly things like destroying a cardboard box in fun, instead of anxiety, are all monumental steps for a fearful dog. Steps that deserve recognition and celebration.

Each skill she learns is a tool that helps her confidence grow. Each time she gains more confidence, my confidence grows with her. As our confidence grows so does our joy.

That is my last Maizey Promise, “I will see and celebrate the joys. I will share in your successes no matter how small.”

Having a fearful dog will inspire you as a trainer and a person in ways that others may never see. It is a journey of lessons that can’t be replaced any other way. Like all journeys there are sorrows, but there are more joys.


31 comments so far

  1. FuzzySlippers8 on

    Hear hear three cheers to you and Maizey! Your promises are practical, positive, and most importantly pro-active since you have developed a managed resolve on what direction you wish to take in an unpredictable world. Go forth and conquer! Thanks for sharing your journey it is inspiring : )

    • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

      Thank you for the encouragement! I really appreciate Debbie giving me the opportunity to share our story here. I am glad our story helped you and hope it helps others.

  2. k9diabetes on

    As another caring for a fearful dog, I loved this! It’s almost like changing a television channel learning to maneuver in the world with a dog who is fearful. Everything is different. The world looks different, streets look different, people look different.

    • fearfuldogs on

      There is something to be said for being forced to remain present and in the moment, aware of our surroundings and consciously making the choice to care about how those surroundings are perceived by another creature.

    • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

      I love the illustration of changing the channel and seeing things differently it is so true. I especially see this now as I have Magnus the Brave. At 5 months old he shows none of the tendencies of fear that Maizey did and I look at the world differently when I have just him out and about with me.

      The same was true with our Rottie, Meeka. She was our “bomb proof” girl, solid and confident, and when she was with me I saw the world through eyes that felt calm and confident. I also saw how people reacted to her, with utter fear. It was always sad to me, but it never bothered her!:)

      Each pup has such different lessons for us, we just have to open up and learn them!

      • k9diabetes on

        Before our fearful dog, we had a bombproof dog. We moved into a relatively new neighborhood and when we went out walking, we met a lot of people who were obviously afraid of dogs as a category and they would paste themselves against the fence to avoid getting anywhere near one. At the time it made me really sad because our dog wouldn’t have hurt a fly. I wished I could tell them he was safe and maybe let them meet him and warm up to dogs.

        Click… now, we have the opposite problem! And I find myself wishing that more people understood that not every dog can be petted or rushed up to and that doesn’t mean they are bad dogs.

        I also see all other dogs differently now. And I think – it could be my imagination – that sometimes the dogs I see look stressed and anxious and their people aren’t aware of it. Since I don’t know those dogs, it’s hard to know whether it’s true. But I’m certainly a lot more sensitive to that aspect.

        It is an interesting journey. In some ways, I really miss our mellow confident dog – everything in life is so much more complicated when dealing with an anxious one.

        But then I think the dog we have now needs a home with peoplee who will make it work whereas our confident dog could have lived happily with a much more diverse category of families. We will be there for our boy.

        We are totally twitterpated over him besides… makes it a lot easier to have patience with the complications. 🙂

  3. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    Wonderful post. I too have a fearful dog, and the successes are starting to come more frequently. It’s a wonderful gift they give us, teaching us as much as we teach them – and sometimes more!

    • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

      Amy: Thanks for the nice thoughts. How exciting that your successes are rolling in now! I hope that continues for you!

      K9diabetes: All I can really say is I feel your pain.;) On both sides of the fence. Meeka converted many people to being Rottie lovers (BTW, she is on my WW today). But the thing I miss most is how I felt with her. Her serenity always soothed me. I am an admitted introvert, bordering on hermit LOL, but with her by my side I walked calmer.

      I always joke that Maizey is reactive because I am reactive. But in a way I think it’s true. She is teaching me to harness that same confidence Meeka inspired in me so that I can translate that confidence to her.

      As for seeing stressed dogs I see that all the time. I don’t blame people, I have been in their shoes of lacking knowledge of reactuvity, but I do feel for the pups. I try to use Maizeys’ story as an ambassador for fearful dogs that are coping much as I was able to share Meeka as an ambassador for Rotties.

      Thanks for commenting on our story. I am glad it was helpful to you and I hope to many others!

  4. cynthiablue on

    Great post! I also take joy in my dogs’ achievements, and each pride is based on the individual dog. I am just as immensely proud of Tatum, who is able to go to a friends house and be happy and confident, and do some basic rally… as I am proud of Jet who will, I hope, get lots of ribbons and titles. Each dog is different and we have to appreciate each one the way they are.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Cynthia. Had a visit to your website. Which is Tatum?

    • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

      Hi Cyn, glad you saw this post. I know you are familiar with much of our story, and your work with Tatum has been an inspiration. You never allow her fear to hold her back. And you work hard to get her out and about to do the things she can safely and happily do. That is something i need to work on more with Maizey. I tend to want to shelter her way too much. Thanks for reading our story!

  5. Beth on

    This is a great post; it’s very encouraging for other people who have fearful dogs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Beth. I’m sure you could relate to Maizey’s sweet face!

    • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

      Hi Beth, So glad you saw Maizey’s story. Is Chispita fearful? I never got that idea from your other comments. But I think each one of us has something wonderful to share with each of our stories. I hope you enjoyed ours! Thanks for commenting!

      • Beth on

        Chispita used to be completely fearless; but now she fears other dogs, especially small ones, and won’t go near them. And she occasionally becomes suddenly afraid of something that she was never afraid of before. But she is mostly not a fearful dog.

  6. Regina on

    It’s funny that I should come across this blog about fearful dogs just a few short hours after having taken my shih tzu to the vet where he trembled in terror.

    Through the ordeal which was really nothing but an annual checkup, I held him tight while whispering promises that I not let anyone hurt him.

    He eventually calmed down but I’m not sure that it was my promises that did the trick.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hey whatever does the trick! I recommend a trip through the fast food drive-thru after a visit to the vet. Seems to take their mind right off it!

  7. Sam on

    A great post – I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner. I can relate to everything you’ve said, Katie. The “what ifs,” the sadness that people are unwilling or unable to understand our dogs, all of it. But you’re right – the best thing for us to do is to take a positive attitude, do as much as we can, and bask in the successes and only use the failures to learn from.

    Going to send this to a couple of people that I know!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to reply. Hopefully Katie will see your comment. She should be pleased that you are going to share it, that’s nice.

    • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

      Hi Sam, I am gad you saw the post. I thought of you and the achievements you have made with Marge when I was writing it. Your story has inspired me to work harder to achieve the goals I have with Maizey being able to one day have her CGC and do Rally. You really have worked hard with Marge and it shows! I am glad you could relate to our story.

      I hope those who you share it with are helped too. If they are blogs you think I would enjoy please feel free to post them on my blog or message me privately. Keep up all your hard work with Marge!

  8. Caroline on

    Thank you for your wisdom.
    I have a fearful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Briony who is 15 months old. I (perhaps stupidly) thought that getting her a playmate would help her with the confidence. However, it is now five days since the puppy arrived and Briony is having a terrible time adapting. She hides away from him all the time. I received advice from our vet today to “let them get on with it” and not try to allow Briony to separate herself from the puppy. So, there they were, tucked up in their individual beds for the night in the same room, where I had every intention to heed the vet’s advice. But then, I read your comment and went downstairs to see Briony. I saw her cowering in a corner, trying to move away from the puppy. So, I allowed her to sleep in another room. I know that there will be people who will say that I have acted rashly, but, you are right. I owe it to Briony to understand her fear and accept that it cannot be changed. I thank you for your honesty, and I thank you for teaching us by your example. I do not know how I can help Briony regarding the puppy, I do not believe in trying to rehome him. He deserves to be loved as well, but I am resolved to accepting that each dog has their own personality, their own ways of coping and I now intend to love them by accepting their ways rather than “letting them get one with it.” This is long-winded but I wanted you to realise that you have made a difference by sharing your story. Thank you.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I would just caution you to be sure the new pup has lots of positive experiences with dog’s who like interacting with other dogs. A puppy cannot learn important skills from a fearful dog. A pup that tries, unsuccessfully, to get a fearful to engage or play with them can build up unhealthy levels of frustration and arousal. I am living with a dog like this, like your pup she was brought into a home with an adult fearful dog. Her lack of skills is something I have to work on with her all the time. Quite sad actually, I think she’d like to play but never had the chance to learn. I know that her addition to the household did not help the other dog.

      • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

        Caroline, I am so happy Maizey’s story reached you in a time of need.

        It doesn’t mention it in this post but we made the choice to bring home another Cavalier on Sept 25th. He is a blenheim, rescued from puppy mill. He was nine weeks old when we brought him home and Maizey thought I had completely lost my mind. She spent the first WEEKS that he was home running from him. She was not a fan. But the best advice came from a friend of mine who told me, “as long as they are safe just let them work it out. The more a human gets involved the longer it takes them to work it out.” So I did. It was HARD! I so wanted to intervene and “make” them be best friends. But as long as Maizey’s stress level stayed manageable I let them make their peace. It didn’t take long before they were best buddies and it makes me so so happy. You can follow that journey at It starts with this post: and if you read through the archives you will see their progress. Especially see the post on Sept 30th, 2010 it has some good video of how I made sure to let Maizey interact in a why she felt safe.

        Now I am not saying that is the right thing for your Briony, she may need more protection, I don’t know her issues, but five days isn’t too long and they may just need more time.

        That being said I COMPLETELY agree with what Debbie said, having a fearful dog in the house makes it even more vital do do double time on the socialization. I hope debbie doesn’t want to kill me for all these links (sorry debbie!!) but if you check this link: it should take you to my whole series on puppy socialization.

        But onto the important stuff! What kind of puppy?? Boy or girl? Name? Color? Come one give us the details!LOL:)) If you have a blog I would love to read it, or if you want to comment on my blog I would love to answer any questions I can. I hope things settle down for you soon! So glad the post helped. I can’t thank Debbie enough for letting post our story here!

      • fearfuldogs on

        Always happy to have resources shared! It’s great that things worked out between your dogs, it often does. But people need to be careful whenever they get advice to ‘let the dogs work it out’. Lots of behavior problems can develop in second dogs that live with and learn from another without great dog social skills. Aggression in some form is not an unusual by product. Just brought it up since it is so common.

  9. Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

    Debbie, I couldn’t agree more! If Magnus had been a different puppy I would have intervened much more than I had too. Thankfully he has wonderful puppy language, and knows how to very polite in initiating play. At his puppy class they would use him as the “friendly puppy” for the fearful dogs to play with. He developed quite the reputation as one of his instructors told her student, “Oh! Lets see if [your Portuguese water dog] can play with Magnus, he’s like a therapy dog for dogs!” It really cracked me up.:))

    At the same time I was and still am careful of taking them places together where I know Maizey will have high stress and reactivity. I know he can learn that from her so I want to minimize that possibility as much as possible.

    I did let them work it out to a large degree, but when he didn’t know when to back down and give her a break we took LOTS of “puppy breaks” where he either went in the playpen for a nap for a bone, or she could go in her crate for a safe place. Baby gates are our best friend around here. I nearly never left them unsupervised together unless it was in the next room or something so I could keep an eye on things. It is best to take precautions and watch for hight stress levels.

    As with all my promises to Maizey it included protecting her from him, and thankfully that worked out. Now I have the opposite problem where they play so wild with each other they frequently get a “that’s enough, take a break!” cue and they both have to settle on their mats until they calm down.LOL

    Each case is so unique and not having more info I can’t say what is best for Briony and your new pup, but Debbie, don’t you think there can be cautious hope as long as things are handled right? For sure a good positive based puppy class for the puppy and perhaps a class for fearful dogs would be a good thing? All positive and clicker based of course.

    It certainly is a situation to handle carefully, but there are many tools out there for you. Debbie’s blog here is one of the best!

    • fearfuldogs on

      There is always hope! But for me when I can’t see the dogs I think it is better to go with the most conservative approach when offering advice. I’m not saying you did the wrong thing or that it can’t or doesn’t work. Or are wrong for sharing your story.

      Most people are not good readers of their dogs. Their ideas about dog training are based on old concepts of pack hierarchies and that forcing a dog to deal with something is how to get them over their fears or that the dogs need to sort out who is boss dog. Because it can work with some dogs they believe, wrongly, that it will work with all. Shelters are full of dogs that were handled this way and now exhibit inappropriate behaviors which ultimately get them killed.

      I feel obliged to put this info out there. Using DS/CC and training with two dogs is less likely to create the kind of behavioral fallout that making them figure out stuff on their own might.

      There is also no reason why any dog must be obliged to put up with a puppy doing puppy stuff to them-IMHO. A pup can learn to leave a dog alone, even if that dog is unable or unwilling to make that clear to the pup (something many dog fearful dogs do not often do). A pup can learn to play with other dogs, learn appropriate social behaviors (which they do not learn from a fearful dog) from outside dogs, and in the home interact in a playful way primarily with the owner, not the other dog. This is important for any dog, even if they are not living with a fearful dog. It’s always better to have the primary relationship for a dog be with their owner, not other dogs. This is what gives us the edge when it comes to training and compliance.

      Cavies were designed to be companion dogs, so it may not be that difficult to accomplish regardless of what other dogs they live with. However I have seen great dogs turn into giant brats when another dog is brought into the house and the owners were not diligent in working independently with each dog. In fact they got the new dog ‘for the other dog’. Essentially to free themselves up from having to put the time and energy into the original dog’s training and exercise. They were also trying to be nice and give the dog some company, but without attention to the relationship building process between the dogs and owner and dogs, all kinds of bothersome behaviors can develop.

      • Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

        More good points Debbie. Perhaps I gave too liberal of an idea, of “let them work it out on their own.” Using DS/CC when brining in a new pup is so vital. But I have seen cases where a handler intervenes in EVERY little case so that the dogs don’t have a chance to communicate as dogs. That learning process between the two can be so beneficial.

        When you said, “There is also no reason why any dog must be obliged to put up with a puppy doing puppy stuff to them-IMHO. A pup can learn to leave a dog alone, even if that dog is unable or unwilling to make that clear to the pup (something many dog fearful dogs do not often do). A pup can learn to play with other dogs, learn appropriate social behaviors (which they do not learn from a fearful dog) from outside dogs. . .” I just couldn’t agree more!! In fact I think it is good for a puppy to have to learn to have an “off switch”. To learn when enough is enough, and you’re so right that if a fearful dog won’t tell them when that is time then the trainer should. It is about protecting that fearful dog.

        I had to so this often for Maizey, she and I took many puppy breaks while Magnus learned it was okay to be on his own in the playpen or crate. I think that was a valuable lesson for all of us.

        Maybe I am too naive but I hope people will put the effort into helping their fearful pup have a friend if they choose too, but I hope they would do so responsibly and safely. There are many uneducated and frankly just unmotivated people out there that don’t make the best decisions for their dogs, fearful or not. That is truly a tragedy. But I hope Maizey’s example with Magnus can show people that with work it is possible for them to be friends. My two are such buddies now, it constantly makes me smile!:)

  10. fearfuldogs on

    Your sensitivity and skill is implicit in your success. Certainly there are extremes at both ends- not allowing dogs the opportunity to develop relationship skills by depriving them of experiences to insisting on unstructured interactions in which any behavior is permitted.

    DS/CC is not about NOT giving dogs opportunities to stretch their edges. But rather to do so in ways which the stress the animal experiences facilitates as opposed to hinders, learning.

    Giving a fearful dog the chance to learn how to be comfortable with other dogs is a gift. Not only does it make life easier for them, the world is full of dogs, it can add to the diversity of experiences open to them and the potential joy of play & companionship.

    Just more thoughts.

  11. thelittlebeardogblog on

    Katie, thank you for such an inspiring post. I’m going to shamelessly ‘borrow’ your promises if that’s okay and put them on my training board. 🙂

  12. Jessica Fatkins on

    I love this story! I have been reading all of your blog posts daily for a couple of weeks now. I have a fearful dog too and she is reactive towards people and dogs she is unfamiliar with. I can completely 100% relate to this story. It is nice to know I’m not the only one who adopted a fearful dog and I am doing everything I can to help make her feel more comfortable in this scary world with positive reinforcement/clicker training.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your feedback. Check out for good info regarding how to help your dog.

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