Fire in the belly

I never truly understood what it meant to have a ‘fire in your belly‘ until Sunny came to live with me. I always enjoyed the adventure travel business I run, and loved working outdoors as a river or mountain guide, but I didn’t appreciate what it felt like to be so motivated by a purpose, that like a fire, it consumed me. Living with a dog who was so debilitated by his emotional suffering hit me hard.

As I began to struggle with Sunny’s challenges and I learned about fear based behaviors in dogs I realized that a giant hurdle in the way of success for these dogs was their handler’s beliefs about the best ways to help them. I knew this because I held beliefs about fear in dogs that were passed onto me by trainers and other dog owners, and unfortunately by a popular TV trainer, and they were not helpful. The knowledge most of us have regarding how to work with fearful dogs is limited to some version of, ‘make them deal with their fear until they are over it’, and more and more includes the idea that any resistance on a dog’s part to do what we ask is based on some innate desire to be dominant, especially if their resistance includes any form of aggression. These dogs are often labeled as ‘stubborn’ or ‘stupid’, both unfair characterizations of their behavior.

I created the Fearfuldogs.com website to provide foundation information for handlers of fearful, shy or anxious dogs and subsequently created the ebook, A Guide to Living with & Training a Fearful Dog (which in 2008 was a finalist in the Dog Writers Association of America’s annual competition). I am excited to share that soon the book will be available in hardcopy, a beautiful paperback version that I am proud has made it into the real world (as opposed to just the digital).

Both the website and the book contain the advice and information that I wish had been handed to me when I first realized that Sunny was a fearful dog. I would have done many things differently with him at the start and I think it would have made his life easier and more comfortable. They also contain the information which I learned as I ventured down the path of studying how fear affects bodies, brains and behavior. My goal is to provide information for handlers of fearful dogs so they can look at their current understanding of fear in dogs and see how it affects their responses to their dog.

When we are working with a fearful dog the onus is on us to respond in ways which help them gain skills and feel less anxious. At any moment we’ll be called upon to give our dog feedback, and how we think about our dog’s fear based behaviors, will affect the feedback we provide. It is this step in the process of rehabilitating a fearful dog which continues to motivate me in ways I am grateful to have discovered.

In the New Year I want to thank all of you for your support and for your feedback. Each day gives us the opportunity to be better, more compassionate and skilled caretakers of the dogs that come into our lives. I hope you enjoy the journey with your dog as much as I have with mine.

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14 comments so far

  1. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    This is fantastic new! Congratulations Debbie.

  2. kenzohw on

    Looking fwd to your book in hardcopy!
    I take this opportunity to thank you too Debie. Your website and blog have been a tremendous help for me and Viva.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It makes me so happy to hear that the website was helpful for both you and Viva. Thank you.

  3. Nicole on

    This is wonderful news. You were so helpful to Katie and me when we first joined the shy-k9’s group, I am so happy to hear that your book will be out to help more people!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Nicole. I’m happy to hear that my input on the yahoo group was helpful. I remember what it felt like to have a scared dog in the house and not know exactly what plan to follow.

  4. Lizzie on

    Debbie, you truly are an inspiration to us all with fearful dogs.

    I have said this many times before, but without your support and advice over the past couple of years, I know that Gracie would not have made the progress she has.
    I Thank You.

    Many Congratulations on your book. 🙂

  5. Tawny on

    I am so excited that you are getting published! I will be sure to make a home for your book on my bookshelf as soon as it’s available. Is there a pre-order?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Tawny, no pre-order yet. Will find out today when it will be available.

  6. honeysjourney on

    Can’t wait. I have thanked you before, and will continue to thank you. We, Honey and I, will always be grateful to you for the help with my awesome girl. Without your continued help we would still be at square one. I truly believe working with these fearful ones creates not only a fire in the belly, but a passion to be explored.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you George. And your decision to dive into working with shelter dogs is respect inducing (is there a word for that??). Helping a homeless dog learn to bond and communicate with people is how lives are saved. Looking forward to hearing more about it.

  7. Kristine on

    What great news! I am so excited for you and to see your book when it comes out in paper form. You have already helped me in so many ways just by keeping this blog. I am so glad Sunny came into your life.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you Kristine. They say you learn the most from your most challenging dog and Sunny certainly proved to be that for me.


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