Fearful dog update-guest blogger

Recently Jack, co-caretaker of Mollie, wrote to share what has been unfolding with Mollie, his fearful dog.

Too often the information we get regarding changing dog behavior comes in the form of programming for television in which all the hard work, set-backs, struggles, frustrations and failures, are left on the editing room floor. Between commercials we see what is tantamount to a miracle. Bad dog to good dog right before our eyes and despite the ‘don’t try this at home’ and other notes of caution and warning, it’s hard not to feel disappointment in our own dogs’ progress and our own abilities to foster it.

When we speak to owners and trainers of fearful dogs we discover that it is indeed a long haul for many of these dogs. The word ‘patience’ has taken on a whole new meaning for us.

I asked Jack if I could share Mollie’s journey with you and thank him for his willingness to do so. Here is his reply-

Feel free to share whatever info you think would be of benefit to others.

woman holding t shirt that says the dog likes me bestThis has been a challenging and rewarding journey for us (any wonder that those two aspects of endeavor seem to be combined so often?). You may or may not recall that I (Jack) am a clinical psychologist and Jackie is an early childhood development expert. It is intriguing to realize how much of our familiarity with behavioral psychology is complimentary and pertinent as we interact with Mollie. Both in terms of our behavior as well as hers! She has been telling us all we need to know — we just have to be adept at listening and recognizing what she is saying.

This is a follow-up to a consult we had with you after buying the Fearful Dog Ebook last September. Our names are Jack and Jackie and our dog’s name is Mollie. We live in California. We got her from an organization that rescues golden retrievers.

She was 4 yrs old and had spent her whole life in a breeding kennel. She was very fearful and shut-down/depressed. A week or so after we got her, she had a gran mal seizure. This led to immediate changes in her diet from commercial to home cooked foods with good results — no additional seizures. However, subsequently we discovered that she has a chronic renal condition – one kidney completely atrophied and shut down, the other trying to hold its own, but lab blood tests show abnormal readings. After months of consultations with veterinary nutritionists, additional diet modifications and various treatments with medications, it appears her renal functioning, while still impaired, has improved and stabilized. The vets tell us that her current functioning should yield a long life.

Along with handling these health issues during the past 6 months or so, we have of course been dealing with her fearfulness. We are very happy to report that she is no longer the withdrawn shut-down dog that she used to be. At first, it was not possible to get any positive responses out of her…shied away, turned her head, slunk to the ground, no eye contact, lying “hidden” in the corner all the time, etc, etc, whenever we would try to pet her or engage her in any way. Today, she has bright eyes, frolicks off-leash when we go for walks on our rural roads 2x a day, comes when called, has learned to come to us and sit at attention whenever an occasional car comes by, remains completely relaxed (even seemingly asleep) when we come to pet her (particularly likes to have the top of her head rubbed with pressure — pushes back up against our hands) .. “talks” to us when she wants to go out and over-all appears to be comfortable with us and even strangers. All of these mannerisms are more accentuated with Jackie than with me, but she continues to interact with me more and more as time goes on.

Now, she still doesn’t “play” very much…toss around chew toys, fetch a tennis ball, get into tug-of-wars with toys, etc. To our mind, it appears that she wants to, but doesn’t know how. She’ll show some spark, jump into emptying out a basket of toys we have, only to quit after less than a minute. When we try to engage her directly, she shows interest, wags her tail, prances around a bit, but then doesn’t really do anything. As I said, these moments typically last less than a minute and then she usually just lies down and looks at us.

We much appreciate the supportive help and suggestions we obtained from you. We were lost – you got us going in the right directions. I want to emphasize and confirm with you one element of assistance you emphasized which we consider invaluable and completely pertinent. That is….PATIENCE. Of all the things that people working with fearful dogs might do, maintaining patience is essential.

If you would indulge me, I would expand this admonition a bit so that the instructional phrase becomes….”ACTIVE Patience”. To our minds, this isn’t the kind of patience in which you sit around doing nothing and just wait for the dog to become less fearful. This is the kind of patience in which you steadfastly and consistently actively observe and study your dog and offer it your kindness and safety by whatever means you’ve developed and in whatever way it seems to fit and then be alert so that you will be in position to actively accept and welcome the dog’s positive responses – as slight or minimal as they might be. This is what we’ll continue doing with Mollie — looking forward to the day she licks our faces, chases and fetches the ball and engages in a tug-of-war with one of her toys.

Thanks again,
Jack, Jackie and Mollie


7 comments so far

  1. Hilary on

    Wow, this is a wonderful testament to your approach to fearful dogs. I’m thrilled about Jack and Jackie’s experience, and for Mollie’s progress. What a great letter to receive! Thanks for posting this. I, too, am encouraged that more people are learning about what it takes to help those scared dogs. Especially those poor mill dogs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It was nice of him to take the time to share it Hilary. I think that people find it easy to understand how to keep dogs feeling safe, once they have permission to do so. Of course being a preschool teacher and psychologist doesn’t hurt either!

  2. melfr99 on

    Jack and Jackie – My story could almost be yours. My Daisy was also 4 when she finally escaped her puppy mill hell. Other than Mollie’s medical issues, your description of Mollie is exactly how Daisy was when I adopted her. It warmed my heart to hear how much progress Mollie has made under your kind and caring hands and hearts.

    I wanted to let you know that Daisy has been with me 3 years now and she is like a different dog. She has never really gotten the hang of toys either, but she does like to carry them around in her mouth! She has also learned to play tug-of-war with my other dog, Jasper.

    It was so great to read your letter and the progress you have made with Mollie. I especially agreed with your comments on “active patience”. So true!

  3. Lizzie on

    How wonderful to read Mollie’s story Jack, and so heartening to know that there are so many people out there who are prepared to take on ex mill bitches.

    I was sorry to read about Mollie’s renal failure but pleased that her condition has now stabilized. My eldest dog has CRF also, but he is an old boy, so it might be expected. He too is stable on a special diet and drug therapy.

    Mollie has certainly come a long way if indeed she has only been with you for six months, testament to your hard work and patience with her. At four years old she may not have been quite as traumatized as my then 8+ year old ex breeding girl Gracie. She too has no conception of play and behaves exactly as Mollie does around toys. She has been with me for over two years now and is nowhere as comfortable outside as Mollie appears to be. Of course all dogs are different and she is happy at the moment being a ‘home body’.

    I wish you continued success with Mollie’s progress Jack, I’m sure she appreciates being with her loving family.

  4. Kristine on

    I was never a very patient person. I’m still not. Not really. But when it comes to my dog, I have learned to resist the urges to rush, to resist the building frustration when she just isn’t getting it. Now I find it is very easy to be patient with her because it has been so rewarding.

    I am so glad Mollie is doing so much better now and that she found a home that would take the time to understand her needs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      One of the pitfalls of impatience (and which I am as guilty of as anyone) is that we deny the dog the opportunity to think and figure stuff out. When I find myself getting ready to repeat a cue because a dog is just sitting there acting like it’s the first time they’ve ever heard the word, I take a few breaths and often the dog ‘works it out’ and responds.

  5. avtmri on

    great guest post. my friend is dealing with a fearful dog right now. i like the idea of ‘active patience’

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