Tossing dogs into the deep end

In any population of dogs there are going to be some, who for whatever reason; a genetic predisposition, prior experience, health and vitality, will be tolerant of and successful with whatever we or the environment throw at them.

Some animals seem to thrive despite what happens to them, life gives them lemons and they make lemonade. My border collie Finn, is an example of this. We are his 7th home, if you include the rescue groups he lived with in between living with a person or family. It’s likely that Finn was never abused, but he certainly didn’t have the stability that some dogs might have fallen apart without.

We know that not all dogs are like this, and the challenge is determining which dog is going to take things in stride and which is going to be overwhelmed. It’s not always easy, and if you believe that because other dogs tossed into the deep end came up grinning and asking for more, that all dogs will, you run the risk of either drowning one or ending up with a dog who will never want to go to the pool with you again.

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12 comments so far

  1. Anxious Dogs on

    Manchego does NOT make lemonaide with lemons so to speak but he has taught me so much about his kind. When you have an anxious or fearful dog it is important to be patient and understanding and take your small victories. Thanks for the great post!

    • fearfuldogs on

      And thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. Pat on

    I read this post with interest and it made me again ponder my problems with Prima. She is my 3 year old foster, mill dog. She doesn’t have the personality that I have seen in the past in fearful dogs and she is much slower to build any kind of trust. Prima is not timid as one would think of a timid dog. She is always with me and when the treats come out she is bouncing and prancing around, barks at strangers (from a distance and at me), plays like a wild woman with the other dogs, has the tenacity of a bulldog and maybe that is the problem. Thank God she is not a biter or we’d really be in trouble but she hangs onto her distrust of people like a life line. She is doing well walking on a leash and sits like a lady when we stop but as soon as I reach down to pet her she shakes and she still won’t come to me willingly unless I have a treat and then she takes it and runs! The thing is I would never have judged her as fearful if I had watched her in a pen with several other dogs and I still watch her around the house when there is no one else here and wonder how she can have two such distinctly different personalities. She is certainly alpha female with the other dogs and it seems no situation that people aren’t involved in worry her. But she is still distrustful of people and sometimes I wonder if that will ever change!

    • fearfuldogs on

      It may not Pat. But you can give her skills to be around people and not be as scared. You can start by stopping luring her to you with treats. We can override a dog’s unwillingness to approach a trigger, without changing their emotional response to it. This can be dangerous in the long run. A dog finds themselves too close to something that scares them and they react. Also, dogs are pretty savvy when it comes to what things predict, so treats become the predictor of something not nice to come, and lose their value.

      We know that the sensitive period for social development is in the early months of a pup’s life. While we might be able to make small repairs, the foundation has been built.

  3. Kristine on

    No two dogs are the same, just as no two people are the same. It’s funny that we don’t always think of it that way. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. That’s why it is so important to take things slow, otherwise you run the risk of making things a whole lot worse. As a lot of people have said, I would rather move too slowly or screw up by giving too many treats, than the opposite.

    Thanks for another great post!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Kristine. And the bottomline is that if a dog is going to progress in the deep end, they likely would have also succeeded if they were allowed to wade in.

  4. Deborah Flick on

    Sadie taught me right away that she’s not the ginning kind. Fortunately I didn’t blow it big time. It was just a small thing. We were pursuing a our local yuppy-puppy pet store when I desperately had to go to the bathroom. I had three not very good options. I could hold it and probably burst. I could ‘take’ Sadie into the restroom with me, Or, I could leave her on lead with one of the sales people she didn’t yet know. I decided taking her with me was the least of evils choice. She thought otherwise. Still I took her into the one-toilet stye bathroom and closed the door behind us. She was not happy. Tail tucked, ears pinned backed, she paced until I could open the door. Out she flew. Well, you can guess how long it took for us to go back into that restroom happily. At least a year of weekly episodes of first looking at the demon door to the restroom, and then gradually walking closer and closer to the restroom door. Each trial was paired with yummy treats. Then one day she just walked in like it was no big deal. I was stunned. And, I learned well. Don’t push Sadie into the deep end.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Makes me think I need to re-title this post. Maybe..When You Think You Gotta Go…Don’t

  5. melfr99 on

    I always read your posts on my Blackberry and then forget to comment. Sorry!

    I just wanted you to know I really loved this post. It is soooo true. I saw this often with dogs in our shelter and I’ve seen it with my own dogs. I think recognizing the dogs who make lemonade from the ones who don’t can make all the difference in approach and style when it comes to training, introducing new things in their environment (or a new environment in general), and other life circumstances.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Mel. Recognizing which dogs are going to tolerate and thrive with coercive techniques is not so easy and few trainers can give concrete reasons why they are choosing those techniques over DS/CC or other compulsion free methods. Just because they worked with other dogs they handled is not good enough reason for me. IMHO dog trainers should take a ‘do no harm’ oath, but that’s for another blog post 😉

  6. Lizzie on

    Reading Pat’s post, she could be describing Gracie, except that she doesn’t play with my other dogs nor does she bark, she is not confident enough to bark at all. I can empathise with Pat.

    It is difficult to understand why/how a dog can be almost totally uninhibited inside the house and yet when we venture out it is that she becomes this different dog, one which I can’t seem to help and as Pat so aptly puts it, appears to want to cling on to her fearful ways.

    I don’t stress myself out about it like I used to in the early days, as she has made so much progress with me, and now is allowing my husband to handle her, although she is still not quite so comfortable around him as I would like her to be.

    Can she change her reactive behaviour outside, I doubt it, but tomorrow is another day and I live in hope 🙂

    • melfr99 on

      Lizzie – I can relate to your comment on Gracie not barking. Daisy never has either. Only recently has she started to bark and usually it’s when I am not home and someone comes to the door (I’ve caught her a few times while sneaking back into the driveway for something).

      Daisy is starting to become less inhibited inside as well as outside. I wonder what she will be like a year from now. She has made so much progress this past year! I wish the same for Gracie. 🙂


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