No sleight of hand

cartoon magician with rabbit on his headThere is no magic to what we do to help fearful dogs, however you define magic. It’s time, energy, and effort all resting on a nice bed of patience.

In order to survive every species has to have reason to crawl out of bed every morning, or evening if they’re nocturnal. If they can’t it’s an indication something is wrong, seriously wrong. If we have dogs who are not fearful an unwillingness or inability to eat or engage in something fun is a big red flag. Sure our dogs get old and slow down, but when they start refusing food or ignore invitations to go for a walk we start to dread the writing on the wall. Often we head to the vet. An otherwise healthy dog who is not interested in food or doing anything that dogs typically enjoy doing, is in trouble. No magic is going to help them, we are.

First we eliminate any medical reasons for a dog’s behavior. An injured or sick dog needs to be treated. Once we can be assured that they aren’t hurting we tap into their brain’s reward system and run with it. If we can’t do this using food or fun, we have to do something to make it easier for them to stop worrying about protecting themselves and find ways to help them out of the funk of despair and depression, both responses I don’t doubt dogs experience.

If we can lower the dog’s level of anxiety either by the management of their environment and/or the use of medications we need to do it. We need to take hold of the reins of a dog’s reward system and turn them into addicts for what we offer them. Once we do that it only looks like magic.

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10 comments so far

  1. justthreadtwiddling on

    Lucy, our 14 yo Australian Cattle Dog , got very depressed when we lost Jethro. They had been together for several years. We waited a while, tried pain meds which helped a little, and then I decided to get a pup. We knew she wouldn’t be around forever, and I needed to get another dog for my mental health before we lost her. I ended up bringing home litter mates and Lucy perked up quite a bit. I am glad she was interested in something fun during her final days with us.

  2. Alyssa on

    I took Clayton to the vet a few weeks ago. He had only refused to eat for two meals, but it was so out of character for him that I knew there was a problem. Turned out he just had a bad case of gas that made his stomach hurt, but I’m glad I took him in anyway. Like you said–you don’t wait for magic. You have to step in and help them. He got some medicine that made him feel better and he’s back to his usual active, healthy, hungry self.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      So glad it turned out to be an easily managed problem!

  3. Richard Ford on

    I am a huge believer in the simple things you have said in this post. There is no rewarding a dog who is too fearful or depressed to think about food or play. The cause of fear and anxiety can be obvious, or completely hidden, but controlling the physiology of the response, either through medical or environmental management to reduce and/or eliminate the stress is essential in order to have a shot at finding out what they actually like. Eliminating health as a potential cause is certainly a first step in this process. I love bringing out the fun side of a dog, which I know they all have despite how buried it might be. Connecting with them and seeing the transition to happiness, building confidence and trust, what a rewarding experience it is to see and be a part of.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting. We often can’t help ourselves by wanting a quick fix and unfortunately when it seems to happen on television, we want it for ourselves and our dogs.

      • KellyK on

        Yeah, the magic of editing. If someone works with a dog for weeks, you could condense that into a half hour show and make it look like magic. Not to mention that everything that doesn’t fit into the story the show wants to tell ends up on the cutting room floor.

  4. oreoowner on

    So true! This post makes me think of my dog, Oreo. Weeks after being attacked by another dog, she suddenly stopped eating. This went on for a few days. After trying all sorts of different yummy foods, I took her to the vet. The vet couldn’t figure it out, maybe allergies they said. We later realized it was anxiety. We’ve done a lot of training, and continue to do so in reactive class. But I am happy to report she is definitely eating more!

  5. 2 Punk Dogs on

    I hate when people say “too bad you can’t get the (TV trainer), he would have her straightened out in an hour.” I was so glad when I saw an episode with a very fearful dog where he said that the dog was “a worst case scenario”, because it showed that he didn’t really know what to do either. I don’t agree with most of his methods & know they would make our 2 satos more stressed.

    To your original point – It took a long time to find food that Maggie would eat on a regular basis. She suddenly lost her appetite and started losing weight after doing well for about a year. The vet ran blood tests and found that Maggie had Leptospirosis, probably from drinking water in puddles in the woods on walks. She started eating more and gaining weight once we started antibiotics. It was a relief to find a medical reason when we couldn’t find a trigger otherwise.


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