Too Sensitive?

Dog - SadIt wouldn’t be the first time someone has used my discomfort with something they said or did, to turn the tables and make it my problem, but it was happening and for some reason I couldn’t let it go. One of the skills we all need to practice in this day and age of instant communication is to push ourselves away from the keyboard. Just stop, end your part of the engagement. Let the sting of a comment fade and move on, do the dishes, weed the garden, read a book. Though I reminded myself of this for some reason I was like a dog with a bone, I couldn’t let it go.

I had for a few days been answering someone’s questions about their dog’s fearful behavior via Facebook’s messages. I was glad to do it. I know how it feels to find yourself living with an extremely fearful dog. But at no time do I ever believe that my words of wisdom typed into a 1 inch box are likely to be adequate in fully addressing the challenges owners are facing. I offered to either schedule a time for a consult or assist  in finding a trainer near them. The reply I received stunned me, though it was not the first time I, or any trainer, has heard it in some form or another.

“I can see your (sic) in a business to make money sorry I bothered you”

Move away from the keyboard, I thought. But not only didn’t I do that, I couldn’t do it. Perhaps it has something to do with being a middle-aged woman (a label I will probably continue to use long past the time I should switch to “older” or “senior”). It’s not unusual for young women to shut up, to worry about being impolite or hurting feelings. At my age I no longer feel the need to bear the brunt of someone’s rudeness without providing them with a response. There are consequences to behavior. Maybe it was because I hadn’t had enough sleep the night before. Whatever the reason, I had to respond, to express the fact that I had been insulted by the insinuation that my motivation for doing the work that I do was purely mercenary.

After I pointed out how the comment he made insulted me, I was told it was not meant to be insulting and that I was “too sensitive.” This was an odd way to offer an apology. Again I could not let it go and replied. The conversation continued in this fashion, me pointing out how I was interpreting his comments and was met with a justification for each and admonition to “chill out.” The author even included the number of twitter followers he had. Why? My interpretation was it was a threat to expose me for the sensitive person that I am. He denied this, labeling me a “very negative person” to even think it. Then why include it in the conversation? I was feeling very confused.

Then it occurred to me why this conversation was so compelling that I couldn’t walk away from it. The ease with which my perspective of the conversation was discounted was glaring. That I might feel upset had nothing to do with the author’s behavior from his point of view. I was accused of trying to turn the conversation into a conflict. I was too sensitive. Any misunderstanding was my fault.

His dog defecated when picked up. How could he get the dog to stop behaving this way? The answer was ultimately complex but immediately simple, stop picking the dog up. The dog is sensitive, the owner’s behavior was being interpreted as threatening, scaring the dog. The only way for the dog to change was for the owner to change. But how can someone change if they are unable to consider that their behavior and actions might be perceived differently than they are intended?

Dogs are telling us how we make them feel all the time. If we are serious about helping them become less sensitive we have to acknowledge their perspective, their feelings, and stop putting the blame of misunderstanding on them, expecting to find an answer to changing their behavior that doesn’t include a major overhaul of our own.


41 comments so far

  1. Gotta love facebook and people who want free answers from highly regarded experts but get upset when they find the answer is not to their liking. If it is any consulation I get into the same meaningless exchanges from time to time as well.

    • fearfuldogs on

      From years of struggling and picking far better brains than my own I have chosen to offer whatever small bits of advice I can reasonably and safely offer, whenever the request is made. It’s one of the reasons I bothered to build and maintain the website, it’s all there. There are costs to doing business that someone not in that business might not recognize or value, liability insurance for example. It has no immediate value to the consumer so they don’t appreciate having to pay a higher cost for a service because someone carries it.

      Same story in the pet care profession.

  2. diana on

    right on target as usual, debbie. but i think expecting some humans to examine their own behaviors and beliefs is actually expecting too much. i’m not convinced we all have the capacity to have this kind of insight. some personality disorders are very vexing to therapists as they are often quite intransigent.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks Diana. It was and may continue to be a very challenging conversation. We may indeed be on very different pages of the play book when it comes to social interactions. The medium we are using isn’t helping matters, but I kept finding it hard to believe that the original comment about money was not meant as a jab, though he maintained it wasn’t. And he wasn’t wrong about me being sensitive to it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I don’t think this is the technical term for it but “clueless” might fit 😉

  3. Cybele on

    This is one of the most important lessons to learn in life in our dealings and relationships with other people and our companion animals: to not project on the other but to shut up and accept and respect their feelings and work from there. It takes understanding and patience but the meeting of the minds on that level feels so much better than ego tripping and conflict.
    I learned it from a great trainer years ago and only wish my dogs of an earlier era had the good fortune of benefiting from her wisdom. This person you’re writing about just doesn’t get it. I hope he does sooner than later for the good of all in his life and care.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I think he is genuinely motivated to help his dog as I was to help him. He may not have intended to slam me, but it sure felt like it. From his perspective I was the one projecting my own negativity onto his remarks.

      At this point I’m unclear as to what he gets or doesn’t 😉 I sure as heck wasn’t getting it!

      • Gillian Shippen on

        I understand feeling slighted by the comment because working in the veterinary industry we get it leveled at us all the time and it is a very unfair and unjust comment.
        And then when it comes to actual veterinary specialties and or afterhours and emergency care, they get hit with the comment even worse.
        I do agree with you about changing other behaviour by changing our own, The classis tale of one dog trainer once stated she hated phone calls and visits with her mother because her mother always winged and was highly critical. Initially the trainer woudl avoid or delay contact because it was always so stressful. then one day she decided to change the way she dealt with it… rewarding her mother with great conversation when mother said something nice and positive but remaining silent and not engaging in the topic when it was negative. It took some weeks but eventually the conversations turned around and the visits and calls were pleasurable

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        Great strategy for dealing with family, especially aging parents when for many life can become a series of aches and pains and the hopefulness for the future decreases. It’s easy to fall into the complaining trap. Something I remind myself of repeatedly.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I often look at each of my dogs and think back on those long gone and wish the same thing, that I’d known then what I know now. I figure that is going to just keep happening!

  4. Dear heart you have a right to earn a living. You have a right to do it by helping and serving in the way that is important to you. I can so relate, have had similar conversations and felt similarly hurt. I know for myself when I can’t let go it’s usually because I want to fix the other person whose perspective is so wrong! You are a wonderful person doing great work and you don’t need to prove it to this guy to have it be so. I say it’s so, therefore it must be true! 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Megan. This one came from left field and it would seem that though the conversation was pushed back on track, this fellow could not see or acknowledge how his comments could have been interpreted in any way other than the one he meant. Or said he meant. Wasn’t sure if calling him on it sent him back pedaling into denial. It’s over now. Thankfully.

  5. Natasha on

    Excellent comparison and example of why empathy matters. And, this reflects the abusive situation I was in a few years ago. People like this are clinical narcissists who will never acknowledge they are the problem. “Too sensitive” was definitely thrown at me. Of course they blame the victim, and of course they convince others that we are the problem, NOT a victim. Sorry bout the rant but reading those phrases hit a raw nerve! Hopefully the person isn’t that bad of a case. You’d think he would have just said it was a joke, although that’s also what abusers say(!)

    • Debbie on

      Yes, it did remind me of kids who say something, realize they shouldn’t have and say they were only kidding. It was among one of the most bizarre online exchanges I’ve had. Both of us seeming to miss the other’s meaning completely.

      Ultimately it ended up ok, but i’m glad it’s over.

      Debbie Jacobs

  6. Renee on

    It is those who have a good heart, and those whose only intentions are to help others, that are hurt by the negativity of others. You cannot help that you could not turn your back to this conversation. It is the goodness in you that wouldn’t leave you to forget his negative comments. His denial of his comments being negative and trying to turn it around to make it look like you were the negative one only proves to me that he was being the defensive one taking a defensive stand. I try to help those who I can, and the ones I cannot help, I pray for.

    • Debbie on

      Thank you. It is hard to believe his comment was not meant as a jab, and I have to say in regard to the dog his heart is in the right place. Hope he can get his head around it.

      Debbie Jacobs

  7. ritaippolito on

    You are admirable and really quite wonderful…I think that is why you do what you do. I lived with someone like the man you were trying to help. People like that are very scary. Fortunately I could leave, but that poor dog is stuck. At the least you tried to help. Perhaps someday your message will reach the owner. We can hope.

    • Debbie on

      Thanks. You’re right, keep hoping.

      Debbie Jacobs

  8. kdkh on

    Before you get offended by a rude remark, don’t forget to consider the source! Some people aren’t worth it. Keep up the good work!

    • Debbie on

      I appreciate the support. I always find it difficult to write people off totally, especially if they are trying to help a dog.

      Debbie Jacobs

  9. Joanne Davidson on

    Sometimes it is difficult for people to realize that we have to see how our behaviours are perceived by the dog, especially a fearful one, and how we have to change ourselves. Trying to help the dog overcome whatever the issue is is an ongoing process that requires long term help. I’m sorry you had to be on the stinging end of someone that felt the need to lash out, didn’t understand that you were only trying to give that help, and became beligerant in order to absolve themselves from looking too closely at their own thoughts and behaviour.
    A wise man said that what we most dislike in other people are traits we see in ourselves.
    Continue to do what you do. You have certainly kept this senior’s mind engaged and, in doing so, have helped me to help a poor little puppymill refugee to grow and learn that life is more than the confines of a cage and all that went with it.


    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks for your words of support. I hope I didn’t come across as whiny. And no worries, I’m not letting the bumps in the road stop me from continuing to try to help support people like you who are trying to improve the life of one of the most fantastic creatures on earth, a dog! Glad I’ve been able to help however I could and I hope you continue to see progress with your dog.

  10. Anu on

    Nice kick in the teeth. You’re taking the time, interest, and energy trying to help someone’s dog and instead of “Thanks a million!” you’re accused of being negative. This guy needs a swift kick in the pants.

    If that ungrateful boor had read your book or been following your blog for any length of time he’d have known that you’re the head cheerleader for fearful dogs and for those of us living with and loving these special needs, high maintenance pets.

    As you pointed out, behaviors have consequences and you didn’t give this guy a free pass on his rudeness. You were upset, and rightly so. How you managed not to read this bonehead the riot act is beyond me. Instead, you stated your position to him (and to us, your readers) in a matter of fact fashion. That’s not whining. I’m glad you told us and are getting the support you need to shake off this unpleasantness.

    For every ingrate there are so many more of us who value and depend on your expertise and advice. I know I do.

    Thank you Debbie, for helping me help my Remy. Your POSITIVE guidance is appreciated more than you know, especially on the many frustrating, and some discouraging, days when I’m about to lose my marbles with Remy.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thank you Anu. It’s good to hear that I’m helping someone remain in possession of all their marbles! Heaven only knows how we need to keep as many of those as possible.

  11. Pam on

    When I read his comment it took me back to the beginning of my journey when no one seemed able to tell me how to help my fear agressive dog in the way I had hoped. I needed a quick fix and there was none. The fear that he might not ever be okay made me an angry person who didn’t have enough understanding or knowledge to understand what people were really telling me and of course my anger caused my dog to become even more fearful and angry. It’s sites like yours that help me understand that this is a long journey and to be thankful for baby steps of improvement.

  12. Margaret Haynes Meritt on

    Sometimes people are just self-absorbed pricks. He obviously didn’t realize how complex the situation was and that you were offering expert opinion and advise.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Had to laugh Margaret! Don’t mince your words 😉

  13. torybirch on

    I spent my whole love dealing with a narcissistic / borderline personality disordered sister. You’re whole exchange with the man reminded me of her, on her best day. It’s hard to stand your ground with someone like that because doing so only hurts you worse and compiles the issue. I truly feel for you and wish you the best with this type of person in the future. God knows, my final refuge was simply to avoid my sister all together. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for how to handle someone like that.

    • torybirch on

      Whoops! Silly spell correct. I obviously meant “life” not “love.”

    • fearfuldogs on

      Avoidance is often the solution we come up with. Worked for me.

  14. Laura Gail Grohe on

    Another possible response from you, when you were told you were over-sensitive, is, “You’re right. That is part of what makes me so excellent at my job as an animal behaviorist. It is why you sought out my help.”

    Because really, if you weren’t so sensitive it is hard to imagine you (or any of us with fearful dogs) being crazy enough to slog through the slow and painful process of helping a scared dog find peace in this world.

    This world would be in far worse shape were it not for those of us who are over-sensitive and willing to do what must be done to ease the suffering we encounter.

    Thank you for all that you do!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks Laura, you are right on. I did mention that. I can think of no reason to apologize for being sensitive to the actions of others. I survived 😉

  15. Kay Liestman on

    I, too, am grateful for your support with Mattie. You have a wonderful way of making me look at what I’m doing to cause her distress. I’ve never felt that you were putting me down, but lifting Mattie up to the place that she can be when I learn more about helping her. It’s true that people are prone to blame rather than accept blame and I’m proud of you for having the strength and compassion to call this person on his response. And we can all hope his dog will eventually benefit. You, Debbie, are a real jewel and worth all the money you earn and then some. Your blog is a lifesaver. Thank you for being there.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks Kay, I’m glad I was able to help you with Mattie. This is an imperfect medium for communicating on what can be very emotional topics.

      You are the one doing the hard work and putting your head into the situation. Congratulations!

  16. Linda Trunell on

    You are a great help to people dealing with fearful dogs and to trainers like me who are trying to learn more so we can help. You are sensitive to the feelings of other people and animals because you have a compassionate heart. Thank you for all that you do, Debbie. You give of your time and your knowledge for FREE!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thank you Linda, I appreciate it. Despite the fact that money is required to keep my dogs in kibble, the real motivator for me is the devotion so many pet owners and trainers like you have for helping dogs. It’s so friggin uplifting!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for saying Linda!

  17. ljwinkler on

    I agree that it’s hard to let go sometimes (I have many conversations I wish I could rewind) and one thought I had was maybe the person on Facebook couldn’t wrap his head around what you were saying because if something is scary or we don’t know how to handle it, we become reluctant to try the next thing or experiment with new behaviors, and so we end up over reacting or using more force than we might have meant to.

    I see him somewhat like his dog — afraid, trapped, and at the moment it feels like there is only has one way to respond. Not a good situation for all involved.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks. It was quite a remarkable conversation. It ended up ok. My thoughts are always on getting info out that will help the dog, but it’s not always easy to stay focused.

  18. Debbie D. on

    Someone like this sounds like he has an emotionally abusive personality. Someone telling you that you’re “too sensitive” is the hallmark of that type of personality. Then twisting everything around to make it out to be your fault. Again, all qualities of an abusive personality. I just hope the dog is okay in that type of household.

    • fearfuldogs on

      So hard to know what is really going on through this form of communication.

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