I Confess

4 dogs sitting on the end of a pier with a lake in the backgroundI live with 4 dogs who I enjoy the company of, care greatly about and wouldn’t trade for the world. I like to think that they feel the same about me. But lately, as friends get sturdy puppies who are growing up to be confident and handsome dogs, I find myself feeling nostalgic about dogs from my past. And dreaming of dogs in my future.

Before this current group of dogs I could grab a map of local hiking trails, load up a backpack, get the dogs in the car, and head off for the day. There were no worries about what I’d do were we to run into children, men with hats, beards, and walking sticks, or other dogs. Don’t get me wrong, those dogs had their share of challenges. They barked too much at cars driving by the house, rolled in stinky, dead things, one could locate discarded baby diapers from 1/2 mile, and they stole their share of sandwiches from picnicking toddlers. But at the end of the day I could stop and visit a friend, the dogs either joining me inside or waiting contentedly in the car until I returned. Those were the days.

Now I live with dogs who require constant thought and planning. Annie barks a lot, likes to ride in the car but never settles if I leave her in it. She’s not destructive but I feel guilty returning after an hour shopping trip and finding her, front feet on the dashboard, in the same position I left her, watching for me. Nibbles is terrified riding in the car and the last time I left him for any amount of time, he vomited all over our suitcases. At home he’s always on alert, waiting for someone to jog, bike or drive by so he can charge and bark. There have been improvements in this behavior, but nothing is ever not a big deal to Nibs. Sunny can’t join the big, wide world except in very small and controlled doses. Thank goodness he’s ok in the car and doesn’t seem to mind having to wait in it when I’m gone. And then there’s Finn my border collie–my most normal dog is a border collie, if that gives you perspective.

I’m not complaining. I know that one day, all too soon, I’ll be missing those faces.


33 comments so far

  1. Natasha on

    I’ve wanted a dog all my life, and finally decided to adopt one… There were so many sweet doggies on Petfinder, but I had to have this one. My husband took me aside and said that these dogs would not be used to the city, its noises, etc. We knew she was “shy at first.” Right. Well, we adore her and to see her race around joyfully in the morning makes me so happy. A “normal” dog might ride in the car, go with me to the park or my dog walks, Yup, confession’s over…let’s not think about it!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Their joy is often sweeter to us.

  2. jan on

    I know what you are saying. Some of the idiosyncrasies of past dogs that drove me up a wall. Now I would give anything to have them back.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I frequently find myself saying to myself that I wish I knew then what I know now!

  3. martie13 on

    I can relate on almost all levels. My last dog lived with me for 14 yrs. and somewhat of a pain in that, being part husky, was in constant happy hyper-motion. But I missed her so much and now having the complete opposite feel the loss even more. Molly has the anxiety induced vomiting, or peeing, or pooping in the car, even short trips to the vet. Now she gets a diaper which she never soils…I’m thinking it is more of a deterrent than a catch-all. She’s on constant alert even in her safe zone barking at my boarder coming and going even though he can interact with her, but as soon as he turns his back to leave she’s barking again until he’s out of sight. The same with my adult children who come to visit. My son was here 2 weeks and she became comfortable with him…as long as he was in the room with us. Every time he left the room or re-entered the room she’d bark ferociously. Before I retired she was used to me being going 4 hrs. at a time. Now she’s developing separation anxiety. DS and CC do nothing for her. Just approaching the back door puts her over threshold. I feel so bad for her that I recently decided to not force her to go outside to eliminate. Now I just use puppy pads. Her vet visits are the only times I force her to leave the house. I would dream of the day of having a normal dog again but I am 70 yrs. old so that’s not going to happen. Molly will probably outlive me.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Have you spoken to a vet about behavioral medications? Sometimes we need to lower their stress enough to be able to DS/CC.

      • martie13 on

        She was on Prozac for over a year. It seemed to reduce her stress somewhat but after a while she seemed to level off. We increased the dosage but that seemed to make her a bit frantic. I may see about putting her on it again at a dosage between the 20mg & the 30mg if that is possible. I don’t know if there is a 5mg or 25mg but I will check. I really don’t want to experiment with a bunch of different medications because it takes so long to discover the effects. It’s so complicated when seeing her being so happy at times in her safe zone and then seeing the level of stress it creates when trying to broaden her horizons.

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        Some dogs may get relief from meds, even if just a bit, and can benefit from being on them for life. It is true that sometimes increasing the dose doesn’t get us much more than the lower dose. It is possible to ask your vet about an anxiolytic to use in combo with an anti-depressant. You can see the effect of these meds within an hour or less.

  4. Mel on

    I can SO relate. I love ALL my dogs, but I also must plan ahead and know what each dog’s issues are and whether it not they will be safe in every circumstance. Ever since Cupcake was lost I have been even more vigilant about what I expose my dogs to and when, if ever.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I suppose it keeps us on our toes.

  5. Lynn on

    Boy, do I get it. Our last dog, who lived to be 17, was the sweetest, most easy-going hound whose only problem was to get on our bed after she’d rolled in something vile. I had no idea what I was getting into when I adopted my fearful Tulip and then our highly reactive, fight-picking Jazzie (the supposed “helper” dog.) Now we can’t go away even for a day without advance planning to book one of the two humans who can handle them. But both dogs take teeny steps forward all the time (Tulip swam today!) and I find myself thinking it’ll all be better when they get older … Just gotta hang on for 6 or 7 years, keep trying to head in the right direction, and keep enjoying the thrill when one of them acts “normal.”

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Yay for Tulip’s swim day! That is fantastic. Sunny sat the table trying to mooch food from a guest today. A day of firsts!

  6. faithtrustfosterpups on

    In evaluating my once-foster, now-adopted dog, and the pretty serious stranger danger reactivity issues he comes with (which had not become apparent until a couple months after he came to the rescue, and just before I began fostering him), I recall a conversation we had with our trainer during his behavior assessment. Which ultimately is what led him to our home for the long haul.

    Anyway, she is a very compassionate and knowledgeable reactive dog parent herself. While she says she wouldn’t trade her life with her “rowdy rover” for the world, she admitted that having gone through all that comes with that level of management, training, and unwavering love and protection, she would want for some sturdiness and confidence next time around, which was used as an example for his own adoptability prospects. Those who have the experience with dogs like him may not necessarily want it again, and it makes perfect sense.

    It takes a special selflessness to give a higher level of effort, attention, resources, etc. to provide a good quality of life for those who may not otherwise have it. The love and commitment it takes does require constant thought and planning. It’s exhausting sometimes, but there are so many humans unwilling, or unable, to look at a dog that might otherwise be cast aside and say “you know what, you are worth it.”

    So, if we find ourselves in a place where we can let that dog into our world, and tell him he’s worth it, nostalgia and looking to the distant future isn’t so bad. Just so long as we live in the here and now with that dog who needs us in the present.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s hard to turn your back on them, that’s for sure!

      • Princess on the Steeple on

        Wonderful response.

  7. Sam Tatters on

    Oh yes. I’ve lived with four dogs – two who had “problems” that were easily overcome and left little to manage; and now Starr and Inka – Inka has improved greatly, but Starr has only shown me a few months yet – and the three of us still have much to work on, thankfully they both should have more than plenty time for me to help them be a little more comfortable in their skins.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Hope you enjoy the ride 🙂

  8. Nancy Freedman-smith on

    Oh yea, can I relate.

    • Debbie Jacobs on


  9. Maggie on

    Oh, Debbie. This one really spoke to me. I find myself occasionally thinking… if only Lucas were “normal” my life would be so much easier. But then I snap out of it and think about just how hard his life must actually be since he struggles with so much day-to-day. And I get to be the one to help him feel better, and I get to be the one to share in the immeasurable joy of his little victories. But, still, there are those days… If only…

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Their daily struggles do tug on our hearts and it is an honor to be able to help a fellow mortal derive some comfort in their life. But I do look forward to hiking with a dog again 😉

  10. Cybele on

    Those were the days…walking with our Goldens and Labs sans leash along the beach, in the mountains, swimming in the river. They, greeting every stranger like a long lost friend, visiting mental hospitals, schools for Autistic boys, senior homes, etc. as registered social therapy dogs…I wasn’t prepared for what came next. After a brief honeymoon after her adoption our dog’s fears and hysteria began to be expressed. I questioned whether we could live with this dog and if she even posed a threat to our safety. Thank God for the internet and your blog. Your calm assessments, and non-judgmental approach on the use of medication convinced me we could take on this challenge. Two and a half years later she continues to gain confidence, wags her tail, loves to learn tricks, loves her home, comes to us when she hears the scary noises. We still have to secure all exits in case of her need to flee loud noises but her future is bright and full of promise. We’re taking a scenting class this week. Back to our first perfect dogs…they also helped us in that they taught us that when you fall in love with the dog you have there’s no turning back. Now we don’t let our hound off the leash but the path we’re walking on seems to be leading to a place of peace.

    • Debbie on

      Absolutely beautiful.

  11. Natasha on

    Is this becoming more common? Certainly dogs who went through something like yours did, Katrina… but dogs raised on a small, loving family farm?

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I think that it has become more common since the growth of puppymills. When I was a kid puppies were usually born in someone’s basement or washroom and the neighborhood kids had access to them, giving the pups the needed exposure to people and being handled. It doesn’t take much for a dog to grow up and be comfortable and confident in their world. But too many are not even getting that.

      Spay/neuter programs in many areas has been so effective that these homegrown litters are rarely available. This has popularized the transport of dogs from other areas where they are not likely to find homes. Some of these dogs may not have had early handling. Some will be able to rebuild from this, others will struggle and unless handled appropriately will continue to struggle.

      Unfortunately because of the popularity of force and coercion based training methods, dogs are scared, their behavior degrades even further and not knowing how to reverse this trend, many pet owners and trainers, following the guidance of people like Cesar Millan, increase the amount of force and intimidation they use, thinking it will correct the problem, but only make it worse. More red zone dogs are built by this type of handling then are born into it.

      • Ishemae on

        I completely agree with the above statement. It is one of the major failing of the overall success of the North American spay and neuter campaigns. People really underestimate the importance of early puppy handling and the long term effects of missing out on socialization in that crucial time.

  12. ljwinkler on

    I’ve thought exactly the same from time to time. Our past dogs were steady, solid, and we could take them anywhere. They were always encouraged by the success of their last encounter. One was a semi-feral shepherd mix who had a high prey drive and dislike of certain dogs, but she was a calm sentry, good traveler, and very tuned in. Our two current dogs are such that friends say wistfully, “Ah, remember Sadie, and Ester, and Grace? Those were good dogs.”

    Our current two are good dogs just in very different ways. We have deep and strong feelings for our anxious dog, and I appreciate all she is teaching us and am constantly amazed at her resiliency. But, there are days I long for our dogs of the past.

    • fearfuldogs on

      One day these will be the dogs of our past:)

  13. ljwinkler on

    Oh, I know. I just don’t know what the future looks like and therefore, the past!

  14. Stacey Brewer on

    Great post, Debbie. I think we might be living parallel lives. Thank you again for all the work you do to help the fearful 4-legged kids and educate people about their special needs .You are a shining light.

  15. Cathy White on

    Thank you Debbie and all of you who have posted in response. We had to surrender our PR Sato back to the rescue he came from two months ago; after working with him for a year and a half. He was and is on Prozac, which helped him tremendously – but not enough in terms of aggression towards our Lab – who liked him very much, but was not liked in return by him. Many who follow this blog said that they would never under any circumstances, give up their dog…but what they may not get is that sometimes life becomes unbearable for both dogs in a small house; and subsequently their people. We would have kept Dobby forever if he were merely a fearful dog. It was the aggression that forced our ultimate choice. Currently he is being fostered by a professional trainer who agrees that he does not get along with other dogs (she has 2 herself) and should not be in a household with young children. She also feels that he should remain on Prozac for the rest of his life. (All things that I had written down in detail when we endured that horrible day of leaving him; scared and uncertain in the hands of a stranger.
    It was unequivically the worst day of my life.) My only consolation is in seeing the immediate change in our Lab’s demeanor: from frightened to move into a room for fear of attack to regaining the confidence that he had before we rescued Dobby. This has in no way made this decision any easier for me or my husband. I torture myself daily by looking at the rescue’s adoption page to see if anyone has expressed interest in him – of course, no one has. A scared, medicated dog that can’t get along with other dogs or children? What chance does he have? I don’t know what more we could have done for this poor little soul – at one point we even considered finding a new home for our Lab, a beautifully trained,TDInc.-registered therapy dog – and keeping Dobby. But how insane is that? Not having Dobby allows us to do many things we couldn’t do when he was with us. But given my ‘druthers, I’d have him back with us in a heartbeat if he could only have gotten along with Harry. What a sad situation for all. 😦

  16. Katja on

    How I can relate to this post and I will remember it on the next bad day. Always had rescues or strays, and all had some issues, but not like my two now. Sammy being extremely shy and fearful, combined with dog and human aggression, guarding and handling issues and Nubi who is fearful as well, but goes the other way, hyper active, high prey drive and hardly able to settle. Still wouldn’t want to miss them and there are the great moments, like Nubi playing tug for the first time or Sammy coming up for a cuddle.
    Thanks for the great blog, just discovered it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your comment and glad you find the blog helpful.

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