Fearful Dogs are not bad dogs.
Fearful Dogs are not difficult dogs.
Fearful Dogs are not damaged dogs.
Fearful Dogs are not dangerous dogs.
Fearful Dogs are not defiant dogs.
Fearful Dogs are not cowards.
Fearful Dogs ARE dogs that see life in great detail. They see, hear, smell, and feel everything like any dog, but Fearful Dogs go a step beyond and scour their environment meticulously using all of their senses, to get the best possible information that will let them know if they are safe or not.
Fearful Dogs want to know who, what, why, when, how, how much, how often, and how many, in all new environments, or in familiar environments that may have had a change of some sort.
Why? Why does a Fearful Dog want all of this information, why such detail to the environment?
Dogs only act well when they feel safe. Truth.
A Fearful Dog needs to understand and know each and every environment they go into, to determine if they will be safe or not. While some dogs are genetically predisposed with this temperament, other dogs become fearful through life experiences, or the lack there of. Either way, imagine how exhausting, how daunting, and how unpredictable their life must feel at times? For some Fearful Dogs, their sky is in fact falling almost every single day.
MISUNDERSTOOD – A Fearful Dog that is misunderstood, and treated with corrections, humiliation, or intimidation, is a dog who will become reactive, will usually cause harm, and will become more fearful in varying ways over time. The instability in temperament becomes more evident with each passing week, month, or year. It simply cannot get better, as the misunderstood Fearful Dog is generally over faced with the vary things that cause fear.
You cannot punish fearfulness out of a living being. Truth.
Fearful Dogs are not bad, difficult, damaged, dangerous, defiant, or cowards. People create those problems, people create these behaviors. Fearful Dogs have fears, it is truly that simple. And if those fears are not recognized, acknowledged, and treated with care and attention, then you build the dog of your choosing.
UNDERSTANDING – A Fearful Dog that is understood, and in the right hands, is a dog that most likely will remain fearful to some degree, of certain things, but will also learn how to trust the Handlers choices for new environments.
If a Fearful Dog indicates that something is over their skill level, or makes them feel unsafe, the understanding Handler usually says, THANK YOU, out loud or mentally, because they know dogs don’t lie. And then changes are made, in the environment, with work, or the people or dogs present.
An understanding and knowledgeable Handler of a Fearful Dog starts to build trust in a known and safe environment. Trust is the foundation, and this needs to be worked on with care and attention.
Helping the Fearful Dog with confidence generally comes from work, or skill building. This can happen in the family room, kitchen, yard, a training center, but work and skill building are a must. A Fearful Dog wants to think and solve concepts just like any dog, so they have to be given this opportunity.
It isn’t so much about ‘basic behaviors’, it’s about work, skills, building vocabulary, building hand cues, body cues, and allowing the Fearful Dog to be successful.
Circus Tricks, Instability Body Awareness, ground work for Agility, Treibball, Herding, and scent tracking are all great activities for any dog, but uber important for the Fearful Dog.
But here’s the hitch. With a Fearful Dog, while you are teaching and introducing new skills, you are working on ‘dog time’ not ‘human time’. You will find that ‘sweet spot’ where there is enough social pressure to peak your dogs interest and engage your dog, but not too much where it makes your dog fold. And you can only work if your dog is enjoying the work, and has body language that is engaged, eager, and somewhat relaxed.
This is referred too as building a ‘Positive Conditioned Emotional Response’ or +CER. With Fearful Dogs this goes hand in hand with work and skill building. If a Fearful Dog feels safe, enjoys the work, feels empowered by their skills, then we start to shape a more positive emotional response, a ‘lift’ so to speak. And the more you work on this, the more this starts to transfer to things you might suggest, or places that you go, or people you introduce, etc.
CONSISTENCY – Fearful Dogs need a consistent, and understanding Handler. A person that chooses environments with care, understands ‘dog time’, and creates an emotionally stable home environment.
MY OCEAN – Besides working with Fearful Dogs on a weekly basis, and slowly integrating them into new activities or environments, watching them blossom slowly, build confidence, and feel safe, I had the privilege to live with one for twelve and a half years. My Ocean was cautious, spooky, and fearful, and most likely this was genetic as she showed extreme fear when we met her at six weeks of age.
She taught me how important work and skill building were, what feeling safe meant to her, and how to keep her emotions supple and flexible.
She taught me that environments count for everything. Choose carefully.
She taught me that while she was gaining confidence in certain areas, she had fears that were so great in other areas that we just had to accept that, and work around it. That was part of who she was.
Because life is too short, and we all need to be more understanding ~ Nancy