Dog behavior training tips for fearful dogs
I had no idea what I was getting into when we adopted Mayzie. She has been through so much and is still a sensitive dog, but she’s really come out of her shell in the past few months. When you adopt a pet from Second Chance Animal Rescue like me, they’ll give you all sorts of tips for how to care for them – even if it’s your first time owning one!
Truthfully, I’m not sure we could have ever been prepared for the enormous project that awaited us. Mayzie was a truly fearful dog- they feared everything!
Mayzie had a lot of fears. For example, she was terrified by hardwood floors and stairs, the oven, dishwasher, BBQ grill–you name it! In fact, even just thinking about these things made her anxious.
Mayzie the Pomeranian is now a happy and healthy member of society, but it wasn’t always this way. With help from her family’s constant attention as well as an unorthodox form of therapy: cheese therapy, she has been able to overcome many obstacles that have come into her life since she was adopted last year.
Fearful dogs pose a challenge to their caregivers, but it’s worth the rewards.
One of the biggest challenges that come with caring for an anxious dog is determining if it should be in your home or not. It can often feel like you’re doing everything right and have them as comfortable as possible when suddenly something sets off all those triggers from before which shuts down any progress made until now. In these moments I found my own anxiety would start creeping back up again because I knew there was still so much more work to do – this cycle repeated itself several times over months and years until finally one day we had someone on staff who helped us establish boundaries both at our house (we needed help!) and outside of it too! We learned how important consistency
So, if you’re just starting your journey or have been at it for a while and are facing similar fears with your dog, here’s what to do.
- A fearful dog’s journey isn’t a straight line — don’t expect it to be
You might be hard-wired to want to get someplace by the shortest, most direct path. So you should prepare for setbacks and breakdowns when working with a fearful dog because it’s going to take longer than expected! It can even happen that your journey will need an alternate route every once in a while.
When it comes to fearful dogs, setbacks are normal but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. The worst-case scenario is not going back to where we started; if we stay the course and acknowledge detours we will keep moving forward toward our goal instead of giving up in discouragement.
- Learn to enjoy the perspective
After adopting Mayzie, I became hypervigilant about everything around us. What were the potential triggers on our walks? What might cause her to fly into a panic in the house? Frankly, it was stressful because it seemed that there was no way for me not to worry all day and night.
After she came home with me from Animal Care Services, my new dog had an instant impact on how much time I spent worrying at work or sitting at home waiting for something bad to happen – but as you can imagine this type of paranoia is exhausting!
I never saw a world like this before. I began to see things in a whole new way, with Mayzie’s eyes. At first, it was something as simple as my neighbor putting up a fence or flowers blooming on another person’s property that I had noticed all along but didn’t really notice until now because of how much more detail she could take in and process than me due to her disability. But then as time went by, other beautiful parts of life started coming into view too: birds chirping instead of making noises out my window; trees swaying gently under the wind outside at night; people laughing when they talk so you can actually hear what they’re saying without having them yell over each other- these are just some.
- Revel in small victories when it comes to scared dogs
One morning on our walk, Mayzie stopped dead in her tracks and backed up several steps. Suddenly I was at full alert – what had she seen? Then it hit me too; the sidewalk lay scattered with large dahlia blooms that were still wet from last night’s rainstorm. In a split-second decision, I opted for inaction which seemed safer than to try to get my dog past this new obstacle- after all, there would be plenty more where these came from!
Mayzie: One morning we went for a walk as usual when suddenly we could see something unusual on the ground ahead of us! There were stacks of flowers strewn everywhere so your first instinct is “What happened here?!” But then you
I watched as she slowly crept forward, her neck outstretched and poised for flight. Closer and closer she inched until she was nose-to-bud with the flower. Once sniffing it, all tension released from her body like a sigh of relief. “Duh, mom!” She seemed to say before trotting happily away–a relieved canine that had overcome its fear in front of my eyes! I smiled on our way home together after such an emotional encounter.
- There will be tough days and you might want to give up
After two weeks of adopting our dog, we had a really bad day. Everything that could go wrong did and I felt like giving up on her. As my husband climbed into bed with me following the night’s events, he comforted me by telling me not to give up on Mayzie because it was just one terrible day. He reminded us both how much love this little pup brought to our lives when she shyly approached him for petting after being so afraid before then made taking care of her all worth it in those difficult moments where you feel alone without help or guidance from anyone else but your partner who has already been there through thick and thin right beside you – as they always will be until the end- which is why sometimes even if something
My husband looked me in the eye and said, “She’s ours now and we won’t give up on her. You’ll feel better after you’ve slept.” And I did–I woke with a sense of determination that helped propel us through our bad days. After all, there were many more to come; but without my renewed conviction, it’s hard for me to say how they would have gone down.
- Just remember — a fearful dog does get better
Five years ago, I never would have believed where Mayzie is today. Never. She was my timid and skittish pup who wouldn’t go for walks or stay in the same room with a ceiling fan on – now she loves to do both! Back then it seemed like we were making no progress at all but looking back on it things were getting better even if they felt hard to see from our perspective then too.
Journaling is one of the best ways to keep track of your progress, and it’s actually a really great way to make sure you stay on top of things. It also helps on difficult days when you’re feeling down about how long this process took or frustrated by some setback because I can read all sorts of encouraging articles from other people who have been in my position before me!
- Parenting a fearful dog is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do
Mayzie is an unusual dog. She’s never going to look like your typical pup, but she still has a happy and healthy life. I can’t even begin to count all the hours that have been spent helping Mayzie become who she is today – full of happiness and with more acquaintances than family members!
The first time I ever met her was when my niece brought her home for me to watch while they went on vacation together. At least at the time, it seemed innocuous enough; after all, dogs need care too right? But as soon as we introduced ourselves properly (I’m Riley), something clicked between us in those few seconds before any words were exchanged: this wasn’t just about taking some pet-sitting gigs from.
It has been an amazing, challenging ride over the past few months. I am so happy to have had this opportunity and experience with you all. It is a rare bond that will last long after we no longer work together!