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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Life with a Fearful Dog

I know that some of you have fearful dogs in your lives. Shyla is my first. I have formed an incredible bond with her but I've found myself feeling upset when I see how many things still scare her.

When Shyla is just with our family, she's happy and relaxed. She's so affectionate. During our training yesterday, she suddenly was overcome with the need to leap into my arms and shower me with kisses! I feel so lucky that she has chosen to trust and love me.
But then, something will happen to remind me that Shyla will never be "normal", like previous Labs in our lives.

This morning, it was pouring rain, and I suddenly had a change of plans. I had to be at the dentist quite early for a "surprise visit" (never a good thing!). I decided to squeeze in a quick bike ride for the sake of my spine before going to the appointment.

I contemplated whether to bring Shyla. I didn't have much time to deal gently with her fears. However, it was pouring rain so I figured that no one else would be out to scare her.

Lo and behold, someone else was out, including a rambunctious golden retriever. He bounded toward us, having run at least 100 yards from his family to greet us. He's big, goofy, and benign. Shyla turned and fled the other way. So, I grabbed my bike, turned it around, and went to find my terrified dog. She was lurking in the forest a short distance away. So, the two of us hid in the forest until the "danger" had passed. You have no idea how many times we've done that!

I keep thinking that there will be a day when Shyla will be more rational. For example, she's seen the rambunctious dog from this morning at least 100 times in her life. He's nice, albeit a little overwhelming. I know that I'm being unreasonable but, for some reason, my mind expects that someday Shyla will stop being afraid of dogs and people who we see regularly and have never hurt her.

I feel bad even writing that. I usually have lots of empathy for her fears but sometimes, like this morning, I have "empathy fatigue".
A spider web with raindrops in it this morning
I wonder if others who have fearful dogs have felt this way? I'd love to hear your stories. They might help me to stop beating myself up over my moments of wishing that Shyla would just act normal. That's not a realistic wish, and I know it.

I must end by saying that I love Shyla no matter what, and I'll keep working to bolster her confidence. I just have moments of weakness.
That's my girl.

34 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Strength comes in knowing when to 'drop the bundle' for a bit. Don't beat yourself up about beating yourself up!!! You are, in effect, a 'carer' in the way that a mother might have to be for a child with disabilities and it is well-acknowledged that the need for respite will rise from time to time. That is not so easy to manage with a dog - but the nearest thing is to come to your bloggy and share the care. We can send etherhugs and encouragment. Shyla is surely blessed to have found you!!! YAM xx

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  2. Our ginger boy Boris does not like strangers, new vehicles or different noises, The other afternoon, the plumbers came to clean the chimneys. One man walked along the roof, it sounded like an earthquake. Boris must have panicked, and ran down the track and across the stream!! Freezing water, at least 2 feet deep. I called and called, finally found him up the bank, he came down, and paced up and down at the water's edge. Finally I left him. About an hour later he came in, cold and saturated. I have no idea why he is like this, unless there was something that happened before we found him on our back door step, when he was maybe 7 weeks old. So Shyla is really doing so very well, maybe this time, she thought the dog was another one, or were there other noises as well? Hiding together, what a loving bond. I can picture this, and have a huge smile for you both.

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    1. In retrospect, I suspect that my tension over my appointment made her react even more strongly to the "scary" dog (not really scary at all to me!) than she usually would. I'm so glad that Boris came home to his warm and dry home with you!

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  3. Have you ever tried agility classes? Or is that setting too much for her? I was wondering because I've read it helps to bolster a dog's confidence. But I would imagine the other dogs/people might be overwhelming.

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    1. You're thinking along the same lines as I have. We do nosework, via online classes. We also have an agility course on our land and we do "fun agility". You're right, though, that an in person class is too hard for her. If I could find a really small class with an instructor who understood Shyla's special needs, it might be great for her but I haven't found that yet...

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  4. I think it is natural to grow weary now and again. You work very hard to make Shyla's life the best it can be and it is just human nature to feel she should have lost more of her fear than she has. She is so very lucky to have you and live where and as she does.

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  5. YES! Many times I had asked myself this same question with our beloved Für Elise. She was soooo fearful, almost to the point that I *know* people had to wonder "What are those people DOING to that dog??" *sigh* Little did anyone know that we treated our animals every bit as well, sometimes better, than our children... for they too were/are our children... except with fur. We went through training and well, too many things to list here, trying to help her but in the end that was her personality and we had to accept it. Genetics plays an important role in an animal's life too and we came to understand that all too well. She would look at us as if to say "Just love me, mom & dad... just love me!" And we did... xoxo

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    1. I love your message. Accept her spirit and love her. I can do that!

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  6. Shyla is a special gal, no matter what. We hate that she gets scared but she knows you will protect her.

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  7. Our Baby Girl was a fearful dog, due to extreme abuse. we go her at age 10 months, a lot of it we overcame with her, but some of it went to her deathbed with her. it sounds to me like you are doing everything you can to help. she is a sweet girl, so was our Baby... we are having problems with Jake, who is 12 and 7 months. He has never had a fearful day. until last Thursday.
    he goes into a panic attack as soon as we go in the kitchen to prepare food.
    it started with him sitting on the sofa with bob at 10 am and bob was eating a soft pretzel. he offered him a piece and he freaked out and left. bob finished and went to find him and he was hiding in the shower behind the curtain shaking like a leaf. when I came home I tried it and he did the same thing.  bob eats 4 ginger snaps after breakfast, with his last cup of coffee. they sit on the sofa together and he gets a teeny bite that is left of each one. he fled and shook. he shakes so hard he can't walk and he pants until his tongue hangs out. when the food is gone, he goes back to the sofa and gets in bob's lap and goes to sleep. for five days, we go in the kitchen to fix a meal and he hides in the shower. he has for 12 years stood at attention in the kitchen waiting for an accidental drop on the floor and sits under our legs at the counter when we eat. now we eat alone and he shakes in the other room... today he refused to take his bones from bob. he is eating well, sleeping well, walking well and doing his jobs well. just the panic attacks at food times.

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    1. This may be a very silly question but could Jake have a bad tooth or a mouth infection? Just an idea. Shyla broke a tooth, unbeknownst to me. She'd loved having her teeth brushed until that day when she freaked out at the toothbrush. I'm probably completely wrong about Jake but I hope that you figure out what is making him so afraid. Sending good thoughts your way...

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  8. Molly has many fear issues. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of love and yes, sometimes we "wish" they were different. You have worked so very hard with her. Shyla loves you and she trusts you and she always will. You're allowed to have your moments, KB. Heaven only knows that I do.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I love your Molly from afar, and I think that's because you paint such a wonderful picture of her in your blog. I guess that we all need to give ourselves permission to have our moments.

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  9. I fostered an extremely fearful young dog - under 1 year. Her best times were when she with the other older foster I had that was very confident (my training her helped a lot - she was a little sponge and loved learning new things). When it came time for her to be adopted - I brought along the older dog and it helped tremendously. I think that having my own issues with certain situations, loud sounds - I probably have a deeper well of empathy than most - although I did get frustrated with her progress a couple of times too.

    I think you may have to resign yourself to the fact that she while she has come a VERY long way - she may never be "normal". And to be fair - that dog or the person with the dog may have triggered a fearful memory for Shyla due to the way they smelled/sounded/etc. Dogs pick up on things we humans do not (I read somewhere rain amplifies sounds/smells for dogs); or, like us, they also may just be having a day when they don't want to deal with certain situations - no matter how often they may have been okay with it in the past. It's even possible she picked up on your anxiety (?) wanting to squeeze in that bike ride and get back quickly because you had an appointment.

    You have done a great job with Shyla. The fact that you hid with her in the forest until the "danger" passed speaks volumes of your patience and love for her.

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    1. I think that your idea that Shyla picked up on my tension about the day is a really good one. She did react even more strongly to that rambunctious dog than she usually does. I've noticed her sensitivity to my moods, even when I try to hide them. Perhaps I should try to avoid things that might scare her when I'm stressed out.

      Thanks for your wise words.

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  10. We have a little different situation. Following three surgeries over time, I have turned into a grumpy old lady that is afraid of and hate most beasts with 4 legs. Mom gets stressed and embarrassed at my behavior. She is learning to make a quick u-turn when s 4-legged is coming our way. She lectures me. I do get tons of kisses at home cause she adores me either way
    Lily (& Edward)

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    1. We've learned that quick u-turn too! When things hurt, of course you're nervous about 4-leggers who might jostle you or even intentionally be mean. I know how much your mom loves you...

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  11. We so understand as we have a lot of the same issues with Lightning. His biggest fear is bikes, scooters, and skateboards, but that easily can translate into baby strollers and joggers, and sometimes just walkers. No matter how many times he sees the bikes, he never loses that fear. But at least he tolerates, balloons, garage sale signs, for sale signs, and construction cones, which were very evil to him before:)

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    1. It sounds like Lightning is making great progress. Those bikes and skateboards (and all wheeled things) can come up really fast. That's a tough fear to get over. Shyla absolutely falls apart around skateboards - and so do other dogs in the local class that we go to. But, I'm so glad that he's learned to be more accepting of some other things that used to scare him!

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  12. I don't doubt your complete love and devotion at all costs to Shyla for one single split second. But you are human and when stuff comes up, it's hard to have "time for this shit." (LOL). You know I get it. Probably the BEST thing to do is avoid putting yourself in a situation where you don't have time to be empathetic. Go on your bike ride alone and do a quick walk to hug hill with Shyla later for example. One day of not running /biking with you will be ok. I think dogs (especially as they age) can use a day of "nothing" and if they need "something" then mind games and a short potty walk... I can't think of any time I had empathy fatigue at this moment but I'm 100% sure I've had it. And I'm 100% sure that as I aged with my Loki, I've thought about how I'm going to handle his issues while in certain situations (like being on vacation with them) and if I had enough support to help me handle it (like having MWD with me). If I don't have the necessary resources to manage unexpected something that may make him react (shyla runs, Loki barks and lunges and scares the crap out of whatever scares him), then I just don't take him or i avoid the event/situation. Just like you would with any fearful dog, you avoid the situation until you have time to handle it and try to recondition it and since she really continues to have it throughout her life, it's just something you have to consider for all your events, and if you are in a big hurry, then it's best to do some games at home then do your own ride and go to your appointment. Also I found switching things up, never being TOO consistent really helps dogs cope with change. They say consistency is good and it's true but stuff happens in life and if you miss a walk or are late for dinner or even skip a dinner (if they need to fast), it's not a bad thing... those kinds of stresses are good for them (my opinion). But that's how I handle Loki: if i have the time and resources (escape route or another person to handle Juno while i handle him) then I do take him. If not, they both stay at home. :)

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  13. I have a "special child" who was like Shyla, and I am like you. We both see all the life they miss out on because of fears. I get tired and grumpy and wonder about the future, but I just pull up my big girl panties and tell myself how blessed I am and love her more. Today my Ashley is great, friends, laughs and full of love. Lives on her own in special apt center 2 blocks from me.(35 with mild cp) It always takes lots of time, love, and realizing this is their life and accept them as they accept you.

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  14. My sister Bailie is a bit fearful. Mom feels so bad for her, but her feelings are also hurt because Mom isn't enough to cure the fear. They cuddle and Bailie trusts her, but still is scared. So sad.

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  15. I understand your wish. Brut was an extreme case of fear that was aggression. I wanted more than ever for him to change. It was exhausting dealing with all his special needs. We had a love/hate relationship for a long time. Funny the part I hated about him (aggression) was the dog I felt safest with to protect me. We had an incredible bond and I found that really we were so much alike in our fears, they were just turned inside out.

    Acceptance is the key. ;) Good luck. btw there is nothing wrong with having some fear. I agree with Blueberry's human. I think Shyla's past is going to stick with her. So you learn to work with it instead of going around it. Hiding in the woods...perfect!

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  16. Pocket is very noise sensitive. Anything high pitched sets her off. Watching television with her can be a challenge. And sometimes she hears or smells something outside and she begins to tremeble. Lately I can't get through a day without her have episode. And this morning she did not eat which she does when she is hyper nervous. Yes, I too have empathy fatigue. I tell her "It's nothing," but to her it is something. I love her to death but I would like to get through a day without comorting her three or four times over nothing

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  17. Just when you think you've jumped one hurdle, you have to go back and try again.

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  18. We don't have a lot of people over to our house, but when we do, what I wouldn't give for Luke to be at the door greeting them with a wagging tail, rather than shut in the bedroom or his crate because we can't be sure he wouldn't be scared enough to bite. Truth is, there are days I'd give anything to have a "normal" dog, and to not have to explain him to everyone. He is our first extremely reactive dog, though Cricket can be just a bit leash reactive.
    On the other hand, I feel like my bond with him is stronger than any other dog, and in many ways he's the best dog we've ever had. But there are days I just want to give up on him completely, and feel like I just don't have the energy to work on every little issue he has - there are a lot. I've cried over it many times. So yeah, I completely get it, and have a post similar to this always in my head.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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  19. I do understand your feelings, and 'll just share a general thought. What I've noticed about my own expectations is that if I'm feeling rushed or tired or anxious, I have less patience with what I consider to be - at least at that moment - the irrational behavior of other animals.

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  20. My Willow is pretty shy where people and new situations are concerned. She shows a lot of tongue flicks and hides behind me a lot. She usually WILL listen to me, but you can tell the whole situation is hard for her. She's always worried when I try to get her to learn new things. I wonder sometimes what traumatized her so much as a pup. (We got her when she was about a year old. A friend found her running loose on the street.) But we deal as best we can. And you do too. And it IS frustrating sometimes. (((hugs)))

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  21. I like to think that I am aware of other people and their dogs while on the trail. I have trained Bert to respond to me as soon as I call him off a jaunt to visit another dog on the trail, but this has been an eye opener for me. I am the one with the rambunctious golden and I am seeing things through your eyes and Shyla's after this post. Of course I holler, "dont worry, he is a very friendly dog", but I am not considering the fear and frustration of the dog Bert is charging forward to visit. You are challenging yourself with all the responsibility when half that responsibility should belong to those of us with the "overly Friendly" dogs. We should be more considerate of the feelings of those dogs who may not be so friendly or may be fearful. So on behalf of those people and their dog that caused Shyla and you so much pain, I apologize and will be more respectful of your type of situation in our future.

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  22. Our dogs have been English Springer Spaniels or Golden Retrievers. We brought each of them into our homes as very young puppies so they came to us with no fears and fortunately did not develop any. I must admit it would be very difficult for me to deal with a fearful dog and I do so admire your managing to help Shyla through her fears and loving her unconditionally in spite of them.

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  23. Some dogs never lose their fears, you can only be there to support and love them. And for your sweet girl, I suspect she's pretty thrilled that it's you to love and reassure her.

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  24. Lord, each of mine (and my granddog) have their own idiosyncrasies that take the patience of Job to deal with - fear of thunder and fireworks, fear of different types of floors, fear of shiny food bowls... My little one still acts like I'm going to beat her and cowers or hides under furniture every time I go to pick her up, though I've never once shown her anything but love and affection in the 8 years I've had her (but if I just take the time to go sit on the sofa and call her, she'll come to me right away and jump up on my lap). I guess it relates back to something in her life before I adopted her, but it's disheartening, and at times downright annoying for sure. You are not alone...

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