My deepest passion is helping dogs with fear based issues and separation anxiety. Whether this would have been the path I would have chosen for myself, I don’t know, but the dogs who have entered my life over the past seven years have steered me along this path and it is one I haven’t looked back on.
Living with a dog with fear based issues can have a huge emotional impact on all those living within the home, both human and animal. From the human point of view I remember only too well the days that I wished I could put a bubble around our home to protect all of those inside. I would pray that on our walks we would be the only living things out in the world at that particular moment in time. We were lucky as where we lived was fairly remote but even the smell of a human a few kilometers away, an extra flower in bloom on a bush, or a fence flapping in the wind would stress Robbie out. When we took Robbie into our home we entered the realm of dog training and understanding dog behaviour by a baptism of fire. There was no other option as she could not tolerate anyone else apart from ourselves being near her.
The one thing that became clear very quickly was that the pace was to be set by Robbie. Any ideas or expectations from the human side needed to be packed away tightly in a box. Each day was to be taken one step at a time and set backs were inevitable. No matter how hard anyone tries, you cannot be perfect 100% of the time, you can simply do your best in any given situation.
We started off by helping Robbie to feel comfortable in her home environment. If there were any scary noises we would pair them with awesome things happening to her. We taught her how to nose target which worked a treat when she used to get stuck in her own little world. She had interactive feeding toys to keep her focused on something else if there was anything going on outside which we thought may upset her, and took part in online dog training courses where we would teach her new behaviours. All the time adding to her toolbox of things to fall back on if there was ever a stressful situation and helping her to increase in confidence. When things did upset her, we tried to keep her cognitive to stop her from shutting down completely asking her to go through her repertoire of behaviours she knew and playing ‘find it’ games. The power of nose work games for dogs with fear based issues are pretty phenomenal and one I would encourage any caregiver of a dog similar to Robbie to look into. It saved us more times than I can remember and both human and dog can have a lot of fun extending these games and making them more interesting.
There is that famous old saying ‘‘if only I knew back then what I know now’’ but I reality I stand by most of what we did. As my dog training journey continued there were extra things I know now that could have helped. The most important thing was that we never pushed her to go further than she could and she taught me a patience that I never knew existed inside of me. Robbie knew we loved her and although she was only in our lives for a relatively short time we learnt a lot from each other.
We never knew why Robbie showed such extreme fear. Lack of socialization, abused whilst she was owned by hunters, something happening to her during one of her fear imprint periods or all of the above. At the time I was fairly caught up into what the reasons could have been, but the knowing or not knowing wasn’t helping her to see the world as a safer place to be in.
If you do own a dog with fear based issues remember to celebrate the baby steps forward. Baby steps come together as larger steps and create solid foundations for you to work from. You can always break everything down into bite size pieces and celebrate success more often instead of setting unrealistic goals and ‘failing’ at each stage. This is by no means a how to if you have a fearful dog but all of these things certainly helped Robbie and other dogs that I have come into contact with. Patience and love goes a long way.