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Posts Tagged ‘shy dogs’

Foster Maggie: Then and Now

May 6, 2015 11 comments

@animalhumanemn @sfratzke Maggie says "Good luck today!". Hope it is a great walk!I always find it funny how we humans can be so close to something (or someone) and not notice the subtle changes that occur.

We usually notice the big changes over time, but when we are too close to the person or animal or event, the subtle ones get missed.

If you have ever had a puppy you have probably experienced this very thing. Someone comes up and exclaims their disbelief at how much your puppy has grown since they last saw him/her and suddenly you see, as if for the first time, that your puppy has indeed grown several inches. How did you miss it? How did you miss seeing those subtle signs?

I would argue that we only notice the big changes because they are concrete packages of time that tell us time has passed The smaller changes are so subtle and so woven with the other moments of our days that they don’t stand out (i.e., we notice when the puppy can no longer crawl under the coffee table, but not when his back starts to touch the bottom of it).

The other night I was texting with a friend and was telling her about bringing Maggie to a friend’s house. I told her how shocked I was by how well she did.

The little dog who would run from my outstretched hand just a few months ago actually approached two people she had never met and touched them, several times. Even more shocking to me was that she chose to do so all on her own. She even stayed for quite some time so she could get some pets and butt scratches. I was seeing Maggie’s small steps of progress all in one moment and in my eyes, it was as if she took a giant leap!

My friend responded back that she had seen the subtle changes in Maggie too. I was so surprised. She told me that I should look at Maggie’s early pictures, from when she first came to stay with us, and compare them with the ones I have taken of her more recently. She said you can see the subtle differences.

And you know what? She was right! I pulled several photos of Maggie from the early days and compared them to ones I have taken in the past few months. She looks different now. Some of the changes are really subtle, but I see:

  • A less worried look in her eyes
  • She looks like she is less in a “high alert” state now.
  • She often laid closer to Daisy than me in the early days. Now she actually chooses to be near me when she sleeps.
  • Here eyes and body position seem indicating a curiosity that was not there in the early days.

What do you see?

Maggie then
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Scared Maggie in her new foster home

Maggie now
Holding my bone.

Guess she likes Daisy's spot. I told her not to get TOO used to it. 😊

Maggie then
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Maggie now (just a few days ago)
Practiced walking on leash tonight. #Maggie #fosterdog

Maggie then
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Maggie now
Miss Maggie wishes you a happy Saturday! #Sheltie

Maggie then
The aftermath of game night.

Maggie now
Time for bed #Maggie #Daisy

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Maggie then

Maggie - Former Pine River Puppy Mill Dog

Maggie now

I think she wants the leftover hamburger bun.#maggie

Maggie getting some loving at my friend, Cindy’s, house.

A girl named Cupcake

November 4, 2013 21 comments

IMG_9755There’s something about a shy dog that can be so endearing. They can be shy and timid in the outside world, but at home show a personality that just makes you smile.

Cupcake is a one of those shy dogs. Wary of strangers and scared of new places, Cupcake has always been happy to stay at home. It’s where she feels safe. It’s the one place she can let her hair down and be her silly self without fear. It’s also the place where she can flirt and wrestle with her brother, bark at and chase her sister, and get lots of attention from me. Some of my favorite  moments are when she places her front paws on my leg and waggles her butt and tail and smiles and begs for a little attention. She loves attention. She loves to play games. At home, she is a true character and full of sass and silliness. It’s the side most people don’t get to see.

But on Sunday, I watched as Cupcake’s personality came out to play – at my mother’s house. Something she has never done before.

Granted, she has only been to my mom’s house a few of times, but on every previous visit Cupcake has been cautious, reserved and even a bit growly. Sunday she was the exact opposite. She approach my mom and her friend, Peg, for treats and attention. She wagged her tail numerous times throughout the day. She barked and played in her backyard and even laid down and fell asleep in her den. I was amazed. It was like she knew she could be herself there. (I also think she has a thing for my mom’s Sheltie, Jake.)

Cupcake and her friend Kellie

Cupcake and her friend Kellie

Like the unfolding of the petals on a flower, Cupcake is slowly starting to come out of her shell. At home, she has already demonstrated that she has a cute and sassy personality, but now she is starting to show it at the dog park. She barks at other dogs and will engage them in play. She chases squirrels and chipmunks right alongside Clover and Abby. And, she continues to approach people at the dog park for attention and treats. Truth be told, I think she may be under the impression that everyone at the dog park has treats. 🙂

The progress Cupcake continues to make is what makes me smile each day. She is making her own path, deciding her own way, but she is making progress. Who could have guessed that a very shy girl, on the run for 12 days, could become such a character? Cupcake did. I’m just glad she’s sharing it with the rest of the world now too.

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Trusting someone to care for your fearful dog. What do you do?

October 8, 2013 17 comments

IMG_6838One thing that can be difficult about having a fearful dog is finding someone to watch them who understands their unique needs. Not everyone who works in the pet industry is experienced with or understands how to work with a shy dog. As a dog owner, my biggest fear is that they will somehow damage my dog’s progress without knowing it or somehow lose them because they did not understand their high flight risk.

It’s one of the reasons that most of my vacations these days are “stay-cations” and not big trips to exotic and exciting places. It’s the reason I don’t go to blogging conferences or go to visit some of my blogging friends. I can’t just leave my dogs at a boarding facility or with any pet sitter I hire for those few events when I need to be away. I can’t just trust that someone will keep them safe or that they will know to be gentle and quiet and kind around Daisy. I have to be very cautious about who I trust with my dogs because the progress they have made could easily be damaged with one bad interaction. And in Cupcake’s case, one bad decision could lead to her becoming lost again. I just can’t risk it.

But, last week I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. I had committed to helping out at the sheep herding trials (something I very much wanted to do) without understanding the extended time commitment involved. I would need to be at the trial (almost an hour away from home) from 7 AM to 5 PM. That was a problem. How could I leave the dogs for that long? Who could I trust to let my dogs out if I decided to go? Who could I trust not to “accidentally” let them out of the yard or the front door? Who would understand that Daisy is sensitive to movement and sound and that Cupcake is not trusting of many people? Who could I trust to let them out and not put them in harms way?

In the past, I’ve relied on family or just committed to a half day so I could still get home to let my dogs out or just chosen not to go at all. But, this was one time I didn’t want to opt out. This was something I had been looking forward to doing for several weeks. So the question was… Who could I trust?

I started with a friend who is active in the Lost Dog community because I knew she would be extra cautious about keeping gates closed and ensuring she came into the house in a way that would prevent a dog escaping, but I quickly realized that my dogs might be scared by her presence, having only met her a few times.

Various 2008 018Luckily, I have a friend that not only knows my dogs, but understands some of the issues my dogs have when it comes to strangers. She is also someone who helped in Cupcake’s search, so I knew I could trust her to keep the dogs safe too. And, as it turns out, Kellie was the perfect choice. Yes, Cupcake barked at her the whole time (unless she was petting her). Yes, Jasper tried to hump her (something he never does), and yes, Daisy was a little difficult to get inside the house (she has problems with entrances and exits), but in the end it all worked out. Kellie was able to safely care for my dogs, and I felt better knowing she was the one doing it. I was (am) so grateful she was available to help me out.

But, going through this experience made me realize how limited I am in my ability to do certain things. It also made me realize that having a fearful or shy dog should not limit one’s ability to enjoy some time without them. I can’t always forgo events just because I have fearful dogs. I need to find an alternative that work for both them and me. What if I was hurt or unable to come home? Who would care for them then? What would I do if that happened?

Clearly, I need a plan for handling future events like these. I would love to hear what other owners of fearful dogs do when they want to go on vacation or need to spend the day or weekend away. What do you do? How do make sure your dogs are safe while you are away?

Treat and Retreat – Something to try with a shy dog (or your own dog)

September 29, 2013 15 comments

Man and Dog Lying on FloorBack when I was a pet sitter, I would schedule an initial meeting with my potential clients and their pets as way for all of us to get to know one another. This meeting was their chance to interview me and to determine if I would be a good fit for their pet, but it was also a chance for their dog or cat to get to know me.

I think many of my new dog clients were surprised when I showed up for the meeting and didn’t make an immediate beeline towards their dog, or in some cases, completely ignored them. It might seem like an odd thing to do for a pet sitter, but I had a good reason for doing it. I wanted the dogs to know that THEY were the ones who got to decide how they wanted to interact with me.  I let them decide how close they wanted to get to me, whether they wanted to be petted or just wanted to sniff me first. If they wanted one of the treats I carried in the pouch hanging at my side, they could have one but they got to decide whether it would be from my open hand or tossed to them (because they felt safer there).

Being a professional pet sitter requires you to work with people as well as their pets, but when it came to my client’s dogs, I wanted them to know from the beginning that I respected their need for space.

Earlier this year, I wrote about attending an educational seminar with Suzanne Clothier. In the day-long session, Suzanne demonstrated (with a Great Dane) how to tell at what distance a dog is comfortable meeting a new person (in this case her and the other attendees). As she explained at that time, every dog is different, but each one has a spatial parameter in which they feel comfortable and uncomfortable. What most people, including experienced dog owners, don’t realize is that space is often much larger than our own.

In her demonstration with the Great Dane, Suzanne used a game that she developed herself when working with dogs. It’s called Treat and Retreat. It’s a wonderful way to observe a dog and to get a better understanding of the spatial perimeter at which they feel most comfortable. It’s also a great way to help a shy or fearful dog to gain confidence and maybe even shorten their spatial perimeter. Even though I didn’t know it as Treat and Retreat back then, it is very similar to what I did with Daisy in the early days.

I thought it might be fun to share a video of this game with you. It’s definitely something you can try with your own dog. As you watch the video, notice how the dog in the video tells the people in the room, the people tossing the treats, at what distance she feels most comfortable. Also, notice how the trainer has them switch off throwing the treats near and far, allowing the dog to retreat to a more comfortable distance. You also see as the dog progresses that the people tossing treats start walking around and kneeling down. This is after weeks of work and progress,but it is a great example how treat and retreat can help a fearful dog.

If you do decide to try this with your own dog, I would love to hear what you discovered. Were you surprised by anything? How close or far did your dog get to you? Did it make a difference if you were sitting down or standing up? Let us know.

Learn more:

 

The House of Special Needs Dogs

January 31, 2012 21 comments

My sister once referred to my house as the “House of Special Needs Dogs.” At the time I laughed at her description, but in truth, she could not have described my home any better than she did. It’s true. I have a penchant for adopting and fostering those dogs who are most afraid, most emotionally damaged and unsocialized. I see possibilities where others see the impossible. You see, I DO believe that love can make a difference.

Working with special needs dogs requires patience, an understanding of what they truly need (not what you want), and being able to celebrate small victories as big ones. Every small step forward is often followed by two steps back, but you know that it will be followed by another step forward, eventually. There is a bond that builds between you and your dog when you have to build trust slowly, from the ground up, and earn it with every action and interaction you have with them.

Jasper and Daisy

With Daisy, it was that first tail wag. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was when I first realized that Daisy was actually wagging her tail instead of tucking it under her butt in fear. For those who have only had a “normal” dog this may not seem like a big deal, you probably see it every day, but to me it was the sunshine of my day, my week, my month. That one action was more rewarding and fulfilling than any other I can remember (and I know there have been many along the way).

With Jasper, it was less a step-by-step process. He has taken many leaps forward and only a few steps back. Most of his issues have to do with his inability to deal with new objects in his environment. If you can imagine how a puppy reacts when they first encounter something they haven’t seen before, you will get an idea of how Jasper reacts to new things. He barks, circles the object from a distance, approaches cautiously and eventually will get close enough to sniff. But, it takes time and patience. He has made huge strides in so many ways that the small steps back seem less consequential.

Jasper

With Lady, it has been more of a slow progression of building trust. She needed to get a feel for our routine, the house rules and how I would be as her new foster mom (and adopted mom). She has always been a bit reserved and cautious, but after her 12 day adventure in the wild, things seem to have changed. She has slowly started to let her true personality shine through a little more each day. Yesterday was one of those days (kind of like Daisy and her first tail wag).

We went to the dog park in the late afternoon. Jasper was full of piss and vinegar and barking and trying to get me to throw a stick for him (one of his many obsessions). I decided to distract him with our usual game of chase. “I’m going to get you!” I said, and started to chase him. He was thrilled. He barked and raced ahead, spinning around as he went, waiting for me to get close enough to chase him again, when suddenly, out of the blue, Lady joined in. She started running with Jasper and then jumping and spinning, mimicking his behavior. Then, she gave a whole series of play bows, both to me and to Jasper. She wanted to play too! And, she did. For many minutes.

Lady barking


This may seem like such a small thing to many dog owners, but in the House of Special Needs Dogs, this is huge progress. Lady’s willingness to trust me and Jasper enough to join in a game of chase says so much. It means that she is letting go of any fears she has had about her new family and is realizing that not only is she finally “home”, but that home is a place where she can not only let her hair down, but be accepted and loved for just being herself. That’s the type of reward we celebrate at the House of Special Needs Dogs.

Let me give you a hint when it comes to dogs…

September 4, 2011 23 comments

Today I took in a new foster. She’s a beautiful Sheltie girl and very sweet. She also has fear issues (rightfully so) and can be quite skittish if frightened. She reminds me a lot of Daisy about a year after I first got her.

Right now she is laying at the other end of the couch, completely asleep. No stress panting. No nervous looks sent my way. Nope. Sleeping deeply and with such complete abandon that she didn’t even move when I shifted sitting positions.

Chances are pretty high that she’s exhausted from a very stressful day full of new people, new dogs and a new environment. But, I also think it’s because I gave her the space to just “be”. I didn’t try to get her to like me. I didn’t try to get her to approach me. I didn’t get upset if she skittered out of my way when I walked by her. And, I didn’t try to approach her or chase her down trying to get her to see that I was a trustworthy person and she should “like” me.

Let me give you a hint when it comes to dogs… they prefer to be given a choice on whether or not they approach you.

Maybe every other dog you’ve met LOVED you, which led you to extrapolate that ALL DOGS must love you. Think again. Chances are MOST dogs DON’T LOVE YOU. And, if you are chasing them down, or you keep trying to approach them on your own terms instead of theirs, then MOST dogs probably don’t even like you very much. Take a hint will ya?

Meet Debbie Jacobs! The Fearful Dogs’ Friend

January 20, 2011 13 comments

I have been wanting to interview Debbie Jacobs (from FearfulDogs.com) for some time now. Her dedication to helping fearful dogs and their owners makes her not only an interesting person but also a great one. But, I think she is a great resource for ANY dog owner. That’s why I wanted to highlight her on my blog. Read on to learn more about Debbie Jacobs and fearful dogs.

Debbie Jacobs CPDT-KA, CAP2, is the author of “A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog”, which was a finalist in the 2008 Dog Writers Association of America’s annual writing competition. This popular Ebook is now also available in hard copy.

She lives in Vermont with her husband and 4 dogs and created the fearfuldogs.com website to help owners and trainers learn about the most effective and humane ways to work with fearful dogs. She met her fearful dog Sunny, the inspiration for the fearfuldogs website at the Humane Society of Louisiana’s Camp Katrina after the hurricanes of 2005.

Debbie – Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. To start with…

What is a fearful dog?
Good question. Plenty of dogs are afraid of some things, some of the time. Being afraid helps keep animals alive. Zebras wouldn’t last long if they weren’t afraid of being eaten by lions. I use ‘fearful dog’ to describe dogs that suffer from anxiety related disorders or phobias.

What causes a dog to be fearful?
Certain medical conditions can cause dogs to behave fearfully. It is important to rule these out. Pain or injury can cause a dog to behave in a fearful way. If your back hurts when people pick you up, you might start acting afraid when you are going to be picked up. If your hips hurt you might try to avoid going up stairs.

A genetic predisposition can cause a dog to be fearful. Anyone who has raised children can attest to the fact that personalities in children can be observed from very young ages. Some kids rush right in, while others hang back. Dogs can be the same way. Since we cannot test for this and since many of us get our dogs as adults, we will never know if this is why our dog is fearful, shy or anxious.

Trauma and abuse can cause a dog to become fearful. Most people assume that a dog that behaves in a fearful way was beaten, hurt or abused. That well may have been the case but one of the leading causes of fear based behaviors in dogs is the following- The lack of adequate and appropriate socialization when the dog was a pup. There is a window of opportunity during which puppies need to be exposed, safely, to novel objects, situations, new people, sounds and experiences. If this doesn’t happen, there is no going back and ‘fixing’ it.

Are there certain characteristics or behaviors people are more likely to see in a fearful dog?
Most people can identify when dogs are afraid if they cower, hide or run away. These are ‘big’ behaviors that are easy to notice. There are many other ‘smaller’ more subtle behaviors that dogs perform which indicate varying degrees of fear or discomfit. A dog might yawn, lick their lips, lower their head, turn their head, tuck their tail, squint or close their eyes, freeze, pant, drool, shed, sweat from their paws, pee or roll over. A dog behaving in an overt aggressive manner is often afraid. When we see aggression in dogs it can be scary to us and we are less inclined to empathize with the dog. Most dogs go through a series of attempts to make whatever scares them go away or leave them alone, When it doesn’t work they may begin to escalate toward a more aggressive response. This is not an attempt to ‘dominate’ their owner, a stranger or other dog, it’s how a dog says, “Really, I mean it, back off.”

How does a fearful dog’s behavior differ from a “normal” dog?
In some cases a fearful dog can behave like other dogs that are not fearful. If a dog is not exposed to the things that scare them, they may be happy and confident. It is only around these things that their fear based behavioral responses are seen. Dogs without problematic anxiety or fear, typically recover quickly from being scared or startled. A fearful dog may need a longer time to recover from a scary episode. Fearful dogs’ behavior will often get worse, rather than better the more they are exposed to things that scare them.

You help a lot of people with fearful dogs, what are some of the common issues you come across?
Common issues for the dogs include; fear of people, other dogs or novelty (sudden changes in their environment)
Common issues for owners include; a lack of understanding of how to handle dogs that are afraid. They usually don’t realize the time, energy and patience their dog is going to require in order to develop more confidence.

What are some common mistakes people make when working with their fearful dog (i.e., one they adopted)?
In general most owners put too much pressure on their dogs without understanding how counter conditioning and desensitization are used. They try to change their dog’s behavior rather than try to change their dog’s emotional response. Change the emotion and the behavior usually changes along with it. People often want and need their dog to behave a certain way and use force or coercion to get these behaviors from their dog. Dogs are punished, corrected, yelled at and generally scared, in the name of ‘training’.

So what are some basic things an owner can do to help/work with a fearful dog?
Understanding triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization provides the foundation for the work with do with our fearful dogs. To begin with, stop putting your dog in situations in which the dog is afraid. A dog will not learn to feel good about something or someone until they stop being scared by it. Each fearful response just makes it more likely that that response will be repeated in the future. Our fearful dogs’ brains have become very good at being scared and easily startled. We need to stop having them practice that. Keep your dog in situations in which the dog feels safe and never feels the need to run or resort to aggressive behavior to protect themselves. Only when you understand how rewards are used to change how our dogs feel should you begin to expose your dogs to its triggers. Figure out what rocks your dog’s world. What do they love to do, what makes them feel great? Give them as many opportunities during the day to experience these activities. Building a positive, trusting relationship with your dog is also key. Few of us would want to hang out with someone who always made us do things that scared us. Why would our dogs?

What videos/blog posts/etc (from your website) would you recommend a new fearful dog owner check out?
Owners should visit fearfuldogs.com and click through the site. There’s lots of information and resources. The first step to changing our fearful dogs’ brains usually includes changing ours.

My many thanks to Debbie Jacobs for this interview!

As an added note, I would also recommend you check out Debbie’s blog. She not only shares some great food for thought (applicable to all dog owners), but also some additional info for owners with fearful dogs. It’s also a great place to meet other people with fearful dogs. We’ve created a nice little community of support there which has been greatly helpful to so many people, including ,myself.

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