Don’t Be Scared, Be A Dog! (A Tale From The Trenches With A New Scared Pup)
We just introduced a new member to our Calm Energy pack: a little senior Italian Greyhound named “Arthur”!
Arthur was locked in a cage for the first nine years of his life, fed in his cage and never walked. Obviously, he is a bundle of deprivation issues, fears, and generalized anxiety. We feel honored to have the challenge of teaching him to relax and trust, and nothing is more heartwarming than to introduce him to all of the little wonders, pleasures, and comforts of the world.
Every day we’ve seen him progress in leaps and bounds, as we’ve instilled consistent rules, boundaries, and rewards for a calm, trusting mindset. Below is a list of some of Arthur’s behaviors that have already changed for the better, along with some others we hope to see soon. If your dog has fear/anxiety or trust issues, you might recognize many of these from your own situation.
- Eating/drinking. A dog in the highest state of fear won’t eat or drink. Arthur displayed this only for the first day. Make sure your dog will seek food and water with you right next to the bowl as well as when you’re out of the room.
- Peeing/pooping. This activity puts the dog in a vulnerable state, which means he has to trust that his environment is safe. (That’s why you see some dogs running behind bushes to poop, as if embarassed.) Arthur now goes in the yard but not yet on walks through the busy city.
- Lying down/relaxing. Left to his own devices Arthur spins in circles, filled with anxiety and not knowing where to channel the energy. Although he cuddled up the first night on our comforter in bed (and shook like a leaf when we started to get up in the morning), it took two days and lots of consistent discipline and calming exercises until he lay in his little bed on his own and shut his eyes.
“But the little guy isn’t using it!”
- Sniffing/exploring. Arthur didn’t sniff another dog (even ours) for the first two days, and still hasn’t sniffed a tree or bush. Smell is the most primal way dogs get information about their environment; even sighthounds need to sniff their surroundings. If your dog isn’t sniffing your environment, things you pass on your walks, and other dogs and people, he just isn’t being his full doggie self.
- Calm loose-leash walking. Arthur pulled and spun like crazy on leash at the beginning, but since we already have a calm obedient pack he learned quickly by the others’ example. If your dog pulls on the leash it means he doesn’t see you as the source of all the good things in his life – and although that might sound selfish, it is essential in treating fear/anxiety as well as other problems like hyperactivity and aggression. Remember to always keep the leash loose, and make sure you’re always in your dog’s peripheral vision. Walk through busy streets, parks, night, day, rain … the more variety of experiences you lead your dog through, the more he’ll trust, respect, and love you for showing him the world!
“I dunno about all this rainy stuff…
I hope Daddy knows what he’s doing!”
- Coming to you. Recall is of course an essential safety command to teach any dog. But even before that your dog has to feel comfortable being near you of his own accord. To do this always be a calm, confident, and welcoming guest when your dog comes near; applaud, use high-pitched verbal praise (we’ve been cheering “Yay!” so much the neighbors must wonder what sporting event we’re hosting over here). Pull him close – Arthur would initially maintain a good six food radius from anyone who reached for him. It is your job to show him that coming right next to you is safe, fun, and not an end to his freedom – so instantly release him to go free. Practice indoors and out; Arthur made huge trust and obedience progress when we practiced recall yesterday at the park on a 40-foot leash.
Watching his cousins relax in Prospect Park
- Being alone. A self-confident dog should feel comfortable staying in a room while you leave and come back (without being told to “Stay”), and if you have a yard or garden should enjoy going out on his own and sniffing and exploring. We introduced Arthur to the yard by leading him through it and all around on leash, then made use of his need to pee by not going out with him, so he gained confidence that he could take care of business on his own.
- Barking. Not all, but most, dogs do it – and Arthur just started barking today! He’s “gained his voice” in a literal and metaphorical sense, feeling more at home, bolder in his skin, and more a part of a pack it’s his duty (he thinks) to protect. His favorite activity is now letting everyone who walks past the window know they better keep on movin’!
- Playing. Dogs are playful creatures, but only do play when relaxed and happy. Just yesterday Arthur played with what the shelter told us is his favorite yellow squeaky slipper, chasing it and going crazy with tug-o-war! And today he chewed a Bully stick all day long.
|Traffic jam at the doggie-door!|
|New guard post. With official-looking cigar.|
|“I’m little but I’m tough!”|
I love working with fear/anxiety cases because unlike humans, dogs let go of their fears so quickly and easily if given the opportunity. It takes consistent, calm leadership and discipline, with a gentle touch and lots of subtle psychological rewards and reinforcement. But seeing a dog come out of his shell and truly become a dog in all of its glory is worth it every time.