Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of fear cases……probably second only to aggression issues……which are usually caused by fear in the first place! So, what I’m saying is…….fear is a big deal issue for dogs in our society.
Like most people, my heart breaks when I see dogs struggling with fear. I can be swallowed up by the sadness very quickly if I allow myself that luxury. Why do I consider letting deep sadness take me over a selfish luxury? If I allow that to happen, it’s impossible……IMPOSSIBLE….to help the dog. Crying and permitting the sadness to immobilize me, or following the urge to pet and baby talk the fearful dog is for ME. It’s an automatic reaction and it makes ME feel better. It makes me feel like I’ve done something. In reality, I HAVE done something. I’ve verified to the dog that he is a “good boy” for being afraid….that he is correct in feeling something really bad just happened to him. To meet my own needs, I’ve trapped him in a repeating and worsening loop of fears.
For example, first they slip on the wood floor….now they won’t go in any room with a wood floor. Then, a table tipped over in the living room and a lamp crashed and a human screamed, and now they won’t go in the living room. Perhaps their back was turned, and someone started to close the garage door and it startled them. Now, they are afraid of the garage door and anything else that makes a motorized sound similar to the garage door!
I’ve noticed that one fear, left undone, quickly leads to another and another. Soon, the bubble that is the dog’s world gets smaller and smaller and until he basically lying in his bed most the day and his appetite decreases or his aggression increases.
We, as dog owners, need to understand and learn more about fear in the dog mind, and how to correct and prevent it. Here is the biggest mistake I see……humans trying to give dogs treats while trying to coax the dog into the “scary thing.” What?!!! Think about that for a minute. Yes, food and praise can be used in many situations with dogs to further a good feeling about doing something he is slightly uncomfortable about or for learning a new trick. Yes…. tricks and other dog training made up by humans, unnatural to dogs, and asked to be preformed by dogs; should ALWAYS be all positive and never be forced. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about real, high level fear. If a dog is petrified to go down the stairs, anyone that has ever tried, knows that dog will not go down the stairs for a treat! Dogs will not take food when they are at a high level of fear. Period.
Think about it this way……we are asking our dogs to live in a world of our making. Meaning, we ask them to follow rules inside our houses and to stop when we tell them not to run into the street etc. Our world can be a challenging and dangerous world for dogs and we must protect and lead them. They are very capable in their own right and blessed with many natural gifts, but they are…in essence…perpetual two year olds in our world. They need our help to make sense of their environment. They need leadership to show them what things to be afraid of and what things need not be feared or avoided. Now the question becomes, how do you show a young child that they need not be afraid of something? You gently but firmly stand by them and HELP them face the fear. There is no other way.
Most young children are afraid to get on that big yellow bus the first day of kindergarten. So, we help them the best way we can. We tell them we understand it’s scary at first, but it will be ok……AND THEN WE STAND BY THEM WITH POSITIVE ENERGY AND PUT THEM ON THE BUS!!! We may feel scared and sad ourselves, but we don’t show them that….and we certainly don’t allow them to stay home and never attend school!!! Make Sense?
Here’s where I come full circle and tell you why the treats don’t fix high level fear. Trying to “distract” a dog with treats or push treats near his mouth when he is afraid of going down the stairs is like this scenario with human children: Picture the scene: “It’s night time and a young Timmy lays in bed in his dimly lit room. Suddenly, he sits up and screams for his dad, “help me there is a boogie man in my closet!” The dad comes in and says, “Here Timmy, don’t think about that………eat this candy bar!” Then he allows Timmy to run from the room.“ NO!!! This is what should happen: “The Dad comes into the room and tells Timmy there is nothing to be afraid of, that the boogie man doesn’t exist, and then he stays with Timmy and throws open the closet and turns on the light to reveal there is nothing to be afraid of. All children must be helped to face there fears in a respectful, supportive, loving way by their parents and dogs deserve the same thing.
Candy bars won’t kill the Boogie Man, but he doesn’t stand a chance against a respectful Leader willing to LEAD