canine fear

Dealing with fear

Fear - a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

My eyes shot open and Elsa sat up.  A huge boom had awaken us both.  Elsa dove off of the bed and stood at the door.  Thinking it had just scared her I called her back to the bed.  She ignored me and went to look out the patio door.  She stood still, smelling the chilly night air.  I called her again and she went to the door.  So I grabbed my robe and we headed downstairs.  Once down in the kitchen, she didn't want out.  We head back upstairs and she stood once again at my bedroom door.  Something was wrong.  

Her ears were plastered back and her eyes wide.  She was exhibiting fear behavior.  This meant that I needed to chill.  Too often we humans respond to a fear response from our dogs by soothing, touching and holding them close.  Everything that we should not do.  Why?  Because all of these behaviors from us, further the problem in our dogs.  

Dogs are very different from us.  We communicate in different ways; and body language is the best way to talk to our dogs.   What we need to do for our dogs when they are afraid is to show them that there is nothing to fear.  I lay there quietly and called to Elsa again.  She came up and lay close.  I said nothing, nor did I touch her.  I calmly turned over and pretended to go back to sleep.  

She wasn't on the bed long before she hopped off and was back at the patio door.  I let her look out and said nothing.  She lay down on the floor beneath my side of the bed and remained there as I drifted off.  About an hour later I awoke again to feel her up close against me dreaming.  She'd decided it was finally safe and returned to bed.  
Whatever the noise was, it scared the crap out of her.   

It is so important to lead by example in a fearful situation.  Remaining calm is not always easy, but we must try for our dogs sake.  Reacting in a protective coddling manner only makes matters worse for our dog.  It convinces them that there is indeed something to worry about.  

When we lead by example by acting very "who cares" about a particular situation, scenario or environment; we help our dog to deal with frightening things.  We not only give off a calm vibe but we help them to deal with stress.  Dealing with stress can be tough for humans and dogs.  Why give them more to worry about by convincing them that their fear is real?  Even if it is real, I want my dogs to know that I will take care of it.  I will let no harm come to them and I take my roll seriously.  

Actions speak louder than words.  We cannot verbally explain things to our dogs; we must show them through our actions.  I wish I could say to Elsa "that was just a loud noise, don't worry."  I could say it but she will not understand; so I must show her through my actions.  This is essential when dealing with dogs.  

We can be called upon daily to show our dogs the way.  Sometimes minuscule issues arise; requiring us to lead our dogs through step by step, calmly learning.  Life is not always filled with rainbows; it's our job to show our dogs the way.  Hugs and kisses should be saved for times when all is well.   

There's a monster in the park.

             Canine etiquette; first you greet, then you play.  Skipping the greeting stage can lead
             to all sorts of misconception and trouble. 

Elsa and I were just finishing up our evening walk and were headed to the Xterra.  Up ahead I could see some folks sitting with their dogs and chatting.  A man with a dog was walking by and two small dogs came out to say hi to his dog and they looked to be having a nice time.  As we walked up the two dogs were called and I told them "she's friendly."  I wanted these nice little dogs to interact with Elsa.  So many small dogs are not friendly; and it can really leave an impression on a dog after being snapped at so many times.  The owners told them okay and I dropped Elsa's leash.  The three were interacting very nicely when a large black dog charged over that I hadn't even seen in the group of people.  With no greeting, hello or how are ya;s; she started to chase Elsa. 

At first it was just a very assertive approach to sniff and as Elsa tried to move away the dog chased.  Soon Elsa was running with the dog chasing her.  Elsa's rear end was about as tucked as it can be as I called out to her.  It is hard for a dog to hear anything when they are in a fear mode.  I continued calling her; I remained calm as there was no need to panic.  It all happened so fast that I find myself trying very hard to remember it all.  Then she screamed; Elsa let out a noise that I'd never heard before.  She was very scared.

Finally she turned and ran into the group of people for safety.  I walked over calmly and picked up her leash.  Everyone knew that Elsa was scared and I immediately made the decision to stay a while.  I asked again "she's friendly right?"  As it was difficult for me to read the dog myself.  Yes she had chased Elsa but it hadn't seemed aggressive; assertive yes but not aggressive.  They said "oh yes, very friendly."  Then they told me she just be charging around with some dogs; so I guess she thought that she'd just start up again.  But she hadn't even met Elsa before and I am sure that Elsa really didn't even know what this dog was.  It was a Bouvier des Flandres in full clip which means that she had no face and no tail as far as communication is concerned.  Elsa could not see the dogs eyes, or read her very short tail.  She was very full coated which meant that there was little other body language to read.  All Elsa knew was that this giant black monster was after her. 

So why did I not get on my high horse and head out after the incident?  Association.  I have worked too hard and too long to have it all come undone in one chance meeting.  The owner of the dog stayed seated, oblivious to there being a situation.  A very nice woman with another dog herself; grabbed the Bouvier's leash so that Elsa could get her composure.  I remained completely calm through the ordeal; surprisingly because I am a grizzle bear of an overprotective Mom.  But what Elsa needed now was; well thought out situational modification through precise manipulation indicative to creating positive association.  She did not need her Mother enforcing her fear by leaving in a panic.   We were not leaving on a negative, we had to stay for a while and the most important part was that I remain calm.  It may not be a warm and fuzzy moment but we had to stay.

I had Elsa's leash in my hand, we kept the monster at bay.  Once the monster realized that I had treats then she was happy to just sit and stare at me, waiting.   Elsa kept glancing at the Bouvier from the corner of her eye.  She was most definitely interested as she skirted around the woman and had a sniff of the monster.  It had all happened so fast that I'm sure Elsa was thinking "wt*."  She continued to have interested but was very wary if the monster looked at or approached her.  The Bouvier had very bad canine manners as did one of the other dogs there which I have actually written about before.  A very nice but oblivious Labrador.  She is very sweet but in your face and Elsa does not like in your face until she knows you. 

Elsa is one of the best dog readers I know.  When in doubt she hangs back; but this situation gave her nothing to go on.  Imagine you were on a walk and Sasquatch came charging out of the woods at you.  You'd turn and run, that's all you would do; well you might scream too.  Allowing your dog to do this is just wrong; if our dog's don't have manners we must teach them some.  That or keep your dog on a leash until it is okay to run and play.  Dogs with good communication skills would meet first, play bow or bounce; wait for a reciprocated communication and then charge off playing.  Elsa reacted very fearfully by running but; she could have very well turned and attacked in fear.  I am glad that she did not attack; it would have made the situation much more difficult to work with. 

Over the last two years I have sifted through dogs for interaction purposes.  I have tried to keep them all positive with a small amount of not so great just for learning sake.  This is the moment that I was working up to; the one that was not great.  With all the positive behind her, the hope is that this will not leave such a huge impression.  So we will head to the park again.  I will be ready this time and I will shout up ahead to keep the monster on a leash.  No doubt Elsa will remember.  Dogs simply don't forget.  One sniff and a dog has you in their memory bank.  We will keep it short and sweet and leave on a positive.  (Quit while you are ahead)  Maybe, just maybe the monster and Elsa will become good friends. 

Feel free to ask questions about dealing with a situation like this.