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By Published On: January 10th, 2010

Black & white dog with tennis ball at feetAfter a too-long hiatus a group of us started our weekly yoga classes on Friday. During class, while seated in a particularly challenging hip-opening posture the instructor gave us this piece of advice regarding stretching, “You earn the trust of your body by respecting its edges.” As I do with many things I immediately thought of how this comment applied to working with fearful dogs.

I won’t ever know what my dog is thinking and I can only guess at what he’s feeling. When I say I believe life has become easier for Sunny because he has a human caretaker he can trust and be comfortable with, it’s just conjecture, but sure looks like it’s the case.

I try to imagine what it must be like for dogs like Sunny who having spent their lives in a small, limited world, suddenly find themselves surrounded by people and objects which are new and terrifying. Even the people who Sunny was dependent on for all of his needs frightened him so much that he would defecate if handled. I’ve never been that scared, and hope I never am. If it does come to pass (no pun intended there!)  I’ll be grateful if someone acknowledges my fear, takes my hand and brings me somewhere where I can feel safe again. There have been animal studies which indicate that after a stressful experience having the opportunity to ‘chill out’ with a trusted cohort, helps to lower the stress the animal is feeling.

Forcing muscles to stretch causes tearing, which not only hurts, requires time to heal. My dog’s ‘courage’ is like a muscle which over the years has become stronger and more flexible. When it has reached its edge I want Sunny to know that I understand and he doesn’t have to worry, flee or try to defend himself. Often it’s easier to get closer to the edge when you know you can back away if you need to.

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