Imagine living with someone who scared you every day, even if they didn’t mean to, they did. Imagine living with someone who at any moment might put you in a situation in which you were scared, and they did nothing! This is how many fearful dogs live their lives, anticipating being scared and then being scared, by one thing or another.
The training advice given to people regarding how to interact with their fearful dogs often includes the admonition to ‘ignore’ your scared dog, as though paying attention to your dog is going to confirm to them they have reason to be afraid.* Now imagine being with a friend and being afraid of something and rather than your friend acknowledging that you’re afraid they pretend you don’t exist. Does this make you feel better? Now imagine that your friend takes your hand and says, “Don’t worry it will be fine”. Does this make you more afraid? Hopefully not! Our dogs are not that different from us when it comes to being scared.
I was told a story recently. My husband and I were having lunch with his niece, her husband and his parents. As is often the case the conversation got around to dogs, I trust you know how that goes! The young fellow’s mother shared this story with us about her son-
As a boy he had enrolled in a training class with his beloved dog. It was the first night of class and the trainer had the group walking around the ring practicing heeling. One dog in the class consistently pulled on its leash and the trainer intervened, took the leash from the owner and ‘hung’ the dog, lifting it off its feet while the dog flailed and choked. When the procession around the room resumed and the boy and his dog were near the door he turned and walked straight out of the class, never to return. He was not going to let anything like that happen to HIS dog.
I loved the story and I loved the boy, now a man, who knew in his young heart that it was his responsibility to protect his dog. I let my fearful dog know every day that I have his back, so he doesn’t have to worry and keep glancing over it.
*Ignoring a fearful dog IS often the best way to deal with them when you are new to each other and have not established a relationship with them.