When my fearful dog Sunny, or if you are troubled by the labeling of dogs, my dog with extreme fear based behavior challenges Sunny, first came to live with us I had dreams for him. In the summer we’d go to South Pond and people would toss frisbees and balls for him to swim after, we’d take long hikes in the woods with friends, anywhere we go he’d get to join us. I imagined that as soon as he could get himself out of the corner all the pieces would fall into place and we could get on with pursuing my dreams for him.
As time went on the reality of the dog I was living with began to settle in. I set my sights on more mundane activities such as helping him go out of the house without a panicked dash and to come back in without having to be caught and encouraged back in on a leash. Being able to get all 55 pounds of himself in and out of the car on his own took precedence over my South Pond dreams. It did happen to be at South Pond where Sunny hopped into the car on his own for the first time, but it was because the voices of people, traveling over the water from a beach on the other side of the pond, scared him so much he sought out the security of his spot on the floor behind the passenger seat.
We attended a variety of training classes including agility and obedience. Sunny even went through a mock obedience trial where he ‘stood for exam’. But who was I kidding? I had no interest in entering him in any events and his ability to barely tolerate the classes was as far from how I want my dogs to feel when spending time with me, as you could get. Getting himself out of the corner of the living room was a big step for Sunny, much bigger than I had imagined it would be, but it was a step, not a leap.
Today I am content to have a dog who is; housebroken, can go in and out of doorways, comes on cue, gets in an out of the car on his own, stays with me (most of the time) during walks in the woods, can be handled by a vet, loves finding dogs to play with, and can enter a training facility and be excited to chase tennis balls I lob against the wall. I have lowered my expectations for my dog with extreme fear based behavior challenges, but I’ve never stopped dreaming of the fun he might be able to have, someday.