My nephew and his wife asked me to take care of their shy Klee Kai Polaris while they went on vacation. I was happy to help them out and to learn more about a breed that I was not familiar with. As it happened I was also invited to attend the upcoming Blog Paws West conference in Denver under the sponsorship of Pedigree to help them get the word out about their adoption drive. This meant that I would be going away for a few days during Polaris’s stay and needed to find a kennel for her. We have several good kennels in our area and I found one with availability and although I knew the owners, I had never visited the actual kennels. So last week I stopped by for a visit.
I mentioned to the kennel operators that I knew one of their client’s shy dogs. I was told that after 3 days the dog was ‘fine’ with them and with being there, which seemed to indicate to them that the dog’s problems lie with the owner. However it makes perfect sense. Besides having good dog handling skills, the kennel staff follow a predictable schedule and routine. Dogs feel more comfortable when they can predict what is going to happen to or around them, a timid or shy dog is going to benefit from this even more. While living in a kennel is probably not much fun, it is predictable, and regardless of how comfortable and wonderful a home is, the chances are that it is unpredictable. Strangers arrive, startling noises occur, owners come and go, often with no warning. Without any way to predict when they will occur a dog continues to be surprised and scared by them, over and over again. (Or in the case of some anxiety, the predictors of a stress inducing event start the anxiety ball rolling, such as when dogs suffer from separation anxiety and their owner picks up their car keys.)
One of the ways we can help our dogs is to provide them with predictable routines that they can follow, even when unpredictable things happen. When on a leash and strangers appear I NEVER let them interact with Sunny. He can predict this and has no need to try to pull away or growl and lunge at them. Dogs can learn to perform behaviors that create predictable, positive outcomes for them. If new people come into the dog yard Sunny is encouraged to pick up a toy and someone will toss something for him. This requires training, patience and practice, but if you’ve decided to take on the job of helping a fearful dog, predictability can be your best friend.