Changing how we think about our relationship with dogs can be one of the hardest leaps for many people to make. The whole ‘pack leader’, ‘alpha dog’, ‘I’m the boss of you’, mentality has been around long enough to have permeated many of our thoughts about why dogs behave the way they do and how we should respond to them. And although we will never know exactly what dogs are thinking or experiencing, because we share the same parts of the brain that deal with fear, we can make some pretty good guesses about how it feels for them to be scared. However most of us, thankfully, rarely have the opportunity to experience the level of fear that some of our fearful dogs experience routinely. Think about that for awhile.
When we deal with scared humans, whether they are children or adults, we often offer them something. In some cases we offer solace, words of encouragement and support. In other cases we offer them something tangible, a pacifier, a sheet of Mickey Mouse stickers, lollipops or a hand to hold. When we interact with our scared dogs we can also offer them something rather than make them give things up. Scared dogs are often forced into situations, made to deal with interactions with their triggers which they would rather avoid. We take away their autonomy and control of their lives. We take away their opportunities to feel safe and less stressed and pressured.
Next time you are faced with a scared dog think about what you can give them. One way to know what that is to figure out what they are asking for.