Extreme fear-case study


Fortunately, not many dogs are as scared as Lily was. She was the first dog I’d seen, who was scared 100% of the time, so if she could get better, any dog can. In her case the fear was killing her, she didn’t eat or drink when she got here -she’d already been underweight so I was worried.

On day one we didn’t touch her, we sat next to her, leaving her enough space to feel comfortable. We left her alone when she wanted to eat or drink (she only ate in the night for a few months). Eventually, she got curious and sniffed at us, explored the house and the garden. We took her for short walks first, avoiding places where there were people or dogs. We spoke in a quiet, monotonous voice and didn’t react when she was startled by something. When she looked at us we gave her reassurance she was hoping for, soft, smiling eyes, positive facial expression, normal voice. She copied Ardbeg and made amazing progress fast. He taught her to run on the grass, chase pigeons, walk freely around the house, sit in the garden, sniff at trees and all the other unknown objects. She watched him, approached the scary thing on slightly shaky legs – and here you go, sorted, the fear was gone and next time she just walked up to it as if she’d been doing it all her life.


We expose her to anything new slowly, she usually sees it from a distance and can decide for herself how quickly she wants to explore it. We praise her for her courage every time, in a steady, rather quiet voice (not the excited, high-pitched we use for play). We create the possibility to get to know something new, but she can decide not to – it’s just a question of time, she is an inquisitive little lady, she just needs some more time with big or loud objects. We created daily and weekly routines, her walks, her feeding, play time, being on her own, weekend mini-adventures: it all happens around the same time. She needs her anchors, she’s had enough of insecurity in her life.

We protect her form unwanted attention, if someone wants to stroke her, we always say: ‘if she wants to’, we remember that the noises she hears are much louder for her than for us and we try to desensitise her to all her little insecurities slowly by exposing her to softer/smaller/quieter versions of them.

The better we know her, the easier it gets. We know what she’s crazy about and we use it if we ever need to distract her or lift her mood. We use soft, comfortable harness, we never pull or use pressure on the lead, we control our voices and reactions, we try to control our emotions, too. She lives in a quiet, happy home, we don’t argue or shout, we don’t project our fears or negative emotions onto her. We listen to her and respect her wishes: she growls and we back off (no, it’s not funny or cute when a toy breed growls or barks, if you ignore these vital warning signs the dog will bite with no warning next time), she buries her in the cushion head and we leave her alone. Yes, we do think a lot about everything we do, but it’s worth it. Lily is a happy, lively, brave girl now. Nobody who saw her a year ago would ever believe she’s changed so much.IMG_2151

Dogs suffer mentally as well as physically. Even if we don’t have a clear and comprehensive insight into the canine psychology we can help if we just behave in a reasonable way, ask a trusted behaviourist for help and follow their advice.

So, know your dog, respect your dog’s dogness and love him/her wisely. You’ll be given love, trust and loyalty beyond human comprehension.

Yes, it is worth it.


23 thoughts on “Extreme fear-case study

  1. Beautiful. Well done Lily for coming so far. Her story resonates with me, my dearly departed Rocket was much the same, riddled with anxiety and fear. He warmed to me quickly but it was a whopping five years before he would tolerate anyone else.But if we keep at it and try hard not to smother or overwhelm them, just have patience and love, the Lilys and Rockets of the world will come out of their shells and shine brightly!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very well presented. Our beloved Ray came to us with “fear aggression” (he was afraid of people and other dogs and would become aggressive to try and drive them away). He was not as bad as Lily (and clearly dealt with things quite differently), and settled into our family relatively quickly however, we did have numerous chats with trainers, and saw a behaviorist, in order to try and resolve his issues when outside our home.

    I do not wish to divert your Blog to promote my book however, the details of how we worked with Ray are all in my book “Who said I was up for adoption?”

    I find it very frustrating when so many people have reactive dogs, yet it does not seem to cross their mind to try and determine why the dog is being reactive. So many times I hear “Oh that’s just the way he is!” ….. perhaps, but more likely the poor dog is sending loads of “help me” signals, but the owners are not listening/watching/caring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the comment πŸ™‚ All my dogs have been fearful/ fearful aggressive when I got them and it really is neither long nor complicated to make them happy and confident. Of course, we should also understand that everything we do has some sort of influence on the dog…but that’s true for any dog πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Loved your last sentence. Reminds me of people who send their dog to its crate as punishment, and then wonder why it doesn’t like its crate anymore! Similar people who contemplate shock collars to deter the dog from barking, and haven’t considered the potentially serious ramifications of having a dog who is taught to not bark!
        I really wish that Dog Trainers would re-invent their profession as Dog-Owner Trainers, because the owners need far more attention in this area than dogs ever will! πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you πŸ™‚ I’m only as kind as understanding as I’d like someone else to be to me if I was terrified πŸ™‚ I think when we stop to think, we’re all quite good. I don’t believe people are bad-and that’s after about 20 years volunteering for various animal charities and dealing with all sorts of abuse. I think only psychopaths do truly bad things, unfortunately, the problem is that ‘normal’ people sometimes forget to think about the consequences of their actions…

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  3. Your patience and perseverance has rewarded you with a lovely, happy little dog. If only more people showed the same degree of consideration and respect that you do. Dogs are living creatures that have feelings and fears, the sane as humans, not enough people understand that. How old is Lily by the way? Great post!!

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  4. The human-animal bond can be so amazing and there is nothing more rewarding to me than taking the time to really understand the furbabies in our lives; all of their behaviors, past experiences/traumas, personality quirks, subtle communications. Thank you for all you have done for Lily, and it sounds like a houseful of other rescues as well. I was so sorry to read about Ardbeg’s passing on another page. He and your whole crew are lucky to have found you! I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

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