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.
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.