To every thing there’s a season


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted (Ecclesiastes 3 King James version of The Bible)

I admire the poetry of religious writing, thus the quotation.

I have started an early harvest, while still planting new good habits. Brian makes progress, even if the main issue (fear of people) makes his progress rather slow. He’s not hiding behind me every time he sees a human, if not approached, he ignores people. I see small changes every day and they make me happy.


When progress is slow it’s easy to forget that ‘to every  thing there is a season’. It’s easy to get frustrated and that makes any training impossible. With Brian, the problem is: if he’s terrified of people (men and children of both sexes) he will bite. So it’s vital to teach him to ignore people.He needed to learn that as soon as possible. I had to remember at every stage that any form of fear experienced during training will make his issues worse.


The rules are: no force in any form or shape, no auditory violence (no, it’s not a proper term, but it serves the purpose). No pulling, no pushing, no poking-any contact between Brian and humans must create a pleasant sensation as the basis for future trust.


I always try to imagine how I’d feel ‘in the dog’s shoes’. I don’t pretend to be a dog, the point of the exercise is creating empathy so the accuracy of judgement is not vital. My own ‘trainability’ is low, but if someone can handle me, I will do anything. There are very few people who can be bothered to find a way to manipulate me, so I generally do whatever I want. And I’m also a good rebel. If anyone shouted at me or tried to physically force me into doing something I would not do it. So, I never underestimate the power of stubbornness. I try to find the reason why the dog doesn’t want to do something. And I never try to eradicate behaviours that are natural-just because I believe it causes unnecessary stress. So my dogs bark if they feel like it, dig if they feel like it, roll in fox wee if they fancy doing that. I do try to teach them that a few woofs to communicate the postman’s arrival is enough, that there’s a digging patch in the garden and that fresh grass is for rolling, fox wee rolling is always frowned upon (but I do not use any form of punishment-I just let Lily know I’m unhappy about this particular habit of hers).


There’s been a lot of small changes to make sure I have enough time for the dogs, that we can have enough space to learn, that we are happy. The phase of my life influenced by Brian is ‘work in progress’ but even now I know we’ll have perfect lives (all of us: two humans, eight pets)

looking almost Christmasy (Santa Owls on their harnesses) but no snow…

18 thoughts on “To every thing there’s a season

  1. Another helpful post that I can relate to a lot. Having a fearful dog is hard work but seeing any kind of improvement is such a great feeling!
    Siggi is fearful of people, too, but especially when they come to our place. I’d love him to be able to relax enough to enjoy them being here (he kind of did with friends last week except when they needed the loo in the middle of the night…) but with kids I’m worried he’ll snap out of fear. Do you have any good book/site recommendations for working with fearful dogs? My lifetime of experience with people-loving labs puts me at a disadvantage with training an anxious Husky/Greyhound mix!
    Thanks again for writing your wonderful blog. It’s a firm favorite!

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment about my blog 🙂 There’s a group of fearful dogs’ owners and behaviourist working with fearful dogs in the UK (I’ll need to find the address/website-will post it later). But there are some good videos on youtube (among a load of rubbish, unfortunately), late Dr Sophia Yin is definitely helpful (her videos are short and really practical). Patricia McConnell has a book for fearful dogs owners, too. It’s probably too long for a comment, but I think it might be useful to put some more info into a separate post-I’ll do it shortly. And thank you for the idea 🙂
      As to Siggi: his space is invaded by strangers – he has the right to feel uneasy. Make sure there’s safe space for him to retreat- with ‘no guests allowed’ policy, try to convince people not to approach him unless he invites them to (sniffs at them and wags his tail, looks at their face, doesn’t back off), try to make associations: people+treats or whatever he likes doing, let him do it all as slowly as he wishes. It is possible to make a fearful dog absolutely confident and people friendly (I have done it before, quite a few times) but the first phase can be super long (about 18 months with my last dog, Ardbeg) x

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      1. Thanks so much for replying so quickly 🙂
        Unfortunately we’re living in Berlin because those UK groups would have been great otherwise.
        I’ve definitely been doing a lot of positive association with Siggi (thank god he now loves treats as at the beginning he couldn’t be fussed with them!) and he’s making progress: the terrifying spinny-advertising thing on the street, his kong, the tram etc. are all no problem now. It’s mainly just fireworks (god knows how we’ll get through the next month in Berlin- they’re crazy), people who stare at him (most Germans…) and people in our home. He has his own space though, and we’re working on positive association with the doorbell, so fingers crossed.
        I can’t wait to read your post on fearful dogs, and in the meantime I’ll check out those resources.

        Thanks again!
        Alex and Siggi x

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      2. I love Berlin!!!! (though I wouldn’t want to move there with my dogs, German dogs always look so well-behaved, almost unreal). I have some friends running an animal charity in Germany, I’ll ask if they can recommend some ‘low stress’ dog trainers/ behaviourists. It usually helps to join a community, even if it’s online, as people, who happen to have a fearful dog often feel guilty, alienated, worried and so on -whereas, in fact, it’s not uncommon. Unfortunately in the UK there are lots of ‘puppy farm’ victims-they lack early socialisation and are hard to train (well, a bit like Brian). Ian Dunbar writes a lot about positive reinforcement (avoid Cesar Milan and so on, he’s a nice bloke, but I’d never trust him with a dog). Victoria Stilwell is a better choice of a tv ‘dog expert’ 😉 I’m sure you can make Siggi a happy and confident people lover (well, ‘accepter’). xxx


  2. Sounds like Brian is doing great. It does take time to overcome fears. Many positive associations is probably the best way to do so, and, not making a big deal of it, which is what you seem to be doing. From the pictures, it looks like you have a great spot for them to run and play. I know that they are happy and lucky to be with you.

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  3. He must have had a horrible start to his little life to be so fearful…it’s heartbreaking how the previous owners of animals like these have no idea of what damage they do. Animals are so impressionable..Erin has no fear of anything…apart from worms.
    Great post- he’s making progress all the time, you can see it from the tip of his nose to the end of his fabulous curly tail-and Lily, well she’s just adorable, look at her little face! 🙂 xx

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    1. I thought at first it was just lack of socialisation in his early life, but I wonder now if there was something more. I’ve seen many dogs displaying the same signs of terror when a particular type of humans approach them but there was always a reason-all of them had been subjected to some form of abuse. Brian is scared of men and children, he seems to be absolutely fine with women. Men wearing sunglasses spook him out so much we spent 2 weeks with Hedgehog wearing sunglasses at home and playing with Brian (oh, the beauty of being a rescuer…) I’ve seen dogs in Eastern Europe (Russia was the worst) so I guess he was exposed to some of the violence after all. Lily, who was dying from fear in the shelter shows none of it at all now. It took her about 3 months to turn from a trembling bundle of bones into the most nosy and bossy girl in the neighbourhood! Makes me wonder, really…
      Lily loves worms, they could work on it with Erin…Lily would show her the joy of squashed worm rolling…worm licking, worm remains efficient wee coverage…there is more to a worm that meets the eye 😉

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      1. Ewwwww! Although to be fair from a canine point of view I can see how that could be thought to be good fun..
        Dogs are such sensitive creatures.. a previous dog of Mum’s HATED policemen…he was a rescue Doberman and it was awful, a real full blown attack mode. He didn’t come from a great area, so as you say, it makes you wonder. If only they could talk…dogs “read” people’s eyes though, don’t they, so maybe that was what Brian found so unnerving. Erin is such a confident dog, I would worry loads more about Mum living by herself if she didn’t have her. Canine companionship is such a gift and a blessing :)x

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      2. Well, I’ve learnt thet there’s always a reason for an unusual (‘inexplicable’) aggression or extreme fear. I used to wonder why desensitising Ardbeg to fireworks didn’t work (everything else seemed to work as it should) till he had a scan and we found out he had 3 air gun pellets in him. He never got over the fear of fireworks (though he learnt to hide in his safe place). Sometimes it’s actually better not to know, our emotions can get in the way and there’s no point feeling sorry about something that happened in the past, it’s the ‘now’ that matters 🙂 I’m sure I’d love Erin, she seems perfect 🙂 and so beautiful, too! x

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      3. Hmm, I don’t know…sometimes I think it’s better to know despite (especially me..) the emotional aspect. It’s just then you can tailor your responses in a way that suits the animal, without encouraging their fear..if you see what I mean. Perhaps I’m just too over-protective…lol…a neighbour “laughingly ” said she would leave anti-freeze out for my cats…I replied:”You hurt my cats…” and let my sentence trail off. The next day she fell off her grandson’s skateboard and broke her wrist. I shouldn’t really, but-HA HA HA!

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      4. haha, you’re like Hedgehog in that-if anyone said something about the pets he’d changed into the Godfather (he’s normally a nice bloke, but rather oversensitive when it comes to the pets-especially Lily …)

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      5. Lol! I think that’s perfectly reasonable, my girls are my babies! I found a book actually, which had all photos of cat-scratched furniture that the owners were promoting as artwork and presented it to my partner as justification for the shredded sofa…!

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      6. To be perfectly honest if someone ‘jokingly’ said something about antifreeze and my pets I would tell them I’m not happy about it as it’s a criminal offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words (Public Order Act 1986). Also, according to the law dogs and cats (contrary to what many people believe) are considered the property of the owner-which might sound bad, but protects them in consequence from being stolen-or even touched without the owner’s permission. So, causing distress by threatening to irrecoverably damage my property could be ‘harassment’ -a criminal offence. And ignorantia juris non excusat (we’re bound by the law even if we don’t know the said law)…

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