My dog Mayzie was saved by Animal Rescue Second Chance in Colorado. At that time, she was about two years old and spent her whole life at the end of a rope in someone’s backyard. She has some food and water and only a drawer for her shelter. To our knowledge, she never lived in a house until she came to live with her adoptive mother. When we adopted her two months later, we knew her history and she was a “sensitive” dog. But beyond that, we don’t really know what we’re getting into. Truth be told, I’m not sure we were able to prepare for the big project we’re working on. Mayzie is a really frightening dog. She was literally right afraid of everything.
A list of “Items that terrified Mayzie” included: hardwood floors, stairs, oven, dishwasher, BBQ grill, umbrella on our terrace, wind, ceiling fan, walking, up car, get out of the car… Well, you get it.
Today, though, with a lot of hard work, patience and cheese therapy, Mayzie is a cheerful, humorous, and confident dog. Sure, there are things that still frighten her, but now she has the tools she needs to deal with most of the things that happen her way.
But, oh, I remember how challenging those first days, weeks, and years were. And now I realize that while there are a lot of resources out there on how to help a scare dog, they often fail to prepare people for the unique challenges and rewards that come with it.
So if you are just starting your journey or have been on for a while, here are some tips to help your scare dog.
1. The journey of a scared dog is not in a straight line – don’t expect it to be
People seem to always try to get somewhere by the shortest, most direct route. However, when it comes to working with a frightened dog, it is best to accept that you will go on the scenic path. You should be prepared for setbacks and failures, and you may have to go an alternate path for a while.
In fact, failures do happen and they are perfectly normal when it comes to a scared dog. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Even in the worst case scenario, you probably won’t go back to where you started. If you continue your journey, you will gain ground and move forward to achieve your goals. So when detours do happen, acknowledge them but don’t let yourself get discouraged by them.
2. Learn to enjoy perspective
After adopting Mayzie, I became too interested in it everything around us. What are the potential triggers on our walks? What could have frightened her into the house? To be honest, it was very stressful because it seemed like a lot of Mayzie’s scammers were lurking around the corner.
But then I gradually realized something: I am looking at things in a way I never had before. Perhaps the flowers in my neighbor’s garden had begun to bloom. Or maybe someone else has put up a new fence. And, wow, I never noticed a willow tree drooping down that beautiful street before. As I began to see the world through Mayzie’s eyes, I not only helped her, but also received the gift of appreciating the world around me in a whole new way.
3. Revel in small victories when it comes to scared dogs
One morning on our sidewalk, Mayzie stopped on the street and took a few steps back, her body low to the ground. I immediately became more wary. What threat did I miss? Then I saw it. After a heavy rain the night before, a large dahlia fell down the sidewalk and entered our passage. Any other dog won’t even notice. Not Mayzie. This is new and different, and in the past it might have frightened her from running away. I stood still, researching her for clues about the best course of action.
As I watched, she slowly curled her fore leg forward, her neck outstretched, while somehow keeping her hind legs ready to fly. Closer and closer, she moved little by little until she finally touched the flower with her nose. As soon as she smelled it, all the tension released from her body. “Duh, mom, it’s a flower! And you were scared, ”she seemed to say as she happily ran away. To anyone else, it might seem insignificant. But for me it’s another example of how far this scared dog has come. I smiled all the way home.
4. There will be tough days and you may want to give up
About two weeks after we adopted Mayzie, we had a really bad day. Everything could be wrong, did. I ended my wits and felt completely overwhelmed in my head. As my husband and I climbed into bed, I sobbed and said, “I don’t know if we can do this! Maybe we should send her back to the rescue. ” I even shocked myself when I said that. I grew up to believe that an animal, like a child, is committed for life, but I feel tired and frustrated and simply don’t know what to do.
My husband looked me in the eye and said, “She is ours now and we are not going to give up on her. You should feel better after you sleep. “And what do you know? He was right. I woke up with a better outlook and new determination to help my dog. It wasn’t our last bad day, but I was prepared. better for them in the future.
5. Just remember – a scared dog will get better
Five years ago, I never believed where Mayzie was today. Never. I can’t imagine the fact that she would love to go for a walk or that I could turn on the ceiling fan without thinking. However, we are here. Some days / weeks / months, it doesn’t seem like we’re making any progress. But looking back on it, I realized that things were getting better even if it was difficult to see at the time.
One of the best advice I get is to start a diary to track my progress. I have started a blog. You may prefer a notebook. But whatever you do, write it down. It’s helpful on difficult days to read about how far you’ve come, how much progress you’ve made and how much better it actually got.
6. Raising a fearful dog is one of the most rewarding things you will do
I can’t even count the hours and money I’ve invested to make Mayzie the dog she is today: happy, healthy, and living a full, rich life. Is she “normal” (whatever that means)? Well, no, I guess not and probably never will. She was too far from the eighth ball to fully catch up. But every minute and every dollar I’ve spent is worth it. Everything we have done together has created a belief and bond that is rare and unbreakable. It’s been a fantastic, challenging, crazy roller coaster ride and I’ll be all over again in no time.
Your turn: Are you a scared dog? What was your biggest challenge or reward? Let us know in the comments!
Thumbnail: Photography © hidako | Think.
First published in 2014.
Continue reading: How to help a nervous dog overcome its fears