Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fearful dogs

In the span of time between the moment I agreed to take Pagent, and the moments where I saw her open up, I had plenty of time to envision all sorts of worst-case scenarios. 


I already knew she was one of three shy dogs, and I knew I was getting the most scared one because for some reason they thought I could handle it.


When I saw her huddled up in her crate, and put one finger against her absolutely rigid backside, I thought of all the sad stories I've been hearing lately of fearful dogs who despite heroic efforts have just stayed that way. 


A wonderful positive dog trainer colleague of mine has a dog--a smallish black lab mix--who was in the shelter from age 6 weeks to age 6 months, and missed out on that critical socialization window. Despite her good luck in being rescued by my friend, she remains frightened of everything. 


A trainer has recently written in to the regional positive dog trainer list I'm on, about a client dog with high anxiety, fear, and resource guarding who has bitten her owners; the experienced trainer is at a loss as to how to help.


Many dog trainers, including the author and owner of the fearfuldogs website, concur that with some fearful dogs, euthanasia should never be off the table as an option. Suffice it to say that it is not an option for me, that I can't imagine being the agent of a dog's destruction through my own conscious choice and failure to find an alternative.


I used to think that literally any dog could be rehabilitated, that there was no case of fear or instability that couldn't be healed through patience and really good treats. I've realized that this is not the case, that just as some humans are severely imbalanced, some dogs are too and even the most creative positive training has its limitations.


When you meet a fearful dog, you always think--abuse. Or neglect, or mistreatment, or some really bad experience involving men/cars/vacuum cleaners/other dogs. But a lot of the time, its much less dramatic. It's just a lack of socialization and exposure to new experiences during the critical first three months of life when a puppy is most open to new experiences, since during this time sociability outweighs fear. Around 12 weeks, puppies enter a relatively fear-prone period of development, making socialization efforts less fruitful after this time. 


So my friend's little black lab mix, and my own little black lab mix, will likely never be social butterflies, and they may never be dogs who love all people or dogs who love to go to dog parks or even dogs who you would call extremely well-adjusted. 


But I fully believe that they can have good lives, and that they can bring joy into their people's lives, and that they deserve to live. Their potential is yet another reason why I hope more people will try fostering, in the DC area and beyond!

16 comments:

  1. I think a dog like Pagent can thrive in the right home with the right people. I can't speak for all fearful dogs but I do believe in you Kirsten and I know you will give her the very best and find her the very best home.

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  2. Good for you! Shy & fearful dogs have a special place in my heart. I too cannot imagine ending their lives - I think most dogs can live a happy life through training, oodles of love and patience, drugs, and alternative therapies like T touch. Sure, they will likely never be that dog who can go anywhere & do anything but That's ok. Sadie will never be able to go to a parade or eat out at a restaurant but she's well-adjusted considering who she was and how fearful she was when we got her. I know Pagent's in the right hands!

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  3. I know you are the best thing for Pageant right now! You are doing a fantastic job I am sure!

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  4. Hi Kirsten, you and Florian are good people. Fostering for us would be difficult. My dad would probably try to keep them all and then there's all of us too. My dad's already bugging my mom about Pagent...

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    1. Sammy, Pagent would love to come live with you guys, and I'll bet Fozzie would too for that matter. Heck, I'll even throw in Lamar and Florian. How could you refuse a deal like that?

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  5. I have seen dogs that have been badly abused who were able to recover their confidence and over come their fear easier/sooner than a dog who was never abused, but lacked the appropiate socialization at the critial times. Hang in their because I have such a dog and it has been a long road (4 yrs now) but the progress made in the past year has been amazing. Patience, kindness and consistancy (and a drink for you now and then), that's what it takes.

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  6. Good luck with Pagent. I hope she can find a place of safety with you and perhaps, someday, with a permanent home.

    I also think shy dogs are a better fit for some people than for others. Not everyone wants an extrovert dog.

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  7. I agree completely with you. Sometimes the cause is less dramatic than we think, sometimes it may be a predisposed trait and in the genes (just like it is in humans) and some may not be saveable. I know Pager/Pageant has a good chance in your home though. For a start, she already has 2 names. How many little puppy dogs can boast that? ;) Have a great weekend guys! x

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  8. I appreciate that you included a link to my website and my thought about keeping options open. But what I would prefer people think of me in regard to are the years and effort I've put into helping them understand the most humane and effective ways to work with fear based behaviors so fewer dogs will need to be killed due to the complications of fear.

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    1. I agree Debbie, and thank you. You are providing a great resource and I know lots of rescuers and lovers of fearful dogs have benefited enormously from all you've done. I am certain that you have led to countless lives being saved. Thanks for commenting and for all your work for the Pagers and Sunnys among us!

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  9. very well said. I too have those fearful dogs. Being that I'm not much of a social person myself, I find they fit my own personality. Together we learn how not to be scared of certain things and the rest of the time we make our own ways to be alone in the world. Doesn't bother me a bit. I feel like my dogs are made just for me. :)

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  10. Time and patience are what these dogs all need. Time and patience like you and your friend are giving Pagent and her little dog.
    Whilst lack of socialisation in the 3 months critical period does cause problems ...with time and patience maybe months and months of it, I believe the dog can learn to grow and trust eventually. Too many dogs are PTS because of lack of time, understanding and patience. Well done Kristen for helping Pagent.

    Sorry didn't mean to rant..just my thoughts something I passionately believe in!
    Karen

    Extra Big Nose Pokes
    The Thugletsx

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  11. Such a heartbreaking topic. I used to work in an animal shelter and came across a few very fearful dogs. They needed a lot of work, and love, and patience. But a couple just never seemed to be able to break of their fear and would pee at any thing, even being approached. So tragic, and always broke my heart. And it is not only men that cause this. Believe me, from my experience at the shelter, women can be just as abusive and cruel toward pets as well, especially in the screaming and yelling department, so I feel bad when it is always the men getting the blame for fearful dogs.

    So happy that you and your friend are providing so much love and support in your work with these fearful dogs, giving them a chance at a life that others may not have given to them. People like you are Angels. :->

    K and Suka

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  12. Great topic as it is true that all shy dogs have not been abused or frightened by something. Good luck with Pagent. :)

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  13. I just have to say that your little Pagent has very soulful eyes and expression. She looks like she is going to be a teacher of great lessons.

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  14. Aww, what a cutie! My dog was afraid of everything when we first got him, including people, dogs, cats, ducks, roads, and even grass! Well after a year, he is still a little shy, but a really great dog nonetheless. :)

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