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!