After more than four years blogging about real life with a fearful dog, I’ve learned a lot and made oodles of mistakes. When Caring 4 Creatures, a rescue group based in Atlanta, Georgia, asked me to write a guest post, I summed up several important lessons for anyone who adopts a fearful dog.
I hope you’ll pop on over there today to see what I have to say in the guest post called “Adopting a Fearful Dog,” including:
Even those of you who’ve been longtime readers or who actually know me in real life, might be interested in my answers to these questions:
Last week, Mary-Alice from Dog Jaunt, a great blog all about dog travel, posted our guest post about the dos and don’ts of hiking in rattlesnake-prone regions. I hope you will check it out. Dog Jaunt has a whole new graphic look and even a neat Dog Jaunt Store, including dog travel stuff and shirts that say … “Because you dog will never ask are we there yet.”
Today, Lilly and I are happy to welcome Guest Blogger Rod Burkert from GoPetFriendly.com, which has both an incredible site for info on traveling with your dogs (including a trip planner) and a terrific blog with loads of updates on their non-stop, on-the-road adventures.
Last week, I mentioned a Be the Change petition effort by GoPetFriendly.com to get hotels to ditch their weight-limits on dogs. Today, you can read my guest post on the Go Pet Friendly blog about the many dog-friendly spots in our “hometown” of Golden, Colorado:
Today, I’m pleased to do a Blog Swap with fellow web writer, designer, and blogger Melanie McMinn, an American ex-pat living in New Zealand. Her beyond-beautiful blog The Frugal Kiwi offers great money-saving and DIY ideas on many fronts. So, when I came up with an at-home, free way to cool my laptop, I offered to guest post on her blog in exchange for a guest post here. So, I’m super excited to present Melanie’s insights into training cats to do tricks. The videos are darling!
Training Cat Tricks
Beg, shake hands and high-five are all common tricks for Fido. Easy enough to teach and fun for your dog to learn. But what if you don’t have a dog?
Chamille, the LaPerm, came to us as an ex-breeding queen.
When Sir Ed, the Devon Rex, joined the family, I tried training him as well.
Since Ed prefers causing havoc to eating treats, he’s proved to be a less promising cat to train than Chamille. However, he has trained US to play fetch with him — a common behavior for his breed. Ed’s favorite game is to drop an elastic pony tail holder on my foot and have me fire it down the hall for him. He’ll race after it at breakneck speed, grab it, and bring it back for more fun.
I “met” Debbie Jacobs through Twitter (that social networking & mini-blogging site I mentioned a while back). We are fellow crusaders against out-dated training methods, especially when applied to fearful dogs. She’s the person behind the FearfulDogs.com info site and blog as well as the e-book called A Guide To Living & Working With A Fearful Dog. We share many of the same insights, methods, and worries from our lives with fearful dogs. Today, to introduce our readers to each other, we’re doing a little Blog Swap Q&A. See her answers to my questions below. My answers to hers here.
Give us a little background on Sunny’s circumstances, age, depth and kind fears, etc.
Sunny is a survivor of a 477 dog hoarding site discovered in AR after the hurricanes of 2005. My best guess is that he was born at the site and lived in an outdoor pen with a number of other dogs and limited exposure to people. I’m not exactly sure of his age when he arrived, but it was probably between 1-2 years. His triggers are people and novel objects or situations. He’s great with other dogs, loves being outdoors, and though he will startle at noises, he’s not phobic about them, thank goodness. Maybe living around nearly 500 barking dogs desensitized him to noise
What kind of dog training experience did you have before Sunny?
I have female cocker that loves agility. Most of my dogs have been through at least a class or two, but she enjoyed it so much that we took classes for years. I’ve also attended obedience and rally classes with my other dogs, but I’m not into competing. I primarily enjoy the classes because they help me learn to communicate with my dogs more effectively, and the dogs like a night out. I am planning on becoming a certified dog trainer in the next year or so.
What methods do you use with him?
The first and most important step I took with Sunny was developing our relationship. Because Sunny had no positive experience with people, he had to sort out what I was good for so that he could begin to look forward to my arrival and being with me. We started with food but moved on to toys and eventually to running in the woods. I am aware of his triggers and thresholds and use counter conditioning and desensitization to help him change how he feels about scary things.
All of my training with Sunny is based on positive reinforcement. I use a clicker with him often. Any kind of aversive techniques are far too risky to use with a fearful dog. Even dogs without fear issues can end up with behavior problems when punishment is not used correctly, and most often it’s not. It doesn’t mean that he is allowed to behave in ways that I think are inappropriate, it just means that I try to teach him the behavior I want, not just try to stop the behavior I don’t. For a very long time I was very careful to ensure that he did not have any reason to wonder whether being with me was a good idea or not. Now, we can do things that might not be fun for him, like vet visits, but because we have solid relationship he bounces back quickly instead of needing to hide from me for the rest of the day while he decompresses from the stress of the experience.
How long have you been together, and what improvements have you seen?
Sunny came to live with me in December of 2005. He arrived a terrified and shut-down dog with no skills for interacting with people at all. He would defecate when handled or moved. He had never lived in a house before, everything about his new life was horrifying, except for my other dogs. He is still what I would call a fearful dog, but he can go for off leash walks in the woods with me, loves to chase frisbees and tennis balls, attends training classes, jumps on the bed for scratches and belly rubs in the morning after my husband leaves the house. He is still afraid of him and other people, but his reactions are becoming less intense.
What mistakes have you made, or what key lessons have you learned?
My biggest regret with Sunny was that when he first arrived I did not provide him with a safe place to hang out and hide. I believed that I’d only be ‘enabling’ his fear and that if he just faced his fears he’d get over them. I now realize that is so off the mark and wonder what additional damage I may have caused him as he lived for weeks in a corner of our living room, too afraid to move.
The biggest lesson I learned is that you cannot reinforce fear in an animal by comforting them when they are afraid. Their brains and our brains don’t work that way. I have also come to accept that because Sunny’s brain was not given the best start in life he may never be like my other dogs, but that’s ok, I am committed to working with him for the rest of his life. And I just adore him.
When did you launch the site, and what are your goals for it?
I created the fearfuldogs.com website in 2007 and my goal was to create a resource for dog owners and rescuers working and living with a fearful dog. I wanted to include the most up-to-date information available about how to change the behavior of a dog with fear-based issues (or any dog for that matter). There is quite a bit of good science and research about animal behavior, but unfortunately too much of what is passed off as training advice is not based on what studies have shown really works. It’s not too difficult to get a dog to do something, and it’s not even that difficult to get a dog to do something AND enjoy it, but most people still hold rather archaic views about training dogs.
I wrote the ebook “A Guide To Living & Working With A Fearful Dog” to also help folks think about the best ways to work with their dogs. The biggest challenge for most owners of fearful dogs is changing their beliefs about how to work with them. I hope the book aids in that process.
REQUEST FOR HELP:
If you know modern, positive methods trainers around the country (or even the world), please let Debbie know. She’s creating an online directory of people who can help others with their fearful dogs.
Hop on over to PetDoc.com to read a Q&A I did with Jonathan this week. Considering how distracted I am with Lilly being sick, I hope it makes some sense. For those who might be visiting Champion of My Heart for the first time because of that interview, welcome. Here are some links that should help you catch up on our tale.
Why is the blog called Champion of My Heart?
What is dog agility, anyway?
How exciting is winning a championship? (warning … a sad and inspiring story and video)
Are challenges like this normal?
Is she really a border collie?
Where did things start to go wrong?
What kinds of things have you tried to fix it?
And, yes … A rattlesnake bit Lilly right in the face Saturday night. Those entries are recent, so you should be able to see them below this one. (warning … fairly gruesome photos)
After I posted a comment recently about the impact of generational differences in veterinary medicine, Dr. Patty Khuly over at Dolittler (a veterinary blog for pet lovers, vet voyeurs, and the medically curious) inquired about a magazine article I wrote that
never got published. An edited version appears on her blog today: It’s Not Gender … Stupid. While the examples are all veterinary, the lessons about why Baby Boomers are the way they are and why Gen-Xers are
the way they are apply to any workplace. I didn’t go into it, but
it also changes how clients from different generations interact with
For example, Gen-X people are far less likely to treat any doctor or any authority figure with a paternalistic mindset. Instead, we (and I do mean “we” since I’m a classic, classic Gen-Xer) do our own research, we question advice, we want to know why, etc. For a Baby Boomer doctor, that often feels like someone questioning their authority or their expertise, but that’s not at all how it’s intended.