Thoughts of a Dog Therapist – Fear

Ok people can you all please do me a favour and stop expecting a dog to just slot into your life and do everything that you want it to do. Your dog is a living, breathing being with its own mind and its own soul, in essence it is its own person.

Dogs need to have choices, they need to be able to tell you that they’re not ok with a situation and not be labelled aggressive and untrainable.

In the last 3 weeks I have been approached by the owners of 5 different dogs because they’re showing signs of fear.

Some of them are hiding away and not wanting to come out, some are cowering at certain things and some are reacting aggressively, one is even wetting itself. In every circumstance the dog is constantly being put in situations that they’re not comfortable or happy with.

This idea that we need to take our dogs out and put them in these situations to get them used to it and work through their fears is archaic. That’s like saying that my fear of spiders will be resolved if I spend a few days locked in a room with thousands of them, it’s ridiculous!! So is the notion that they’re more scared of me than I am of them by the way, I don’t choose to stay anywhere near one yet they choose to move towards me and some have actually started to touch me so I’m sorry but they’re not scared!!

If I was scared of heights would I suddenly get over it if I was made to stand on a ledge high in the air every day for a month? No!!!! Of course I wouldn’t.

So what is the difference between our fears and our dogs? Why are our fears taken seriously and their fears just expected to be trained out of them?

Fear is basically an emotional response. Yes there is a chemical response in the brain that initiate the fight or flight response but fear is initially an emotional response to a thing or a situation.

Sometimes this fear can stem from real in the moment threats, like a person acting aggressively towards a dog.

And sometimes it stems from a resurfacing memory of a time when the dog felt unsafe, even if there wasn’t even any real danger, like firework night.

This is the thing with fear, everyone tries to understand it. Why is my dog behaving that way? Nothing happened to trigger it, they’ve just started being naughty.

No No No!!!

Just because you didn’t see a trigger doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, all that has to happen is the dog needs to feel unsafe! What you deem as safe and what your dog does can be two entirely different things.

This is why I moved across to the therapy side of things, to work on dogs with fears and phobias. Because I knew that putting a dog in a situation every day with the idea of training it out of them wasn’t the solution.

Yes you can teach a dog to react to things a different way. We can praise them when they’re giving us the golden behaviour and ignore or chastise them when they’re not (whichever your chosen trainer teaches you), and maybe they’ll eventually start to realise that the thing or situation is ok. But then again maybe not.

You see by doing this you’re not dealing with the emotional trauma that your dog is going through during that training. You’re not taking into consideration the fact that you are taking away your dogs natural right to be scared or worried about something.

You’re basically telling your dog to bottle those emotions because they don’t matter, what matters is that they mix with other people/dogs/loud noises etc. and we all know what happens when we bottle up our emotions don’t we.

Bottling up emotions can cause stress and anxiety, which in turn can manifest itself in all number of health problems, and that’s if the dog doesn’t just get to a point where it can’t take anymore and snaps.

I’ve seen that happen several times before during my behaviour and rescue days. They’re the dogs that then get handed back to the rescue or put to sleep because they’ve attacked someone or something with some even turned on the owner. And the sad thing is that all that was needed was for the dog to be listened to and respected.

So next time you’re trying to get your dog to say hello to this person or that dog and they really don’t want to, or you have visitors round and your dog starts to hide away. Have a think about what I’ve said and instead of forcing them to do something that they really don’t want to do, respect their viewpoint and allow them to remove themselves from the situation.

And if you really want to understand your dog and ask the question why, then get in touch and we’ll book in a communication session so that they can tell you.