The dogs and I are playing outside with the beloved “orange ball”. Deuce is running to get the ball while Rio is tugging with gusto with me. I see Deuce running past me holding the big ball tightly in his mouth. He is dashing towards the house literally ignoring me as I call him to continue the play. Then it dawns on me that he just either saw a mountain lion or something as such that scared him to death or ….. seconds later I hear a gunshot ah – that is it!
I proceed to walk towards the house and I see Deuce waiting at the front door wanting to get in.
I open the door for him and he goes in dropping the ball just outside the door. I pick up the ball and proceed to walk away from him, leaving the front door open for him.
Seconds later he is following me, ready for more play. We resume our game as always. As we are back to playing I think the following: There are several “lessons” here that will help our pups recover from fearful events as well as to keep them safe.
Be aware that if your dog is ever afraid of something he might not run to you for comfort but instead run in any direction in an effort to create distance between him and what concerns him. This might not be a problem – as was the case this morning, but it could be a serious problem if your dog runs into traffic, or runs so fast and far that now he is lost.
Not long ago, I was hiking with the dogs when again, gunshots were heard. I sort of heard them but I was made aware by Deuce’s body language that he was afraid. He began to move away from me- and unable to approach me. Remember, your dog is NOT being a jerk, dominant, stubborn, etc., he just has bigger fish to fry! Instead, I approached him as he was still close to me and leashed him. We continue to walk away from the noise and on the trail. I gently coaxed Deuce as I presented my best impersonation of absolute confidence and zero concern for the noise. He came along with me and a few minutes later I let him off leash with no further incidents. Now, this is interesting because when it comes to Deuce and thunder he always comes to either John or me, not with gunshots! Go figure.
When your dog is afraid or even when concerned (my definition is that concern and fear are the same modalities but different intensities of the same emotion), it is very, very helpful (and humane!) to give the dog a moment to take in the environment. Dogs “divide” their world between safe or unsafe. So they need the time to assess the situation. Also, it is always the individual that decides if something is “scary” or not.
Give your dog a choice! Allowing any living being the opportunity to exercise some control (as much as possible) in its environment, is one of the most powerful things one can do to increase confidence, self-reliance, and wellness. This morning I gave Deuce the choice of either staying inside or coming out again to play. He made the choice, not me.
Keep in mind that fear being an emotion is not something that we can “influence” or change. Yes, I know you might have heard that we must not console our dogs when they are afraid because we will be reinforcing the fear, blah, blah, blah. Sorry but this is not so. If it was so easy to change emotions, why is it that people and other animals cannot modify their phobias, fears – especially when feeling afraid or anxious does not feel “good”? If the individual feeling these emotions cannot just turn them “off” at will (in most instances) how then can another individual do so?
However, what we can do is model confidence! Dogs are social beings so they are indeed learning from other beings (and their environment in general) all the time. If we demonstrate to the dog that we are not really concerned about something that concerns them, then we are modeling to the dog an alternative behavior to behaving in a fearful manner. In addition to this, make sure you are giving your dog a choice (more distance, less time exposed to the fearful event, etc.).
I must say that opportunities to help our dogs on a daily basis abound. But we must be willing to see things from their perspective and act in accordance.