Fostering Courage

Dealing with fearful dogs is always a challenge. Going through the process of rehabilitating a dog can be frustrating, and exhausting, and sometimes it seems like there is no end in sight. Dexter is far from being worst case scenario, but he is extremely shy of people. We believe that in his short life, he has experienced some degree of abuse. I am so enraged to think that a person could damage such an innocent and sweet-natured little creature like Dexter. Had he not been traumatized like we believe he was, I know he would be the first puppy to climb up into anyone’s face and bestow tons of kisses and love. However-he is not…

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When dealing with a fearful dog, or one who is insecure, it is extremely important to realize that any wrong move could further traumatize your dog, and ultimately push them into reacting to that trauma with aggression. Demanding too much of this dog, or being too high-strung can take you back several steps in the rehabilitation process. It’s always important to maintain a calm state when you are around animals. They have an incredible ability to read emotions, and will respond to your emotional state and relate that feeling with their environment. This would explain why some dogs get excited to “go outside,” or “play ball”, or why some dogs are anxious in the same situations as yourself (small dogs meeting big dogs, children around dogs, etc).

Meeting properly is one of the most important interactions you can have with a dog. It will tell the dog whether he can trust you or not. Dogs do not interact with people or other dogs the way we interact with other people, and it’s crucial that you learn to read signals, and most importantly have patience.

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The first night we brought Dexter home, he was terrified of my brother, and still very unsure of myself. It took us about 20 minutes to get him out of the car, and at least 5 to get him up the stairs to the apartment. It then took him about half an hour to relax inside the apartment. Any time my brother walked by, Dexter would huddle down as close as possible into my side, almost knocking me over. My brother is excellent with the fosters, and did exactly the right thing! He waited until Dexter showed interest in him, then he scrunched his 6’+ body down to the floor to make himself seem smaller, and I offered praise every time Dexter made a move closer. By the end of the night Dexter was cuddled up on the bed next to my brother, and snoozing away-completely relaxed and at peace.

Had my brother not taken Dexter’s cues of concern and anxiety, it would have caused the little guy’s fear of men and people in general to become even more solidified. Most people in that situation would probably have moved closer, or reached out a hand with the best intentions of offering comfort and peace, but to a dog, these actions are invasive and show no respect for their emotions. It is incredibly dangerous to approach any dog this way, not only because you may cause emotional damage to a dog, but it risks triggering an aggressive reaction resulting in traumatized dog, and injured human.

One thing I’ve been working on, now that Dexter is more than comfortable with me (he is attached to my hip), is putting him in situations where other people are present, and praising him for investigating them even at a distance. He wears his “Adopt Me” vest out in public, which of course brings people close, and as I help them approach calmly, I praise him for moving closer-all the while acting as his barrier and comfort zone. I am so proud of the little guy, and it makes me so happy to see him making progress every day.

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for information about adopting Dexter, email us at savingpawsofwa@gmail.com, or come visit us at Petco on 6th Ave. in Tacoma, this Saturday 11am-3pm

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