Sunday, June 12, 2011

From Fearful to Confident--A Little Dog's Progress

A little over four years ago, I adopted a powderpuff Chinese Crested named Addy, who came from a great breeder, but then spent nine months in a home that, for her, wasn't ideal. It didn't give her the continuing socialization and training she needed; at less than fifteen pounds and with a sweet personality, within her own home it wasn't clear that training was needed. Then her owner's circumstances and needs changed, and she was returned to her breeder. It quickly became apparent that she was terrified of any dog that wasn't a Chinese Crested, and of most things that she'd encounter outside of the house or a fenced suburban back yard.

She was, fortunately, comfortable with my cats--and on the cat tree!

We took obedience classes--private at first:

And then group, when she had made enough progress to cope with that:

We attended a seminar with Brian Kilcommons, who uses positive reinforcement on dogs, but punishment on people (Note: I don't think he thinks of it that way):

She made her first real friend, a cocker spaniel named Josie:

She passed the "Meet a Friendly Stranger Dog" portion of the Canine Good Citizen test (the only part that was a challenge for her!) and became an AKC Canine Good Citizen:

Okay, you can't really see her here, but she's on the other side of that Big Dog. :)

She made more friends:

And now, after slow, sometimes frustrating progress, Addy is having fun at the dog park:

It's been four years, but the progress Addy has made has been phenomenal. She arrived terrified of nearly everything, cowering away from anything unfamiliar (which was nearly everything), and fear-aggressive towards other dogs. She was literally so afraid of unfamiliar dogs that she couldn't imagine any safe reaction except to scare them off before they attacked her. Now, Addy meets and plays with other dogs, and the behavior problem we have is that she is over-excited in a positive way by the sight of other dogs. (We're working on that, too!) She's still over-reactive to bicycles, which is a trial, but again, we're making progress.

And all of this progress was made with patience, positive reinforcement, treats, and confidence-building. She didn't need to "learn who was boss;" she needed to learn that it was safe to abandon her self-protective strategies. We used a Gentle Leader head collar for a while, because that helped her avoid the scary choking sensation she got when she over-reacted to Something Scary on a flat buckle collar and also turned her away from the Scary Thing, causing it to Disappear. (This was one of the helpful tips we got from Brian Kilcommons.) Now, thought, she walks on a standard back-clip harness, or on a flat buckle collar when a friend who doesn't like the harness walks her.

If you have patience, love, and a secure home to offer, don't be afraid to adopt a fearful dog. It's not right for everyone. A fearful dog is probably not right for a first-time dog owner. If you have young children or a busy, hectic home, you'll be happier with a more confident, socialized dog with less baggage. If you do adopt a fearful dog, there will be a lot of work, and frustration, and some tears along the way, but watching them blossom is rewarding beyond measure. And the love they give will fill you to overflowing.

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