You know your dog has issues when they completely panic when you open the glove compartment in your dashboard. I mean really and truly panic. It’s one of the most alienating and frustrating experiences to go out in the world with a dog that doesn’t act like a dog is “supposed to”.
Sometimes when I see dogs that walk up to complete strangers with absolute enthusiasm I can’t help but feel jealous. Gwen, who I love dearly, is definitely not that dog. She is sweet and fun and smart and my life is better because she is a part of it. However, strange people, strange places, strange noises and whatever else she decides looks scary on a given day can be cause for absolute panic. That may mean that she completely freaks out- barking and lunging so that my only option is to walk her away until she is able to calm down. It may also mean that she completely panics and tries to escape. They are both products of the same fear.
Life with a nervous dog (if I’m doing my job) means being aware any time we’re out in the world. At any moment I may need to reward her for not reacting to “scary things”, counter condition for the same, or call her away from frightening situations that she is too close to cope with. To be honest, it’s pretty exhausting. A few mornings ago I opened up my glove compartment and my 20 pound dog ended up practically wrapped around my neck, shaking and trying to dig through the window to escape. It took a half an hour to help her cope with it- starting outside of the car she got treats for relaxed behavior and for every step closer to it. Once we finally got back into the car I emptied my glove box and we spent the rest of our ride with it open as she ate treats out of it. Now most times we get in the car I open it up, give her treats, close it and carry on with life.
Gwen and I subscribe to what GKC Co-Owner Carla jokingly calls the “stranger no danger” training protocol. This afternoon a strange man came out of no where and tried to pet Gwen. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t completely freak. For her that is pretty overwhelming progress. She even took treats from him.
That’s life with a nervous dog- progress is never in a straight line. One moment she’s above and beyond my wildest expectations and the next she’s freaking out. I have to take a deep breath, try to understand (even though sometimes it is truly frustrating) and figure out what I need to do to help my dog. Because when it comes down to it my dog is just a dog. She doesn’t understand the world we live in- or why she should react any other way- and it is my job to help her. My dog has issues and that’s OK.
How do you help your dog navigate that crazy, scary world out there? What issues do you and your dog still struggle with?