Diary of a fearful dog, Theodore’s story
February 23, 2010
My 9 month old pet dog, Theodore is a wimp. He is petrified of the car, hates the trash truck and vacuum cleaner and distrusts anyone or anything new. His fear of the car means that nine times out of ten, he throws up even on the shortest jaunt. An empty box left on the floor following the arrival of a package from the Fetch! Pet Care online store is cause for code red alert and high suspicion. He stretches out his 30 pound body as far as it will go to approach and sniff the demon box without actually touching it. Although barking madly seems like the thing to do, it inevitably fails to ease his concern. He whimpers and whines and avoids the offending object or person. Even the sight of another dog walking by triggers an anxious response from my little man.
My other pet dog is Theodore’s brother, Alvin. He is a dog’s dog. Nothing bothers him. He loves to ride in the car and gives the trash truck nothing more than a passing glance. If a new pet sitter comes to visit, he is ever so happy to make friends. The empty box is proudly carried about and chewed up into little bits. The dog walking by is a new buddy he hasn’t met yet.
What does this mean when we’re talking about dogs and their fearful behavior? Don’t feel guilty if this description fits your dog. It’s not your fault and there is hope. It would appear that at least some of Theodore’s fear comes from who he is, from how he is put together. How do we help the fearful dog?
Do we throw him into challenging situations, like enrolling him in a dog daycare? Go for dog walks when the trash truck is rolling by? Have a big, noisy party and just hope he conquers his fear of strangers by exposure? Perhaps we take the opposite approach and avoid the things that frighten him. No dog walking on trash day. Stay away from the dog park, stop having people over to visit, and never run the vacuum cleaner (great idea!).
The answer lies somewhere in between. Ease your pet dog into new situations. Start by not always being so predictable. Put on a crazy hat now and then, not to scare your pet dog, but to show him that familiar things can be different, but still safe. Take a different route on your next dog walk. Don’t put him in the car (or force him into any situation), but be patient enough to condition him into accepting it as a part of his world and allow him to approach gradually over a period of days. This is a great lesson for all pet dogs. Don’t avoid walking on trash day. Instead, take him out, but start by walking the opposite direction from the truck. Let him hear it first, then after a week or two, be a little bolder. Be sensitive to his body language, tail and ears up means he’s enjoying himself. Tail, head and ears down shows he is not feeling confident. Be gentle, but not overly sympathetic. Don’t shower him with stroking and “Oh you poor thing” attitude. Let him figure it out for himself and be a consistent, calm presence. With patience, confidence and consistency you can help your anxious pet dog overcome his fears.
This article was written by Phyllis Durborow, owner of Fetch! Pet Care of North Indy. Phyllis can be reached at 317-644-1465. Fetch! Pet Care is the largest national pet services and pet sitting company in the United States; serving 38 states in more than 2,000 cities and towns.