Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fearful Dog

Living with a fearful dog is exhausting. It's time-consuming. And it's heartbreaking.

We had a rough day today.

Instead of having a restful day at home (as originally planned), I really felt the need to go hiking. Hiking is a moving meditation for me. When my mind is too full of chatter or I'm dealing with something that is dragging me down, hiking seems to be my cure. It helps me get re-centered and focused. I was in desperate need of this type of healing today.

Unfortunately I didn't get what I needed.

We hiked the far southern portion of the Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail in hopes of finding blissful solitude and an opportunity to sit in the forest along the bank of the river and listen to the water babble over ancient rocks.

This section of the Ice Age Trail is on public hunting and fishing grounds, and regrettably, I forgot that it is turkey hunting season right now. Shortly after we began hiking, gun shots rang out through the woods, reminding me of our recent hike on the Ringle Segment.

Charlie was nervous and stuck by my side pretty closely, but we continued on. The woods are coming alive with spots of green and tiny wood violets blooming along the forest floor. Butterflies flitted about and birds chirped in the tops of trees. We even saw two deer trot by, not 20 feet from where we had just passed.

It seemed to be a magical day in the woods and I wanted to continue moving forward toward the river, where I could sit and think for a while.

When we got to the river, though, several gun shots rang out in quick succession very close by and Charlie panicked.

Normally this is one of her favorite places to be and the water always draws her in. She loves to romp around in the sparkling clear water of the river and find sticks for me to throw for her.

Today, though, she shook with fear, panting heavily and trying to hide between my legs. She wouldn't leave my side. Her tail was tucked between her legs and she was visibly shaking so hard (see video at end of post).

I was disappointed to have to leave when we had just arrived at the spot I wanted to spend time enjoying but I could see the fear in Charlie and knew we needed to go.

I also knew that the hike back to the car was not going to be fun. She was in a full-on panic attack at that point and her only agenda was getting to the car where she could feel safe. It was a miserable hike back to the car, Charlie pulled with all her might to get me to go faster and literally choked herself on her harness with the effort. I felt so bad for her, but there was nothing I could do but walk as fast as I could.


I went to a book signing recently at our local library where animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell, was promoting her new book, The Education of Will. Patricia has had a lot of experience training dogs and working with people and their dogs' issues, including fearful dogs.

I'm almost finished with the book and then going to start reading another of her books, The Other End of the Leash. Hopefully I can start working with Charlie again on some of her fear issues. Unfortunately I've been working with Charlie on her issues since she was a pup, and she's almost 7 years old now. Training and working on fear issues is an ongoing process with dogs like Charlie and sometimes can never be fixed completely.

I've made a lot of concessions for Charlie over the years. Because she's fear-aggressive toward most other dogs, I can't trust her 100% and always need to be on alert, watching her body language. We walk alone most of the time and sometimes at "off" hours of the day to avoid other dogs on busy trails. I've gotten used to being a solo hiker, even though I miss having a social life.

Charlie's noise-reactivity always has me prepared to redirect and calm her. When a car backfires while we're out on a walk or someone slams a car door too hard, I'm quick to give her treats and talk in a soothing voice. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes she practically drags me home in fear for her life.

We've tried diet changes, Bach's Rescue Remedy, essential oils and other calming methods. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

Unfortunately this is the reality of having a fearful dog. I love Charlie to death and would do just about anything for her. I have turned my life upside down over the past 6+ years to accommodate her needs and give her the best life possible. And in a lot of ways, she has improved my life so much.

And sometimes I'm just frustrated. Like today.

Even though today didn't work out as planned, I did get to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun in the backyard petting Charlie.

Man, I love this dog.

VIDEO (Charlie's reaction after the gun shots next to the river):