Think of a time when you were scared…I mean really, really frightened. A time when it felt like you had no escape, there was no one to protect you from whatever caused the terror that welled up inside you. Got that image, remember that feeling? Now, try to imagine feeling that feeling everyday, day after day for months or years.
One of the fear images that come to my mind is from childhood. I remember trying to make myself small, unseen, invisible so the imagined (or real) cause of fear wouldn’t see me. I remember thinking if the “scary thing” couldn’t see me then it would go away. I would hide in closets, under my bed, or in my bed buried in the blankets. Whatever the cause of my fear, real or imagined, the emotional and physical sensations live on in my memories.
Everyone responds to fear differently – some hide, some shout, some seek help, some become paralyzed and never quite get over the incident that created fear. Fear is a very real and powerful emotion in our pets, too. And like people, the response varies from pet to pet.
Now imagine life through the eyes of a dog…of Jada, Crossroads’ adoptable 3 yr old bully mix. For her entire life she’s been surrounded by “scary things” – dogs, noises, people – with few options for escaping to safety. Then one day her life suddenly changes and she’s thrust into a new environment with more of the same things that she’s been afraid of – dogs, noises and people. From her perspective she’s still surrounded by things to be feared, the only difference is that this time she’s in a house rather than being tied up outside or in a shelter. (Before you get too concerned about Jada, please know that as I write she’s curled up next to me on the sectional, snuggled into her favorite fleece blanket, snoring soundly…good girl!)
Jada had one coping technique when faced with a “scary thing” – barking. Oh and can she bark! To the casual observer Jada could appear frightening or aggressive. Too many dogs are labeled as “aggressive” when in reality they are only trying to make the “scary thing” go away and barking, growling and whining are the only tools they have. (The wind just started howling…Jada glanced up at me, wary, then looked out the window. A reassuring touch let her know that she’s safe from the noise…she relaxed and dozed off again.)
While most dogs learn how to cope with the “scary things” they encounter, for some dogs, like Jada, they need help learning to cope. Dogs like Jada suffer from fear and in some cases separation anxiety. Combining desensitization and counterconditioning are key for helping them learn to live normal dog lives. We are working hard with Jada to help her overcome her fear and learn new patterns of behavior. Over the past two weeks Jada has learned:
- The espresso machine gets turned on at precisely 5:45am every day. It does make noise and it is scary. Cookies are given to pups who sit on the rug and wait for foster mom to have a drink of her caffeinated beverage before breakfast is served. Pups who bark at the espresso machine still get breakfast they just miss out on the cookies!
- The dishwasher is not going anywhere and sometimes it makes noises. Pups who ignore the dishwasher get cookies. Pups who bark at the dishwasher miss out on cookies.
- There are three other dogs in the foster home…Jada likes one of the dogs, the other two are scary to Jada unless they stay a certain distance away – we’ve made progress from “barking hysterically if a dog was in the same room” to “mostly relaxed if dogs stay at least 2 feet away”. This morning Jada discovered that if she’s busy chewing on a toy when the resident dogs walk by she doesn’t need to bark. Every time a dog approached she chewed on her toy while the resident dog kept walking – no barking needed to make them go away – HUGE breakthrough for Jada!)
- When left alone in her crate or in a room with the door closed someone will always, always, always come back for her. If she waits calmly yummy cookies happen…if she barks/cries someone will still come back, but the yummy cookies don’t.
- The yard is the ONLY place for pee and poo, and yes, the human will stay and wait…upon ‘success’ there are cookies. No cookies for pee and poo in the house. She learned very fast that it’s more fun to pee and poo outside! (BREAKTHROUGH – this morning Jada went outside all by herself for a potty break – no human needed…this was followed by lots of cookies and praise!)
Jada’s journey from fear to confidence continues. The progress she’s made in two short weeks is incredible. Learning to keep calm and select an alternative appropriate activity continues to be the goal. My hope for Jada, and the many dogs like her who suffer from fear and anxiety, is that she will gain confidence in the knowledge that the world is big, but it’s not always scary.
Jada is ready for adoption. Her ‘just right’ family will share her journey to becoming a confident dog. Her strengths include snuggling, TV watching, pouncing on ropes and jolly balls, showering people with kisses, and thoroughly enjoying a good belly rub. She is looking for someone to be a loyal companion and dispenser of yummy cookies (cookies given when earned, of course!). For more information about Jada please contact Crossroads Pets at 615-712-9758.
Jada, and all the adoptable pets at Crossroads, goes through a LOT of cookies. One way to participate in the journey to confidence is by donating treats to the adoption program. The best training treat – “cookies” – are small, soft, and easy to break into tiny pieces, like Buddy Biscuits. The next time you visit Crossroads Pets please consider donating a bag of treats – treats really are life changing for dogs like Jada!