All dogs deal with stress differently. One dog may bark, another may bite, and many will be so overcome by fear that they won’t know how to function. Take Edie for example, a rescue dog that was so terrified when she was brought to a shelter that she was deemed unadoptable, and was slotted for euthanasia. Luckily, a very kind person was there to save the day.
Fearful Dog Rescued from Euthanasia
Edie, a Maltese-poodle mix was brought to a high-kill shelter and was one hour away from being euthanized when a rescue team from Hope for Paws stepped in. Edie was dirty, and her hair was matted when she was brought to the shelter. The team speculates that she might have been terribly molested in her past to have such an acute fear of humans.
Eldad Hagar, one of the founders of Hope for Paws, was undeterred by Edie’s aggression and it wasn’t long until she was cuddled up next to Eldad, looking for belly rubs.
One grooming session later (and a whole lot of love) and Edie has proven to be a beautiful and loving pup. She soon found a wonderful new family to adopt her.
Watch the video of her adoption here:
How to Deal with a Fearful Dog
When you consider the kind of life that a rescue dog has had it’s no wonder that they’re terrified. Many rescue dogs spend their lives on the streets, searching for food, water, and shelter, and are constantly in danger from other dogs, people, and the environment. A lot of rescue dogs have been abused or neglected in some way and have a difficult time trusting humans.
When a dog is taken from that environment and placed in a shelter, they have no way of knowing that the people there are trying to help, so they’ll often react with aggression. Very rarely is a dog aggressive for the sake of aggression. More often a dog reacts aggressively out of fear. Aggression is a defense mechanism.
When I adopted my dog, Django, from the streets of Israel he was terrified of everything. Cars, stairs, bicycles, men, balloons. You name it and he was probably afraid of it. He had spent his whole life in chaos, never knowing where his next meal would come from, and I suspect that he was the victim of abuse at some point. It makes complete sense, then, that he took on a defensive response to life. You can learn more about our story here!
Our job as animal lovers is to show them that there’s an alternative to fear. We can offer them consistency, comfort, and love. Regardless of if you’re adopting a dog, or the dog that you already have is fearful, here are a few useful things that you can do to make your dog’s life more comfortable.
The Do’s of Healing a Fearful Dog
Set up a Routine
Dogs crave routine. When they know what to expect in the day it gives them a sense of security that will help to decrease their anxiety. Schedule your walks and feeding time and then stick to it. Consistency is key in giving confidence to a fearful dog.
Set Aside Time Just for your Dog
Setting aside time solely for your new dog is important, especially if you live in a busy household. Your dog needs to see that it’s valued in its new home. Early in the morning, and just before bed is the time of day that a dog needs comfort the most. This stems from it’s instinctual habit of sleeping with the pack, as feral dogs tend to do. I suggest spending 10-15 minutes just before going to bed, and right when you wake up in the morning to pet your dog and comfort them.
Use Positivity to Build Confidence
A fearful dog lacks confidence. Using positivity with your dog will help to build that confidence and make them feel more comfortable in their surroundings. Offer lots of praise and rewards when your dog does something that you like. It’s also a good idea to train your dog in obedience, like teaching them “sit” or “down” and reward them heavily for accomplishing it. This will give them a sense of accomplishment, and the extra praise helps too!
The Don’ts of Healing a Fearful Dog
Don’t Force Them Into Scary Situations
Forcing your dog to confront his/her fear head-first is not going to benefit anyone, and it can actually make your dog’s fear worse. Instead, you’ll need to take baby-steps towards the thing that scares your dog, offering praise and rewards along the way so that your dog comes to see that it’s not so scary after all.
Don’t Move Quickly
This is especially important if you’re dealing with a rescue dog. Many rescue dogs have lived their whole lives in a fight-or-flight state. That means that they’re ready to bite or bolt at any fast movement. If you move quickly your dog’s natural instincts will kick in. Moving slowly will help to allow your dog to let his/her guard down and trust you.
Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations
When a dog has been through a difficult time in their lives it’s hard for them to gain confidence in their new setting. It can take a lot of time for a dog to settle into a new household fully. Don’t expect your dog to acclimatize completely to its new life overnight. Instead, have patience with your dog and continue to offer love and support. This will be the key to building confidence in your fearful dog.
Adopting a rescue dog can be challenging at times. For the most part, the dogs have had a difficult life build on fear. That being said, adopting a dog is also one of the most rewarding things that you can do. Not only are you saving a life, but you’re bringing awareness to the global epidemic that is homeless dogs. With patience and a whole lot of love, your fearful dog will gain the confidence that it needs to live a happy and healthy life with you. To learn more about about how to help a rescue dog by reading this guide on working with fearful dogs.
Jackie is a dog trainer and animal rescue advocate that is passionate about working with the difficult cases. She shares her life with her rescued street dog Django and her rescued ball python, Pip. Follow their adventures on their blog!
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