BY nobuko   Sun, 19 Sep 2010

Ever since Kaiju got rejected from the nosework class, I have been obsessively reading online about fearful dogs, trying to find any signs that Kaiju is "not so bad" and that medication is not really necessary. We've been struggling with Kaiju's fear issues throughout the recovery periods after the injuries/surgeries but we always hoped that this was a temporary aftermath, and that as soon as he resumed training in various obedience classes, started exercising more, and felt less and less pain in his legs, he would show noticeable improvements towards becoming a happy active dog. However, in the nosework class, watching other dogs easily and happily perform the tasks, then seeing Kaiju unable to take even one step forward towards the boxes, and being advised to medicate him by the trainer, totally bursted our little wishful-thinking bubbles.

That's how I found fearfuldogs.com. I bookmarked it and went back to it several times because it seemed to offer relevant suggestions and perspectives for Kaiju. You find a lot of tips on mildly fearful dogs online. Most of those involve treats that help dogs make positive associations with frightening objects. Kaiju, however, snobs treats in a most of those situations. He shuts down and refuses to even glance at a high-value treat right in front of his nose. This site, and the Yahoo mailing list called "shy-k9s" are the only two places I found that discussed severely anxious dog.

As I revisited this site several times, I noticed that the author/creator of the site, Debbie Jacobs | | , lived in Southern Vermont. Wow, that's just a couple of hours of drive. Moreover, I found that she offered over-the-phone consultations. Then, as I looked closer, I made an even more exciting discovery. She runs a boarding service!

We have never boarded Kaiju. He was too young at first. Then, he had always been "recovering" from the knee injuries. There were just too many things he was not allowed to do and too many things that we needed to watch out for. Our biggest fear is that he may bolt out to busy streets or jump down from a higher ground when frightened, and re-injure himself, if the handler is not fully aware of how scaredy this little dude is.

So, it was exciting for us to find a possible boarding place run by someone who clearly cared about and keenly understood fearful dogs. We emailed Debbie and asked her if we could visit her. We wanted to check out the boarding place, and/or get the 1-hour consultation in person rather than over the phone. She pleasantly okayed it. It is early autumn here, and having to drive to beautiful Vermont at this time of the year was definitely not a bad deal.

We met Debbie at a covered bridge. It was a beautiful spot. There, she spent two hours with us. She brought her border collie, Finn, who stayed in the water with his life jacket the entire time (!!). Kaiju tried so hard to get Finn's attention, while Debbie and we consulted on the bench nearby. He even went into the water to get closer, but was completely ignored. It was hilarious.

Debbie was great. She was warm, earnest, and encouraging. She was never dismissive about our gripes. She made us feel understood. Those qualities are so important in dog training professionals, I feel, probably as much as the actual advices, because new-found hope in the owners undoubtedly affects our dogs very positively.

She gave us a lot of practical tips, as well as theoretical ones. Her articulateness and matter-of-fact style made it easy for us to accept and absorb the information. The more one experiences fear, the more easily it comes. because it is a learned response, she told us. So it is important to actively manage his environment to minimize the triggers of fear response. It is a lot of work when you live in a city where unpredictable things happen all the time, but it was important to do our best not to overwhelm him with the things that he cannot handle.

We asked for her opinion on medication, and she was for it. She told us that it is a good tool to help him cope. We really needed this... a 2nd opinion from someone who were deeply involved with anxious dogs.

Unfortunately, we found out that her boarding environment was too open and free-flowing for Kaiju. He has not been good with recall, and that made her nervous. She told us that, for a shy dog like him, a kennel setting might be better. It is more predictable and structured. We never thought of it that way. Whatever is the easiest for Kaiju is the option we'd want to take. So that was a good tip. We need to reassess our view on boarding again, for a while.

As we said good bye, she smiled and told us that Kaiju did not seem completely damaged. She thought that, with time and patience, Kaiju would have a good chance on being "normal". This meant so much to us. We headed home feeling rejuvenated and hopeful, while Kaiju slept like a baby in the backseat all the way home.



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