10 things my fearful dog isn’t afraid of

When you live with a fearful dog, I’ve found that it’s easy to get weighed down by all of their issues. The fears are often the only things you can think about when you consider your dog and watch them interact with the outside world.

Pyrrha by the back stoop
The first day we had her; this is where she hid from us for a few hours.

Pyrrha is our fearful dog, and she will always have fear issues. I’m coming to terms with this reality, but I also want to take the time to consider the ways in which she’s made progress and the things she’s overcome since coming to live with us in May 2012.

This probably seems like a silly list to someone who has a confident, stable dog — and trust me, if I had to list the things Eden wasn’t afraid of, we’d be here a while — but these things represent milestones in Pyrrha’s gradual development.

So, here are:

10 Things My Fearful Dog Isn’t Afraid of

  1. Me! (Now, she treats me like I hung the moon and the stars, but for the first few weeks in our home, she didn’t want anything to do with me. Our relationship has clearly transformed since then.)
  2. House guests. (She’s even not afraid of male house guests anymore, which is a big accomplishment for her.)
  3. Squirrels, birds, and any other small vermin. (Her wavelength: Mmm, mobile snacks!)
  4. Other dogs, when the dogs are in an off-leash context. (Despite her reactivity to other dogs on walks, she actually adores other dogs and loves playing with them.)
  5. The guitar. (Used to hide in her crate when Guion played the guitar; now sees it as a normal part of life.)
  6. Riding in the car. (She loves car rides and has always traveled like a champ.)
  7. Fireworks.
  8. Thunderstorms.
  9. The elderly.
  10. Skateboards or bicycles or other similar moving objects on the street.
The queen
Pyrrha today; a much changed dog.

If you have a fearful dog, how have you seen her or him progress? What are some things your fearful dog isn’t afraid of?

New: Resource guide for shy, fearful dogs

Brokering a tentative peace
Our shy dogs, interacting. Check out those calming signals!

So. I’m realizing that volunteering for a German shepherd rescue means that shy dogs just come with the territory. This is probably true for most dog rescues, but GSDs are fairly well known for their sensitivity and predisposition to shyness (particularly if they’ve come from rough backgrounds).

That said, I’m also realizing how many of our potential adopters don’t really know what to do with shy dogs. I was this way myself when we adopted Pyrrha! I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Obviously, I’ve done lots of reading and research since, but Pyrrha is still a work in progress, just as I am. We both have lots to learn. To help myself and to help others with shy dogs or those adopting shy dogs, I’ve created a new resource page:

Living with Shy Dogs

This will be an active page, which I will add to from time to time, particularly as I hear from all of you about your favorite resources for fearful dogs. Feel free to share in the comments below!

RAINER UPDATE

He is happy to be back inside and home life has returned to a nice equilibrium, as much as we can maintain. As many of you have noted, Pyrrha is generally uncomfortable with Rainer being here (see her body language above), but they have brokered a tentative peace.

Rainer still has some mysteries about his health, which we are actively trying to solve with the help of SGSR and our vet. (Essentially, he’s just kind of weak in the back end and has poor balance. X-rays have since ruled out hip dysplasia, so we are looking into other diagnoses.)

The good news is that he has another potential adopter interested in him, who may meet him this weekend, weather permitting. The former family fell through, but this person sounds like a great fit for Rainer and his needs. Will keep you posted!

Let me know what you think of Living with Shy Dogs and what you’d add, if anything!

Getting to know Rainer better

This soulful-eyed boy survived his first grooming experience on Tuesday. It didn’t go so well, but we didn’t have to suffer with him.

Rainer, post bath

We took him to a local groomer (who also has self-serve grooming stations), a local saint, really. He apparently fought her with everything: brushing, shampooing, rinsing, nail clipping, etc. After an hour, she was worn out and he was only about half-bathed. She said she didn’t think this dog had ever been brushed or bathed in his entire life. I believe it!

But he looked SO much better afterward! See:

Rainer, post bath

He smells like a rose blossom now.

Rainer, post bath

Relations with Pyrrha are improving, although they can still be a bit dicey. I’m realizing Pyrrha is also at fault here: She is a HUGE diva!

Calming signals

Yesterday, I turned my back on them for a second in the sunroom, and Pyrrha started screaming. I jumped out of my skin! But I turn and look, and Rainer is not even touching her. Who knows what happened? Maybe he shot her a dirty look, and she freaked out? Ugh. What a queenie.

How do you teach a dog not to overreact to other dogs? Or, more accurately, how do you teach a dog not to be such a drama queen??

Rainer on guard

It’s really heartwarming to note how much his acclimating to us and to our lifestyle. The first few days, he wouldn’t come inside at all; we’d have to go out, catch him, and lasso him indoors. Now? I open the back door and call for him, and guess who comes running?

Stepping pretty

This guy!

Fostering shy dogs is an extra challenge, but I also think it’s more palpably rewarding than fostering “normal,” well-adapted dogs. Shy dogs make so much progress! Yes, it is often small, subtle progress, but it is still so cheering to observe it, to see formerly terrified dogs become able to let their tongue hang out with glee, to approach people for affection, to come running when called. Nothing quite like that feeling.

We are enjoying our time with this gentle boy. Tomorrow night, I’m taking him to a training class called “Fearful Dogs: Rescue Remedies,” a short, one-time session just for shy rescues. We’ll see how he does!

If you are interested in adopting Rainer, fill out an application at Southeast German Shepherd Rescue!

Meet Rainer!

Meet Rainer, our third foster from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue!

Rainer in the kitchen

Rainer is a sweet, shy boy who was brought into a rural shelter as a stray. That’s all we know about him! The shelter estimated he was 10 months old, but I think they were on crack, because he has to be much, much older than that; his teeth are pretty worn down, his muzzle is quite gray, and he doesn’t have even an ounce of the kind of puppy energy typical of an adolescent GSD.

That side eye! Kills me.

He is quite shy and withdrawn. He acts so much like Pyrrha did when we first got her: very curious about everything, can’t stop pacing and patrolling. But, like Pyrrha, he has a gentle disposition. He is nervous about people approaching him, but he calmly submits to petting and attention when approached slowly.

As you can see, below, he didn’t have much problem approaching Guion on his own initiative in the backyard:

Getting some love from Guion

So far, his interactions with Pyrrha have been GREAT, something we are so thankful for! They were both pretty nervous for the first few minutes and ignored each other in the yard for about 15 minutes — tons of calming signals being thrown around (curves around each other, lots of sniffing, lots of avoidance, lack of eye contact).

But then Pyrrha started throwing around some play bows, and within a few moments, Rainer had warmed right up!

Bonding with his foster sis

They are very trustworthy in the yard together. I watched them a lot last night and this morning, and they seem very well suited to each other. He’ll romp when she wants to romp, but he also does a good job of deflecting her invitations if he doesn’t want to play.

Rainer strolling

Last night, I took them on a walk together around the neighborhood. Guion couldn’t be at home, but I could walk them quite easily by myself. Rainer was so gentle and easy to lead on the leash, for a dog who had presumably been a stray for quite some time. We passed several dogs, and although he was very excited by them, neither dog barked or lunged, which I was very happy about! Pyrrha’s presence seemed to be calming to him, and he followed her very readily.

It is very funny to me to watch Pyrrha be the model of confidence for another dog! Never thought I’d see that day.

He was pretty rough last night in the crate. He barked for about an hour between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m., which was zero fun times for everyone. Obviously, just quite scared and overwhelmed. However, I think he really has the capacity to calm down and get acclimated to home life.

Rainer in golden light

Right now, my primary concern for Rainer is his health. I am eager to have him get a full vet check soon; we are both a little worried about his hindquarters. He walks very gingerly up and down stairs and seems to have a lot of weakness back there. His balance is also poor. Guion will be taking him this morning to get him a thorough bath and nail clipping, so he’ll also be on the lookout for any other bodily issues.

All that said, however, Rainer is such a sweet boy! What an easy dog. For a shy stray, I think he has a TON of potential, and I think he will be ready for a forever home soon enough.

If you are interested in adopting Rainer, fill out an application at Southeast German Shepherd Rescue!

Pyrrha handles a big party at our house

Party!

(I don’t have any photos, unfortunately, because being a hostess precludes one from being very active with a camera…)

Last night, we had about 25 people over to our house to celebrate Guion’s birthday. This was our first big party at our new house, and it was definitely the most people we’d ever had over in Pyrrha’s presence.

We have lots of visitors and weekend house guests, so Pyrrha is used to having strangers show up, but we’ve never had this many people descend at once. My initial plan was to keep her inside, especially if some of our friends brought their toddlers. (*Pyrrha has done well with children above the age of 5, but younger kids tend to make her pretty nervous. For the safety of all involved, I thought I’d keep her in the house.) However, no kids showed up, so I decided to let her go in the fenced yard with all of our guests.

At first, it was clear she was overwhelmed by all of these people. Thankfully, however, we have low-key friends (and a lot of dog lovers among them). Most people tended to leave her alone, or greet her calmly, which helped her a lot in warming up. After 10 minutes or so, Pyrrha started to chill out and kiss up to everyone. She started going around the circle of chairs and greeting each person (and then trying to lick their plates).

Tangent on shy dogs preferring women over men:

Throughout last night, it was clear that Pyrrha warmed up to women much faster than men. I think this may be generally true of shy dogs. One of our guests asked me why this was, whether she liked the smell of women more than men, etc.

My best theory is that there is a marked difference in male and female body language and in the way that men and women greet dogs. This is gender stereotyping, but in my experience, men tend to greet dogs more gregariously: Rougher pats on the head, grabbing toward the face, leaning over the dog, trying to incite them to rough-house, etc. Men also have deeper voice registers. In contrast, women tend to greet dogs in a slower, gentler manner: Holding out a hand for the dog to sniff, crouching down, speaking in a soft and high-pitched tone.

Some of Guion’s guy friends have teased him about the way he calls Pyrrha and greets her. He’s started mimicking my higher-pitched voice and slow, bending movements. It’s pretty adorable. “Oh, Guion, get out your ‘Pyrrha voice’!” They happily mocked him. And he does. In his defense, I heard him retort, “This is the way Abby calls her, and she loves Abby, so I thought I should try it!” It’s pretty cute, but she also responds to it! Acting like a lady may just get a shy dog to warm up to you faster…

Anyway. Have a nice weekend, all! Stay cool!

Pup links!

Chihuahua mix on the bed. Source: SF Girl by Bay

Two little Pyrrha stories from today:

Story One: On our  morning walk, we met a man and his super-handsome, studly 18-month-old German shepherd (big ol’ head, definitely from European lines), Zuma. Pyrrha might not be a breed-ist after all, because she was terrified of him. He was very friendly and gregarious, but her tail was tucked and her lips were curled back in a snarl… and YET. She kept rushing up to him to sniff him. What is that about?? She was very interested in him and didn’t want to walk away from him… but her posture and facial expression was one of utter terror/fear aggression. What does this mean? How do I combat it?

Story Two: After I walked out the door to go to work, I had to come back in a few seconds later, to give my husband his keys. Normally, when I leave for work in the morning, Pyrrha watches from the window with a tight (I read it as sad) expression. However, when I unexpectedly walked back in the door this morning, she was OVERJOYED to see me. Actually jumped in the air toward me! (Never seen that before.) Wiggling and wagging all over the place, totally ecstatic that I was “back” from work after 10 seconds… Made it really, really hard to get back in that car. I do love our special-needs shy dog; she keeps the emphasis on the special.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

The Power of a Walk. My thoughts exactly, Kristine! I was feeling this way so much this morning, about how calming and centering it was to begin my day outdoors with my dog at my side. (Rescued Insanity)

Exposing a Shy Dog to New Experiences. Now there’s an inventive socialization endeavor: Kayaking! I really have no idea how Pyrrha would react to that… Looks like it went well for Pager, though! (Peaceful Dog)

Dogs in Need of Space. A helpful poster for “DINOS.” I feel like we’ve all kind of been there with shy dogs before… If only more people could see this! (Will My Dog Hate Me?)

A Poppy Weekend. A recap of a weekend exposing Sage to a toddler. This sounds like a good idea. Pyrrha is OK with older children, but toddlers make her very nervous. How did you expose your shy dog to very young kids in a safe, controlled way? (The Misadventures of Sage)

Learning to “Speak Dog”: Why You Should Care about Understanding Your Dog. I loved this post, because it felt like a recap of everything I learned and read in this past year. A helpful, easy-to-read synopsis of why it matters that we understand our canine companions. (Tails from the Lab)

Dog Camping Heaven in Upstate New York. Um, can we go NOW? This looks incredible. Have you ever taken your dog to a place like this? (Go Pet Friendly)

Able Mabel, Revisited. These photos of this fit, healthy bulldog are so encouraging to me. Now this is what bulldogs should be able to do! Run around and play and breathe naturally. (Pedigree Dogs Exposed)

Fresh Dog. This sounds like an interesting product: Dry shampoo for dogs. Especially intriguing since Pyrrha detests baths… Do you think it would work? I’m intrigued. (Pretty Fluffy)

Wacky for Watermelon. These photos crack me up. And I tried it today with Pyrrha, too! She may not have Pixel’s level of obsession with watermelon, but she was definitely very fond of it–especially since our temperatures soared to 97 F today. (Many Muddy Paws)