Most everyone automatically thinks that because I am a dog trainer, our dogs are perfect. While that is mostly true, it’s not entirely accurate with one specific dog. The dog I’m talking about is our 8 year old black lab, Sammy.
Sammy is fearful of people he does not know. We still work with Sammy’s fear issues today as he meets new people hoping to include them in his special circle of friends. His circle widens each year.
It’s been an ongoing and sometimes arduous task to constantly work with Sammy in generalizing his acceptance of people that he has met over the years during his very short time on this earth. But it wasn’t always that way.
As a puppy Sammy loved everyone and went to work with Leila and me every day and, all-in-all, was well socialized with people and dogs from the early age of 8 weeks.
You know that every rescue dog has a story, well that includes Sammy.
Sammy was a foundling. He was a young puppy that was discarded at 8 weeks of age, on a used car lot.
As he got to be 6 to 8 months of age we began to notice that he walked kind of funny and took our concerns to our vet who, after an exam and x-rays diagnosed Sammy with hip dysplasia and referred us to a specialist. The specialist confirmed the dysplasia and issues with his elbows as well. Sammy was a mess.
The ugly head of fear
After the first surgery to correct issues with his hips, he had to go back to the specialist for work on his elbows. Once all the surgeries and physical therapy were completed, Sammy was finally home for good and lots of loving.
We first noticed that Sammy no longer allowed anyone to touch his feet – we had always trimmed his nails easily but now that made him extremely anxious.
It was about that same time when we began to notice fear issues developing with people he had not met. Sammy had become a fearful dog.
As a dog trainer I know that there are three root causes of fear:
- One is genetic which Sammy didn’t have.
- Second is a lack early socialization. But Sammy had had a solid dose of socialization so it wasn’t that either.
- Then there was the third root cause of fear in dogs – learned fear.
Dogs can develop a fearful association towards people if pain is felt at the same time. Sammy experienced the trauma of the surgeries before he had reached his first birthday.
While surgery was critical to Sammy’s health and well-being, it was a lot for a pup to have to go through at such a young age and not expect some repercussions. Some dogs are not fazed by major surgery but then some like Sammy are affected.
Now that we had handled Sammy’s physical rehabilitation, we now had to focus on rehabilitating Sammy mentally.
Leila will be the first to admit how much she doted on our dogs – Sammy especially. The over abundant love and affection Sammy received throughout his rehabilitation and beyond, caused even more issues with people coming over. Sammy became very territorial as well.
She will be the first to tell you, as she tells most of our clients, that she and I had a long talk about establishing and using my ground rules with Sammy. It was hard for her, as a born nurturer, to realize that the nurturing was creating a huge problem for Sammy. Because she loves him dearly, she listened and chose to do and give to Sammy, what Sammy needs – rules, boundaries and consistency.
If you’re reading this article and see your own dog’s problem, please know that “we know where you’re coming from.” This is not just text book jargon. We speak from very personal experience with our own dog Sammy.
Both Leila and I have been down your same road so it’s okay to say, “I have a dog problem.” We share in your concerns.
If you make the commitment to training your dog, you can also be where we are now — “aware” but no longer on edge, because we’ve developed a system for meeting new people. Leila and I have been consistently desensitizing Sammy to everyone new using his favorite treats. Now we all have happy expectations about most new people!
It can take anywhere from weeks to years to rehabilitate a fearful dog. It takes a healthy dose of patience and commitment as well. I did not expect things to improve over night – in fact I knew it was going to take a while – years even – and it has.
As we have consistently worked with Sammy over the years on dog obedience training as well as better behavior towards new friends, we’ve worked primarily in two areas: people and friends that come to the house and his day camp environment.
At home we developed a plan early on to introduce Sammy to new folks and it has worked brilliantly. We leave a bag of Sammy’s favorite treats on the front patio.
To this day Sammy is amazed at how many new people know what his favorite treat is and better yet, show up on our front porch with a bag full of his treats! It just doesn’t get any better than that! His maturity has greatly assisted his getting used to our program.
At day camp Sammy is approved for playtime which he goes to once a week and gets along with all the two-legged folks there.
Each time there is a new person at day camp we take the time to desensitize him to the new employee and in no time at all, he’s got a new best friend.
Everyone loves Sammy at day camp and vice versa. A good time is expected each week when he shows up and that has not disappointed Sammy yet.
If you have a dog problem like we had with Sammy, don’t be embarrassed. Just acknowledge it and most importantly, start work on fixing the problem today.
I’m always curious about your input – it’s important to me.
We’re always learning and there’s a bunch of you out there we are grateful to be able to serve and learn from.
I’m really interested in your thoughts and opinions on this. I’m here to help.
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.