It takes a village to help a fearful dog.
Lyra and I took our first puppy classes at DogGone Right! Margaret Pender (owner/trainer) and Blanche Axton (trainer) introduced me to positive reinforcement training — while Lyra had a blast playing with the other pups. Margaret and Blanche also came to our house to give an assessment and additional training; and they continue to be a great support. I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon their training centre. Many trainers (I now realize) still speak of dominance. It has a funny side, for sure: the insistence that you walk out the door/eat/speak before your dog does. But it has a darker side too — which I bypassed thanks to Margaret and Blanche (and my sister, who alerted me to different schools of thought in the first place)! We are also lucky in our vets and their staff, who treat Lyra patiently and who listen to my concerns.
I am grateful to my Dad for driving us to the training centre for the 8 weeks of puppy class. I don’t have a car. I’d imagined that Lyra and I would take buses and trains. I was completely thrown by the realization that my pup was too scared to go near a bus. It was hard enough to take her in a car — but at least we managed, which gave her important early experiences with other dogs and people and gave me a strong start, not only in her training but (even more crucially) in the awareness of dog behaviour and how to approach a dog’s fear. I was beginning to realize, even then, that Lyra’s fearfulness was more than just normal puppy caution.
Most of all, I’m grateful to my husband, who had to deal with his own apprehensions about getting a dog in the first place; who quickly warmed to Lyra; and who is now firmly committed to her well-being in spite of the huge demands on our time and resources. Our children, too, are wonderful co-trainers; they play with Lyra outside while I vacuum the house (to spare her the sound); they encourage me when I get frustrated (which happens a lot!) Finally, I’ve spent many hours talking on the phone to my sister about every idiosyncrasy and symptom that perplexes me. I’ve had invaluable support from dog owners — in person and online — and border collie enthusiasts. It’s been eerily reminiscent of raising small children 😛
I was inspired to write this blog by the density of recommendations from the veterinary behaviourist who assessed Lyra and gave me the sense that we have a chance to improve her quality of life — but that it will take even more work than I realized, and a lot of record keeping to make sure we’re on the right track. I find it all too easy to drift. My mind is not scientific; it prefers to daydream. I need this blog to stay focused.
I mention all of this out of gratitude — but also to make a point about the demands of a fearful dog on the owner and family. I had no idea how much Lyra would impact all our lives. We visit family less often; we hardly ever go to concerts or shows together now; our bank account is emptier — all because of this dog. Not only can we not bring her places; it’s also hard to find people willing or able to look after a “difficult” dog, and a kennel is out of the question.
For me, it comes down to an ethical question: If you want to keep a fearful dog, you must put in the work to limit her fears. It affects all the people in your life, costs money, and requires you to ask for a lot of help — whether you find this easy or not (I don’t). Having said this, Lyra is also a gift in my life, and I want to thank her too <3