A fearful dog's needs
Three years ago yesterday, my neighborhood came together to search for a newly-adopted fearful dog who ran off after being spooked. After 9 days and sub-zero temperatures, the village finally found her and reunited her with her distraught family. Meet Kitty.
Kitty is a fearful dog. Her family loves her. Her village loves her. Kitty is not my client, but she and her wonderful humans are my neighbors. I've regularly seen Kitty on walks over the past 3 years. But, Kitty is a fearful dog so I keep my distance. Do I want to pet her? Of course. Do I want to give her a treat? Of course. Do I want her to jump on me to say hello? Of course. But, Kitty is a fearful dog, so what I want is irrelevant. Kitty's needs are everything.
For years, Kitty didn't want anything to do with me. So, when I saw her coming, I would cross the street and not look at her. Adding distance and making myself less threatening is what Kitty needs from me. What I want from her is irrelevant.
Over time, as I saw Kitty's body language gradually change, I gradually changed my behaviors. We behavior nerds have a technical name for this, but I won't bore you with it. Just think of baby steps with the goal to make a scary thing less scary. Graaaaaaaaaaaaadually. My crossing the street eventually turned into walking in the middle of the street. Then, closer and closer. Each new baby step from me happened only when I saw Kitty was ready. Eventually, I remained on the sidewalk, turned to the side, and knelt down. Kitty approached me to investigate! Oh how I wanted to pet her that first time. But Kitty is a fearful dog, so what I want is irrelevant. Kitty's needs are everything.
"Kitty is a fearful dog, so what I want is irrelevant. Kitty's needs are everything."
After many baby steps, this week, I remained on the sidewalk, standing and facing Kitty while she dragged her human and ran to me to say hello. Kitty jumped up on me and requested petting. My irrelevant wants are now in sync with Kitty's needs, and I am ecstatic!
Working on behavior change for a fearful dog is not easy. It requires a dedicated family, a village of helpers, patience, empathy, selflessness, and skill. It's hard work, but dogs deserve it. Because dogs are family. Kitty, thank you for letting me be a tiny part of yours. ❤️