June 3, 2019

Nervous Nellie

By glencadia2  

I chatted today with someone who has a dog with separation anxiety, and some other kinds of anxiety as well, who was asking if we offer any training services with boarding… and we actually do have some limited training services over the summer but I didn’t think a “service” per se would help in the situation as she described it.

We often get dogs who seem anxious. Maybe it’s their first time at camp. Maybe that’s just their temperament. When we talk about the dogs with people who don’t work here, we often end up discussing the size, age, breed, and other external characteristics but for those of us who have to work with the dog, the psychology of a given dog is far more important than anything discernable from a quick glance.

Dogs who have a limited social experience with other dogs seem to fall into the “nervous” category initially. 

This internal over external metric makes sense when you think about humans. Over the course of a whole life, external characteristic matter but how you act (your pattern of behavior) is going to be pretty significant to your friends and family, the people in close proximity to you.

When we try to work around anxiety, ameliorate the condition, and help the dog feel comfortable, there can be no clock involved really except for the schedule the dog sets. You can’t pay a trainer to show up and fix the problem I don’t think. Mostly what we have to do is observe, wait, and try a few tricks.

One key trick is another dog, Joe Cool Dog. Dogs are TREMENDOUSLY susceptible to the emotions and moods of other dogs around them. Again, this is pretty similar to people. Two anxious dogs together are not twice as anxious they are 1000 times more anxious than they would be apart. A group of dogs, like a single dog, can be frightened or aggressive or affectionate or relaxed. So, if you can get a nervous dog with Joe Cool dog and let them chill like a snowman for a bit, next thing you know the nervous dog is mellowing out. Maybe he doesn’t come when you call him, but Joe Cool does, and Nervous Nellie wants to be with Joe, so, same thing.

Another trick is to avoid eye contact. There are not a lot of animals that like you to look in their eyes. Dog, you can. But a nervous dog, like a wild animal, will absolutely perceive eye contact as a threat. Get low. If you stand up, you look big. You should try to appear as small as possible to Nervous Nellie. Offer your hand from behind. If she seems a bit calmer, she might touch your hand from behind and you might be able to give her a quick pet on the head behind your back without looking at her at all.

Sit around and do nothing. Let her come to you. Offer Nellie a small space where she can hide. Don’t change her surroundings more than necessary. She might prefer someone else. Don’t take it personally!

I don’t blame dogs for being nervous in a new place. I mean, what the hell is going on here???? It’s normal, it’s fine, she’ll come around.

There is more to it than what I have posted here, but this is a little hint of my Nervous Nellie approach.

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