written by Lynn O'Shaughnessy
Sweet Pea was one of 6 Airedales that came from a breeder who asked rescue to help her place her dogs. Sweet Pea lived her first year and two months in a kennel situation and was very afraid of people. My role was to transport her to her new home in Michigan. Before I even started the transport home, however, I found out that her new home did not really want to deal with the baggage that came with shy, timid dogs. Sweet Pea had already been released to rescue, so she came home with me.
Sweet Pea got along just fine with our other two dogs. It was us that she was absolutely petrified of. She only weighed 43 pounds and ran like a Gazelle. In one leap she could jump over the back of the sofa without even touching it. We let her trail her leash so we could catch her to let her out. We tried to be calm and reassuring. We tried to get down on her level and not look so intimidating. We tried to speak to her softly. We tried to move slowly. She didn’t buy any of it.
Sweet Pea didn’t eat anything for the first three days and drank very little. We had an airline crate set up for her so she could eat and drink without feeling like someone was going to “get” her. She liked the crate, but still would not eat or drink. She didn’t buy that either.
I tried to get Sweet Pea to go out into our small fenced yard with the other dogs to go potty. To get to the yard she had to go through our Four Seasons sunroom. With no ceiling, there must have been boogie men coming out of every corner of the glass. She didn’t buy this route to go outside and decided it was easier to go in the house. Luckily we had ceramic tile floors.
I knew Sweet Pea needed to learn that human touch was a good thing. I tried to spend some time tickling her under her chin (less threatening than a pat on the head) and scratching her sides. She cowered and peed on the floor. She didn’t buy this human touch thing.
I tried to work with Sweet Pea one on one with training to give her some confidence. I tried positive reinforcement techniques and carried little slices of hot dogs along with a few other tasty treats. She was not interested in food. I tried walking around the yard with her talking in a soothing voice. She spent most of her time trying to dig in behind me. I patiently asked her to “sit” when I stopped add gently pushed her behind down (at least 100 times!) to show her what I wanted. Each time we stopped, I had to patiently ask her and show her all over again. She was not buying any of this training for confidence stuff.
All of this happened three years ago. I can’t say that Sweet Pea is now a well-adjusted Airedale…she still has her moments. But at least she will happily trot into her crate at mealtime and finish her meal. She will come up to my husband now to accept a treat (although she needs to thoroughly sniff it first before taking it). She will walk pretty good on a leash now and is usually so happy to go for walks that she does “flips” while she walks. Flips are when she leaps up into the air, rotates 180 degrees and lands back on her feet facing me to make sure I saw her. She will go outside to do her business, although she sometimes still needs to hear the words “go potty” from me first. The most endearing thing is that she will come up to me and give me kisses.
Trying to help a shy or fearful dog adapt to life with you is not easy. It takes a great deal of patience and a lot of work. But offering this as the only advice does not give anything concrete to try. Most people really want to “do something” but are not sure what the right thing is to do. Often what works with one dog does not work with another. I have referred many people to the book Help For Your Shy Dog written by Deborah Wood, but knew there had to be other resources as well.