Preparing dogs to cope

On one of our recent walks late at night, we were confronted by a pet that had gotten off leash and was straying towards us. We often encounter stray dogs and they are very easy to communicate with, as their communication system is well developed and sharp. But this dog was a dog that was kept in poor conditioning with very low socialisation and his levels of frustrations are very high.

So his communication had completely shut down. He completely failed to read the signals my dogs and we were giving him and kept advancing on Nishi and Tigger, my dogs. Since it was pitch dark I could not see, tripped and stepped on Nishi’s leg. She yelped. That aggravated the situation and he came after her further. I considered letting go of the leash. But we were on the main road and there were vehicles zipping by and scary speeds. I finally stepped in between and diffused the situation before it got worse. The dog finally turned around and left. But he left with Nishi, Tigger and me shaking.
I was initially overwhelmed with guilt at not having acted faster and more appropriately. I feel deeply responsible for these two souls who look up to me with love and trust. I questioned it I was cut out to be a good enough pet parent at all. But as I looked down at Nishi, she was shaking and looking at me for cues.
What were the cues I was sending her? That the situation was a big deal and one being shattered over? Nope! I had to send her a message that this was a small incident that she had the ability to overcome on her own. I had to show her that she had the tools for it. For that I had to pull myself together and tell myself that I too had the tools to handle this situation without passing on the stress to my dogs. As soon as I told myself that I saw Nishi sigh and she soon calmed down and we resumed with our walk.
All was forgotten within minutes.

Life happens. Part of life is it’s ups and downs. And it effect’s us all – us, others, all species. Life spares no one. We cannot prevent bad things from happening to our loved ones.
We cannot beat ourselves up either. Yes, we are responsible for them. But we cannot control the universe around us. We are just not that powerful.
But is there something we can do? Yes. We can prepare our dogs so that they find it easier to bounce back from such situations with minimal scars. We can create, what I read in one book as a “rubber-band-puppy” – dogs that very quickly bounce back from situations that are scary or troubling.
The foundation for this should ideally start early. But it’s never too late. The process is called environmental training.
Expose the dog to new things at very low stress levels, always staying within the dog’s threshold of tolerance. Expose the dog to traffic, but not by walking on the main road on the very first day. Slowly work up to that. In the mean time, walk during very late or early hours or drive up to a quiet road to walk on till your dog has been gradually desensitized to traffic. You can use the same process for crowds, closed spaces, children, lifts, stairs etc… The most important thing is to not force a dog to head towards it’s object of fear. Use the dog’s natural curiosity instead. Let your dog take his time. Just be there for him. And when he decides to take a step towards his object of fear, don’t say anything. Just smile and show your palm to him in a calming way, as if to say “It’s OK. I am here for you. Go ahead”. If he decides to walk back, respect that and revisit it another day.
It’s likely that while the start will be slow, he will make fast progress once he starts moving towards his object of fear. Be ready for that moment when things start moving forward and quickly start increasing the bar for him by having new challenges ready for him to face. He will soon believe in his own ability to cope with new situations. Make him believe! ing at me for cues.What were the cues I was sending her? That the situation was a big deal and one being shattered over?
Nope! I had to send her a message that this was a small incident that she had the ability to overcome on her own. I had to show her that she had the tools for it. For that I had to pull myself together and tell myself that I too had the tools to handle this situation without passing on the stress to my dogs. As soon as I told myself that I saw Nishi sigh and she soon calmed down and we resumed with our walk.All was forgotten within minutes.
Life happens. Part of life is it’s ups and downs. And it effect’s us all ­ us, others, all species. Life spares no one. We cannot prevent bad things from happening to our loved ones.We cannot beat ourselves up either. Yes, we are responsible for them. But we cannot control the universe around us. We are just not that powerful.
But is there something we can do? Yes. We can prepare our dogs so that they find it easier to bounce back from such situations with minimal scars. We can create, what I read in one book as a “rubber-band-puppy“ ­ dogs that very quickly bounce back from situations that are scary or troubling.
The foundation for this should ideally start early. But it’s never too late. The process is called environmental training.Expose the dog to new things at very low stress levels, always staying within the dog’s threshold of tolerance. Expose the dog to traffic, but not by walking on the main road on the very first day. Slowly work up to that. In the mean time, walk during very late or early hours or drive up to a quiet road to walk on till your dog has been gradually desensitized to traffic. You can use the same process for crowds, closed spaces, children, lifts, stairs etc… The most important thing is to not force a dog to head towards it’s object of fear. Use the dog’s natural curiosity instead. Let your dog take his time. Just be there for him. And when he decides to take a step towards his object of fear, don’t say anything. Just smile and show your palm to him in a calming way, as if to say “It’s OK. I am here for you. Go ahead“. If he decides to walk back, respect that and revisit it another day.It’s likely that while the start will be slow, he will make fast progress once he starts moving towards his object of fear. Be ready for that moment when things start moving forward and quickly start increasing the bar for him by having new challenges ready for him to face. He will soon believe in his own ability to cope with new situations. Make him believe!
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