July 8, 2012

When Rodger and I picked up Charlie and Lily to bring them home on that thrilling day back in February, Rodger had only met them one other time – at the house during our home check where they exhibited more curiosity than fear. I’m not sure what changed between the home check and pick up day except that those three weeks might have been a pivotal point in their puppy socialization period and they didn’t get the exposure to strangers that puppies so desperately need to develop a healthy appreciation of people. This is by no means a knock against their rescue or their foster. As everyone in rescue knows, there are only so many hours in the day and there are so many more dogs to save – lives being the first priority. It could also just be in their genetics and as they matured, they were simply destined to become more fearful. Anyway, on the day we picked them up to bring them home for good, I’ll never forget Rodger’s concerned look after seeing them again. He turned to me and said “these dogs sure are skittish”. And that was the day my greatest dog challenge began.

We have little dogs who are fearful of strangers – particularly Lily, our black Chi. Part of it could be that they’re still puppies and part of it could be that they’re so little that the world seems big and scary from their perspective (heck, it sometimes feels that way from my perspective). Folks have had their feelings hurt when they come to the house and the dogs hide. In public, people look at me as though I must beat my dogs given Lily spreads her paws and crouches with tail tucked and ears dropped when strangers simply reach to pet her (without asking mind you, which is very rude) while Charlie just runs away. I keep putting them in situations where they exhibit this fear thinking that with repetition and seeing that nothing bad really happens (especially seeing how Kina relishes the attention), the fear will eventually disappear, but repetition isn’t working and I’m concerned about making the fear permanent. I’ve been reading several books and as much as I can on the Internet to find a solution and today, I had the opportunity to test a little of what I’ve read combined with what Shasta Marlow of Bow Wow Ventures taught me about meeting a dog for the first time.

While waiting for Kina, our Rhodesian Ridgeback, to get her teeth cleaned through Canine Care at George on 4th Street in Berkeley, an adorable little tripod Chi walked in with his parents. He was a tiny thing missing a front leg and weighing in at (I’m guessing) around 4 pounds. Of course I had to pet this precious little boy so I asked permission from his father and after getting the okay, I turned so he was facing the side of my body and squatted down while looking away and then I lowered my hand. He showed some interest so I touched his hindquarters first with the back of my hand and as he continued to stay close I slowly turned to him and was able to rub his belly and his back while he was standing. He was a really sweet guy. His parents seemed surprise at how quickly he took to me and even more so that he came back two more times for some attention. On the fourth time though I made an amateur ┬ámistake. I immediately went to pet him on top of his head and it was all over. He wanted nothing more to do with me. I found this encounter so intriguing that I decided I would put what I learned to the test with Charlie and Lily. Fearful dogs, by the way, do not like their heads touched until they form a bond in case this is new news for some of you – it was for Rodger.

I needed to run up to Pet Food Express anyway, so I switched out Kina for the ChIly dogs and off we went. The best place in the world to test out people socialization skills is a pet store (one that does NOT sell animals) as you generally find patient dog lovers willing to do anything to help. Lucky me, I was checking out some treats when a nice young lady asked me if she could pet the puppies. I explained that they were shy and asked if she would mind helping me do a drill by doing exactly as I say. She agreed and performed the same steps as I did earlier in George. Success!! Charlie showed no fear and Lily showed interest after a little hesitation, but nothing like her normal self. Ending the session on a positive note after two more successful encounters, I paid for their new treats and off we went.

In no way do I think I’m a pro at helping my puppies overcome their fear of people, but I do think this is a great first step. Many Chihuahuas have fear issues due to everyone wanting to pick them up and hold them like a baby, but never showing them the respect they deserve as dogs. The next time you see a fearful Chi in a store or on the street or at a friends house, try my steps and see if you can help that guardian solve what is definitely one of the most aggravating behavioral issues I’ve ever experienced.

And while you’re here, please participate in my new poll to the right. I’m going to order a couple of “Adopt Me” vests for the pound puppies in hopes of bringing even more attention to them when I’m able to get them out and about.

Thanks as always for stopping by!