Image Credit - leeroy by Montreal Web Agency - lifeofpix.com - https://www.lifeofpix.com/photo/dog-2/
I have learned to fully appreciate the principle of mutual respect between my pets and myself. We need to
- Give them their comfort zone
- Try to observe their point of view
- Experiment with non-threatening ways to help
- Be very patient and supportive
- Accept them for who they are (just like people)
- Find the best ways to help them gain confidence
- Be consistent
- Accept that we can’t fix everything
I don’t want you to consider the above list “ordered”, just the most important things to consider.
Our pets, like ourselves are unique individuals, with their own feelings and emotions.
Above all else, maintain a positive attitude with your pet. Mutual respect is a really powerful thing on every level and species of animals, not just humans.
Mutual Trust, Respect and Love
It all started with my first best friend, Peter. He was about 8 years old when I was born and being an only child, we became very close. He was the first of many pets, and through him, came my first experience with mutual respect.
Do you have a “difficult” pet? This article focuses on dogs, but dealing with unwanted behavior in our cats can be handled with a good deal of success by using mutual trust, respect and love.
Let me tell you about my mother- in-law’s cat Patches.
Patches was labeled as “nasty” and “ugly” when I first met her. Living up to her reputation, she would bear her claws and strike out at anyone who dared walk past her, from a radiador, located at the kitchen entrance.
We couldn’t go from the living room to the kitchen without passing her, just sitting there waiting for her next victim. She was getting on in years and it seemed like nothing could be done about her terrible behavior.
While going through some difficult economic times, we moved in with my wife's mom. I was unemployed at the time and was able to observe that she constantly withdrew, any time a person or another animal approached her radiator at any speed, other than very slowly.
I also observed that she would hunch her back and her hair would stand up. All signs of extreme stress.
My wife thought I was "nuts”, when I told her that in my opinion, Patches could be consoled and possibly over time, become less aggressive.
I began by simply learning how close I could slowly approach her without seeing her become uncomfortable around me.
I began to softly talk and whisper to her from that “safe” distance.
As time went by, I was able to:
- Ask and get her permission to come closer
- Move my hand ever closer, staying ready to withdraw at the slightest sign of a possible blood drawing swipe of her very sharp claws (keep those reflexes sharp).
- Get her permission to gently touch her (slowly approaching from the front & whispering)
- Continuing to approach with permission, while respecting her space, gently stroking and whispering over time.
- Until something wonderful happened
The wonderful thing that happened is that one day Patches started visiting us in the living room. She started asking for affection from other family members and enjoying being gently stroked.
Eventually, her episodes of striking out at us and other animals all but disappeared. Patches even started jumping onto the couch, between my wife and I. She would settle in with us and purr, enjoying the positive attention.
Patches died one evening, while I was working 2nd shift. I came home to my wife (who used to “hate” this cat) overflowing with tears of grief.
Patches had suffered a heart attack while attempting to jump up on my mother-in-law’s bed. She had been rushed to the vet, in my wife’s arms, where she was diagnosed. Due to the severity of her heart attack and being 18 years of age, they had to allow the vet to euthanize her.
This is not some strange superhuman talent that I possess.
I’m sharing this true life experience with you, so that you can start to understand just how powerful a little mutual trust, respect and love can be.
I wish we all as human beings could understand and embrace this simple truth in all of our life experiences. The world would be a much nicer place, wouldn’t you agree?
Didn’t think you’d find a relevant “cat story” in a post about “dogs” did you.
It’s not a mistake. I want to make it perfectly clear. I fully believe that while there are many differences between breeds and species, mutual trust, respect and love is universally effective.
Human species take notice, we have the mental capacity to do much better, caring for our animals, our loved ones, our planet and each other. If only we could put prejudice, politics, greed and self importance aside.
This reminds me of one of my favorite Elvis Presley songs, “If I Can Dream”.
Positive Training for Dogs
Though impressive, these credentials are not what stands out and speaks to me, down to my soul. I've had pets for the greater majority of my 65 years.
Victoria Stilwell has a blog called POSITIVELY, with a huge amount of resources to help us with our dogs. Here is what is listed on the main menu:
- Victoria Stilwell
- Dog Training
- Dog Behavior
- Dog Wellness
- News & Events
- Animal Advocacy
In her article FEARS AND PHOBIAS, Victoria Stilwell explains the difference between fear and phobia. She talks about some of the causes of fear in dogs.
Here are the article headings:
- Commonly Found Fears in Dogs
- Commonly Found Phobias in Dogs
- What Therapies Can Be Utilized to Help Fearful or Phobic Dogs?
You will also find links to Related Reading under the article.
I’m so impressed with Victoria Stilwell’s mission and philosophy. As a strong believer in having mutual respect with our pets, I’m going to quote them to you:
The 4 pillars of Positive Training:
- Use Positive Reinforcement
- Avoid use of intimidation, physical punishment and fear
- Understand misconceptions about dominance theory
- Learn about the canine experience from the dog’s POV
By the way, just in case there is any confusion, it seems clear to me that “POV” stands for point of view, meaning that pillar number 4 is talking about our dog’s point of view.
How much easier will training our dogs be, if our dogs know that we respect how they feel?
The mission page also has a short video. It connects to her YouTube channel, so I decided to subscribe and clicked the bell to get updates in my email inbox.
I totally agree with what she says in this video called “The Power of Using Positive Reinforcement with Aggressive Dogs - FXA Excerpt”.
The It’s Me or the Dog TV Show on Animal Planet
My wife and I always loved watching It’s Me or the Dog on Animal Planet. I couldn’t just write all of these POSITIVELY wonderful things about Victoria Stilwell, without including a link, so that you too can enjoy watching all the episodes online.
Training Academy For Dogs
Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA) offers a free starter course that I recommend very highly.
The course delves more deeply into The 4 pillars of Positive Training.
We get a good “test drive” of the member dashboard and how the navigation works.
I really like being able to pick up where we leave off in the lessons and even go forward and skip ahead.
The Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA) is one of many dog training opportunities we can find online, but I believe that the philosophy taught there is of the very best quality.
I have been both enjoying and learning from the free introductory course. I want to encourage you to sign up to take the course yourself. You can easily sign up by using the exit pop-up that displays when you go to close your browser tab or window.
More Training Resources & Academies for Dogs
Resources & Academies
- The Academy FOR DOG TRAINERS
- Dog Training - PETSMART
- I took Teddy Bear to basic obedience training at my local PetSmart. The instructor was very nice and knowledgeable. She even helped pick out the right size halter for him. My only disappointment was having one other dog in the class, because Teddy Bear really needed some socialization. After the first 14 months of his life was spent in a crate without much socialization. This turned out to be helpful though, because Teddy Bear didn’t like the other dog. By graduation, the dogs were (almost) able to play together with minimal supervision. Teddy Bear is almost 4 years old now and he has been steadily improving, thanks in part to the interactions with the other dog in the class.
- CATCH CANINE TRAINERS ACADEMY
- Becoming a dog trainer - animal humane society
Articles (with headings listed)
- Common Behavior of Nervous and Anxious dogs
- Common Signs of Stress & Anxiety in Pets
- The Difference Between Fear, Phobia, and Anxiety in Dogs
- Fear Anxiety - When Your Dog is Calm One Minute and Scared the Next
- Phobia - When Your dog Always “Loses It” in Certain Situations or When It Sees a Certain Object
- Generalized Anxiety - When Your Dog Always Seems on Edge with No Explanation
- How to Help Your Fearful or Anxious Dog
- What are Panic Attacks?
- Symptoms of Panic Attacks in Dogs
- Causes of Panic Attacks in dogs
- Diagnosis of Panic Attacks in dogs
- Treatment of Panic Attacks in Dogs
- Recovery of Panic Attacks in Dogs
- Panic Attacks Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
- Is It Dog Anxiety, Fear or a Phobia?
- Symptoms of dog Anxiety and Fear
- Causes of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs
- Diagnosis of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs
- How to Help a Dog With Anxiety, Fears or Phobias
- Living and Management for Fear and Anxiety in Dogs
- Preventing Dog Anxiety and Fear
Dog Anxiety Topics
What I’ve shared with you in this post is a very small part of the resources and opinions available, related to the topic of dog anxiety. Here are just a few more topics:
- dog anxiety and aggression
- dog anxiety and vomiting
- dog anxiety in car
- dog anxiety with new baby
- dog anxiety and barking
- dog anxiety and depression
- dog anxiety and diarrhea
- dog anxiety and essential oils
- dog anxiety and itching
- dog anxiety and panting
- dog anxiety at night
- dog anxiety in car benadryl
The above list is part of a much larger one, taken from doing a search for “dog anxiety” that I did using the search engine ANSWER THE PUBLIC.
The Virtue of Patience
I think it is safe to say that dogs don’t usually exhibit anxiety for no reason.
It can be very difficult to understand what is making our pet nervous or scared.
Sometimes, like with my experience with Patches, we get lucky and can find clues to what is going on. When we can understand the reasons behind the stress, we can start thinking of ways to help ease and calm them.
Getting past anxiety in our pets can be full of anxiety for ourselves.
It isn’t always easy to find a solution, or even to gain an understanding of what is going on.
In fact, we may not be able to find that “perfect solution”.
Time can help with even the most difficult situation, just like Patches becoming more social before her death. She still lashed out now and then, but grew more approachable, even friendly over time.
The closer we can come to helping our pets become confident and trusting, the better our chances are for our pets to learn to overcome their fears.
Try not to over think and try too hard. Nature has a wonderful way of producing behavior, based on how comfortable our pets are. Our pets are so sensitive to our moods.
Good things naturally happen, when we can practice enough patience with our pets and ourselves, to just accept the current situation, then provide that so essential respect and love.
The rewards for patience can be surprising.
Teddy Bear Surprised me on our Walk
I had finished the draft for this post, when something wonderful happened while Teddy Bear and I were walking.
First, let me share a little bit of just why this surprise is so special.
We met Teddy Bear almost 3 years ago, in September of 2016.
A friend of ours knew that we had recently lost 2 pets that year and currently did not have one in our home. In fact, you will find a lot of photos on Twitter of Teddy Bear and Rosebud (our 18 year old dog who passed in February of 2016) and their cats.
She knew someone who needed to find a home “quickly” for Teddy Bear. Otherwise he would have to go to the shelter.
That was the beginning of our life with Teddy Bear.
In his previous home, he spent most of his first 14 months created, without much socialization.
We live in an apartment and I am the main dog person. I am the one who takes Teddy Bear out in the yard on his leash, walks him and a lot of other things too. My wife and her disabled brother help with giving treats, cuddles and playing.
At first, Teddy Bear barked, growled and went BALLISTIC at everyone and everything that moved when ever we went out the door. In fact, he was so out of control with his anxious and aggressive behavior that one of our neighbors told me that “I don’t like your dog”.
Slowly, over a lot of time, he started to calm down. Eventually, the same neighbor approached us to apologize for what she said. She had to walk past us every day. I really didn’t blame her.
There was no way to get him to stop. I’m not a strong disciplinarian, preferring gentle encouragement and positive reinforcement instead. This is who I am, a very gentle man.
Instead of trying to punish or say “no” all the time uselessly, I just let him get it out of his system. It seemed useless to do anything else.
Going potty took some time as well, so I combined frequent outings with treat rewards for going potty. In fact, I started rewarding him for any good behavior possible.
Teddy Bear will be turning 4 years old on July 13, 2019. His behavior, though not “perfect” has improved greatly, due to the confidence he now has in our love for him and the consistency and patience we give him.
Mutual respect really works to calm our pets over time. I’m happy to have been able to use this insight to help many fearful pets over the years.
Here's the Surprise
One of Teddy Bear’s biggest issues is when he sees children. They tend to bring out the Tasmanian Devil in him.
I wish you could feel the pride I felt when we were walking and suddenly Teddy Bear wanted to cross the street.
He wanted to visit with a complete stranger on the other side of the street. This stranger happened to be a 5 year old girl. Because she has a dog at home, she was very good at staying still and letting Teddy Bear approach her, without trying to pet him.
Teddy Bear is used to people giving him a treat, when he allows them to interact with him. I gave the little girl a treat (1⁄2 calorie each). Teddy Bear promptly and gently took the treat from her.
What a huge change!
I’m so very happy for him!
Now, the rest of my thoughts, continued from before taking this break to share Teddy Bear’s moment of confidence, will make even more sense...
You may just find that all of those little things you do to provide a safe and comfortable space, turn into the miracle of spontaneous good behavior.
Remember, we often hit a wall and feel helpless, just before the surprise of a positive result begins.
I truly hope that reading this post has brought you some insight, encouragement and perhaps a bit of inspiration.
There is no “right way”, but many ways.
The solution lies in our willingness to love our pets unconditionally, as they do us. Keeping them safe and showing them the respect they so desperately need and deserve.
Mutual Respect = Mutual Understanding = Mutual Acceptance = Anxiety turned to Trust = A Relaxed Pet = Enabling Thinking and Learning = Less Anxiety and Better Behavior
I'd love you to share your thoughts and your own experiences in the comments.
Let's learn the best ways to make life with our pets the best quality it can be.
My Best to You