Fearful dogs are No Laughing Matter
I recently witnessed a really sad series of events with a fearful dog and needed to get it off my chest because I’m a bit upset by the whole situation.
This is a dog I have observed a few times but is not a dog I am working with at all. The vast majority of the time that I have seen her, she is walking with her tail tucked up so far it’s practically glued to her belly, she is slinking low to the ground, her ears (which are GORGEOUS pricked ears) are down and out to the side or pulled back, she is is frequently licking her lips, she pants when it’s not warm, when she’s moving it tends to be very slow and cautious, her pupils are dilated, she does tons of slow blinks and look-aways, and she typically hides under a chair for safety. I’ve seen her get snarky, snap/lunge/bark, when dogs are too forward or if they try to get to her while she’s hunkered down under the chair. She doesn’t like to interact with other people–she MAY investigate if the person is ignoring her and only interacts with the other dogs in something like parallel play–it’s not interacting with other dogs as much as it is interacting with a shared object/scent/etc. She struggles to respond to cues, though I’m not sure how well she knows them in the first place, and is quick to panic and try to flee. She has moments of bravery and sometimes even extended moments of bravery and comfort but she’s very quick to panic again.
I would say that this pup is well over threshold most of the time. She’s rehearsing fearful behaviors and starting to rehearse some aggressive behaviors. All of her attempts at communicating with her handlers–pretty much begging for help–go unnoticed. She’s dragged around the classroom and asked to do things she’s not capable of–so she frequently fails.
My heart hurts for this dog who is getting little to no help from her handlers. She’s put in situations where she is completely overwhelmed and is being given no coping tools to help her learn to cope with the big and scary world. I’m pretty sure her handlers have no idea just how scared she is and what damage they may be doing right now (and how this damage could very easily turn into serious behavior problems in the future).
If my heart generally hurts watching this pup, my heart died a little watching this series of events that unfolded recently. This pup’s handlers had started walking around the room in an attempt to get her out from under the chair–she was following them (while off leash so by choice) and had moments where her curiosity overpowered her fear and she would be brave and explore but then get startled by whatever and slink around to find her handlers. At one point two playful dogs who had been engaged in an appropriate game of chase ran into her and startled her. She panicked and started to run back to her handlers, on her way back to the handlers she was run into again by this pair as they were zooming around and pushed further from her handlers. A this point a totally non-dog-savvy handler started bellowing laughing at this poor dog as she slinked and cowered, and crouched, and tucked her tail, and lowered her ears, and she bared her teeth and growled at, well pretty much everything.
It was not funny watching this dog suffer. His bellowing laughter scared her even more and other humans joined in the laughter as she actually left the sides of her handlers and ran (slinking) under a chair against the wall to hide. This same man scares the daylights out of Linus so I just started rapid firing click/treat at him for being a brave boy and not cowering or running away (which he had done a few weeks prior when this man got a bit too gregarious for his tastes). I stopped watching so I could focus on my own fearful dog but it was so hurtful to watch this dog go into a state of sheer panic and her handlers have no clue and have no tools to help her cope.
Sure, it could have been comical to see her try to get from point A to point B only to be run into in the process a few times (like watching Frogger I suppose)… but the fact that she was panicking and was so fearful … it’s absolutely not funny.
Just because their behavior is frantic and out of the ordinary doesn’t make it funny and it certainly shouldn’t be laughed at (this dog just got more and more scared with the cacophony of noise coming from the people in the room–who already scared her).
I want nothing more than to explain to these owners just how scared their dog is and to educate them on her body language (and to educate the rest of the people about canine body language because they ALL need a lesson!). The room is filled with fearful dogs–some are like Linus and this dog who try to flee and are very obviously scared (though Linus is leaps and bounds braver now) and there are others who put on a big front but who are snarking, resource guarding, and overreacting because they are fearful. They don’t have the typical signs of fear but are just as scared and are completely misunderstood. Laughing at the dogs (either because they are slinking around or because they are being snarky “little dog syndrome”) is really bad news–the behavior isn’t funny and the potential for it to escalate into something serious is there (not to mention the laughter is only going to scare the dog even more in many cases).