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Lessons from a Dog with Anxiety

THINK your best thoughts in order to FEEL your best to TRY and BE your best!

Happy (early) National Puppy Day! My daughter and I have volunteered with rescue dogs for over two years now. Although heart breaking at times, we absolutely love the experience. Between the incredible people we've met and the amazing dogs we get to work with, we wouldn't trade it for anything!

However, what happens when you fall for a dog and decide to bring him home? Although very different from what we imagined, we wouldn't do anything different. You see, when my daughter was 12 and a snowstorm was coming into the area the shelter needed volunteers to take dogs home on furlow. Eyes shining and cheeks rosey, my daughter raced up to me and said "Can we PLEASE take Dingus home with us?" Now bear in mind that we have a cat at home. Not just any cat but also a rescue who quite honestly owns us and anyone who walks into the door! After thinking a minute, I replied "If you can find a kennel big enough then we can give it a try." She sprinted off and I knew Dingus the Dog would be coming home with us in about five minutes. :)

Fast forward and we have had Dingus with us for two years now. In the beginning, he was distraught at the mere thought of us walking out the door. We had months of howling, attempts to block the door to prevent us from walking out, breaking out of kennels, basements etc. and daily accidents. Although it's taken some time, we wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

So, what have we learned from having him? The lessons and love innumberable:

*Know your dog's triggers--Whether it's white cars, vans, trucks or kids on wheels or people in general? (For Dingus this would be yes, yes and yes). Be aware, accept these are the triggers and develop a plan.

*Accept that things may be different--You adopt a dog and have grand visions of going to the dog park and having your dog enthusiastically greet everyone he/she meets? The reality may be very different from what you imagined and that's okay. There are some things that we do differently. Do we miss going to the dog park? Yes. However, Dingus has made so many gains that it's just not worth a potential back track.

*Proactive approach is the best--See above. As part of accepting the triggers, we had to learn that for Dingus his reactions were fear based. We had to be very aware and move him to a distance that he could be comfortable when confronted with a trigger. We practiced: Sit, Stay on a regular basis at quite a distance.

*You are your dog's advocate--We had to be comfortable with the discomfort that setting boundaries created. Unfortuantely, there were people who took it personally when we moved away and felt like they had to "prove" that their dog was a "good dog." We would politely but firmly say "Our dog requires some distance to be relaxed. We're practicing, thanks for understanding."

*Don't take your dog's behavior personally--The best thing that we did was remind ourselves that his response was fear based. We didn't need to be upset or feel like it was on purpose. He was letting us know he was in pain and needed our help.

*Ask for help--We tried strategies on our own but eventually reached out to the vet for help. It was important for us to try some things but equally important to ask the professionals. Don't feel like you're on your own. Ask questions, get help and don't feel embarrassed!

*Follow the recommended strategies consistently--When you're given the strategies/recommendations, follow them daily. It's not something you can do once in a while but requires an on-going commitment to be successful. It's worth it!

*Don't try too much at one time--It's okay to try a few things at a time. It can feel very overwhelming and isolating! Giving yourself permission to slow down and try a couple of things is okay.

*Appreciate the small things--To this day, we celebrate when it's an accident free day! Looking for the small changes that show growth help us focus on the positive!

*Love your dog--Show and tell them every day! They can't tell us what they've been through but they sure show us. Giving them boundaries and consistent love lets them know they're safe!

*Know that you'll get back WAY MORE than you give!!!

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