Although she looks tough, my black pittie mix Daisy is kind of a wimp.
A few years ago, when I moved into a new apartment, I took a shower. Little did I know that my shower steam would set off the nearby smoke alarm. Afraid of the noise, Daisy hid in my closet. And though I fixed the problem, Daisy hid in my closet every single time I took a shower for the two years we lived in that apartment.
And it’s not just a triggered memory of an impromptu smoke alarm that prompts Daisy to hide in the closet. It’s also the signal from my dryer and oven timers, a slightly raised voice, fireworks outside, and the sight of nail clippers, doggie shower accessories, her doggie brush, a vacuum or broom or any other number of things. She’s also terrified of going to the vet, as she will never forget a rectal thermometer experience more than seven years ago.
Beyond hiding in the closet, Daisy also sits pathetically in the corner of the closet, hunched over and shaking. You can’t help but want to soothe Daisy’s poor canine soul.
Years back, I learned of Daisy’s extreme fear of fireworks. It came as a bit of a surprise to me because she was not scared of thunder. I didn’t purposely expose Daisy to fireworks, but it’s no secret that many people celebrate Independence Day several days before and up to a week after the actual holiday. I was walking Daisy around dusk one night and someone lit a few loud firecrackers somewhere in the distance. Daisy absolutely froze in the middle of the sidewalk. She got low to the ground and her entire body became tense. She refused to move, and she’s a 60 pound dog, so I couldn’t exactly carry her home. That first time, I think it took me about 20 minutes to convince Daisy to be brave enough to get up and come home with me.
Since then, we’ve had a few more incidents with fireworks – this past year, about a week after the Fourth of July, I was walking Daisy and my other dog Rosie. When the fireworks went off, Daisy assumed her usual frozen position. As I tried to coax and calm her, she instead scurried underneath a neighbor’s parked boat. As neighbors watched in bewilderment, I worked on convincing Daisy to come out from under the marine vessel for nearly a half hour – I promptly turned around and got Daisy home as soon as I could.
Although I believe Daisy is an exceptionally sensitive dog, she has every right to be scared of the things she’s scared of. In my eyes, it’s my job to get Daisy through the things that scare her and try my hardest to show her that they’re not as scary as she thinks. I have a few techniques:
Avoiding stressful situations when possible
The easiest way to keep Daisy calm is to avoid the source of her stress. So in the weeks surrounding Independence Day, I’ve started walking the dogs in the morning instead of the evening. This obviously doesn’t work for everything – I can’t stop cleaning my house – but when it does, it’s the best solution. I’ve also made sure to turn the timer alarm off on my dryer.
Letting her participate in scary activities by choice
If Daisy is scared to take a bath but I really need her to take a bath, I might offer her some treats to get her in the tub. While she’s taking the bath, I’ll praise her profusely. If I accidentally drop something in the tub, scaring her, I’ll show her that everything is OK.
Bottom line: I try to never force Daisy into a situation that scares her – if she wants the treats or ball bad enough, she’ll come to get them. Forcing a dog to do something that is scary will actually only make the situation even scarier for them, so I try to avoid this with Daisy.
If Daisy is afraid of something and wants to hide in a corner, I generally let her stay until she’s ready to come out. I try not to coddle her because that would send the message to her that yes, there is something to be afraid of. This would inadvertently legitimize her fear of the broom or whatever else may be scaring her at the moment. I’ve realized over time that if I go about my business like nothing is wrong, Daisy is more likely to recover faster.
There are many things that may scare your pup – I’ve heard of dogs who are fearful of thunder and hot air balloons. If you are struggling with a fearful dog, perhaps this article will give you some helpful ideas for managing his or her stress.
Daisy’s sensitivity can be challenging sometimes, but with a few little tricks, I’ve learned to manage it and make life easier for both of us. Daisy might not be the bravest dog in the world, but she’s a sweetheart and I hope that through my patience and care that the world is just a little less scary for her.