Work Through The Fear To Get To The Fun

As Honey and I sat on the floating dock watching the ducks, I couldn’t help overhearing the woman talking to her friend behind us.

“I could never swim in the lake. Who knows what’s in that water that might touch me? Nope, it’s chlorinated pools for me.”

I grew up having a pool. So I understand her reluctance toward natural bodies of water.

But I couldn’t help thinking of the wonderful experiences I’ve had swimming in open water. And how this woman’s fear cut her off from the triumph of swimming a mile or more at a time (without bumping into the sides of a pool), the beauty of parrot fish swimming around a coral reef, and the exhilaration of sliding down a waterfall into a cold pool in a mountain gorge.

Face your fears to find the fun of snorkeling.

You’d refuse to swim in open water and miss seeing this? Really?

I’m glad I don’t let my fears hold me back from having fun. And I’m even more glad that Honey doesn’t.

Preventing Fear

With dogs and with people, safely making it through scary experiences when young is the best way to head off fear.

Honey the golden retriever sits on a stump.

So you’re making me pose on this stump so I won’t be afraid of trees?

If you’re raising a puppy, you want to gently introduce her to all kinds of new people, places, things, and other dogs. And you want to do as much as possible before the dog is about four months old.

If you’re raising a child, you want to do the same thing. Give the child a secure base where they can explore new things in the world knowing that mom or dad is somewhere nearby if they’re needed.

When you meet a fearful dog, you’ll often find their early life lacks safe exposure to scary things. They may have been

  • living on the street where everything is scary
  • taken from their mom or litter mates too early
  • raised in a place where they’re never exposed to normal life situations, like a puppy mill
  • under socialized in their early home.

And sometimes you’ll meet a dog whose personality is just timid or shy. Like some people.

Work Through Fear With A Timid Dog

Honey had a perfect start in life.

Her breeders exposed her to car trips, children, vacuum cleaners, hats, umbrellas, and all kinds of scary things. And they drummed the importance of socialization into us.

We continued where they left off by taking Honey to crowded events, handling every part of her body, and introducing her to everyone we could find.

Honey the golden retriever beside her Solvit telescoping ramp.

I bet you wish you had thought to introduce me to ramps when I was a wee pup.

And yet, Honey is a timid dog. I assume it’s just her personality. She’s never going to be that dog who leaps over fences to have adventures, jumps off boats in deep water, or aggressively approaches another dog just to see what he’s made of.

That’s just fine with me.

But it also means that we have to work a little harder to encourage her to try new things. Like kayaking. Or riding in a bike cart. Or crossing a moving ramp to get aboard a sail boat.

Luckily, like me, Honey feels the fear but doesn’t let it stop her. And she has more fun for it.

Honey the golden retriever sunning herself on a sailboat.

So the ramp leads to the perfect sun spot, eh?

Get To The Fun

I’m scared of heights. So when I jumped from the stone ledge, fifteen feet into the cold mountain pool, I screamed. But I still jumped. The fear lasted a few seconds. But the cool water felt good for an hour.

After being strapped into the six passenger airplane, I starting screaming in my head, “Let me out, let me out.” (I’m claustrophobic too.) But taking deep breaths as we went rattling down the runway kept me from making an idiot of myself. And after a while, I enjoyed looking down on the Panamanian jungle and canal cutting through it from the air.

I don’t know just what goes through Honey’s mind while she’s working through a fear. I do know she’s trying to figure out how to get that delicious snack without doing the thing I’m urging her to do.

But eventually, Honey learns that fun waits for her on the other side of the ramp. Or metal sidewalk grate. Or the short bike ride in her cart.

I wish every timid dog and every timid person would do one scary thing that brings them fun on the other side.

It feels good to do something we never thought we could do. The memory of the fun we had will stay with us forever. And we’ll be braver for the next time.

Honey the golden retriever and Pamela at Montreal overlook.

I don’t know why you find scenic overlooks scary. From the look of the sign, there’s something much scarier we should look out for.

Your Turn: Have you or your dog ever worked through a fear to do something fun on the other side? If so, do tell. I’d love the encouragement.

After getting lots of use from our Solvit telescoping ramp, I’ve realized how useful they are for dogs in all life stages. Come back Thursday to learn why in my review and to win a ramp of your own in a fabulous giveaway.
photo credit: Parrot Fish by waywuwei via photopin cc. Click on the image to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. Maggie is our first fearful dog, so we’ve had to work through a lot of things with her…starting with getting her to eat from a bowl! Like Honey, she’s learned that something fun awaits and sometimes she’s willing to take the risk and sometimes she’s not and just turns and goes back to bed. We never force her, but slowly and surely she’s becoming a dog.

    • When do you push and when do you let it go? I guess that’s part of the dance you’re doing with Maggie every day.

  2. Years ago, I fostered a fluffy dog who, when she heard the elementary school bell ring, would high tail it to school, to be with the children. I took her in for another rescue when the principal became concerned for her safety. She didn’t like the leash. she was terrified of it. But we went slowly, back and forth, with tons of rewards. In a couple months, on Easter, a family with a small girl came to meet her. I was able to hand over Sunshine’s leash to her girl – she calmly walked alongside her girl, gazing at her the entire way to the car, never looking back at me. Working through fear can get you where you really want to be.

    • Wow, what a lovely story. It sounds like Sunshine really did see the benefits of facing her fears (with your gentle guidance).

      Glad to see you, Roberta. Hope you’re feeling well.

  3. Maya is not shy about anything. The first time she saw a body of water, she ran right in and disappeared! A split second later, she came back up coughing, but she went right back in, a little more carefully, and discovered how much she loves swimming.

    Pierson is much more shy. I think part of it is his breed mix. It could be lack of socialization too, but since he adjusts to new things pretty quickly, I think not. Whenever he gets scared of something, I’ve found that laughing at him helps. He’s learned laughter means fun stuff, so it takes out of the alert mode and calms him enough so he can brave a closer investigation of whatever it was that scared him.

    • Oh my, perhaps Maya should come to Ithaca to give Honey swimming lessons. She could certainly learn from some of that fearlessness.

      I love the idea of laughing to send a message to Pierson that things are okay. It makes me think of the toddler who falls and looks up to see if his parents are concerned before deciding if he should cry or not.

      Hope Pierson is adjusting to his new home. I’m sure Maya is being her usual brave self.

  4. Silas…well, you know.

    One of my biggest struggles with him is that his fears are SO BIG (to him) that he can’t recognize the fun on the other side. Nothing is worth it–no cookie, no experience. But we’re working on it.

    • And yet he has come so far. One dog’s going on a round-the-world adventure is another dog’s walk on the sidewalk. :)

      • Dogs are so insightful. I love your lesson in fear.

        I wonder if a dog really feels fear maybe he sees life as one safe game of reward.

        When I feel fear I administer faith.

  5. I would be lying if I said there was nothing I wouldn’t do for fun but mostly the fear is a motivator for me. When I am scared of something, it’s a calling for me to learn a life lesson, something about myself, or something else. I don’t think Gretel feels the same. She wasn’t socialized when she was young. I got her when she was 11 months and I she had not been treated kindly and/or had any consistency in her life before that. She will always be fearful but it is so cool to watch her work through some of the stuff that scares here a bit at a time. Lucky for me, she is timid but a bit of a risk taker :)

    • So if it’s scary, it’s probably good for you? :)

      I can relate. At least part of the reason I’ve taken up sailing is to challenge myself to do something really new and intimidating.

      I love your description of Gretel as a timid risk taker.

  6. CindyLu and I are both timid, with innate fears of certain things. She had the ideal upbringing, nothing to blame for her fears. I was always shy, afraid of a few things (the phobias about heights, fire, and enclosed spaces is rather severe in me!)

    So we both go through our lives slowly, cautiously, but always improving, expanding on our experiences and moving toward more steady ground on those things that are difficult for us. She’ll never be one to go sailing, and I’ll never be jumping off a cliff, though. We’re okay with that, though, we still have lots of fun in other ways.

    We’re in awe of what you and Honey do!

    • “So we both go through our lives slowly, cautiously, but always improving, expanding on our experiences and moving toward more steady ground on those things that are difficult for us.”

      Nicely put. Even if we never become dare devils, we can always grow our bravery in lots of every day ways.

  7. As a shy person taking BD to agility was an experience for both of us. His for his dog fear issues and me because I’m shy and doing it alone. However we both loved it, until I realised the woman who ran it was a nightmare and if it was up to me she would not be allowed near dogs without a whole load of re-training. But I digress.
    I think you are right, doing something scary helps us to learn.

    • Glad agility with BD was such fun (even if the instructor wasn’t). Maybe it’s something fun you can continue to do together when he’s with you.

  8. I’d love to. I have found an AMAZING instructor but it would be an hours drive and I just don’t know if i can afford the petrol. We will see. If not i have bought a rubbish cheap course so we will be doing it in the garden. But would be a shame he was so good and it was nice to see him shine and feel confident – perhaps I could persuade the ex to fund it??!

  9. Leo had real problems with the strangest things around the house – like aluminum foil. Tear it off the roll and he was going through the wall trying to get away from it. We’ve since worked through it, but it took what seemed forever before we noticed progress and change in his behavior. We really had to exercise patience. Great post