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