Monday, December 19, 2011

Bah humbug - a scared-y dog's view of the holidays

First, allow me to say, I LOVE the holidays. L.O.V.E. them. I love the traditions. I love the music. I love all the cookies and movies and lights. Hmmm, this is starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss thing so we'll just cut to the chase: I love Christmas.

Bella, on the other hand? Not so much.

Well, actually, she does love Christmas (See: video evidence here). What she doesn't love is all the company the holidays bring. And well-meaning animal lovers who want to pet her.

Four years

Bella is almost 4 years old and the only people who can reliably pet her are me, my husband Jan and my mom. My sister and my youngest nephew are about 50/50 and my oldest 2 nephews have to wait for the rare occasion when Bella is worn-down-to-the-bone exhausted for a chance to sit quietly next to her and get a snuggle in. (See: only existing photographic evidence of such below.)

This picture was almost 2 years in the making...

Bella doesn't want to make toys er, friends...

It's nothing against you, really. Even Bella's trainers, vets and behaviorist aren't immune. One trainer, that magical Sheila again, can usually coax Bella into a chin scratch but only when there's food involved. We are working with a few select friends and neighbors as well as her vets so someone will be able to handle her in case of emergency.

I wish for her sake and yours that it was different and I know some will not believe me so, on behalf of Bella and all the other shy and fearful dogs out there, and for those who feel they absolutely must pet the pretty dog's head, allow me to offer this advice:

    Over head = bad.

    Under chin = good.
  • Don't try to pet the pretty dog's head! It will not happen. She will still, on occasion, duck away from me and Jan if we approach her from above. She's much more comfortable with an under the chin approach.
  • Pay attention to what she's telling you. Bella is very (very, very, very, very, very) communicative. She will tell you how she's feeling with her body language. If she's ducking her head, leaning back, moving away or just averting her eyes, she's telling you she'd rather you not try to pet her. Don't.
  • If she approaches you to sniff, let her. She's assessing your risk to her. Offer her the back of your hand to sniff, a loosely closed hand is best. This is not the time to try and pet her!
  • If she thinks you're not hearing the messages she's sending you with her body language, she will actually try to speak to you. (Did I mention she's very (very, very, very, very, very) communicative?) It's okay to listen to her. She's scared and she's doing her level best to tell you that, so go ahead and let her have the treat. Drop it on the floor and end the game. She won that round. It's okay, really.
  • Finally, if the barking doesn't work, Bella will leave the room. Please, for the love of all that is holy, let her leave. Bella is a dog. She's a fearful dog. If you remove her option of flight, well, there's only so many options left, right?

As her owners, Jan and I take our responsibility very (very, very, very, very, very) seriously. If we sense a situation getting out of control, we will leash her or remove her from the room. But we're trying to teach her that people = good things and we can't do that if every time company arrives, she gets thrown in another room.

Every person she meets in her life will teach her something. What do you want your lesson to be?

To all who enter our home, we want everyone to be comfortable, including our dog. To help us achieve that for Bella permanently someday, we're asking for you to help us by following these few simple rules.

To our friends and neighbors who are working with us to help Bella overcome her fear of people, thank you! It takes guts to offer a piece of food to a 60 lb barking dog.

To my family who didn't sign up for this, has put up with the crazy dog and done everything right every time, including sometimes just treating her like a normal dog, I love you all so much.

To strangers on the street, yes, I know my dog sounds like Cujo. You shouldn't get so close to an unfamiliar dog.

And to all our friends in the blogosphere, we here at Bringing up Bella would like to wish you the happiest of holidays and all good fortune in the New Year.



  1. Oh, good, I was holding my breath to see what you were going to say about your family.
    Bella is much better than she was.  It takes a lot of work and patience, which it seems you and Jan have an abundance of.  You're doing a great job! Keep it up.

  2. We have a very communicative dog here too.  She's not afraid to speak her mind!  Good tips!

  3. At least you're setting the ground rules out up front.  Now everyone better abide by them! :)

  4. Doesn't it amaze you how much our current dogs have taught us about dogs?  I can't count the times with other dogs that I think, "oh, Gus or Molly wouldn't like that --"  So Bella is helping to make us all more rounded and understanding dog owners and lovers.  Your Beau and our Zak may have been too easy (but terrific!).

  5. Kootenai's Summit PostDecember 20, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    Bella...It's okay!  Not everyone likes getting pet!  I didn't enjoy it until I turned two years old!  Some of us are just shy! 

  6. Very good basic rules for guests to follow! That should help Bella enjoy the Holiday Season more. Yay! :)

    Happy Holidays to you!

    PeeS: The Blogville Christmas Tree is getting decorated. Your ornament looks wonderful on it I might add :) Curtain will go up for all to see before Christmas Eve.

  7. Eva or sometimes PriscillaDecember 21, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    Bella, I'm with you. I don't like being pat by strangers or some not-too-close friends or relatives either. I bark a lot and try to communicate with people too. My humans never force me to do things that i don't like as they know that I will understand it one day, I just need some time.

    I think I like you very much, Bella. I wish we could live nearby so we could play together.


  8. I don't want to be rude but some humans are idiots. I've lost track of the number of VERY small children that have been allowed to come running up to me & poke my ears when I'm asleep.  (this happens in the summer at the pub!) And who'd be the ones that got in trouble if I got spooked and snapped? It wouldn't be the stupid irresponsible parents would it? DON'T ASSUME YOU HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF PETTING A DOG YOU DON'T KNOW! Okay, rant over. Happy Holidays everyone!! Deccy x  

  9. Good advice for ANY dog :) 

    Our foster pup, Presley, does look look just like Bella!

  10. This is so important to share! So many dogs are not what people assume them to be like - it's not fair to anyone, really, if there isn't an understanding and acceptance. Bella is who she is, and that's one awesome girl! 

  11. I really enjoyed reading this! I'm not ''shy'' but when I'm on the ground I don't like a person to tower over me. I'll only give 2 warnings
    Dachshund Nola

  12. Thank you - that's kind of nice to hear. She has come a long way, hasn't she?

    (And I love that picture of Jared with her. :)

  13. Thanks for that, Finn.  I tell people that Bella, in our house, Bella has a right to speak her mind - it's HER house! :)

    That said, my Lab only made noise when there was a serious threat.  This vocal dog thing takes some getting used to. ;)

  14. If they actually listened, Pup Fan, I wouldn't have to write the rules down. :o  

    There's actually a reason I wrote this. It is my 'politer' version of the "OMG leave her alone already!" response I've wanted to say. ;)

  15. What's the saying "you find the dog you need" at any given time in your life...?  I think we learned so much from Zak and Beau that they knew we could take care of these more 'in need' kids.  :)

  16. I wouldn't have suspected that of you Koot - you look like such an outgoing and friendly fella.  (But see how looks can be deceiving - we always need to check with the dog first.)

  17. Oh, yay! I can't wait to snuggle up by the fire and watch the decorating!  :)

    These are good basic rules but I think they're only basic to us crazy dog lovers because people out there in the real world don't seem familiar with them. :o

  18. Hi Eva!

    I think maybe you and Bella could be good friends. I'd like to think she'd very much like to play with you, too.  She does like to play with other doggies as long as they're not too big and rough. You might be just about perfect. :)

    I'm glad your folks don't make you do stuff you don't want to. We try to do that with Bella, too. We know if we give her time, she'll figure out nothing's going to hurt her here.

  19. Oh Deccy, I do love you! :)  I'm so sorry people let their young children pester you like that. We'd already be in jail if little ones ever did that to Bella so rant on, my friend, rant on!

    Happy holidays, Deccy! (PS - I think I may need to get a copy of that hot sauce recipe from your mum. Then again, you've got a good little business opportunity, so you might want to start selling them instead of giving the recipe away. ;)

  20. He does, right? (I'm assuming Presley, named after Elvis, is a boy?)  So cute.  I do wish we had pictures of Bella as a baby.  Although, she might not have looked as pudgy and healthy as Presley so we may be better off without...

  21. "Bella is who she is" - you know it took us a while to realize that she didn't have to be the most social dog on the planet. She needs to be able to go to the vet and to let at least one other person handle her in case of emergency but beyond that, she doesn't have to let any one else ever pet her if she doesn't want them to. She is an awesome girl just the way she is. :)

    Thanks Kim.

  22. You go, Nola. Little ones like you have a special right to stand up for themselves - what with people being oblivious and all.  Heck, I can't count the number of times I've tripped over Bella, I can't imagine how often you get stepped on. :(

  23. Wish I could hand those rules to everybody we meet. My little Dexter can be very timid, but he is fine if people just ignore him and let him approach in his own way. But no, everybody seems to loom over the little guy and try to pat his head which makes him want to curl up in a ball.

  24. I've been thinking of printing them to hand out. ;)

    I didn't know Dexter was a shy dog. Poor baby. I can't imagine going through life as a shy Lab - he must never get a break from people expecting him to be social and outgoing.  :( At least Bella has just enough of a Doberman look about her that it can give people pause.

    Thanks for visiting!

  25. Hi All, good post that's for sure.  We had an extremely reactive dog.  Fear/Aggressive to the extreme and he did not trust anyone outside our immediate family.  Some people just don't understand dogs behaviour but all I can say is talk, talk, talk, to them Ii.e. people wanting to interact with Bella) and let them know exactly how she is feeling and what you are trying to achieve.  Bella sounds like she has such a loving family.  Glad to meet you.  Hey, can you pass on a gentle hug to Bella and tell her its from all the way from Oz.  Have a Merry Christmas.  No worries, and love, Carol (and Stella and Rory)

  26. It's funny how some people are with different dogs, too.  I almost always have to tell people, "it's okay to pet him". Thor is huge, which make his teeth huge, and I think it makes people a little wary.  

  27. Hi - thanks for stopping by and thank you for your comments. It's always comforting to hear other people have gone through similar situations, although I'm sorry for your pup. It can't be fun to live in fear.

    I have to admit, this post was written in frustration because, even though we do tell people about Bella, there are some that seem like they just don't believe us.  We're lucky that she tends to shut down rather than react but as she gains confidence and security in HER house, I worry that may not always be the case. :(

    Happy to meet you, too - LOVE your dogs and look forward to following their adventures.  In the meantime, I shall pass along your gentle hug and let Bella know she has a friend across the other pond. :)

  28. That's a good point - size, it would seem, does matter. ;)

    Of course, I laugh about getting bit by the Basenji I was transporting ("how bad can it be, he weighs 20 lbs") but you know what, that 20 lb tyke left my hand bruised and scarred.  

    Not paying attention to the signals of any unfamiliar dog is a bad idea and I'd rather have people ask to pet my friendly dog than not ask to pet my fearful one.  (FTR, no one ever had to ask to pet Beau, they had to ask how to get him away from them. ;)

  29. Thank you for being sooooo understanding with her. So many people get frustrated with this type of behavior. Not everyone can pet Enzo either. I tell people to stand still and let him smell, don't reach to pet, no matter how tempting.

  30. Thanks Yvette, we try. It took us a while to figure out how to work with such a fearful dog (she LOVES us so we didn't understand how she could be so afraid of others...) but I think what it really boils down to is patience, patience and more patience. :) 

  31. aww, this makes me want to hug bella, but i'm sure she'd quickly flee the scene if i tried. and i never fails to amaze me how many people really have no idea how to greet dogs.

    desmond used to love parties and meeting new people up close & personal. after a few parties, he decided he wasn't into it anymore and would either not join us at all or stick around only the smaller groups of people. and when he now meets strangers, i swear he is playing hard to get. the more interested the person is in him, the more aloof he acts. 

  32. LOL - yeah, if you can catch her, you can hug her. ;)

    A big problem with Bella is she's very curious, and she's a chow-hound and people like to give her food. She's also learned that people will give her said food even if she doesn't let them pet her. :hrumph: 

    I think Des is pretty smart for not sticking around if it makes him uncomfortable. I think dogs like to approach people on their terms and the ones that really feel they have to meet and pet them aren't respecting those terms. That's probably how Des came to playing hard to get. (Smart boy, Des. :)