Monday, April 30, 2012

You've come a long way, baby!

I've joked in the past that Bella is afraid of everything. Today we're going to get a little more specific about what that means. She's not afraid of much, really, just people, places and things. Oh, and sounds. But you know, other than that...

Over the years, as I've been talking to folks about fearful dogs though, I've discovered something a little different about Bella. Yes, Bella is fearful and she's reactive as a result of that fear, but Bella's not really a shy or timid dog. In fact, she's a very curious and sometimes even bold little critter. While her modus operandi is "run first and ask questions later", that's not necessarily a bad life skill for a street dog to have. And it's probably that response which was responsible for keeping her alive on the streets.

The trick for us has been to help her understand that she's not on the streets any more and she doesn't have to live in constant fear. So even though she's still working on some of her issues, she has really overcome a great many fears since she joined our little family. I thought maybe it was time to celebrate just how far she's come.

Things she was afraid of:
  • My family (mostly)
  • Gus and Molly (dogs, specific)
  • The garage (mostly)
  • The basement
  • The attic
  • The bathroom
  • Enclosed entry ways
  • The car (traveling in)
  • Being stepped over
  • The shower
  • The hair dryer
  • The coffee maker
  • The toaster
  • The microwave
  • The television (general) 
  • Her harness
  • Her leash 
  • Her head halter
  • Her thundershirt (mostly)
  • Stairs
  • The spiral staircase
  • Wrapping paper tubes 
  • Sticks
  • Anything that vaguely resembles a stick
  • Yard & garden implements (all manner of):
    • Gloves
    • Brooms
    • Rakes
    • Hoses
    • Barrels/buckets/bins
    • Wheelbarrows
    • Ladders
  • Cars
  • Trucks 
  • Motorcycles
  • "Industrial" smells (paints, oils, gas...)
  • Sounds (specific):
    • Fireworks (we think)
    • Leaf-blower
    • Law mower
    • Chain saw (just the noise - she's not allowed outside when it is in use)
  • Agility obstacles:
    • Tunnel
    • Chute 
    • Jumps 
    • Weave poles 
    • Dog walk 
    • A-frame 
    • Table 
    • Tire
Things she's still afraid of:
  • People (general)
  • Dogs (general)
  • The vacuum cleaner
  • Bugs that buzz (flies, bees, etc)
  • Beeps/alarms
  • Storms (wind, heavy rain, thunder)
  • The snow-blower 
  • Things that fall on the roof (acorns, stones, branches, snow...)
  • Agility obstacles (in progress):
    • Teeter-totter
    • Tippy boards

I am not now, nor have I ever been, afraid of my dragon.


So you see, she's actually done very well for herself. Her few lingering fears we are working to help her overcome and some we're just managing for her.

There are a few I think she'll never get over and I can't blame her. She was attacked by an entire nest of yellow jackets so I suspect her fear of things that buzz will never quite go away. That was a lesson she needed to learn. And to be honest, with such an inquisitive nature, it's probably in her best interest to harbor a little fear, it might spare her some pain in life even now that she's in a much safer place.

What we really want to help her with is her general anxiety. I want her to someday be able to hear a noise while she's stretched out on the couch and not run for cover. I want her to finally understand that while she's in our house, she is safe. All the rest is gravy.

So how about you? I know we've got lots of scared-y dogs out there but what is it your dogs are afraid of? Is it one specific item or event or is your dog in Bella's camp - afraid of everything new? Are you trying to overcome those fears or just managing them? Have you had any success? (Bragging is always encouraged.)


  1. She has come along way! And well done to you!
    Dachshund Nola

  2. Aw, I wouldn't be afraid of that dragon either.  And we can completely understand the buzzing noises!  We are afraid of any loud banging!  

  3. Wow... she really has come a long way! :)

  4. Sounds like she has come a long way indeed which is testament
    to ya’ll’s patient and diligent work with her.  Sweet Bella! 
    I’m not sure if it is fear or just plain ole’ intolerance but my dog
    turns into a beast as soon as I even touch the blender or vacuum cleaner.   And like Bella, he doesn’t deal well with
    things that beep.  We’ve made progress
    with the blender --- before using it, I make him sit in front of me and as soon
    as I power it on I would immediately give the paw command and then reward him with
    a treat --- over and over and over until the blending is complete.  I did this for days on end and he finally started
    to become somewhat immune to the blending sound.  Not embracing it 100% yet but we are getting
    there --- slowly but surely.  I once read
    that dog ears are incredibly sensitive to high pitched noises.  To that end, I kinda gave up on trying to
    keep my dog calm when my digital watch beeps. 
    I just turned the setting to silent J

  5. You've done an amazing job with Bella!  She sure has come a long way.  I just love that first picture of her with her dragon!!

  6. Dip Bridge & ElliotApril 30, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Bella is doing very, very well. Our 3 are scared of the first three things on that list. Plus they don't like garbage bags they see on their walks, people on bikes and babies in pushchairs.  Dogs can be skittish about lots of things.
    Lynne x

  7. She has come a VERY long way!

    Stop on by for a visit

  8. Looking at your 2 lists, I think you've both made some serious progress. Well done! Some of the things on the short list...lots of dogs would be nervous of. Don't know about the acorns though ;) A little fear for self preservation is a good idea.

  9. We are happy to see the great big improvement!!!  Congrads on the ground you have covered!

  10. Cali is afraid of big black flies in the house, any beeping sound that sounds like it might be a smoke detector, thunder, and fireworks. Yay for Bella for overcoming so many fears!! You guys are doing a GREAT job!

  11. She really has overcome a lot!  Yay for all of you!!  I don't know that my guys are afraid of anything, sometimes they are cautious which is a good thing.  I'm very lucky in that respect.

  12. Wow, what a list! Congratulations to you and Bella! She beats me for bravery ten thousand times over! The amount of work you put in with her is inspiring.

    I joke that my dog is fearless all the time but she came to us as a former street dog as well and thus had a lot of fears. Garden gnomes and plastic bags being two of the more memorable ones. But after only a short period of working with her, she blew through all these fears and now is ridiculously over-confident. Sometimes I almost wish we had a little bit of that fear back!
    Anyway, the one and only thing my dog is afraid of these days is water. She's come a long way but she still refuses to wander much higher than her ankles. Since we live on the ocean in a city full of lakes, it makes me so sad that she is too afraid to swim with us. Maybe one day...

  13. Congrats  to Bella! Wow what a list! Eleanor is afraid of my cooking - or at least the noises that occur when I cook.

  14. Wow, Bella has come a long way! My husband saw the first picture of her with the dragon and said "that's a Maggie face". Maggie seemed to be afraid of everything when we adopted her. She's still nervous around men,and takes a very long time to get used to new ones. She doesn't really like car rides, but isn't afraid of much anymore. She used to leave the room when my husband yelled at the tv while watching hockey, so he started tossing treats her way. Now she gives him a look like "hurry up and yell so I get a treat already."

    Duke loves car rides, but is afraid of every new place we take him. It takes a ridiculous amount of visits for him to get used to a place. He does not like change at all and will get so anxious that he shakes when dealing with something new. He gets so nervous he won't eat, so it's a sign that he's getting acclimated when he finally takes a treat. Maggie is a great big sister; she'll lick his face as if to tell him it's okay. We're slowly expanding his comfort zone...

  15. In many ways Dec is quite laid back. He wouldn't dream of lifting his head when the post arrives or the door bell rings. The biggest thing he hates is being left alone. It doesn't seem to matter if we go out or simply go upstairs. You can hear the rising panic in his barks. 

  16. Wow - there is a BIG difference between those two lists. Great job!! Being attacked by yellow jackets must have been scary. I'm afraid of buzzing insects, and I've only been stung once.

  17. What a wonderful post! I loved seeing the before and after lists side by side. You both deserve so much credit for all the work you've done together.

    It's interesting to see how a dog (and a person) can be frightened and brave at the same time. Honey doesn't mind thunder or lightening, fireworks, threatening gestures or all kinds of other things that frighten many dogs. But anything that moves near her or under her is a big deal.

    I've been thinking about my own fears as well realize that someone who lived in Philadelphia's worst inner city neighborhood, has been mugged several times without caring too much, moved to a new city without a job, speaks in public at least 40 times a year, and rides a bike everyday in heavy car traffic would not be considered a scared person by many. But I'm scared to make phone calls (really!) and quit an unhappy job. 

    I guess dogs aren't the only creatures that can be brave and frightened all at the same time.

  18. It's all on her.  But thanks, we're pretty proud of her.

  19. I think the buzzing thing is pretty common, but it's good to hear nice, well-adjusted "normal" dogs take issue with it as well.  And yeah, Bella just has a whole loud, unexpected noise fear thing going on, too.  Sounds like a pretty sensible thing to worry about.

  20. She has.  And even the things that remain on her list she's doing better with.  Like people still can't pet her but she will take a treat from their hand.  She gave a friend her paw the other day - that was pretty spectacular. :)

  21. It is slow work - we've done much the same routine as you.  Lots and lots of clicks and treats...  Nice work.  :)

    I wouldn't be surprised about the high pitches since their ears are so much more sensitive in general than ours.  Like you, we have no digital alarm clocks.  The one issue we still face is when the battery in the smoke alarms or such start to fail.  Those beeps drive her batty.  

    Last summer we had a problem with our CO detector going off - for hours!  Had to take her out for a car ride while husband dealt with the fire department and gas company... :o 

  22. Thanks, Janet.  Appreciated.  It's slow going but really paying off.

    (I love that picture, too.  And she LOVES that dragon. :)

  23. I forgot about bikes - she's right their with your fur-kids on that one.  Of course, your little ones are so small, I'd expect them to be afraid of getting bowled over by much of what's out there in the world.  I wouldn't blame them a bit.

  24. LOL - yeah, the acorns are really just an indicator of "noises in general but especially those above her".  I don't think she knows they're acorns. ;)

    And yeah, you know, lots of dogs are afraid of flies - they sound like bees and I'm pretty sure most dogs learn a lesson about bees early on in life and just apply it across the board to "things that buzz".  They'd be wise to do so at least. :)

  25. Thanks Christine. I know you know the time and patience it takes yourself...

  26. Sounds like Cali and Bella are on the same page.  That's kind of cool - it almost makes her seem normal. ;)  Thanks for the encouragement.

  27. Cautious is good. Sometimes I miss having a normal dog. ;)

  28. I was reading about your agility concerns with such a no-fear dog.  I can see a little bit of that in Bella, too.  

    FTR, you've been a true inspiration for us in working with Bella.  Seeing how much you've been able to accomplish with Shiva is remarkable and encourages me all the time to keep going.  I didn't know she was a street dog as well.  Maybe there's hope for Bella after all. ;)

    We're not really sure where Bella "stands" on water - she hasn't been exposed to much except a stream on our property which, like Shiva she will only tiptoe in.  It's a long way from my Beau who I couldn't keep *out* of the water...  I hope Shiva gets the courage up to join you one day.

  29. LOL - Bella would be wise to be more afraid of me in the process of cooking as I have a tendency to drop things. :P

  30. Oh poor sweet Maggie.  I'm glad hockey season has turned into a fun game for her.  Bella is also afraid of people who yell, or raise their voices.  Luckily Jan and I are fairly quiet folk but when we have boisterous company over, you can see her fun for cover.

    And oh my gosh, poor Duke!  I didn't know he was still so fearful about new things.   Bella's much the same way in that when she gets scared, she will not eat.  I sometimes wish we had adopted two dogs when we got Bella because I think it could have done her some good to have a good big sister like Maggie.  

  31. Oh how I wish Bella would be quiet for the postal people.  She scares them half to death!  

    Separation anxiety can be a real challenge to work with.  Bella's showing just the slightest signs of it with me now so we're trying very hard to nip it in the bud.  Luckily it doesn't happen when we're in the house and separated, just when I leave for work in the morning.  It's got to be real tough to be there hearing him panic.  :(

  32. Yeah, I don't fault her for the buzzing thing at all.  And she's so cute about it - whenever she gets harassed by bugs outside, she comes and buries her head in my legs.  Sort of a "if I can't see them, they're not really there" kind of thing. ;) 

  33. It's really been in reading your posts about Honey that I started thinking about Bella as being both fearful and bold - a rather strange combination, no?  Honey seems a little timid and shy to me which I just can't say the same of Bella.  That really struck me and made me re-think some things with her.

    In people, I think it's a matter of getting to the heart of what scares us - the loss of a job is a risk of financial instability - not an insignificant concern. But oddly, one I do not fear - I've been the starving artist before and know I can subsist on meager portions as well as finagle some kind of employment. ;)   Public speaking on the other hand?  Couldn't pay me enough!  Not sure what to make of the phone calls though. ;)

  34. Thanks.  She still has a way to go but she's done so very well.

  35. Bella,

    That picture of you and Dinosaur is so super cute!!  Don't worry, I'm also scared of the vacuum cleaner too, does yours have big scary lights on the front too?

    Stay close to Dinosaur cos he will keep you safe :)


    Your pal Snoopy :) 

  36. Gus is still often afraid of plastic bags and flags -- things that flap.  And those big blow up skinny men that are used for advertising / attention -- yikes!  Molly is only afraid of missing a meal.

    Love the photos!  And you guys have done so well with Bella!

  37. Wow Bella your list has shortened dramatically! Yay for you! :D

    I've gotten a lot better too butt some that still make me cower or run are...
    The Big Green Monster Garbage Truck
    Mom's air horn she carries to protect us from off leash doggies "Geez Mom can't you just get a shark stun stick?" Arg :(

    Waggin at ya,


  38. What a brave dog! I will never get over my fear of bees, so I can understand :)

  39. Aw, hey, Snoopy, I didn't know you were scared of the vacuum cleaner.  I guess they are kind of scary, aren't they?  Especially if yours has lights on it, too!  Bella's lucky there - no lights, just noise.

  40. LOL re: Molly.  She's such a dear. :)

    Interesting, so Gus is afraid of sight, Bella is afraid of sound.  No wonder they work so well together. :)

  41. Ah, another thunder-phobe, eh Roo?  Nice to know even pretty well-adjusted dogs like you still have some issues with that.  Bella will startle at some of the big monster trucks but she doesn't see them much.  That's probably a good thing. ;)

    And that air-horn - yikes!  I think the point is for dogs to be afraid of it, too bad it scares you in the process, too.  (Maybe you'll get used to it - it is meant to protect you. :]

  42. I don't think she will either if it's any consolation. ;)