Peanut butter and blueberry muffins...
Sometimes, I sit and wonder what makes them tick inside. I mean my own little pup is a nervous, crazy thing. I do believe anyone else would have given up on him a long time ago, but alas, my neighbors must endure him forever yelling at them to “get lost” from the other side of the door. I love him and I don’t care that he's a ball of anxiety. We do what we can to manage and we just keep on living. But Toby* was a whole other thing. Toby wasn't living. Toby was hiding from the world. The same insecurities manifested in a completely different behavioral response. Toby didn’t bark obsessively, he simply hid, then growled, then snapped, then weeeeeed… everywhere. Everywhere. I didn’t blame myself, or his person, or even him. He’d had a rough trip to Abu Dhabi and his person had told me that he didn’t warm up to people quickly anyway. I’m sure in the clearance process at the airport, he’d been handled as if he was vicious instead of the tiny little scared dog he is. (I’m working on how the airport handles pets, but that’s a blog for another day.) So now Toby was completely terrified of new people and his go to behavior was “retreat.” So, the only thing I could change was myself. How do you fix a broken spirit? You don’t. You can't fix it. Only Toby can fix Toby, but I'll ask him to try. Day one Sit on the floor near where he hides. Sit still. Play with phone and ignore him while enjoying my muffin. When he moves a little closer, toss him a tiny pinch. Continue to ignore him. He gets within half a meter of me. Day two Sit further away and bait him with wipes of peanut butter on the floor (sorry mom… those lick marks were us). Back up a little bit and make a new little wipe and get him moving from under the table. Toby makes it across the room. Day three
Sit on the wall opposite the table. Bait Toby with muffin until he comes and takes it out of my hand. Get him to put his paw on me. Day four Success! Toby doesn’t immediately retreat under the table! He stands in the middle of the room waiting for me to sit down and have my muffin. I make sure to pay him no attention and sit down. Once I sit and he’s confident I can’t grab him, he comes right up to me and I’m able to coax him into my lap. If this keeps up much longer, I’m going to turn into a blueberry… but oh well.
“Toby, meet the slip lead.” Toby is not thrilled. Toby is under the table faster than you can say “lead.” I sit down with peanut butter in the middle of the floor. I lay the slip lead down and open the collar part really big and put a wipe of peanut butter in the middle… Again, peanut butter conquers his fears quite quickly. I want Toby to know that the lead is an inanimate object that won’t “grab” him. I get the feeling someone had caught him with a catch pole at some point. Toby also takes PB off my fingers and doesn’t retreat when I move the lead. I go to sit on the couch and he sits beside me and lets me pet him. Big day! Day six Toby decides I’m not a boogie man and comes out in the hallway with me. I’m breaking my own rule about leashes, but the building is very quiet midday and I want him to come out with me and go back with me and see there’s nothing to fear. Getting fearful dogs to move and giving them evidence of your trustworthiness is key. We have this success, even having a ride in the elevator, though exiting on another floor is decidedly not acceptable. We go home. Baby steps. Day seven Toby and I go to Daisy’s apartment one floor up. Daisy is the happiest dog you ever met! She’s so so so friendly. Toby is excited and a bit overwhelmed by her, but he does well and when he’s tired of her, goes to hide behind me. Toby trusts me! So I scooped him up and that’s the first time I was able to hold him. Trusting me was less of a concern being tired of energetic Daisy! Big day. Day eight Toby and I go for a walk. I know. A WALK. Toby sits next to me on the couch and I share some of my muffin and then I show him the lead and I ask him if he wants to “go for a walk” and he tilts his head in contemplation. Then he sniffs the lead and lets me slip it right over his head, gently and slowly. So we go for a walk. Day nine No walks today. We put on the lead, go to the elevator, but we don’t want on the elevator. Maybe something happened there. Maybe he’s just not so confident today. The stairs are also scary. We walk the hallway and go home to sit on the couch. He lets me pet him. Day ten Toby meets his new walker. He shows off how scared he is, but we coax the lead on him and that’s okay. I know she can follow the same steps and gain his trust. The third day with his new walker, Seona, he went for a walk. Two weeks on, Toby is a new dog. I saw him today and he sniffed me, licked my hand and didn’t retreat. Never give up. Dogs have complex emotional and behavioral responses and all of them can learn to trust again. I had to convince Toby that I was his friend and I meant him no harm. Slowly, but not too slowly. I had to get him to move. I had to ask him to be brave and then reward him for it. Turns out, Toby loves peanut butter and skinny blueberry muffins from Starbucks more than he’s afraid of new people :)
Momma told me the key to a boy’s heart was through his stomach. The key to Toby’s was through a nice smelly dollop of gooey goodness and a few blueberries.**
* Names have been changed to protect owners and their pets.
** Please always ensure that you use xylitol free and all natural peanut butter as well as allergen free treats. I carefully checked the ingredients of the muffin before sharing. #DogsInAbuDhabi #ConfidentDog #DogWalking #DogAnxiety #FearfulDogs