Comfort Zone

Fearful dogs are often very comfortable in their home environment and act completely different when taken elsewhere.

Fearful dogs are often very comfortable in their home environment and act completely different when taken elsewhere.

I find the best way to truly learn who a dog is is to take them out of their comfort zone. Fearful dogs often act completely different in their home environment compared to the wide world. Risa was like that. When she was with me in the apartment, she was fine. As soon as we walked past the threshold of my door, she was terrified. People, objects, dogs. . .everything scared her. It was like night and day. Comfortable indoors. A nervous wreck outdoors. If you had judged her by her inside behavior, you never would have really understood what her problems were. And you would have been in for a big surprise.

Sawyer is much the same way. When I brought him home, he was nervous and unsure. That didn’t last long, however. He came out of his shell rather quickly and he feels pretty comfortable here. Even when I bring over visitors, he is relatively okay. It does still take him time to investigate them and determine they are okay. People still frighten him a little. But he’s really beginning to overcome that and actively solicit attention from them. I’m finding he’s enjoying being petted by me more as well.

He’s also absolutely in love with Risa. He really enjoys playing with her and having her around. I was told he was good with other dogs and I had no reason to doubt this. After all, he and Risa hit it off almost immediately. It wasn’t until I took him to an adoption event to help him find a new home that I realized this is not the case. Sawyer, much like Risa, is afraid of other dogs. He’s fine being around them; just seeing them isn’t enough for him to act fearfully. If they get up in his space, however, he is not okay and he reacts.

If I’d never brought him outside of my home, I would never have discovered this side of him. While I delayed taking him out right away to give him time to settle and learn to trust me, I am glad I did take him out of his comfort zone. I am glad I discovered who he truly is so that, when the right person comes along, they can have his whole story. I would hate for someone to think they just adopted a dog-friendly dog only to find out that he turns into a snarling beast when another dog comes by to say “Hi.” (Especially since I have been that person. I was told Risa was okay with dogs too.)

It's amazing that two dog reactive dogs can co-exist in my home.  I know this is rarely the case without a lot of effort!

It’s amazing that two dog reactive dogs can co-exist in my home. I know this is rarely the case without a lot of effort!

This is why I think it’s critical that you evaluate a dog in a strange environment to really determine who they are. With a confident dog, it shouldn’t matter much. They approach almost anything without issue. When dealing with a dog with temperament faults, it really shows you who they are and what you’re going to have to deal with. It allows you to make a decision: can I handle this problem?

I certainly don’t feel Sawyer is beyond hope. First of all, he’s a 7-month old puppy. His reactions could be part of a fear stage. Even if they’re not, he’s young and malleable. In the right hands, he’ll probably be fine. Sawyer is also not nearly as fearful or reactive as Risa is. He’s now actively soliciting attention and petting from complete strangers and shows no signs of fear in new locations. Unlike Risa, he can also be in tight spaces with other dogs and doesn’t react on sight. It’s only when another dog gets very close to him or they exchange an extended greeting. He’ll likely be easier to manage. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give a lot of warning before he explodes. Beyond a lip lift or growl, I notice very few outward signs before he snarls/barks/lunges at another dog. Risa is much easier to predict.

So I suppose that puts an end to my assumption that Sawyer would not be staying with me long. A cute little puppy should be snatched up quickly. However, a dog with some behavior issues will be harder to adopt out. The right family needs to come along and I’m sure they will. Until then, I will continue to work with him and help him overcome some of his fear. It’s not like taking a reactive dog out isn’t standard operating procedure for me or anything. 😉

Sometimes, I feel like I’m always sent the problem dogs. Risa with her fear and dog reactivity. Service dog in training Callie who was a huge party-starter with little impulse control. Jagger who needed to learn impulse-control and needed someone who understood high-energy dogs to work with him. And Sawyer who has some fear and reactivity as well. I suppose that’s alright, though. I don’t mind giving them the extra boost they need to help them on their path to greatness.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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