I Love You, But You Need So Much From Me Sometimes

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Everyone who knows me knows that I love Bailey more than the whole universe. There is absolutely nothing that I wouldn’t do for her and mothering her with compassion has always come very naturally to me. We have had MANY bad days, too many to even contemplate, but we’ve had more good ones. We’ve even had many days when she was having a rough time and I was able to stay level-headed, calm, compassionate and loving. It’s not always easy to keep your shit together when your dog is hysterically barking at 5am at the most random noise, but I always try my best to remember that she is not giving me a hard time as much as she is having a hard time.



But this isn’t a post about the good days. This is a post about the days that you’ll inevitably arrive to if you have a problematic dog. It’s the days when you feel like you can’t give them what they need.


We are all just people and I know we’ve all wished for a normal dog at one point or another. That’s completely okay, I think. Living with a fearful dog is hard on your best day, but as humans we have many days when we’re under massive stress. Maybe it’s the job, or family or relationships or an unexpected situation. Those are the days that I find are truly the hardest, because on those days it’s hard to keep your shit together, it’s hard to be calm when your dog isn’t, it’s hard not to feel completely depleted at the end of the day because you can’t give an ounce of your energy anymore.



Have you ever been so exhausted your whole body hurt? So sad and in so much grief you could barely drag yourself out of bed? I know we all move through this. If you have a reactive dog, when a day like that hits you, you still have to go outside and keep your eyes peeled to everything that is moving in the distance to make sure it’s not an off-leash dog or a child or a bike or a lady with a hat or a cat or a stop sign or a bird. You still have to manage your dog’s outburst because you spaced out for a second and a toddler on a small bike came around the corner before you noticed. And then on top of your own private life mess you now also have to deal with a very displeased parent of said toddler (who is now crying because puppy barked and snarled at him). Those are the days that are absolutely heart wrenching because we’re faced with a realization that our dogs will always need a little extra from us. They’ll always need us a little more present, a little more alert, a little more there.  



When I go out with Chilly, my non-reactive rescue Border Collie, it’s the best thing ever. I have my headphones in, I’m listening to music and we’re each in our own world. He’s sniffing the ground and I’m strolling along. I give him his off-leash time, we practice recall, do some tricks and basic obedience and no matter what is going on in my life at the time, I feel absolutely present in the moment. I feel happy, joyful and free. When Bailey’s turn for a walk comes, I have different feelings. I avoid headphones because then we both get surprised by triggers. When I give her off-leash time she doesn’t move away from me at all, so if I forget to bring a ball, we’re basically just walking over the meadow side by side. Those are the moments when my anxiety starts getting the best of me, because I feel like there is so much to manage and I cannot possibly escape my bad day. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love spending one-on-one time with Bailey. She doesn’t have outbursts anymore, or they are extremely rare and not at all in the magnitude they used to be. I know all of her current triggers and we have the best time managing all of that. She and I are a great team together, we always have been. But I’d be lying if I said that it’s not a lot to manage or that I can put my brain on rest mode when I am with her. I can’t - and when, as a human, I’m having a down day, that’s when it gets really heavy.



I often feel like I am failing her if I have a bad day or a bad week.


Sometimes not even a bad week as much as a busy week. She is still pretty co-dependent (MUCH less than she used to be, but still not a normal dog, obviously) and if I am working a lot or not being in her presence for most of the day, she’ll want to lie on top of me or right next to me as soon as I get back. I know this sounds like such a stupid problem, like don’t I want my dog to cuddle with me? Except it’s not cuddling. It’s literally I need to be close to you to calm down. It’s I missed you so much I stole your shirt and slept on it. It’s I’m going to make annoying noises at Chilly and get snappy because he wants your attention too but I need it more. Yes, this. Chilly WANTS my attention but Bailey NEEDS it. She looks at me with those big brown eyes and I can feel when a day has been too stressed for her; it’s usually when it has been for me, too.

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Even when your fearful dog stops having outbursts, their fearfulness won’t go away.


They will still be generally anxious, just at a lesser level. They might not bark anymore at certain triggers, but when enough triggers happen in one day, they’ll still feel overwhelmed. I live in a loud household next to a loud highway on a loud street in a loud a city. Sometimes it’s a lot for Bailey to handle all the noise and on those days, I want to be present for her. I want to diffuse Lavender essential oil, stay with her in bed, play some chill music and nurture her back to sanity. On the days when my own life is busy or messy, I sometimes can’t find the energy to do all of this. I just want to put her in her crate and go about my own business. Using the crate has massively improved her co-dependency. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes every day. She loves her crate, she feels so safe inside of it … but I can’t help but think on those days have I done enough? Is she still having a hard time, just quietly? WHY didn’t I take an extra minute for the essential oil?! Needless to say, Chilly doesn’t have any such requirements. I kiss him goodbye or tell him to go lie down as I work and all is well. They have an interesting dynamic - sometimes Chilly’s calmness will help Bailey and sometimes her nervousness will make him restless too. It depends on the day and the level of Bailey’s restlessness. The worst are the days when I go out somewhere for a longer time or when someone new comes to the house. I think Bailey’s feeling of safety is compromised sometimes in the most subtle ways, due to trigger stacking.



I looked into Bailey’s eyes recently and told her, half sobbing: “I love you so much - but you need so much from me sometimes. And I have days when I don’t know how to give you all of that.”



I think the answer to this dilemma is something we continue exploring for as long as we have these precious special beings that are dependent on us. Some days, all I can do is love her as I am focusing on my own life. Other days, I can be the best reactive dog mom on the planet and we do the who holistic shabang. Maybe it’s not about being perfect, as much as it’s about balance. When I’m going through a rough period, some days I truly do enjoy just staying in bed with Bailey nuzzled in my neck all day. I love to focus on Bailey’s training or managing her stress to escape my own. Sometimes.

I love the quote by Dr. Seuss that says: “life is a great balancing act.” It’s true. We’re not always going to be able to maintain that balance, but at the end of the day it’s the effort and honesty that count. I put my whole heart into Bailey and that’s where it’s going to stay forever. I know that I am doing a good job, even on the really shitty days. I have to trust that - and so do you!

If you are parenting or otherwise raising a fearful dog right now and your own life is just a bit messy (because let’s be honest, 2018 is seriously kicking our ass!), let me tell you that you are not alone. I see you and I hear you. Hell, I am you! Some days just plain suck. I’ve never been one to sugarcoat things. When shitty days find us, I think the best idea is to just surrender and see where they lead us. Pain is in resistance. We’ll never be perfect dog parents as much as our dogs will never be normal either. So we might as well do the best we can in a given situation and quickly forgive ourselves for the days when we just can’t give our 100%.


We’re only human and it happens. Our dogs will love us all the same.❤️


How are you managing your fearful dog’s need for extra care?

How are you dealing with their codependency on your down days?

Let’s talk in the comments and give each other some much-needed support! <3

Reactive Dogs and Cats: A Socialization Guide [Part 1]

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If someone had told me a few years ago that Bailey will one day be able to peacefully coexist with a cat, I would think it crazy. Cats have always been yet another one of her triggers, but with them it didn’t come from a place of fear, as much as it came from a place of instinct. She has always had an outstanding prey instinct - she’d happily chase squirrels, birds and cats over the edge of a cliff. This is why she’s always been obsessed with chasing the ball and why keeping her prey instinct under control has also proved to help with her reactivity rehabilitation as well.


Even though she and I have already overcame many triggers in our years together, I never dared imagine cats would be one of them. Whenever she saw the stray cat that I am feeding, she’d fly into a hysterical frenzy. She saw her as an intruder on the window and showed her no mercy. So needless to say, when Shadow decided to move in, I was more than just a little worried.

 

START OUTSIDE OF THE HOME      

I took it super slow. The first day of socialization we were outside in our terrace; I put Shadow in Chilly’s giant crate and leashed both dogs on the other side of the terrace. They could see each other but there was no way to reach each other. Bailey did well until Shadow started climbing all over the crate - that was a trigger for her. Rather than trying to “calm her down” I simply took the leash and took Bailey back inside, while Chilly stayed with the cat. The next time, I was prepared and made sure to give Bailey big big big reinforcement every time she looked at me, even if the cat wasn’t doing anything in particular. I was rewarding check-ins. I wasn’t saying any cues to her at all, because I wanted her to observe Shadow in her own rhythm and check-in with me whenever she feels like it.

 

Side note: these check-ins are a life-saver for reactive dogs! If the reactivity to a certain trigger is so bad that your dog always flips out, teaching him to look at you whenever they sense fear is a super helpful way of managing a situation. Eventually you’ll be able to get closer to the trigger or your dog won’t feel as much fear around it anymore and will be able to look at it without these check-ins altogether!


Bailey did really well with this. Soon after that, I got Shadow her own carrier and we started to uplevel our training. I will admit that we rushed this part a little bit, because Shadow started to come inside the house at that point, so I had to make this top priority. Basically, I put Shadow in a carrier and then I just walked past it with each dog. I reinforced calmness. Chilly, my non-reactive bug, did super well and after a few training sessions didn’t mind the cat at all. Bailey not so much. She was VERY aware of Shadow and we kept our distance at the beginning, then gradually started coming closer until we were able to walk around the carrier completely without Bailey obsessing over the cat. Once we were close enough, both of the dogs sniffed the cat but Bailey much more hesitantly.

 

I used food as a reinforcer through this entire process and I stand by that 100%. I’ve noticed some trainers speak very ill of using food as a reinforcer, even within the positive reinforcement community. I would like to address here that every dog is different and each case of reactivity is unique. I cannot imagine doing this with Bailey without food. Praise is not enough for her to reinforce a calm behavior and toys get her too hyped. The first time we were able to stand right next to the carrier, she started becoming too hyped about food as well (because the presence of the trigger made her nervous), so we took a step back and started again. At one point I started to use food selectively (meaning I didn’t need to reinforce every single time anymore) and before long, we were able to happily march around the carrier without any food needed at all.

!!! PLEASE REMEMBER !!!

  • Make sure your reinforcer is not making your already reactive (and therefore nervous) dog even more hyped up.

  • Don’t be afraid to take a few steps back if you see your dog is getting overwhelmed

  • My training sessions lasted MINUTES. None of them were longer than 10. I would also advise not to expose your dog to a trigger every single day but in my case, I basically had no choice so I was even more adamant to keep these sessions as short as possible.

  • You reactive dog will need to decompress afterwards, so make sure they get A LOT of rest.

  • You are not using food as a bribe or a distraction!!! You are using food as a reinforcer and a way to change your dog’s emotional blueprint.

Example: every time your dog looks at the cat and remains calm, he is immediately reinforced. As you were able to read, in the beginning stages I only reinforced Bailey for check-ins with me, when we still had a big distance between us and the cat. Many would argue why not immediately start by reinforcing her when she looks at the cat. YOU CAN! This is why I said every dog is so unique. My Bailey’s reactivity was so incredibly severe when I got her that she would have a complete meltdown if she so much as sensed, sniffed or heard a trigger. Seeing it would result in an outburst that she could barely snap out of. There are days when I wonder how we ever survived those months and years. As a result of that, she and I have built this check-in system that allows her to first get comfortable around a trigger (without having to look at it) and THEN we move on to getting closer and reinforcing her when she either looks at it or simply remains calm around it. Some people seem to think that if a dog is looking at you he is not paying attention to the trigger - trust me, your dog can still sense the trigger. They’re not stupid.😉

 

Pay attention to your dog, I don’t care what is written on the internet, even on my blog. Cultivate critical thinking! If some trainer has never worked and lived with your level of reactivity, they can’t know.

 

An unpopular opinion, I know. But it’s the truth. Watch your dog’s body language at all times and see how he responds to what you are doing together. If you see that he is calming down, you are on a good path. If you see that he is starting to display signs of discomfort (raised hackles, licking lips, lifted paw, whining etc.), get a bigger distance between you and the cat or stop the training session altogether. Maybe your dog has had enough for one day and needs some rest - that is okay!

 

The last stage of this training was to have Shadow in the carrier placed on a table and the dogs were unleashed around it, together. This step went without any complications at all, perhaps because they weren’t separate in this stage. They went to the table, sniffed the carrier from underneath and then started playing with each other or simply calmed down, stretched on the floor and that was it. Eventually I was able to move the carrier back to the ground, right next to them and all was well. Sometimes they came to briefly sniff Shadow but never both at once and mainly they just left her alone.

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TWO IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE:

FIRST: my cat Shadow was NEVER afraid of dogs. She has been comfortable around them since she has adopted us, which has made this process outstandingly simpler. In the beginning stages of the socialization I always gave her a big meal in the carrier and she was facing away from the door while I worked with the dogs. She never had a problem with resting in the carrier either - again, this has made my job a lot easier. If this is not the case with your kitten, I would advise the following: first, make sure she is crate trained! Reinforce the living jesus out of a carrier or a crate so that your cat can willingly go inside of it and stay there comfortably. Patience is your best friend here! This training will also come in handy whenever it’s time to take a vet trip, so you’ll be thankful you did it! Second, get a helper. If your cat is not fully comfortable with the dogs then please don’t do this alone. Get someone to help you with the cat as you’re tending to the dogs. They can sit next to the carrier and monitor the cat’s behaviors and emotions, as well as reinforce her with food in the same way you are doing with the dogs. This is how she’ll learn that being around dogs is a short activity that brings her food - and we all know how much kittens love food!

 

SECOND: this whole outdoor process happened within a two month period. Some steps we breezed over, some steps took longer but just so you know, there is NO TIME-FRAME on how fast this will happen for you. I didn’t have any timeframe set for myself here and it gave me a lot of freedom. Don’t rush this, take it slow if you can. Some situations are unpredictable, as you’ll learn in the Part 2 of this guide; I had to move Shadow into the house full-time overnight. When those situations happen, we push through, we maybe have one or two extra training sessions that we could otherwise leave out but even so, WE NEVER EVER EVER RUSH ANIMALS INTO SOMETHING THAT CAUSES THEM DISCOMFORT or could result in them not trusting us. Our job is to keep them safe!

 
All socialization truly is, at its core, is making sure our dogs (and cats) feel SAFE in a variety of situations.

Whether you already live with a cat and a reactive dog, or you’re merely thinking about adopting one, please start this process outside of the home on a neutral territory. I know this is a bit of a challenge with a reactive dog, because unless you have a backyard or a terrace, you might not be able to do this. Apartment hallways are terribly stressful for reactive dogs, not to mention parks. If you have the option to drive to a big field or a meadow and have someone with you that could help you, you can still do these sessions outside of the home where you have the ability to keep your dog at any distance that you wish. Again, I urge you to do this even if you already live with a cat and a reactive dog and it’s not working out! We don’t speak this enough but part of what triggers reactive dogs is the notion that they don’t have anywhere to retreat. This is why outside work is so important, because you can build up the distance.

 

Hopefully this post was able to be of service - this is just Part 1 and it speaks about the work outside of the home. Part 2 will address home manners, cohabiting within a small space, managing your dog’s chase instinct and more! But first, I want you to digest this post and get to work.

 

Please don’t rush this process and give your animals as much time as they need.

 

I promise you, it’s all worth it in the end! 🐕❤️🐱

 

Unfiltered Life: My Dog's Latest Outburst

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We had a big outburst today. A lady with a toddler parked herself right outside my bedroom window. The toddler was loud. I wasn't in the room and Bailey decided to put her paws on the window shelf to see outside. I think the sight of a toddler and a stroller and a lady and the loud screeching was too much for her to handle. I was in the kitchen cooking and I heard the loudest barking outburst ever. It was so sudden and so loud that I KNEW she was looking out the window. Even though I designed my entire bedroom in a way that she can't do that, she still found a way. The toddler was too loud and she had to make sure we were safe, I think, only to find that we "weren't." 

 

Upon hearing the outburst, my first emotion was anger. I was pissed. Why THE FUCK is she looking out the window? Why isn't she sleeping in her bed? I call "Bailey go lie down!" and nothing happens. The barking keeps going on. Frustrated and angry and super annoyed I put the soup off the stove and go to my room. 
 

I open the doors and I see her glued to the window barking so hard she's shaking. The hair was raised from the top of her head down to her tail. I call her name. Twice. She doesn't even hear me. I walk to the window and pick her up. She's surprised and looks up at me with the biggest eyes I've ever seen. In that moment all of my anger evaporates and I can't believe I ever could have felt that. She was so afraid - and incredibly relieved when she saw me.

 

I say "It's okay. Mom is here. It's okay."

 

She stops barking as soon as I pick her up. I hold her until she starts breathing normally again. I take her to the bed, away from the window and I try not to cry. She lies down and looks at me with these eyes. Like she knows. She knows it was a lot, she knows I'm trying to keep it together, she knows I don't always know what to do, she knows I would fight the whole universe to make her feel safe. She lies completely still and I snap this picture. She is tired and shaken and I want to remember this moment in case I ever get annoyed with her fear again. 

 

I say "I'm sorry bug."
 

I'm sorry the world feels so scary for her. I'm sorry that I sometimes feel anger and annoyance. I'm sorry that her first interaction with this planet was so bad it has left a mark on her forever. I'm sorry that some days, all I can do is love her. Nothing more - nothing less. <3

Rehabilitating a Reactive Dog Is a Lifelong Process

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If I had to sum up my mission in one sentence, it would be this: my mission lies in raising awareness about how positive reinforcement can help your reactive dog. This is the number one message I’m always trying spread and stay true to.

 

But sometimes, life with a reactive dog can get really hard. They’re barking all the time. Everything is scary to them. Your family doesn’t understand you. Positive reinforcement is taking too much time. You find yourself wondering: is it ever going to get better?

 

The short answer to this question is: YES and NO.

 

Some things will get better, I promise. My Bailey was so messed up when I adopted her, I sometimes can’t believe how far we’ve come, especially given all of the mistakes I made in the first year of our journey together. It’s almost unbelievable that she’s the most well-trained dog in our household, despite her issues with reactivity.

 

There are definitely many ways to tackle reactivity with positive reinforcement. You can start by signing up for my free email course (Reactive Dogs: Where to Start) or hiring a really good force-free dog trainer (How to Choose a Good Dog Trainer). You’re going to need a lot of patience and support, but the hard work is so worth it! DO NOT fall prey to people who say that traumatized dogs need prong or e-collars! These collars will only solve YOUR problems, not your dog’s! Click here to read why positive reinforcement is THE ONLY way to truly help your fearful dog!

 

Now let’s talk about the other part of the answer: NO, some things might never get better.

 

Your dog might never be excited to meet a new dog, human, child. He might always be afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks. Visitors at the house might always be a problem. There are several reasons for that. First, if your dog is afraid of loud noises, he can be triggered at any time because noises are impossible to predict. Second, if your dog is afraid of other dogs, you can run into off-leash dogs at any time. Most of them are unpredictable and have poor training - they run up to you and invade your dog’s personal space. Third, if the problem lies in people and children, it's usually hard to explain our dog's needs to them. They often don’t respect the boundaries we set and instead of listening to us, they start preaching. Not to mention, children are very loud, fast and unpredictable.

 

Do you see my point? You cannot control your dog’s environment all the time, so some fears will always stay present.

 

My advice is to change your mindset.

 

When I started working with Bailey, I set a goal: I want her to stop barking at other dogs. But looking back, this goal wasn’t particularly realistic. I wasn’t aware of how deep her problems were and that they go way beyond dogs. The core of her issues is the lack of her general feeling of safety. Once I changed my mindset, things improved drastically. I set new goals:

  • I want to create more safe spaces for Bailey.

  • I want her to be able to observe a dog from a safe distance.

  • If she flips out because of a loud noise, I want to be able to manage that.

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Nobody can just fix their dog overnight. If you are setting your expectations too high, you are going to be disappointed - and your dog is going to become even more frustrated. Once Bailey and I started reaching our smaller goals, we kept setting new ones. Today, we can pass most dogs at a close proximity and she doesn’t bark. Sure, she still gets triggered if a dog is off-leash or if he barks at her, but this is just something that we have to manage.

 

Remember: it’s not about completely getting rid of your dog’s reactivity. This can take YEARS and some of it may always be present. It’s about learning how to manage it.

 

None of us signed up to have a reactive dog - or if you did, you are my personal hero. I’m not ashamed to say that I never would have chosen this for myself; I was 19 years old, fresh out of High School, zero dog training knowledge. But I believe Bailey was given to me for a reason and not a day goes by that I don't thank the universe for blessing me with her.

 

Some days I do (still) get scared. Loud noises are still a big challenge for us. I wonder: is it always going to be this way? Am I going to have to worry about her for the next 10 years? How are we going to cope with all the life changes yet to come?

 

I know it’s not easy, making a home out of a realization that your dog might never be normal.

 

I can’t travel with Bailey by any means other than by car. She’ll never be around children. If I ever foster, I’ll have to take so many precautions. Just this year, with two new dogs coming into the house, it’s been really hard for her. This is our reality. But it’s manageable.  

 

But you know what? It’s more than just manageable - it’s a learning experience every single day. It’s the unique feeling of joy when she overcomes a fear. It’s extra cuddling when she’s having a hard day - or when I’m having a hard day. It’s educating other people, it’s running this blog, it’s being a better mom to Chilly, it’s growing into a better human.

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It’s crying because of fear and frustration but then getting back up the next day and understanding that the most important job I have is teaching Bailey that the world is a beautiful, safe space - even on the days when I don’t believe in that myself.
 
It’s our reality. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth it.

 

If you ever struggle really hard with having a reactive dog and feel like you have absolutely no support system, please join my FREE email course that will help you get started and guide you through the beginning stages, or just email me at luna@motherofrescues.com if you have a specific question.

 

Rehabilitating a reactive dog might be a lifelong process, but you don’t have to do it alone! 

 


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How Essential Oils Help My Fearful Dog

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Over the years I have tried a lot of things to help Bailey with her wide spectrum of fears. Triggers such as dogs, skates, moving objects etc. have mainly been conquered through positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning. She’s come such a long way and I am very proud of her, but the one thing we’re still battling on every day basis is her noise-sensitivity.

 

She gets triggered by loud noises all the time - we live in the city and that’s something I just can’t control. The situation has given us both some gray hair, but we’re coping with it through learning about new ways to keep her calm. 

 

For last year’s New Year’s Eve we have tried the anti-stress wrap and it worked amazingly. I was very impressed and I may even buy the famous Thunder Shirt this year. We are also big lovers of music and use it in our every day life to calm Bailey down whenever she is feeling nervous or upset. I’m still surprised by how well she responds to it and how much it calms her down

 

However, some recent changes in our life and environment have encouraged me to look for more ways to help her.
 

First, we have a huge (and loud!) construction site in our backyard at the moment. We also got two new dogs this year, which means more noise in the house - either occasional barking or just the sound of them running up and down the hallway. These are the things that upset Bailey every single time. She just hates loud noises, no matter how irrational the fear. I recently read an article titled A Dog That Is Afraid of Loud Noises Is Afraid of Everything and it gave me a lot to think about. Noises are something I can’t control and they are all around us.

 

I can’t approach this with counterconditioning, because I can’t possibly isolate the noises that make her react - and even if I could, there will always be new ones to conquer. Aside from the anti-stress wrap and music, I felt like I was missing something. 

 

Enter essential oils! They were recently recommended to me and I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but I was definitely open to trying something new.

 

I’m happy to report that after two full months of testing, I’m seeing so many positive results! To be honest, the change was apparent the first time I used them and it only got better since then. 
 

So far I have only tried two scents: lavender and baldrian (valerian). I’m open to trying more or maybe even mixing them, but this has worked incredibly well for us and I am very satisfied with the results! 

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LAVENDER

We tested this scent by putting a few drops of lavender essential oil into an essential oil diffuser that I found at home - it’s a tiny bowl of water that stands over a candle. If you love crafting, you can DIY a variety of essential oil diffusers. I mainly used this aroma in the afternoons and over the weekends, when everybody is at home and the household is a little louder than usual. (The construction site doesn’t stop on the weekends either).

 
I noticed that Bailey is much more calm and less prone to reacting when I use this essential oil. Even if there is a sudden loud noise, she’ll only lift her head, maybe silently growl a little bit, but totally keeps her cool. No loud outbursts!
 

I was absolutely in awe. I tested the oil during a thunderstorm as well and outside of a couple short barks when the thunder was loud, she was totally fine. The final test was a couple of weeks ago when my home country Slovenia won the European Championship in basketball (woohoo!) and people celebrated with fireworks. I generally don’t follow sports, so on the night when we got into the finals I didn’t even know there was a game - I wasn’t prepared for the fireworks and Bailey had a really hard time. On the night of the finals I did prepare though. I lit up my essential oil diffuser, put in lavender and the evening passed so peacefully I almost couldn’t believe it. A few short barks here and there, but other than that she was surprisingly calm.

 

This essential oil is now a part of our every day life. If we have guests coming over or if there is something loud going on in the neighborhood, I know I can count on lavender oil to keep Bailey calm. I am so very thankful for this discovery! 
 

BALDRIAN (VALERIAN)

The success of lavender essential oil within the house had me wondering if I could bring them outside somehow. How cool would it be to have them on walks with us! I stumbled upon an essential oil collar in one of the local pet stores and decided to give it a try. It was 100% natural and infused with baldrian. 

 

It had a really strong aroma. I left it out of the package for a couple of days to wear off a little bit, but without much luck. When I put it onto Bailey she absolutely hated it, so I took it off after a couple of minutes and decided to try a different approach. I didn’t know if it’s the scent that’s bothering her or just the fact that it’s on her, so I cut the collar in two identical pieces and placed one in Bailey’s crate and the other one in Chilly’s - he gets a little jumpy sometimes during thunderstorms or if new people are in the house, so I figured it would be fun to try. 

 

They both seemed to respond to it super well. Bailey spent a lot of the time in her crate by her own accord, as did Chilly. I started leaving these collars with them every time I left the house and even though they generally don’t mind being alone, they displayed calmer behaviors upon my return than usual. I am super happy with this arrangement! 
 

Maybe in combination with lavender, the two aromas are the winning thing for us. I’ll buy baldrian essential oil as well, to test it in a diffusor, because the cut up collar is starting to lose its scent. I also have yet to figure out a way to bring essential oils on our walks. Maybe I’ll DIY a collar and infuse it with just a few drops or make an essential oil bracelet for myself and wear it when I’m out with Bailey. 


Needless to say, the discovery of essential oils has changed our lives.
 

Bailey is so much calmer and there have been some very unexpected benefits for Chilly and myself as well. He’s less jumpy when he’s scared (or excited) and my own anxiety is almost nonexistent when lavender is in the air! I also struggle with insomnia and I noticed that on the days when we used lavender oil I actually had no trouble sleeping at all. These oils have been an overall success! 

 

At this moment, we are still only at the beginning of our essential oil journey - I want to learn even more about how essential oils can help dogs and share the knowledge with you as I go on.

 

If you have a fearful dog, I encourage you to give essential oils a try and see how they work out for you! Already tried them? Please comment below and share your experience!

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Bailey's Early Graying

It’s so hard for me to write this post, but it’s only been a recent thing that Bailey’s graying has become so apparent. I know most dogs start to gray between the ages of 5 and 7, but my dog is five years old now and I believe she looks much, much older. It is possible that she is just getting older like normal dogs and it’s more noticeable due to her black coat, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s happening a little too sudden. I’ve been growing very concerned because of this and I’ve read online that early graying is closely linked to anxiety and fear. This doesn’t strike me as anything new, since Bailey has always been fearful, but the graying has been a surprise that has really become apparent in the last two years.

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Here’s a picture from July 2015

 

 

(age 3)

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Now let’s look at a picture from a year later, August 2016 (age 4)

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And at last, a picture from this month, August 2017 (age 5)

 

Her early graying is causing me great distress, mostly because I believe I can pinpoint the cause of it and I feel so powerless. We’ve always lived in an urban area and for a reactive dog that’s really hard, but we’ve managed. Bailey has had so much progress and while it took us some time, I believe we have succeeded in finding a balance that works for the both of us. However, we’ve had a major construction site open right in our backyard. It’s loud, it’s shaky, it bothers me and I can’t even imagine how Bailey must be feeling. Loud noises are so uncomfortable for her and her noise sensitivity is the one thing I know we still struggle with. But the construction site is something I have no control over and I’m worried about the effects it may have on her.

I’ve been wanting to move to the countryside for a while. Somewhere out of the city, more peaceful, with a lot of nature. I think both of us would love that. Moving out of the family home on a freelancer’s budget, alone and with two dogs (one of whom has somewhat special needs) is a challenge - one that I don’t expect to mount anytime soon. I’m not writing this to complain about my situation, because I know I have been blessed in my life many times over.

I’m just saying: my reactive dog is under constant stress because of loud noises and it’s starting to make me inconsolably sad.  

We’re trying a few different things. Music helps her a lot. Providing her with much crate time during the day helps even more. We’ve changed her exercise routine to games where she is not so impulsive. We’ve started using essential oils and I’ll be happy to write a separate blog post on them soon, because they have changed our life! I am optimistic, because she and I have already been through so much together, I know this is just a stepping stone in our story.

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I read conflicting reports on early graying affecting a dog’s life-span but I’m trying not to think about this.

All we have is now. All we ever have is now. All I can do as a mother is in this moment and in this particular moment I can only look for ways to lessen her anxiety.

When I was reading the articles I couldn’t help myself but cry, because there is nothing that I wouldn’t do to make Bailey happy, make her calm. And yet, it often seems that every single success we have is eventually undermined by something out of my control. An off leash dog, a neighbor's random fireworks, a construction site.

Perhaps such is life with a reactive dog; learning to let go of control and loving them through troubled waters, holding onto them with grace and believing that everything will work out.

If you have any experience with early graying in fearful dogs, or even just graying in general, please comment below. I really need to hear some fresh perspectives on this topic as it’s something that has caught me a bit off guard!


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Fearful Dogs and the Power of Music

Music; one of the most important things in my universe. I listen to music almost all the time and I truly believe it is the language of my soul. Music has gotten me through every single hardship I have ever experienced and aside from writing it is my favorite form of art.

When we talk of rehabilitating, helping and training fearful dogs, we often talk about counter-conditioning, mental enrichment, environment managing and all these other techniques that are without a doubt super important, but I have noticed something has been missing. What happens when we’re not training? When, for whatever reason, we just don’t have that bag of treats ready or maybe it’s the middle of the night but our dog is experiencing severe anxiety? What do we do? I fully believe that music can play a great role in helping our reactive dogs.

For one, by default, these dogs are very sensitive to sound. They can react to a can falling on the floor three rooms away. They can be afraid of a person sneezing outside the house. There is no sound that escapes them and every sound makes them alert. I think it can be a very positive experience for them if we utilize their alertness to sound in a good way. First, music will somewhat cover up outside noises. Second, it may just calm them down in a way you didn’t even think was possible!

5 years ago I adopted Bailey and on the drive home she was crying as I was holding her in my arms. I quietly sang Hey Jude to her, because it’s the song that always calms me down when I’m experiencing anxiety. When we came home the poor bug was so terrified she refused to fall asleep - and her lack of sleep was a big problem in our first few weeks. I put on The Beatles’ vinyl record in the evening and any time I left her alone. I quickly started noticing she’s responding to it really well. In fact, she fell asleep much quicker than if the record wasn’t playing. This is how Bailey’s love of music was born.

Ever since then, we’ve been using music to soothe her anxiety. We spend every New Year’s Eve listening to music and as soon as I turn it on I can feel her fear and nervousness gradually diminish. Our favorite picks for surviving the fireworks are Ed Sheeran’s first album and any ballad Elvis Presley has ever written.

I wish I could lend her my headphones when we go for walks. Maybe if she could listen to James Vincent McMorrow as she is strolling around our neighborhood with me, she wouldn’t experience such anxiety. But I don’t want to shoot for the moon - I’m happy that music can be a calming tool for us when we are at home, or in the car.

I think if music can touch a human’s soul in a way that lets us know everything will be alright, why couldn’t it do the same for our dogs?

Bailey has a favorite song. The one song that I can always count on to calm her down. This song is also my favorite song in the universe and I wonder if there is some correlation. Maybe my Bailey can feel my soul relax when I am listening to it? Maybe this experience alone feels soothing for her? Sometimes I wish I could ask her these questions. Until that happens, all I can do is observe my little bug how she is nervous because of some weird sound outside and then the second I put on the song she curls up into a ball inside her crate and falls asleep, knowing she is always safe. The song I am talking about is Something New. Listening to it is a cosmic experience.

If you have a reactive and fearful dog I would recommend you try playing some songs to them and see how they respond. I’d start with calming songs and then try out different styles, depending on how they are responding. You can also try playing them your own favorite songs and see if they have the same connection to them as you do (or maybe just feel your love for it)!

To help you out a little bit, I created a playlist of 10 songs for calming down fearful dogs! We’ve listened to all of them a countless times and they have all worked like magic for little B. Click on the titles to listen to them on YouTube!
  1. James Vincent McMorrow - Wicked Game

  2. Tokio Hotel - Something New

  3. Tokio Hotel - Run Run Run

  4. Elvis Presley - Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

  5. Elvis Presley - Love Me Tender

  6. Jamie Dee - Blood Bank

  7. Bon Iver - Holocene

  8. Meadowlark - Postcards

  9. Ed Sheeran - The A Team

  10. Coldplay - Green Eyes

How do your fearful dogs respond to music? Do you have any song recommendations or experience you’d like to share? Comment below!

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Life With a Co-Dependent Dog

My Bailey is a co-dependent dog. She's been highly fearful and reactive since the day she came to me. Maybe it's because of the way she was brought into this world, maybe it's because of bad genetics and prenatal care of the mother or maybe it's a combination of both - but she has never ever had a fundamental feeling of safety.

For Bailey, the whole world is a scary place.

Normal, every day things give her huge anxiety. Dogs, humans, skates, shopping bags, umbrellas, birds landing on the window sill, kids, a sound of a random item falling on the floor, a sound of someone walking in the house wearing shoes, fireworks etc. The list goes on and on as we keep finding new things and situations she's afraid of. Every single one of them is a project for us - we slowly start counter-conditioning and desensitizing her to these situations. Some of them we've been able to conquer, some just manage.

Through this process, we've been trying to find places where she completely relaxes and feels 100% safe. This is what we've come up with:

- In our bed, under the covers (!)

- Her doggy bed

- My lap

It's not much, but for us it's everything. She'll never be one of those dogs that just plop themselves on the floor or a blanket and fall asleep no matter where they are. (Chilly is like that and it has been the biggest blessing, haha!). She doesn't relax in any other bed, she doesn't like other mats to lie on, she doesn't relax with any other human, either. The fact that I represent a feeling of safety for her makes me very happy, because we've worked on that very hard. But I am just one person and also a human being who sometimes needs her physical space.

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Sometimes it's a challenge, always having to think about how Bailey will deal with new environments, new people, bigger life changes.

I work from home and sometimes I don't stay in one room all day. That minimal change alone throws Bailey of course. If it was up to her, she would stay in one room all day long. In her four years with me, she has slowly learned how to relax eventually - it takes a lot of time and she needs very clear communication on my part, but we manage. She has also learned how to love adventures. I call her 

Bailey the explorer.

If we're on a hike and we don't meet too many people and dogs, she'll be pretty curious about her surroundings. And yet, if we stop for a little break, she'll immediately fall back into her restlessness - unless she has my full and undivided attention. Eye-contact and all. 

It's a double edged sword; while I'm happy that she feels safe with me, I can't really be hands-on in every single situation.

What does me being hands-off mean? Say we're out on a walk and I start talking to a neighbor or a stranger. She'll sit and look at me and silently whimper. Then she'll start frantically looking around and god forbid anything or anyone passes by, because she'll fall into her barking routine. When I am hands-on, things are a little different. I'm reinforcing her sit and if I sense that someone is making her nervous, I'll make eye contact and reinforce. She's still nervous, pretty much, but she demonstrates a lot of impulse control because I'm telling her exactly what to do.

When we're alone, it works. When we're not, it's a lottery.

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The reason why I'm writing this blog post is transparency. I'm a huge advocate for keeping it real and telling the truth. This is my truth: every dog is unique and sometimes you adopt a soul who you love more than the universe itself but life with them can be a challenge.

Sometimes Bailey's anxieties really affect and exhaust me. Sometimes I want some physical space, but I give into Bailey sitting on my lap or lying tight next to me, breathing into me, because she's finally resting after a whole day of being nervous over trivial things. Sometimes I wish for her to be normal. Sometimes I spend hours deciding whether I'll take her someplace new with me or is it too triggering for her. Sometimes I feel misunderstood by my friends and family who think I should be tougher on her. Sometimes I worry about what would happen to Bailey if something happens to me. I'm sure my family would step up, but Bailey attaches to one human and places into them the only feeling of safety she's capable of having.

For her, the whole world is a dangerous place. But within that world, she has found an anchor.

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An anchor that she can rely on, that encourages her in new situations and around new people, that handles every situation and always ensures her safety. I am that anchor. No matter the situation, my priority is to always make sure she feels as safe as possible. I think she appreciates that. I've trained her that every time something triggers her, instead of hysterically reacting to it (either by barking or running away), she looks to me instead and I'll tell her what to do. (Mostly it's either sit or heel but it always involves eye-contact).

It works for us. I'm proud of her. I'm proud of myself!

But sometimes this strategy leads to some very co-dependent moments on her part and those are pretty tiring for me.

It's a work in progress.

I try my best to help her be more self-sufficient. I don't let her follow me around the house. If I work long hours, I put her to sleep in our room. I encourage her to sleep on her mat when she is with me in my home office.

She gets a lot of mental and physical exercise.

I let her seek safe space with Chilly when she needs to. I ease her into new situations and we always take things step-by-step. It's a lot of work and a lot of management. But she teaches me how to be patient and how to communicate better.

She teaches me how to tune into her without completely losing myself. She teaches me the art of letting go, the art of waiting and above all, the art of loving unconditionally, even on our worst days.

I know this isn't a blog post full of useful tips. Instead, it's a blog post that doesn't glorify having a rescue and doesn't lie to you that positive reinforcement isn't a lot work. Of course it is.

In my opinion, it's the most gratifying work I have ever done and will continue to do for the rest of my life.

All thanks to my co-dependent bug Bailey! Funny how life always gives you exactly what you need, huh?

Tell me, in what ways do you ensure your dog's self sufficiency? Do you have a co-dependent dog as well? How are you handling it? Let's learn from each other and expand our horizons! 

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