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.
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