Happy Miller-versary to our beloved, curious long-low-white! He loves toys and his inner circle of select beings. He is fearful and crabby to strangers, 999/1000 dogs, scooters, skateboards, the mailman, any and everyone that squeals “He’s so cuuuute!” (I warn those that start to lean over.)
Miller was adopted 3 years ago today and we’ve learned and loved this guy so much. He is, in a word, earnest. He throws himself into the Search For The Disgusting on every walk and wander. He plays hide and seek with a smile; rips toys apart with great joy except for the first one we gave him, which he is very enamoured with, still.
If he’s curious about something he is all in. If he’s afraid, ditto. The typical reaction to stress can be fight or flight; Miller puts the fight into it with gusto, barking and lunging to distance things that alarm him. He also will fool around – the mouthy grab of a leash, for example. (Learn more about the four Fs of Fear.)
Over three years Miller has wonderfully shown what I call the Adopted Dog Reveal. Patricia McConnell talks about 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months in the settling in of a newly adopted dog (and three ways to prevent problems); in our case I’m noting 3 years. So much has happened over a slow period of time with Miller.
At first, he wasn’t comfortable with being touched. He is now, and will ask for it. He didn’t want to be near us; passing through the same hall could elicit a growl (A growl is good). He wants to be near us now, and will choose to sit near or pressed against us.
Living with Miller requires a level of awareness that many dog owners don’t want to have. We’ve been told more than once that he is too much work. He is hair-trigger reactive when he is nervous, and while it’s predictable and avoidable for the most part, it isn’t always. He will snap and bite when frightened. There is no easily letting him meet a stranger. He wants to sniff them (there’s the curious, earnest part) but he doesn’t want them to engage with him. There is no frolicking in a field playing with other dogs. There is no such thing as an off-leash walk; that would be irresponsible on our part. If mapped, our walks would feature many zig zags to avoid dogs and people who Miller reads as worrisome.
At times, we have wondered if we are Miller’s best family. This is not unusual for people with fearful dogs; a dog that’s fearful requires a lot of time and training, and you can never make up what they didn’t get in their early development stages. Each trainer* we have worked with has helped us plan and progress for success. They have assured us we are his best chance; that helps considerably.
A friend has two dogs that are great with people and dogs of all kinds- their most problematic behavior is rolling in smelly dead things. She hears about our life with Miller and says she wouldn’t have kept him. We might not have kept Miller if the kids were younger, because his hair-trigger responses wouldn’t have been safe for them. As it is, they aren’t little; and we all have learned so much about living with a fearful reactive dog and loving him in the best way possible. I’m grateful to Debbie Jacobs and her Fearful Dogs information and Facebook page; also to the folks on Reactive Dogs who share their own challenges and successes as we cheer each other and dogs along.
A friend asked me recently about a picture of Miller I shared on Instagram and I told her that I posted it because it caught his relaxed eyes. “When we first adopted him, we rarely saw that relaxed look,” I said. “I love seeing it these days.” It tells me he feels safer than he did at first. We’ve worked on that. He had no choice in coming to live with us; no dog does. We are aware of that and do our best to make him feel safe, loved, and confident.
*Note: I’m not a certified dog trainer, just passionate about the best outcomes for dogs. If your dog needs support beyond your own skill level, please choose a certified trainer.
Image: Miller Man relaxes, even with a camera in his face.