I am sure many dogs are resilient when something scary happens. Phoebe is not one of them.
Selective Fear of Lawn
Two things she used to love to do, now scare her. I am not sure why. I can only speculate.
Before we adopted her, the rescue shelter let us bring Phoebe home for a few hours. The first thing she did was sniff around the yard and then plopped herself in the shade under the plum tree. That has been her favorite spot on hot days ever since. When we had to prune the plum tree, she just moved over 20 feet and made her shady haven under the Apricot tree.
On cooler days she would roll around in the grass and spent a lot of time digging for grubs. The lawn was also where we would play fetch, toss balls and let her run around like crazy trying to catch a chase wand.
In early August, something happened that made her afraid to walk on the lawn, and she has not recovered.
The first time I noticed was when I tossed her favorite toys and she would not chase after them. I chalked it up to just not being in the mood. Later I took her out to play with the chase wand, and she still refused to step on the lawn. Hmmmm Something was definitely awry.
In the middle of summer prickly weeds grow in the lawn and yellow jackets loiter over the lawn in the early evening. Knowing about the stickers, I checked he paw, top and bottom regularly to make sure she didn’t step on one. That was just general practice. If she had a sticker in her foot I would have known it; if she stepped on a bee, I missed it because her paw always seemed perfectly normal.
Dog paws are pretty hardy. They can walk on rocks, hot pavement and a plethora of other things that our human feet cannot handle. If their paws get irritated, dogs usually just lick their paws. I will never know what caused her fear, so I shifted my energy from “what happened?” to “How can I help her get over her fear?”
When she goes to the park, there is a vast area of lawn. She has no fear running around on that; it is just the lawn in our backyard that scares her.
Working on Getting over Fear of the Lawn
The first attempt was to go straight for the tummy – she would walk a million miles for a tidbit of food, but this time she wasn’t going for it.
I laid out several beach towels on the lawn and then sat there. With a little guidance, she walked on the towels and was a good 10 feet from the edge. That was great! The only problem is that she would not use the towels unless we were there with her.
On another occasion, we deliberately sat in her favorite shady spot, so she came to join us. It took her a while to get there. She looked like someone crossing a river as she checked her footing before taking each step. When we left the lawn, she followed but looked like she was tip-toeing. At least she walked across the it- a little victory!
Recently I tried to get her to nudge herself onto the lawn. I would take a step, so she only had to move a short distance. When she reached me, she got a treat. I kept doing this, moving tiny steps backwards. Once Phoebe was completely on the lawn, she lay on her belly and scooted forward instead of walking. She looked like she was on some sort of recon mission.
Accidents Happen, but Phoebe Does Not Easily Forget.
When we go for walks, Phoebe is always just itching to run. I think it is great, except I cannot run. I checked out several options on what I could use to help her burn off steam. Running next to my bike seemed like a great idea. They make special attachments that hook onto a harness.
I gradually introduced her to the concept, and finally it was time for the big run. She loved it!
When we got back I let her loose and started making minor adjustments to the bike attachment. I called Phoebe over and hooked up the harness to check the fit. Phoebe went to run, the bike toppled over and it scared the heck out of her. I was able to catch the bike before it hit her. She was so spooked that she managed to free herself from her harness while it was still clasped.
I let things settle down, and then walked her over to the bike (tempting her with treats). I wanted her see that the bike was not all that bad. She came over, let me put the harness on and attached her to the bike. I thought all was good.
I was wrong. Now she will not go near the bike. If I hung a steak off the handle bars, she still would not come within 20 feet of it. After two weeks went by I tried to bribe her again. As we headed out for a walk, I took her past the bike, just to show her that it wasn’t going to hurt her. She was so scared she was cowering and had her tail between her legs. I wasn’t going to deliberately stress her out, so we moved on. She kept her tail between her legs until that big bad bike was out of sight.
Rescue Dog Memories
It is fly season. I can’t stand flies in the house. I grabbed the fly swatter and went chasing after one. I was not even looking at Phoebe, nor heading in her direction. I got the fly, and when I turned around I saw that Phoebe was petrified. She was cowering, had her tail between her legs and even let out a little “stress pee.” I felt so bad for her. I wonder if she was whooped with a fly swatter (or something similar) in her young days.
I still can’t stand flies; so I got a fly zapper instead. At least Phoebe isn’t afraid of it.
Fixing the Phobia
I wish I had an easy answer, and I am hoping that my attempts to get her over her fear are not making things worse. I am open to ideas.