Kindness will Light the Way
All my life I’ve had a dog through every turmoil and problem. I recently began a relationship with a woman who has a wonderful canine partner (let’s call her Nickel to protect identities) who is completely avoidant! We’ve tried the calm, soft voice approach. We’ve attempted the food lure. We’ve cut off escape routes, or mildly contained her in an attempt to get her used to my presence, but this beautiful friend sees me as something to run away from. Sometimes the escape is so dramatic that Nickel has hit her head on walls accidentally!
I am honored to be this dog’s namesake, despite the spelling error. Nickel’s intense fear isn’t about you but rather your affect. She regards you as a dangerous beast, notwithstanding your history of good canine companionship.
It’s often assumed that dogs who carry a gender bias have been maltreated. Actually, easily startled dogs respond better to the more evenly modulated voices and graceful movements of the women in their lives. Yes, we men are brutes but most of us are kind and gentle. Nickel just needs convincing.
Instead of investing in a Santa Claus get-up you can demonstrate your interminable patience. Ask your significant other to sequester Nickel in another room prior to your arrival. Then lie on the floor. Nickel’s person will release her and then drop tasty morsels near your body. Nervous Nellie must be fully ignored.
The object of this game will be for Nickel to regard the much smaller, apparently comatose, version of you (you’ll be prone, lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon track) as harmless. You will be associated with the finest cuisine. Don’t get up until Nickel is back, safe and sound, in the other room. Repeat hundreds of times.
There will be progress. Someday you can sit in a chair. Maybe, when we are all much older, you can look at Nickel. Forget about reaching for, approaching, or leaning over her. Close encounters would cause her to feel trapped and overwhelmed. By allowing Nickel to choose when she is ready to kiss and hug you will enable her affection to grow at its own pace.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.