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3:41   Sometimes I feel like I am training a different dog.  Rufus walks around the house like it’s his own.  He no longer just sits on the couch like he wants to disappear.  He is really starting to enjoy being a dog.  It looks like the weight of the world has been taken off his shoulders.  Even when he sleeps can you see the difference.  He now stretched out and takes up the whole couch instead of hugging the arm rest and staying in a tight ball.  We went outside to do some dog work today.  We did place work on some flat rocks at a park.  He went right up there without hesitation like he did it a hundred times before.

Nurture vs Nature

First its important to understand the difference between nurture and nature. Nature:   There are some breeds that are generally more nervous than others (Vizslas, chihuahuas, some terrier breeds, german shepards even).  And then there are just some dogs that are more nervous than others no matter what the breed, they were just predisposed to being nervous.  It is a part of their temperament the same way Evel Knievel had the personality of a dare devil.  For example I got my first Boston Manuel as a 12 week old puppy.  He was a happy pup who went everywhere and did everything with me.  He was exposed to all types of people, noises, places, ect.  He is going to be 6 in April and in those 6 years has never been through a traumatic or frightening experience.  Yet I still tease him and call him a nervous nelly because he decides to be anxious and nervous for random reasons.  He isn’t a severe case by any means but he is still an example of a dog who is nervous due to nature.

Than we have nurture.  Most will probably associate the nurture part of anxiety with shelter dogs, abused dogs, or stray dogs.  Though these are all legitimate examples of why a dog acts nervous/anxious/fearful, there is another group of anxiety nurturing behaviors that 99% of owners don’t recognize.  So how do you nurture anxiety?  You pick up the chihuahua who appears nervous on a walk in the park.  You pet and coo the lab who is hiding from the thunderstorm.  You give a treat to the mutt who hides under the bed when you have company over.  Every time you reward or agree with a nervous behavior you are strengthening the behavior.  To humans its natural the try to protect and help animals when we see them in distress, the same way we would a child.  Unfortunately for the animal we are only making things worse.

So what about Rufus?  My opinion is that Rufus’s behavior is due to both nurture and nature.  I believe that he is a dog with a natural timid/reserved temperament.  To top that off he did have a traumatic experience happen in his life.  Then he was adopted by 2 loving and compassionate women who tried to help Rufus to the best of their ability.  They did the right thing by bringing in professionals to help them.  When Rufus goes home he will be ready for a new lifestyle.  I will teach his owners how to deal with him when he gets nervous or goes to hide.  Give them tools to help him through his emotions instead of nurturing them.

*Its important to point out that a dog who starts out as nervous, fearful, timid or anxious dog can end up with even more behavioral issues such as aggression or destructive behavior.  For this reason it is important to hire a trainer at the first signs of a behavioral problem.