BARKS from the Guild July 2021

Page 38


Is Love Enough? June Pennell details the case of her fearful rescue dog Robbie, a dog so shut down he would not make eye contact, and how she worked to build his trust and confidence to help him overcome his reactivity

© June Pennell

© June Pennell

Olfaction is extremely important in the way dogs experience the world and having opportunities to use this skill is crucial to their well­being

Author June Pennell focused on desensitization and counterconditioning to work with rescue dog Robbie’s fear issues


If love means we are providing our dogs with shelter, a place to call home, a quiet, soft and warm place to rest, and access to good nutrition and water, which they may have been deprived of in the past, then yes, love is absolutely going to help. They will certainly appreciate having their biological needs satisfied. If love means we are making sure our dogs have sufficient exercise, are groomed gently without stress, and promptly get any veterinary care they need, love is now really starting to make a difference to their lives. If love means we are giving our dogs space to learn how to trust us, we are guiding them with consistency and compassion, becoming their protectors and advocates, well, we are now starting to really rock, and love will be having a hugely positive impact on our relationships.

would love to be able to say that love is enough to help a troubled dog. Indeed, perhaps it is enough for a dog without any behavior is­ sues or a troubled background. Perhaps. But although the idea that you can help a dog (in this case, one who is reactive towards other dogs or strangers) purely by showing him that he is loved may be an attrac­ tive one, is it actually possible? I would say, “probably not.” So many of us (me included) would like our adopted rescue dogs to be happy­go­lucky, waggy­tailed, confident extroverts, who are de­ lighted to interact with every dog or human they meet and play with all the children in the park. But is it possible to achieve this just by showing them love alone? Is it a realistic goal, or even fair to our dogs to have such high expectations of them? Dogs are sentient beings with their own characters and personalities, so should we be trying to change them into something they are not? I really don’t think so. If, however, we are trying to help them feel more comfortable in our world, well, then I am all for it.

Choice for a dog is a huge thing in a world where we control so much of their lives. We often decide when and where they eat, poop, sleep, and go out, so giving them the opportunity to make just a few decisions is incredibly liberating and refreshing, as well as empowering and confidence building.


BARKS from the Guild/July 2021

Emotional Needs Dogs have emotional needs and, just like humans, they need security, love, trust and to be cared for by someone who exhibits consistency and benevolence. No one likes not knowing where they stand in a relation­ ship or having someone who says yes one minute and no, the next. The Hierarchy of Dog Needs (see Fig. 1 on opposite page) sums it all up perfectly. The bottom tier of the pyramid represents biological needs (food, water, shelter) and the second tier covers emotional needs (secu­ rity, love and benevolent leadership), but above that are social needs (bonding and play), force­free training needs, with cognitive needs (choice and problem­solving) right at the top. Based on this hierarchy, we learn that we need to be satisfying our