One of the things I talked a lot about in the past on my social media channels is Ninya and her fears, aggressions and progress in those matters. The reason why I don’t talk about it nowadays is that I don’t have to think about it anymore. People ask sometimes how we’re doing and I find myself surprised about the fact that I don’t have to adapt my whole life after her. Nothing makes me happier.
I’ll start from the beginning with me, finally buying my first very own puppy, soon to be 6 years ago. Finally, I got my own working dog. A malinois. Everything I ever wanted. I picked her up from Denmark when she was 10 weeks old, and she was the sweetest creature ever. So small, so damn feminine and cute. She refused to pee all the way home and when we got home she got right in, stole my roomies border colles toy from her mouth and peed in my bed. Still the cutest thing I’ve ever encountered. I loved her from first sight.
She was an extremely independent puppy, she wasn’t that social outside training and she showed very early that she wasn’t a fan of people. When my bigger sister leaned over her to say hello – as you do with puppies – she barked in her face and backed away. Clearly insecure, and we socialized her in a calm and forcefree way, but she was a hard nut. It wasn’t the easiest to keep people away when we went by public transportations 1 hour to work and 1 hour home every day with the cutest malinois puppy on earth.
And then there was one morning after a few months, on our way to work, it was a few days after new years eve and we met a guy who was clearly under the influence of something. He threw a firecracker at Ninya – and I became so angry, told him to f***ng stop – and then he flipped. He kicked her, pushed me, yelled at us and he threw his jacket at her (?). She was so angry, fighting for her LIFE. She was already afraid of people and now this. Nobody on the train station helped us, and we got saved by the train coming in. He followed us on the train, me crying, begging him to go away. Eventually he did. Ninya tried to kill everyone who moved on two legs from that day.
This is, obviously, not a stable and healthy dog. She’s from the beginning afraid of people, and this event sticked with her. For years. If someone moved to quick, encountered us, talked to me, showed up in a place she didn’t expect them to – she freaked out. She reacted in fear, with anger. From 0 to 100. It was incredibly hard to live with. I was so ashamed. I had no car, I had to bring her to work, and I lived in an apartment. It was people everywhere. Introducing her to new people wasn’t any idea at all, she couldn’t let anyone in. She barely let me in.
At the same time she was a wonderful dog. Not afraid of anything else – environments, sounds, darkness – she’s a cool kid. And she was amazing in training, a real obedience star. The conditions we lived in gave her so little time to relax and reload tho – with people everywhere she turned in to a stressed monster – and she didn’t eat, she barely slept and she was thin as a stick. She wasn’t living the good life, at all. It hurt, deep inside of me I knew I couldn’ let her live if she wasn’t getting any better soon. It wasn’t a fair life, and rehoming a dog so extremely afraid of new people wasn’t an option.
So many dog people told me to “just shoot her between her eyes”, and I can see where they come from (even tho that might be the rudest way to suggest that in..) but I was so damn invested, in love and in some way determinated to give her a better life.
I can’t be more thankful towards the people who helped me out in the end. Friends and dogpeople who helped me fix her. I’ll try to summarize how I did to help her handle her fears in a list, it’s of course horribly simplified – feel free to ask if somethings unclear.
1. I took away all social interaction where she wasn’t 100% safe. No saying hello, no hanging out, no coming with me to people she didn’t already let in to 100%. I wanted to show her that it’s possible to choose to not encounter people, that we won’t – take away the feeling in her that she would have to. I made sure that no one tried to talk, pet or get close to her – I took the whole responsibility for that people would leave her alone. It was an absolute must to be able to put the demands on her that I did in step 2.
2. I corrected all her outbursts. There’s some things you just don’t do, and trying to kill people is one of them. The absolute must for this is that step 1 is working, that I actually make sure that she gets to be left alone. The point with step two is to show her something like “if you let people be, I make sure they let you be”. The more outbursts, the more attention, fast moving (fleeing) people and the more outbursts – it’s a never ending circle and I had to break it. I didn’t let her control her surroundings – staring at people and movements either, that’s my task – I took that responsibility away from her.
3. I buildt her condfidence up in general, for example I let her jump on to things, balance and play in different environments where I helped her to succeed – everything that made her feel like she could DO IT. And I kept her training going – the obedience and play training made us bond and our relationship grow, in these situations it’s super important to build trust. Her tracking training was another factor that gave her confident to work independently and trust herself and her ability to work through things.
Today she’s as fixed as she can be. She’s still not a fan of people, but everyone I greet as a friend is her friend, she seeks protection by me instead of blowing up in a full blown attack when she feels threatened and she chooses to avoid people instead of seeking conflicts. I seriously cry thinking about how happy she is now. She’s off leash everywhere, trustable, my easiest dog to live with. And I thought that I had to put her down.
It took time. And patience. And I cried and were on my way to give up like a hundred of times. But it was all worth it in the end – I wouldn’t put in that time in a dog with fears again – but for her I would do it over and over again.