A fear of water – drinking and getting into it. Now this one had me a bit stumped…
When Phoebe first arrived one of the volunteers, Deborah, who had cared for her at the Rescue Centre got in contact with me as soon as she found out that Phoebe was sent to me. As no one at the rescue centre could tell me anything about Phoebe (remember – they even put the wrong dog on a plane to me without realising it!) I was so grateful that there was at least someone out there who could tell me even the smallest details about this new, frightened creature that was now in my home.
I’m so grateful to Deborah for all the bits of information she told me about Phoebe as it gave me at least a small inkling of what Phoebe’s personality was, and it was clear that in the short few months that she worked with this pack of rescue dogs, Phoebe was clearly one of Deborah’s favourites.
Amongst her explanation of Phoebe’s likes and dislikes she said that Phoebe was a natural “water baby” and loved to swim. I then took her to a park where I knew there was a small pond and decided to let her go up to the water. She shied away from the water though, and no amount of coaxing could get her to even dip her toes in.
I realise now that it was still early days and she must have just been consumed by the terror of her new environment, but at the time all I could think was “Damn. Another thing they have wrong about Phoebe! Will there EVER be an activity that she enjoys?!”. I left all thoughts of water play behind and totally forgot about this.
We were then already enrolled in a Fun Class, and we were enjoying the obedience challenges, daily walks and learning to play with a ball.
Then one particularly hot summer’s day when we were at class I was surprised that Phoebe jumped into one of the paddling pools that are set up for the dogs (there’s always a row of water bowls and two paddling pools for the dogs to cool down in during class if they get hot or thirsty). The reason this was a surprise is that she had always shied away from water outside of the house – even on walks she would refuse to drink water, so I would have to douse her belly and neck with water whenever she looked hot or parched. I had read that this is fairly common with fearful dogs, though I’m not too clear on why they have this fear exactly – to me water should be a instinctual need, but knowing that it wasn’t unique and nothing to panic about made me feel better.
Once she got into the pool I immediately saw something “click” in her mind. I swear she even smiled! I was so happy and excited for her! She was reluctant to get out of the little pool, but I made a note of it, and immediately rushed out the next day to get her a small pool of her own to jump in at home.
She was a bit hesitant at first, and I had to coax her in with a couple of treats, but once she had all of her paws in she was happy again! Hooray!
I still need to take her somewhere with a proper body of water to see if she’ll jump in with abandon, but in the meantime she loves rushing straight to her pool after even the shortest play sessions and walks. I’m so happy for this because our South African summers can get HOT, and even though she’s originally from Botswana where heat and humidity is even higher than here, it’s clear that she suffers when it’s over 30C.
Somehow in her mind she has the pool tied in with drinking water in public spaces because from that day she has also drunk water when we go on short hikes, or in class. I can’t tell you what her strange thoughts must have been to set off this fear, but I am much more at ease now that I know that she can maintain a healthy temperature and hydration when we go out.
The reason this seemingly small fun activity is so important to me is because it’s another way to see the phenomenal progress she makes from day to day. To me it’s concrete proof that we are experiencing small victories. It’s another Fear Based Problem she arrived with (even if it was only temporary and stress induced) that she conquered because she is on the road to happiness and confidence. A reason for both of us to celebrate and throw a mini pool party every week! 😀
Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:
Issue Addressed: Play, Stress Induced Anxiety, Fear of Water
Tool(s) Used: Toddler’s Play Pool
Ease of Implementation: Easy
Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 4/5. Phoebe now loves a frolic in the water, and she still won’t gulp down water when she’s away from home, but she at least drinks enough in public (or at class) to combat dehydration.
Have you had experience with a dog who has a fear of water, or drinking in public? How did you overcome it?