I have a highly confident, smart cattle dog.
Which is perfect, except I left something out: he’s insecure if he feels “wrong”. It’s hard to balance those two traits (confidence and insecurity), but it’s taught me a lot. I have to be very clear where he stands every minute (doing the right thing, not doing the right thing, etc) and then leave him alone.
The art of leaving him alone has gotten him over his fear (insecurity) of vacuum cleaners. Ever since he was a puppy he’s been afraid of them, even though he never had a bad experience. It was likely just the sound that worried him, but he never got over it, no matter what I tried.
Sure, I could ask him to lay down in the room I was vacuuming, but he was never comfortable and would rather evaporate than lay there. So a few months ago, I decided I’d just leave him alone. I figured, “Why does he have to be okay with the vacuum or even like it? I don’t even like it!” It wasn’t like he was extremely frightened or anything – just uneasy.
The other dogs that live with me for training all love the vacuum (they adore actually being vacuumed!). So I went about my vacuuming every day and completely ignored my dog, Mowgli. When I turned on that vacuum, it was like I was clicking the M.I.S. (Mowgli Invisibility Switch). As the months progressed, I noticed him slowly try to creep up to me as I vacuumed. You could tell he really wanted to come hang out with me, but was still too worried. He always popped up in the corner of my eye. It was hard to resist calling him over.
Then he saw how relaxed the other dogs were. Well, today was really wonderful, because Mowgli got to the point where he came right up to me as I vacuumed, tail wagging, and reached up to delicately lick my nose. Then he just lay down next to me as I vacuumed the dog bed and licked his paws – completely relaxed. I couldn’t believe it and just gave him a few snuggles before continuing to ignore him. (I didn’t want to give him too much attention all at once.)
Sometimes, simply leaving something or someone alone can be all it takes.