After deciding that we were ready, willing and able to get a dog, my husband Daniel and I contacted the Victorian Canine Association to obtain the contact details of registered breeders that had puppies available – we had initially agreed on a Lhasa Apso (Daniel had owned one when he was younger) but after having no luck finding a Lhasa we decided on the next best thing – a Shih Tzu. We found a breeder (who also ‘shows’ her dogs) and arranged to go ahead and view the one remaining puppy she had left from her last litter.

We arrived at the breeder’s home to be informed that this last puppy was indeed 4 months old and all of the others had been sold at 3 months – this should have been a red flag – but spurred on by emotion, we played with the seemingly happy and well adjusted puppy who was bright alert and friendly and were told that he had even been given a name – “CRUNCHIE” – Apparently because he enjoyed “crunching” on his plastic food bowls! I fell in love with the gorgeous bundle of gold and white fluff and we purchased him on the spot.

My husband and I can only hypothesize now (in hindsight) that Crunchie was probably sold at 3 months of age like his littermates – but was for some reason returned to the breeder – we assume that during this time he was mistreated in some way – because the puppy we purchased was terrified – OF EVERYTHING!

From the moment we put him in the car to take him home, his extreme anxiety was blatantly obvious -severe panting, shivering, restlessness and a fervent desire to get as far away from everything as he could. I had him checked by a vet on numerous occasions – they could find nothing physically wrong that would make him shy away from all touch – including mine – or make him run frantically away in a panic from whatever he thought it was that was going to hurt him. I even tried Clomicalm in conjunction with trying to get him used to different places and people gently and slowly, but to no avail.

I can recount many instances where Crunchie’s fear of the world has put his life at risk – the scariest time for me being when I took him in the car to the local petrol station. I left him alone in the car for a couple of minutes while I went in to pay – when I returned to the car and opened the door to get in – Crunchie flew out – straight onto the main road – he didn’t just run across it – he ran down the centre of one lane – with me chasing while trying to stop traffic at the same time. This chase went on for about 10 minutes – all the way I was envisaging taking the dead body of my little friend home – and only ended when his lead got caught in a fence.

Crunchie’s fear also detrimentally affected the quality and enjoyment of his life – he simply just could not relax. I couldn’t walk him, take him to visit friends, for a ride in the car – I couldn’t even have people over to our house without him cowering in terror in the corner of the backyard – I didn’t have a pet, nor a companion – I had the constant worry of attempting to protect Crunchie from undue stress.

To truly see how far Crunchie has come with a years’ worth of training and socialisation at Four Paws K9 training – you need to understand the extreme level of his fear. About a week after we got Crunchie we took him to meet my Dad – who at this stage knew of Crunchie’s fear. When my Dad slowly approached Crunchie lost control of his bowels and took off down the side if his garage – we eventually got him out – but he needed a trip to the vet to remove thorns from his feet and ears after running straight through a prickle bush in his blind panic. Wanting desperately to have a normal pet – I attempted at Christmas to participate in the Photo with Santa – for pets – at the local shopping centre – I put on Crunchie’s best Christmas bows and jacket – and my ‘Sunday best’ and proceeded to the store where the photos were being done. Obviously there was no way Crunchie would sit alone with Santa, so I sat next to him with Crunchie on my lap – just as the photo was being taken and passers by were saying what a gorgeous dog he was – Crunchie urinated and defecated all over me – he was literally that terrified!

A year ago Daniel and I had changed jobs and were both working long hours and for Crunchie’s benefit (and mine of course) we purchased another Shih Tzu puppy. Not long after I was reading the local paper and saw the ad for Four Paws K9 Training and decided to investigate. I phoned Stuart who outlined the school for me on the phone. Not wanting the new puppy Snoopy to suffer through life in fear the way Crunchie had, the four of us attended the “Intro” talk the following Saturday. It was hard enough to get Crunchie out of the car, let alone in the gate and around other dogs. He just about pulled our arms out of the socket trying to get back to the car. He was anxious and I was even more anxious and guilty about the fact that I was putting him in this terrifying (to him) situation and would have to put him through this every week! We listened intently as Stuart and Trish outlined the school and how much importance it placed on socialisation as well as training, and they both assured me that Crunchie could be helped. If I’m honest, I had no intention of returning to attend class the following week – it just seemed too much for Crunchie – it seemed unfair for me to put him in a situation (lots of other dogs and people) that made him so scared – but it was Daniel that made me realise that- IT WOULD BE UNFAIR TO CRUNCHIE IF I DID NOT GO BACK AND GIVE HIM AT LEAST A CHANCE TO GET OVER HIS FEARS AND ENJOY LIFE AS A NORMAL DOG!
So we signed up – Crunchie in basic class and Snoopy in puppy class. I never had any expectations of Crunchie – I would have been happy if he eventually got to the point where he was comfortable around people and other dogs – I wouldn’t have minded if he had learned nothing of the obedience that he was learning in class. But with perseverance and a lot of one on one attention from Stuart, Trish and the trainers, Crunchie’s confidence grew! I never thought I would see the day when my scared little dog tackled the agility course with all the gusto of a kelpie!

Then, after about 8 weeks , it seemed that Crunchie knew it was Saturday and began rushing to the door to get into the car to go to “school” and would excitedly whinge all the way until we got to the training grounds – where he would promptly drag us in the gate. The classes gave us the basis for building Crunchie’s experiences – exposing him to other dogs, kids. bikes, skateboards and even cars. The trainers imparted us with coping strategies to deal with Crunchie’s fears and these allowed us to slowly but surely expand on his experiences of the world – each time becoming more positive. We were able to take our dog places – and he was beginning to like it. Crunchie had his life back – he was no longer paralysed with a morbid fear that forced us to keep him sheltered from the world and all it has to offer. As another positive we are now the proud owners of an “Advance Level Dog”. Yes, Crunchie can now be left in a sit or drop OFF LEAD surrounded by other dogs and we can walk away! Crunchie walks to heel when asked and probably most importantly to ME – if we are out for walk – and he does get off the lead (or out of the car), with one word I can stop him in his tracks – How desperately I needed this control when he was running down the middle of a busy road. I am confident now that Crunchie is under control – his life will never again be jeopardised because of blind fear – because he is now obedience trained and socialised.- and every week at training gives him that much more confidence to deal with life. He still has a long way to go – he is still somewhat weary of some strangers (usually men), but is now a different dog to the one who started at FOUR PAWS in September 2002.

My husband and I are at training every week and would be more than happy to introduce you to Crunchie (and Snoopy of course) and let you see how far Crunchie has progressed for yourself.

Let me assure you that if you do have a fearful or timid dog Four PawsK9 Training and its knowledgeable and approachable trainers can give your dog it’s life back, and you your pet !

Jodie and Daniel Evans