Fearful Chris

I haven’t been writing too much lately.

Although life happens, most of it is routine. Some stuff isn’t interesting or always pleasant… especially when I cause it.

Dumb things I do. And who wants to share that stuff, or let it shape my day with negative thoughts?

Anyway, this isn’t a dumb thing. It just took me a couple of months to realize Chris is scared going to a specific facility.

Routines do that. A routine dulls observation.

When I trained both dogs, I focused on observing their behavior. In my book, Challenges and Rewards, I wrote about how my extreme focus isolated total awareness of everything else.

One example was losing my glasses because I was so focused during a training session. While wearing my glasses, somewhere they fell off. I never realized it until an hour later.

That happened five years ago.

Wednesday is our day to visit this senior facility. We have been coming for more than three years. The routine is always the same. I drive behind the church. Bernie and Chris accomplish their bathroom break. It takes about five or ten minutes.

Then, with both dogs in the car, I pull to the front and park. I open the door, and both dogs jump out. Bernie immediately goes to the front door.

Hindsight alerts me Chris started his behavior change at least two months ago.

Back then, Chris would follow Bernie. Both dogs would wait at the front door while I locked the car and walked to them.

January 10, 2018, was different. The routine weather was the same. We had been enjoying wonderful sunny days in the 70’s for more than a week. Last night the storm blew through with gusting forty-mile winds followed by rain during the night.

Today the air is clean and sharp with low sixty-degree temperatures.

It is routine winter weather for Phoenix, Arizona.

What isn’t routine is Chris refusing to exit the car.

He was fine moments before when we pulled behind the church. With his usual energetic self, he bounded from the car. He showed the same joyful behavior when he jumped back inside.

However, when I parked in front of the facility, Bernie jumped out, and Chris lay on the back seat. I called him, and he just stared at me. I repeated the command, and his stare never wavered.  

He didn’t cower or avoid my eyes. I don’t know why I didn’t insist he obey me. Somehow, I accepted Chris wanted to stay in the car.

Bernie watched me from his position at the front door. Chris watched me from the back seat.

I didn’t say anything.

I shut the door with Chris inside and walked over to Bernie. I opened the door, and Bernie made a beeline inside to gather any crumbs in the nearby dining room.

There wouldn’t be any crumbs, but Bernie is always an opportunist when he smells a kitchen.

People expect both dogs, so I had to tell them Chris refused to come in. There were about fifteen people gathered in chairs and at tables. Bernie got all the attention, and I got all the questions. We shared thoughts why Chris was acting up.

I’ve read “A problem shared is a problem halved.” It was interesting for the group to offer insights why Chris didn’t want to visit.

Because we visit this facility every week, most of the folks were always there. During the past couple of months, I shared a few times Chris was very reluctant to get out of the car.

When he was inside with people, he was distant. Not exactly standoffish, but tolerant when petted.

I noticed his behavior, but I didn’t know the reason. Chris’s personality is different from Bernie’s. Four years ago, when I introduced Chris to the trainer and shared I wanted Chris to be a therapy dog, she smiled.

“We will see,” she said. Not all dogs become certified therapy dogs.

To their owners, all dogs are special. To their owners, their dogs are therapy dogs.

Bernie is a great therapy dog. When it comes to Chris, he’s a great therapy dog (to me). Chris is friendly and accepts people, but maybe it is his ‘poodle personality.’ I’ve seen him act like a cat. He rubs up against people’s legs. I’ve seen him act a bit distant with some other people.


Bernie loves everyone. Gently lay a hand on any part of his body, and he melts. He loves your touch. Stroke him a few minutes and he lay down and gets comfortable for the rest of the day at your feet… an encouragement for you to continue petting him.

Back to Chris.

That’s what I do. I try to understand Chris by observing Bernie’s behavior. What was Chris doing differently?

A couple of months ago, Chris pulled the same stunt. He refused to get out of the car. It didn’t make any sense to me. He was fine when we went to the back of the church. Why refuse to get out of the car now?

I ended up physically pulling him out of the car and leashing him. It worked. I’m in charge.

I wasn’t in charge. It worked, but it didn’t change a thing. Chris didn’t change his behavior. He just went along to get along.

He was obedient without being involved. He did the bare minimum. He wasn’t enthusiastic and showed it with a tail between his legs and slunk around instead of prancing. He tried to stay by my side as if glued there.

To the casual observer, I had a wonderful, good-looking obedient dog who was a shadow. Wherever I moved, he moved with me.

That isn’t Chris. Given his freedom, Chris is anything but a shadow. He can be so energetic that a shadow can’t keep up with him. He can be a charmer requiring you beg him to come to you.

Yesterday, someone in the group said: “Chris doesn’t like us.”

I think something, and it could be a person… causes Chris to fear to go into the facility.

Both Bernie and Chris have been rattlesnake alert trained. It’s been more than four years, but I remember how each dog reacted when tested a few weeks after their initial exposure. Both dogs refused to get close to the rattlesnake smell.

The experience made me a believer in a dog’s ability to avoid danger. Their sense of smell is their primary survivor weapon.

About two months ago, someone or something in the facility bothered Chris seriously. Since that time, he has never been comfortable at that facility.

He has no problem getting out of the car in back of the church. He does have a big problem getting out of the car to go into the facility.

It is the only time Chris doesn’t want to get out of the car. I’ve taken him to the vet several times for annual checks. No problem. He accepts it.

But this facility is absolutely a problem for Chris. At this point, I’ve decided always to encourage him to get out of the car.

If he doesn’t want to go into the facility, fine.

If we go to the vet, he doesn’t have a choice. For this facility, right now he can stay in the car.

For right now. That may change.

2 thoughts on “Fearful Chris

  1. Julia Haggerty

    Interesting observation and experience with Chris. My Ryan also has been VERY reluctant to get out of the car in certain places. If he is familiar with the place?…maybe. If there are strange noises..maybe. Yet if it is a home or a

    place he has been with Clifford yes he jumps out. If he has been to a place and I get a stranger to talk sweetly to him he gets out of the car and after several visits there, he gets out most of the time. I don’t really understand this and it

    Is hard as I want him to be socialized better. Maybe he is just a shy dog, affectionate but not a leader personality at

    All. That makes sense as Clifford was a strong leader type. I had a meeting at my home last Thursday, he greeted everyone and then retired to my bedroom . It was my choir group and we sang, as the folks left Ryan appeared to

    Say goodbye and all went well. So I have decided he is a quiet, affectionate dog that loves me and some others, but not all others. If you come across anything that might help me get him out of the car with ease, please let me know.



  2. josephlacey12

    Hi Julie…

    Poodles, as you know, are individuals. I guess all dogs are, but I’ve been focusing on Bernie and Chris… so it’s easier to share those experiences.

    How to get a reluctant dog out of the car. I’m still working on it. Normally, I don’t have a problem. I think its because we have a routine. They know as soon as they are released from their temporary crate (the back seat is their crate), they know they have freedom to relieve themselves and/or play.

    That makes sense to me. In other words, all times the door opens allows them a positive thing.

    I don’t give them a treat… (though I thought about it when Chris didn’t want to get out of the car… but I didn’t have a treat)… besides… Chris doesn’t respond to treats.

    It’s too soon to know exactly why Chris doesn’t want to enter the facility. I’m working on it….



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s