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How My Dog Inspires Me to Be Brave | It's probably not what you think | Rafferty -

Is it weird to say that my dog inspires me to be brave?

I guess I don’t care if it’s weird, because it’s true. My dog does inspire me to do be brave. But not in the way you might think.

Rafferty is actually a very timid dog. He has several odd, crippling fears (like the oven and hardwood floors), and is overly-cautious in trying new things.

But last weekend, he surprised me in a way that was inspiring and still has me thinking.

We were hiking at a local park and came upon a lovely old stone bridge, with sloping side walls leading up to the main rail. We decided to stop to take a quick photo of Rafferty on the wall of this bridge, but when I asked him to jump up, it became clear he was afraid to try.

I offered him a favorite treat, and he eventually jumped onto the bridge, Once up there though, he hunkered down, unsteady, tail between his legs, and quickly jumped down to solid ground.

I don’t know if it was the incline of the side wall, or if he felt like he was going to slip on the stone, but whatever the case, he didn’t like it at all.

We made a few more attempts to sit on this bridge, but he would immediately jump down before I could snap a photo. I didn’t want to stress him out for a picture, so I decided to just pose him sitting in front of the stone wall instead of on it.

As I composed the shot, I showed him the impending treat and asked him to sit. To my surprise, he instead turned around and tentatively jumped up on the slanted stone wall all by himself!

He was still visibly unsure of this perch, and quickly got down, but then proceeded to jump back up there on his own several times, each attempt lasting longer than the previous one.

Rafferty facing his fears - My dog inspires me to be brave -

He wanted that prize badly enough that he was willing to do something that scared him in order to get it.

I gave him his treats and showered him with copious praise. “Did you jump up there even though you were scared? You are so brave!”

Those words triggered a deja vu from the day before when I’d uttered that exact same phrase to him.

Within the past couple of years, Rafferty has developed a fear of high-pitched squeaks. Not the kind from a squeaker toy, but the kind of squeak made by a chair sliding across the floor, or a fork scraping on a plate. We don’t understand why this fear started. We rescued Rafferty from the shelter at 8 weeks old, and nothing bad has ever happened to him in our care.

Whatever the reason for the phobia, its severity has been increasing, as has the variety of items he’s afraid of. I mentioned the oven earlier. It squeaks and pops as the temperature changes and metals expand and contract, and the oven door hinges are loud and creaky. He’s also afraid of the vacuum—but only when we use the wand attachment on the wood floor…because, you guessed it, it squeaks.

But the biggest squeaky monster in the house is the collapsible trundle bed that lives under the living room couch. If we accidentally kick that thing and it makes noise, he’ll hide in the bathroom for the rest of the night.

And if the bed is actually set up in the living room, it’s the worst day ever.

The day before our hike, this bed monster was out for a guest, and Rafferty was upset. Seeing him afraid of these innocuous household noises breaks my heart, so I decided to address this fear. I sat down on the bed with some of his favorite treats and encouraged him to join me. He hesitated, took a few uncertain steps forward, then retreated to another room. I continued to coax. He continued his fearful dance, longing for a treat and a snuggle with mom but stuck in a nervous loop.

Until suddenly he wasn’t. After several failed attempts, just when I was about to give up, he jumped onto the scary bed next to me, gobbled up his prize, and laid down. Thrilled with this progress, I fawned over him in my best dog-mom voice. “Did you jump up there even though you were scared? You are so brave!”

I had no idea I’d be using those same words the very next day.

Even as he basked in my celebration there on that bed, his posture was tense, his apprehension palpable. But he did it. He faced the thing he was most afraid of for the promise of the reward. And he did it scared.

If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

How my dog inspires me to be brave |

Now, can dogs really resolve to face their fears? I don’t know. Probably not in the way we think of it. They likely don’t spend excruciating hours debating the pros and cons of the issue at hand. It seems to be more of a quick risk assessment, and then action. But maybe that’s the key. Perhaps in regard to bravery, our four-legged friends have been quietly demonstrating this wisdom all along.

In her book Nowhere for Very Long (a must-read!), Brianna Madia notes, “All my life, I’d assumed it was only brave people who did brave things. I’d never once considered how many of them were absolutely terrified.”

Don’t wait until you’re not scared. Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Don’t wait until it makes sense on paper and checks every box. Do it scared!

These are things I’ve been mulling over since that day at the stone wall, and I hope that as life goes on, I can be more like Rafferty.


Is your dog brave or timid? In what ways do they inspire you? Leave a comment below if this made you think.

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