Village of Castillon du Gard, France

My name is Holly Montgomery, and I suffer from generalized anxiety. There. I said it. I can remember as far back as 12 years old feeling so anxious I didn’t want to leave the house. Anxiety has always been there. I don’t know WHY, but it’s always a part of my life now.

At the end of August, 2017 I booked a last minute flight (flying solo!) to the south of France to meet up with some long lost pet photography buddies (you can see their gorgeous faces below!). I am really into pre-planning because it gives me lots of time to mentally prepare myself for all of the things that could possibly go wrong. However, this time I didn’t have time to think about it. I was using points to fly and the flight needed to be booked 2 weeks in advance or I couldn’t use them. So, I did the unthinkable and booked before I had time to think it through…

Eric, at the Beautiful Malaigue Winery in France

In the days leading up to my trip, I did all the usual activities – like making sure I had all my supplies purchased, packed and ready to go. Mostly, there were moments of excitement, but then those awful moments of dread, doom, and fear crept in. I had nightmares about going.

  • What if I missed a connecting flight?
  • What if they lost my luggage?
  • What if I was the fattest one there?
  • What if I ran out of money?
  • What if they made me check my camera gear in the cargo area of the plane?
  • What if I had to sit next to someone on the plane that was drenched in perfume?
  • What if the person I had arranged to pick me up at the airport didn’t show, or worse, they were a psychopath?
  • What if no one liked me?

The morning of my flight out, I went to the basement, hid in my office and cried. I debated not going. That thought of forgetting about all of it and staying home brought me a ton of relief. It would be so easy – not. to. go. However, the thought of letting all those people down that went out of their way to allow me to take this trip is what convinced me to buck up and get on the plane. I heard their actual words of encouragement ring through my head, “You just get here, and we’ll take care of you!”

Marley in the Village of Castillon du Gard, France

You may be wondering, what does all this have to do with dogs? I am sure at one point or another, most of you have met with, worked with, or lived with an anxious dog. Maybe you have been told the best way to help them overcome their fears is to practise avoidance and keep them away from the things that make them uncomfortable. Or, maybe you have been told to “flood” them with the source of their fear (imagine putting a person afraid of snakes into a pit full of them – that’s flooding!).

I really feel sometimes I was given the “gift” of anxiety so that I can give a voice to the dogs that can’t explain it to you. And here’s what I know about it:

  1. I usually have no reason for my anxiety, and I can’t explain it from any past experience.
  2. I don’t do it for attention. I hate it.
  3. When people try to comfort me it doesn’t encourage me to feel more anxious. No one WANTS to feel anxious. It’s an awful feeling.
  4. When people tell me I am over-reacting and “everything will be ok” doesn’t make the feeling go away. I can’t control it.
  5. Breathing helps, but it doesn’t fix everything magically.

Now based on my past experience with anxiety, I know that when I come through it, I always feel stronger. I ALWAYS feel like my mind has expanded and I have grown. So here is how I suggest you handle the canines in your life that suffer from anxiety.

John Boy, at the Beautiful Malaigue Winery in France

Don’t shelter them from their fears.

Allow them to slowly challenge them, working their way up to overcoming them. If your dog has a fear of other dogs for example, let them observe other dogs from a comfortable distance. Allow them to watch and reward them for not reacting. If a reaction occurs, you went too far too fast. Back it up and start again. Working with a reward-based dog trainer can help you work with your dog if you aren’t sure where to start.

Reward them for baby steps

If your dog has a fear of the car for example, reward them for hopping in when the car isn’t moving and end the session. When this happens with no anxiety, try starting the car and then end the session. And so on!

Comfort is welcome and very helpful.

I have heard “experts” suggest that you should not comfort your pet when they are showing signs fear because it will encourage fear. That is a load of SHI*. You cannot encourage fear. There is no payoff that trumps the fear itself. Lend your support. In my life, my support team is paramount in getting me through these tough challenges. Offer encouragement, hugs and cuddles or whatever your dog is seeking from you, and then try again.

Exercise patience.

When an automatic response occurs in your body, without you really thinking about it – you know it’s deeply engrained as part of who you are. The same goes for our dogs. It can be challenging to change these responses, but with patience and understanding it’s possible.

Consider medication if nothing else works.

Those who know me know I am not a pill popper and really not into big pharma (the abuse of it) at all. However, when life becomes too difficult to cope with, some of these medications can be a life saving. If your dog’s fear is affecting their quality of life to the point where you really wonder if they are enjoying life at all, it may be time to discuss medication with a veterinary behaviourist.

Pont Du Gard – an Ancient Roman Aqueduct in France

So, how did my trip go? Did any of my fears present themselves?

During my layover in Amsterdam on the way to France, my phone wasn’t charging and was nearly dead. I almost had a panic attack. If I didn’t have my phone, I could not show my e-boarding pass or text my driver to pick me up.

I was forced into action and I went to a kiosk and I printed my boarding passes before my phone died completely. I then I calmly headed to an “electronics” store in the airport and purchased new cords, but it still wouldn’t charge. The folks at the store tested my phone in their store and it worked! They concluded that it was the USB ports in the airport that weren’t working. And they were right. It worked on the plane and my phone charged no problem.

I also had an issue on the returning flight of a toddler that was kicking me and sleeping on me that was quickly rectified when I asked the lovely ladies on my KLM flight if I could move. Other than that:

  • I made all my connecting flights. Even the one that was only 30 minutes between flights!
  • My luggage arrived untouched at my destination and when I got home!
  • I sure wasn’t the thinnest person, and I did not wear my swimsuit (that’s for another challenge) but no one else seemed to mind!
  • The incredible generosity of my friends (even the ones I just met) prevented me from running out of money!
  • Did I have to check my camera gear? NOPE. Lots of overhead space on all flights!
  • What about that smelly perfume lady on the plane? I was very happy no one (even the guy next to me with no shoes or socks on!) smelled bad!
  • My ride? She showed up on time, and we even ended up forming a friendship despite a language barrier. She was SO helpful to me throughout my trip! I was overwhelmed by her kindness.
  • What if no one liked me? Hmm, you’ll have to ask all of them – but I feel like I made some great new friendships, and was overjoyed to have seen some old friends too. My. heart. is. full.

In the face of fear, I acted and I solved my own problems with the encouragement and support of my friends and family. And the fun, joy, (the food cooked by the amazing Chef Theo! OMG! He’s kind of a big deal you know!) and all the other goodness that came from my experience in France was a reinforcement to me to try travelling on my own again.

I know if I hadn’t challenged my fears and broken through my anxieties, I would have missed out on one of the best weeks of my entire life. And I feel like that’s what life is about. Growth – and feeling the fear and doing it anyway (Thanks for that quote Cat! You can see Cat and her beautiful unicorn, colourful hair below!)

We owe it to our dogs to help them grow and live their very best lives too! 

Throughout this blog post are some of the most adorable French doggies you will ever meet in some of the most amazing locations! Places and pups I would have never seen or met had I taken the easy route and stayed home! 

My support team: Sam Haddix, Charlotte Reeves, Kaylee Greer, Nicole Begley, and ME in Uzés, France.

ME, Cat Race and Michael Higginson in Saint-Maximin, France

Mareike Konrad, Bridget Davey, Luke Salter, Kaylee Greer, Sam Haddix, and ME in Saint-Maximin, France