.A big bang started it all.

Millie is no longer the carefree and happy dog that she was.  Already sensitised last November, an unexpected and close firework explosion at New Year when out on a walk did the rest.

Now the six-year-old Collie Corgi mix spends most of her time upstairs, alone, under a bed.

She will come down when called, only to sneak back up again as soon as she can. Her tail goes down and it’s like she doesn’t want to be noticed escaping.

Strange toilet ritual.

A bang has made her fearfulMillie is now scared to go into the garden, particularly during daylight. Bird-scarers and gunshots aren’t happening after dark. She has to be taken out for a short walk out the front on lead for her toilet. She has also had accidents in the house.

A puzzling ritual has evolved around their taking her out the front. She will cross the road and then want to come straight back in. This has to happen about three times before she will ultimately be sufficiently relaxed to toilet the other side of the road.

We looked at ways of changing the routine to see if it would help. It may have become a learned behaviour. They will open the side gate before walking out the front and crossing the road with her. Then see if she will go straight into the garden down the passageway – a route they never take her.

They will also, starting when it’s dark and Millie is more comfortable, lace the garden with food. She will enjoy foraging for it if she’s not scared. They can gradually bring this forward to twilight.

No force and no persuasion,

In order to get her walk through the fields in particular, they have used a degree of force. Walking round the village where there is more background noise and they are further away from a bang from bird scarer and gun – she will walk more willingly.

She currently wears a collar which must be very uncomfortable when, fearful, she pulls for home till she chokes.

Walks can be made more comfortable using a harness. This is important so that she doesn’t get neck pain associating with a bang. Being scared makes her pull. From now on a bang must be associated only with something she likes, not discomfort.

To make progress she should have all pressure removed from her – even in the form of encouragement. No force and no persuasion. They will let her choose if she walks and where she walks. When she wants to abort the walk they will go home immediately.

Working on a bang.

Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning means first finding the distance or intensity of a bang where she can be aware of it without reacting. Then it’s letting the bang trigger chicken – ‘chicken rain’ – tiny bits of chicken immediately dropping down around her. Sniffing to pick up the bits will also help her.

The gentleman has already made a recording of the bangs that scare her. Many inaudible to humans can be heard by Millie from their house and garden. For this work they will use this recording, starting very soft indeed, very gradually increasing volume and proximity.

They can also create bangs themselves. They can start by banging something gently many times with Millie beside them as each bang triggers chicken. Then progress to banging something more loudly upstairs, to party poppers or a cap gun from down the end of the garden.

It will be a learning curve as they experiment with distance and volume. She must hear it but be relaxed enough to eat. It’s really important to avoid her going over threshold if they possibly can as this puts things back.

This will take time and a lot of patience.

Go slowly. Too slow is a lot better than too fast, allowing her to rebuild her confidence.

The day after I saw them (a couple of days ago) I had an encouraging message from the man.

That night they re-entered the house via the side gate. He let her off the lead once pass the gate. She went a short way into the garden sniffing, then went to the back door with tail wagging. He repeated this again this morning – in daylight. Again she went down the passage way and once inside the garden seemed to be quite happy. Yesterday evening when she got into the garden she scampered by herself further from the house than the previous night.

So, it looks like the garden approached from the house is ‘haunted’ for her due to frequently heard bangs. They are now are exorcising it. As she now comes back indoors directly from the garden it prepares her way for going out that way also.

Progress on walks will take a lot longer as there are so many variables, not least Millie’s own state of mind when starting out.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Millie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).