Ten days ago a bird scarer detonated and if he’d not been on lead Bob would have legged it home. He has now become reluctant to walk again – as he had been a year ago when they first got him.

The Staffie Labrador mix is now four years old. Previously he was wary of the outside world and the couple have worked hard at enriching his life with walks.

It’s obvious that, apart from the recent escalating of his spooked behaviour due to the bird scarer, they have come a long way with him in one year. There are many things he can now handle that he couldn’t cope with a year ago and his ‘bounce-back’ recovery is a lot faster.

Feeling unsafe.

Some of Bob’s problems with sudden sounds and feeling unsafe may well be genetic.

Bird scarer spooked himIn his home I met the sweetest, most friendly and well-mannered dog.

Despite their progress, there are many times when Bob has heard something distant, maybe inaudible to his humans, and put the anchors on. Their reaction has been to encourage and gently press him ahead.

The bottom line is that Bob’s spookiness is due to his feeling unsafe. This overwhelms everything else – even eating, and Bob loves his food.

Their task is twofold: to stop him being so jumpy in general and to work with sounds in particular.

They can do little about the random sudden noises that life throws at Bob, so in order to progress they need to generate their own, controlled sounds.

Threshold

To advance further beyond where they have already got to themselves will require doing all they can to avoid forcing Bob over threshold. There will usually be a volume or intensity of a sound where he is aware of it but still feels safe. It could be a long way away. It could well be hearing a distant bang from inside the house.

The more he knows they will let him back away and always allow him an escape route, the less unsafe he should feel. This requires a long and loose lead, preferably a long line. He will then feel even more trusting of his humans.

So, they will set up controlled situations and generate sounds themselves. They then have control over when the bang happens and control over the volume and proximity of the bang.

They can record the bird scarer.

First the chosen sound needs pairing with food (chicken in Bob’s case) at a very low volume or distance. In brief it goes like this:

Start with a stream of distant or soft bangs, each triggering food. Bang=chicken, bang=chicken, bang=chicken….)

Gradually they make the bangs a bit more random and less regular – but not louder or closer yet. Gradually they become more sudden/unexpected.

Bit by bit they can increase volume or decrease distance.

Now, to make Bob as bomb-proof as possible, they should start on another sound and repeat the process.

As this second sound gets to the random and ‘sudden’ stage, it can be mixed with a previously ‘de-spooked’ sound. They can work their way up to party poppers heard from the furthest bedroom.

The sound must always cause chicken to drop.

Later they can introduce the sounds from outside in the garden. After all, it’s sounds outside that are the problem.

They can also experiment with Bob continuously chewing/eating during a session of varied bangs. A Kong filled with smelly tripe for instance.

It’s vital to keep Bob under that threshold.

This is the distance, volume or intensity where he’s aware of a bang but not disturbed by it.

Bit by bit this threshold should relax.

Real life bangs will continue to occur. Their reaction to a bird scarer whether distant or too close should be the same – chicken – regardless of whether he eats it. The bang triggers chicken, full-stop. The lead should be long and loose so Bob has some degree of escape. They should follow him to ‘safety’ instead of holding him tight or making him carry on.

If they can get back sub-threshold without going home, they can now occupy him with an alternative, fun activity to help him to bounce back.

Those locations contaminated by the bird scarer – and he can hear it from a long way, even his own garden – can be systematically de-contaminated using food.

The future for Bob and bangs is bright.

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 Bob and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)