Poor Border Collie Sweeper does not feel safe. In some areas of the country automatic bird-scarers and those fired like rockets are going off like fireworks throughout daylight hours. At each bang Sweeper panics.
He can hear them even when we can’t. A dogs hearing can be up to 40 times better than ours.
He came over from Ireland two years ago – he’s now three – and it took them a while to discover the connection between his extreme fearfulness and bangs. He can rally during hours of darkness when bird-scarers are banned and during those few months that are quiet, but it’s only a temporary reprieve – false security. When I was there, with no bang for a while, he gradually became more confident and trusting, came out of hiding and started to play like a young dog should – see on the left. Then there was a bang that we all could clearly hear. Immediately Sweeper ran for cover. He is so brave but keeps getting knocked back! He is a gentle, obedient and sweet dog. No wonder the owners are so distressed for him.
Asking lots of questions, I dissected the situation in order to work out what we could do. The fact that something must have happened during the first year of his life to cause it is something that is already done, so we devised a plan for moving forward. This involved not so much approaching the problem directly, but working on changing Sweeper’s general stress levels and his confidence in his owners. By their own behaviour they need to convince him that they are ‘his rock’. Until now they had believed it would give him confidence to make all the major decisions in his life when I believe it’s the opposite. He decides when to get the lady out of bed in the morning, when and where he eats, where he sleeps or spends the day, when he is touched and for how long, whether or not he will go outside in the garden and so on.
We can’t merely approach this head on. My reasoning is that a good ‘parent’ would also be the main decision maker – and most importantly the ‘protector’. Sweeper needs to see this as the role of his humans, not himself. His confidence in his owners needs building up. For now, walks need to be only either when it’s dark and there are no bangs, or in town parks where there are no bangs. If he misses a walk altogether it is much is less harmful to him than panic. In the order of importance to dogs (and to us) food, air and physiological necessities come first, followed closely by keeping safe. Exercise comes down the list.
The problem itself needs to be worked on. How should the owners be reacting when he’s scared at home – let alone when out? How should they deal with it? How can he be desensitised? From a new basis of confidence both in himself and his humans, he will be in a position to move slowly forward.
We have a plan, but it will be ‘slowly slowly catchee monkey’!