Triggers Stacking. One Thing After Another

Stunning Flo is nine months old. She was rescued from Romanian streets at 5 months old – an Akbash – a Turkish sheep guarding dog.

I believe a series of unfortunate events has most likely coincided with a particularly vulnerable period in Flo’s life – a fear period. Had these same things happened a bit earlier (or later) and maybe not in such quick succession, all would have been okay.

Triggers stacking up.

A bang triggers panicThe fears started just 2 weeks ago, before which Flo was confident and playful. The first of the triggers happened when the lady lifted her arms to shut the car boot door on her. It has happened many times before, but this time Flo panicked. The same thing happened a week later and now she wouldn’t get back into the car to go home.

The next of the triggers was a few days later – a bird scarer in the fields.

Then a motorbike revving scared her so this was added to the triggers.

Then another bang from the bird scarer. Flo was too close. She pulled the lead out of the lady’s hand and ran. Then, adding to the triggers, a boy on a bike made her jump.

Finally 10 days ago, off lead, another big bang. Flo ran off and was missing for 2 hours.

All these triggers stacking up over a short period of time has reuslted in Flo being in the state she’s now in.

Jumpy and stressed.

When I arrived, their other dog, Golden Retriever Zak, was out on a walk. Flo was scared of me. She startled when the gentleman happened to push the cutlery draw shut.

Then Zak came home. Flo was transformed. She was suddenly wriggly, confident and friendly!

Our work covers two areas: doing all they can to keep Flo’s general stress levels as low as possible and working on the triggers themselves – the bangs and other scary things.

This means no walks as Flo knows them just for now. Already on my advice they are leaving her at home when walking Zak.

Every time she’s out and caught unprepared by a bang of some sort – and now other things like a revving motorbike – it will merely make things worse.

Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

They will manufacture their own bangs at home. These will start with soft taps leading to bangs eg: spoon on the table, saucepan lids gently somewhere out of the room or that cutlery drawer. They can build up to distant party poppers or cap gun – the other end of the house or way down the garden.

Recorded sounds may or may not work but worth a try. They can control the volume.

Flo can hear the bird scarer from inside their house if the wind is in the right direction. This will apparently carry on for another week so they can turn it into an advantage and work on it.

Exposing Flo carefully to bangs (desensitising), isn’t alone enough however. It’s what happens when the bang occurs that’s important – this is the counter-conditioning bit. A bang must trigger something good – in Flo’s case little bits of turkey will rain down (it has to be turkey as chicken doesn’t agree with Zak). The bang triggers turkey irrespective of what Flo is doing or feeling – whether she’s alarmed or whether she’s ignoring it.

They should have turkey to hand all the time so that unexpected ‘real life’ bangs always trigger turkey. We also looked into what to do if there had to be a short delay between bang and food.

Flo gets ball play in the garden for exercise and they are now starting to walk her again but near to home. Unfortunately Zak’s company on walks doesn’t help her reactivity to those triggers as it did with me in the house.

Human emotions.

It’s just possible that Flo is also picking up on her owners’ own emotions. The lady is understandably very upset for Flo who had done so well after a difficult start in life. The effect our own emotions have on our dog.

Slowly slowly catchee monkey.

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 Flo. 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).

Bang of Exploding Firework. Now Scared of Going Out.

.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).

Bird Scarer. The Curse of Dog Walkers.

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)

Spooked by Bangs. On High Alert.

I had a lovely greeting from Staffie Rio. Too lovely, really, considering he had never met me before. Exaggerated welcomes, particularly with people the dog doesn’t know, may not be pure pleasure but involve some anxiety. Rio went back and forth, wagging his tail and sitting between my legs. He may go onto his back, tail still wagging. I feel this is about winning approval – appeasing

When I first arrived Rio started retching, bringing up phlegm. He coughed and retched for quite a while. He does this when excited, apparently, but not as much as this (he is regularly going to the vet for another matter so they will get it checked).

Spooked by bangs

Rio doesn’t need words to say he’s unsure about having his photo taken

Why could it have been so bad today? I soon got a clue. Today is Sunday.

I was called because Rio is badly spooked by bangs, even bangs out on the common which he can still hear from inside the house.

On Sunday mornings at this time of year people go out shooting animals for sport.

Rio’s extreme reaction to my coming into his house was undoubtedly the result of ‘trigger stacking‘. Things that arouse or scare him build up, one thing after another as they say. By the time I arrived this Sunday morning Rio was already highly stressed – spooked by the early morning shooting.

Spooked by bangs.

Rio, now seven, has been spooked by bangs for several years now, since a firework went off while he was out on a walk.

Now he will mostly refuse to walk from the house – unless he goes in the car. He is on high alert and easily spooked by anything.

This we will work on. A few other things will help like a change in diet and activities that calm him rather than stir him up.

There are two kinds of bang situations. There are unavoidable bangs that happen in the environment and bangs they can generate and control themselves.

From now on, bangs should be the triggers for something wonderful. Chicken?

BANG……chicken immediately rains down. If he is spooked by the bang being too loud or too close he will run or freeze. He will ignore the chicken.

Generating their own bangs.

Generating bangs means they control the intensity of the sound and the nearness. They can throw chicken straight away.

They can start with a gentle tap (with dropping chicken) on various surfaces. Then gentle bangs. Then one person banging in another room – gradually louder. Download sounds or DVD, pairing bangs with chicken. Over time they can work up to pulling party poppers or crackers upstairs.

If they keep under the threshold where Rio is spooked and he is looking for food when he hears the bang, they should make gradual progress.

Bangs that ‘just happen’.

Life happens and this is frustrating.

They know Sunday mornings at this time of year gunshots will happen. They can start raining chicken down from inside the house where, though a bit spooked, he will probably eat. Perhaps they need to work in the middle of the house where bangs will be softer.

They can gradually work towards standing or sitting in the front garden waiting for bangs. Leaving the door open would be good – giving him an escape route.

As the bangs will be unpredictable and they may not have chicken on them, they will need to ‘buy time’ while they go to the chicken tub. They need a ‘bridge’ – something they can say straight away which tells Rio that chicken will follow. I suggest a bright ‘Okay’ (no chatter) and then fetch and throw the chicken.

For the next few weeks we have a plan. They need a lightweight longish lead so Rio feels freedom. 

This is between Rio and the environment.

Rio is on high alert as soon as he gets out of the door. They will start by getting him less stressed in the environment immediately outside their home. When they get to the path, they should just stand still. Be quiet. Wait. No fussing. At present the young lady will cuddle, fuss him and try to persuade him to walk – sitting on the pavement to do so.

His humans should keep out of it. Their job is simply to be calm and confident. To be there. To allow him to work things out for himself.

They will have their chicken to hand – to drop at anything that alarms Rio. At least a couple of times a day would be good. Suzanne Clothier has a great video on thresholds and doing nothing.

If Rio goes on strike they should ignore him. Wait with him. At any small sound he alerts to, drop chicken. Any big bang, drop several bits – immediately.

If he wants to go back to the house, let him. If he wants to come back and try again, let him.

He wants to walk?  Great. Go for it. I predict this will happen more and more. They should always be ready with chicken for bangs.

Don’t push it!

Even if on these early walks he seems to have coped well, after the first bang they should turn and go home for now. A second bang? A second bang will have more effect on him, maybe sending him over threshold. A third bang more impact still. ‘Trigger stacking’.

Patience and consistency will pay off in the end. There will be setbacks to slow things down when life throws an unexpected and unavoidable bang.

 

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 Rio 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)

Spooked. Suddenly Scared. On Constant High Alert

The dear little Lhasa Apso Jack Russell mix seems to have a near perfect life. Why is she so easily scared and spooked? They have had her since she was a puppy and she has always been nervous. It must surely be genetic.

Celeste is ‘living on the edge’.

The dear little five-year-old is very aware and alert. She’s ready to react at any little sound. Even animated voices at home or people moving calmly about can send her running for cover.

She gets easily spookedEvery day she is having to face ordeals that continually top up her stress levels. Things like traffic, particularly large or noisy vehicles, post coming through the door and even the smallest of bangs.

She may be walking along happily and then, with no warning, suddenly go into a panic – freeze or run. Nobody else can hear anything, but Celeste obviously has.

She will have heard something that their inferior human ears can’t hear.

Easily spooked by almost anything.

She needs a calmer general base level, I feel – to be less spooked in general. We looked at all aspects of her life, including her diet, to see ways in which we can encourage her to be a bit more relaxed. This will be like a jigsaw – every small bit that is put in should contribute to a calmer overall picture.

Celeste is currently walked on collar and lead. She may try to run when she is spooked. The tightening lead will without doubt cause her little neck discomfort. Because we want to associate things she is scared of with positive things that she likes, this will be doing the very opposite. They will now walk her on a harness.

Walks will be mostly near home for now, letting her do a lot of sniffing and allowing her to come straight back home if she is spooked.

Ignore what ‘people’ say!

If they want to go further, they can carry her. Why not? If she feels safe and comfortable being carried, then they should carry her. When all is quiet and she is relaxed, they can see if she would like to walk – being ready to rescue her instantly she is spooked.

If whilst carrying her, from her sanctuary in their arms she sees something that usually scares her, they can offer her food. The scary thing will now begin to trigger something she likes. If she’s not interested, they should first increase distance away from it.

Celeste will never change personality and be the most confident little dog, but I would predict, in time, that the length of time she’s happy walking on the ground will increase and she will become less easily spooked in general.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Celeste. 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 of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Fear of Sounds and Won’t Walk

Worried Border CollieThey have had Max for nearly four weeks now. After a life where he was alone for many hours a day followed by several months in rescue kennels, the five-year-old Border Collie has a great deal of adjusting to do and his new owners, knowing already some of the problems they were taking on, are giving him their all. He really wasn’t doing well in kennels.

Initially they were walking him down the road or putting him in the car to take him to open places and he was only somewhat worried by sounds and bangs. It was manageable. Over the past month this has intensified until now he may often refuse to go out of the door at all. On a good day he won’t go further than about fifty yards from the house to his favourite sniffing and marking spots. He will no longer get into the car.

A sort of ritual has developed. Max frequently goes to the front door obviously asking to go out, and they will probably jump up, pleased to do his bidding. I watched as they put his lead on – he was excited and happy. The lady then opened the inner porch door and he was with her, then she opened the front door and he put the brakes on. The next thing they do is to cajole and entice him in every way they can. This is quite heavy reinforcement for refusing and may even put pressure on the sensitive dog. Upon his refusal and until she spoke to me a few days ago, the lady would then take him straight out the back into the garden for a game instead.

We experimented with the man going out of the front door ahead for a minute, then the lady following but with no lead on Max. He followed her happily outside and sniffed about. We tried then the man going out first and the lady taking Max out on lead. He refused to go out of the door. Next time, with the man outside again, the lady carried the lead. The dog was reticent but after one call joined them. He doesn’t like that lead, although he’s initially really eager to have it put on. Is it because he feels trapped so that if he does hear a sound he won’t be able to freely dash back in? Is it because he feels that with someone holding the lead he loses control and choice?

Things aren’t always all they seem. In ‘behaviour speak’ the clue is in the A and C of the ‘ABCs’ – the Antecedents preceding the Behaviour, and the Consequence – what happens as a result. Leading up to going, they do just what Max wants in terms of when they try to take him out – going when he indicates at the door and putting his lead on. Then when the door opens he completely changes. Tail stops wagging and he refuses. What are the consequences? Immediately following this is persuasion and lots of effort and attention to encourage him go out with them. When they give up he is immediately rewarded with fuss, food and fun in the garden.

A and C are things we can change. They will no longer try to take him out when he is asking, but when they decide. They will experiment with leaving the lead outside and putting it on after he is out. They will experiment with putting his lead on, calling him casually out of the door and coming straight back with no further attention given if he refuses. On the occasions when he does go out to his favourite sniffing and peeing places, they must come back in well before he has had enough – while he still wants to stay outside. Coming back must then be boring!

The fear of sounds wasn’t so bad when they first got him home and may almost be a separate issue.  It needs first to be dealt with in the garden where he reacts less intensely as he can always run back in and also with noises on a CD. With some hard work and lots of repetition he will be taught a self-rescue strategy of running to his people for pieces of chicken instead of running indoors or dropping to the ground in panic. They aren’t really sure that his panic attacks are always due to sounds as they often can hear nothing themselves. Walks will have to be very near to home until this is firmly established. Bit by bit each new place he goes to has become ‘contaminated’ until the whole world away from home is a dangerous place to Max.

Max’ new owners are, understandably, very concerned about getting him out on walks – for his own good – and their very concern will be exerting pressure on him. It’s very natural for any beings to resist pressure. The Border Collie needs exercise, stimulation and interest but any forcing him out will do a lot more harm than good.

About six weeks later: ‘He is now happy getting into cars, visiting other walk areas. Getting him to walk from house.  Have got a long training lead, he appears to be more relaxed on this than with the previous 2m length lead, we can still bring him close when required.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max, particularly where fear issues are concerned, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Freddie is scared of bangs and TV

Can TV be Causing Dog’s Problems?

As I sat down they turned off their TV (as people do).

Freddie was friendly but restless whilst doing some quite determined nudging and nosing for attention before sitting and scratching and chewing himself. The vet wants to investigate further but for now he is on anti-histamine tablets.

After about twenty minutes he settled down, to stretch out peacefully on the floor.

The daughter, on her way out, popped her head round the door and remarked how calm Freddie was. This is quite unusual in the evening.

The five-year-old Border Collie was picked up as a stray in Ireland three years ago and thanks to the care of his loving owners he has fitted into their life really well. He is friendly and gentle, gets on really well with their two cats and is great with other dogs.

Freddie watching for animals on TV

TV has been turned on

Freddie’s two problems are that he is very reactive to animals on TV and he is scared of bangs. He hates the wind because it makes things clatter about. On walks he frequently bolts on hearing a gunshot or bird-scarer. He is a shaking mess with fireworks. Indoors he will suddenly begin to spook at something he has heard outside, inaudible to the humans.

In order that I could see how he was with animals on TV, I asked them to turn it on. Although there were no animals yet, within a couple of minutes he was no longer lying stretched out and relaxed. He was becoming increasingly agitated and beginning to chew himself. Then he looked at the TV, saw an animal, crouched, growled and then launched himself at it.

They turned the TV off again.

It took another twenty minutes before he was once more lying relaxed on the floor. The couple were amazed. It was such a graphic demonstration of the amount of stress TV was causing their dog, and like many people they have it on all the time they are sitting down in the evening.

We had tried turning the volume off, but by then he had seen the animal. I believe that the mere sound of the TV tells him that at any minute these beasts may be invading his room. It is possible that high background noise of the TV that we ourselves can’t hear may also trouble him. The TV makes him feel unsafe in his own home.

What can they do? They understandably didn’t feel that watching no more TV was an option, and besides, that would never address the problem. He needs to be desensitised carefully at a level he can handle, and counter-conditioned to accepting it. He already has a crate in the room, out of sight of the TV and where he happily goes at night, so to start with they can have the TV quiet and as soon as he shows any reactivity they can call him into his crate and give him something very special to chew – something like a favourite bone that he never has at any other time.

I strongly suspect that the raw skin condition due to his constant biting and scratching will also resolve itself as his stress levels reduce. With Freddie in a generally calmer state, they should more easily be able to work on the bang problem when they are out – starting by merely sitting on a bench somewhere he is reasonably comfortable, attached to a long line so he can’t bolt, and feeding him – ready to return to the car before things get too much for him.

Avoiding things altogether will get them nowhere, but he can make no progress, not even accept food, while he feels unsafe.

They will take their time and he will learn to trust them to keep him safe.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Great Progress with Dog Scared of Bangs

Chocolate Labrador is scared of bangsNearly two months ago I visited Poppy, a five-year-old Labrador who seemed constantly haunted by every sound she heard from loud bangs to things we couldn’t even hear ourselves. It probably started with a firework a couple of years ago.

Click here for her story.

Often Poppy would refuse to go out at all and when she did get out most often she would go on strike after a very short distance, or else she would refuse to go in a certain direction. She was so scared of bangs she seemed to be imagining them now.

They have worked very hard with Poppy over the past two months, they had faith and stuck with it, and today I received this update:

“Just thought I would give you a quick update. We have now done a few walks and Poppy has been so much better….. She has heard several bangs in each walk and barely batted an eyelid!! Amazing! They are not overly loud but enough that she would have spooked before. Yesterday on a track some off road motor bikes and a quad bike passed us and she stopped dead and did not want to carry on (she did not shake though I noted), I played running backwards and forwards and doing recall until she ran past the spot where she had stopped and carried on the walk perfectly happy!

It is so nice being able to walk her again and be quite confident that she will actually complete the walk! I am amazed that such small changes have made such a difference! My neighbour even saw her this evening and said she is a different dog! She does still have a wobble occasionally if she hear something like a neighbour bang their bin lid shut outside but she is still very much a different dog!”

It’s a year later and they wanted me to go and see Poppy again, because once more she was refusing to go beyond the driveway. I arrived to find a transformed dog! She was confident and friendly with no sign of any fear at all. Apparently when out she barely reacts to any bangs now. The reluctance to go beyond the driveway is unlikely to be fear. I asked what the lady did. She encourages and entices and gives Poppy a lot of fuss which also puts on the pressure. As it’s getting worse, then this simply isn’t working so I suggested trying the very opposite. Take away all pressure and persuasion.
She starts off happy and pleased to go. The lady will take her on a longish lead and let her make all the choices – no speaking. As soon as Poppy stops the lady will wait and see what happens. If she starts to walk again the lady will follow but if not she will turn around, bring the dog back home and shut her back indoors. Then she will go off again with her little girl but without Poppy.
They will also work on making sure Poppy’s fear of bangs isn’t rekindled now the firework season is upon us, by doing more desensitisation work.

Scared of Bangs and sounds

Chocolate Labrador is terrified of bangsI could see immediately that Poppy was a very worried dog.

After an initial uncertainty she was friendly, if reserved, but throughout the evening it was like she kept hearing sounds that no human could hear. She is constantly ill at ease, looking to hide or escape upstairs.

Five-year-old Chocolate Labrador Poppy was a confident puppy. She often accompanied her farmer owner and was well accustomed to bangs and bird-scarers from the start. Then, at over two years of age, she changed. This may have started with fireworks. Since then she has been steadily becoming more scared of bangs. Her fear of sounds includes heavy rain and household appliances.

Often she will refuse to go out at all – not even into the garden to toilet at night-time. Each morning she will happily go out to the car – daily she is driven to the parent’s farm where she spends the day with another dog.  The company of the parents’ bouncy dog doesn’t appear to give her any more confidence.

Some walks go really well – but she is unpredictable. Happy to run to the car, she often won’t walk past it.  Even if the walk starts okay, most often she will go on strike after a very short distance, or else she will refuse to go in a certain direction. Without the dog’s superb sense of hearing we can’t tell exactly what it is that is upsetting her but they are sure it’s sounds of some sort.

Until recently the man used to carry her down the lane as a way to get her started on a walk.  If there is any hint of a noise, a distant slamming car door for instance, she panics and freezes.

All this makes the owners anxious – as it would. Their own anxiety won’t be helping. It means they are trying too hard to get her to go out, even into the garden, so in a converse sort of way, with all the lobbing food outside and encouragement, she is being reinforced for her reluctance. It’s not in any way addressing the cause of the problem – her fear.

It is very likely that things build up in this way: she may just cope with the first sound or bang. Then, there will be another sound and then another, and each time she becomes more stressed. She then starts to pace, looking to hide if in the house, or pulling or bolting in the direction of home if out – and once this led her across a busy main road.

Confidence-building must start at home. The earlier they can spot and deal with any signs of unease the better. Fear does certain chemical things to the body, and the more of the chemicals that flood in, the less responsive the dog will be to any desensitisation. Caught early enough, as soon as she starts to spook, she will learn to associate the distant noise that only she can hear with something good – food.

They can set up controlled situations to work on at home with sound CDs and soft bangs coming from other rooms, again associating bangs and sounds with food or fun. With sufficient work and patience she should eventually no longer be scared of bangs.

Lacing the environment by scattering food is very effective as it can teach her that outside is a wonderful place. This will need to start in the garden with the door open so she has an escape route.

Conditioning her to come for food when she hears a bang will require multiple repetitions over a long time. It requires working at a level where she is aware of the sound but still able to think and to eat which can mean putting a halt to normal walks.

This is the biggest challenge for them, avoiding  things that send Poppy into a panic for the foreseeable future, while they work on desensitising her.

Nearly two months later – my latest update on Poppy’s progress: “Just thought I would give you a quick update. We have now done a few walks and Poppy has been so much better….. She has heard several bangs in each walk and barely batted an eyelid!! Amazing! They are not overly loud but enough that she would have spooked before. Yesterday on a track some off-road motor bikes and a quad bike passed us and she stopped dead and did not want to carry on (she did not shake though I noted), I played running backwards and forwards and doing recall until she ran past the spot where she had stopped and carried on the walk perfectly happy! It is so nice being able to walk her again and be quite confident that she will actually complete the walk! I am amazed that such small changes have made such a difference! My neighbour even saw her this evening and said she is a different dog! She does still have a wobble occasionally if she hear something like a neighbour bang their bin lid shut outside but she is still very much a different dog!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Poppy, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Terrified of Bangs and Gunshots

CockerpooRubyIt all started with a BANG – either a gunshot or a bird scarer.

Little Cockerpoo Ruby is becoming increasingly scared outside on walks. She is no longer eager to go out.

Bit by bit bangs have infected all the places where they walk her. The only way they can get the ‘old happy Ruby’ back is by taking her to somewhere completely new, and even the new place is now contaminated by a bang.

Her general fearfulness is spilling over into other things now.

I have been to several dogs who are terrified of bangs and it’s incredibly hard for their loving owners to know what to do. A big problem is if the bangs are near to home, they are relentless. It’s a slippery slope unless the people themselves treat it differently.

Many people believe that to give their dog confidence in them they should behave as ‘the boss’ which can involve forcing the dog to do something she feels very uncomfortable with because ‘giving in’ would show weakness and the dog would no longer trust a weak owner.

In fact I would say it is the very opposite. The dog may perceive the bangs as life-threatening. Would a wise parent force his family danger? In this case, the lady herself said she wasn’t feeling happy by not ‘giving in’ to Ruby and removing her when she was scared, and she is now relieved that she can follow her own better instincts. CockerpooRuby2

If our dog growls for instance, instead of scolding we should be asking, WHY is she telling us she is uncomfortable. We need to get to the reason and deal with that.  If our dog has to be dragged somewhere, we need to ask ourselves why – and deal with that. Forcing Ruby into what she perceives as a danger zone in the name of exercise is counter-productive. The bangs keep happening and she simply loses faith in the people who are allowing her no escape, the very people she should be able to trust the most.

They will start by desensitising her in the house with small taps and then bangs, increasing the volume, distance and unpredictability of them, using a sound CD to help them also, and counter-conditioning her so she associates a bang with something nice. We have a plan of building it up in small increments, making sure always to keep within her comfort threshold.

Walks in ‘danger’ zones will not be taking place now until she can cope. She will be walked near home and as soon as any bang is heard they will go to work on her – which certainly doesn’t mean forcing her onwards.

With the other day-to-day stuff they will be doing that should back up their efforts, Ruby could suddenly get over her fears but, more likely, it could take weeks.

Her general confidence should improve too.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ruby, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).