Unexpected fireworks have been blighting the lives of so many dogs over the past couple of weeks.
Poor Kenzo. Continue reading…
Unexpected fireworks have been blighting the lives of so many dogs over the past couple of weeks.
Poor Kenzo. Continue reading…
.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.
Millie 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.
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.
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.
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.
To poo indoors once seemed the natural thing for the twelve-year-old Tibetan Terrier.
Tipsy was a breeding bitch who had lived in kennels for the first five years of her life. It took them a year to house-train her, but that was now six years ago.
Over the past four months things have taken a downward turn with Tipsy defecating indoors regularly. Possibly a couple of times a week.
Around four months ago the gentleman had a fall. This would have been very alarming to Tipsy. In August they had a scary car journey in a storm with high winds and when they arrived in the house, Tipsy emptied her bowels everywhere. In November, the first November in their new house, Tipsy was so terrified by fireworks that she messed all over the floor.
There may well have been other things over the past three or four months that have also unsettled the now more highly-sensitised dog.
Other questions include where does she usually do it, and when does she usually do it?
Apart from those couple of occasions when she has panicked and she had no control at all, it’s alone and out of sight, usually in one of the bedrooms.
They believe it happens during the evening.
The lady has scolded her. Scolding is such a natural thing for a person to do – how is the dog to know she shouldn’t toilet in the house after all? However, scolding is likely to make the dog even more anxious. It may even make her furtive and go somewhere she may not be discovered.
It probably seems like the problem to them, of course! It will be a symptom.
We need to determine the underlying cause and deal with that instead. Tipsy is feeling unsettled and unsafe, in my opinion. So – we need to work on her confidence.
Because both her humans have mobility problems, Tipsy is seldom taken out or walked now. She lives in the ‘bubble’ of her own house and garden, a very sheltered life, largely isolated from the outside world.
She is never left alone and she gets agitated when they aren’t both together with her.
I suggest they enrich her life a bit by exposing her to more of the outside world in a gradual fashion. Taken slowly it should acclimatise her a bit. The lady can sit on a chair by her garden gate with Tipsy on a longish lead and let her take in the sights and sounds – and sniff. Fortunately she just loves other dogs and would greet passing dogs with polite enthusiasm.
They themselves suggested a dog walker a couple of times a week. If she can handle being taken away, it could be a great idea.
They also need to work on the toileting itself. The impact of what she eats is very important. What goes in – comes out! What she actually eats can affect her mood.
Not only is this relevant to her pooing, but so is the time of day that she eats. Currently Tipsy has one big meal early evening. She tends to poo indoors late evening. This routine should change if some of the digestion is going on a lot earlier.
When and what she eats is unlikely to cure the problem alone, but, together with dealing with Tipsy’s emotions, it could be part of the solution.
Is it she now for some reason is more reluctant to go out when it’s dark? Maybe she needs to be accompanied. We are covering all angles I can think of.
Finally – management of the environment – the easy bit!
The couple sit in the living room all evening, so why not keep the door to the rest of the house closed, shutting off the area where she might poo indoors? If there is an element of habit to it, that should break it.
Nick Coffer who hosts the 3 Counties Radio phone-in programme I do monthly would smile. He says the topics always get around to either poo or humping!
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Nearly 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.
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!”
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.
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).
If Staffie Dudley were a human he would probably be on Valium! A person like Dudley would be on the go non-stop, never stop talking, chewing their nails, demanding attention all the time, unable to listen properly because so preoccupied, jumping into the air and screeching at sudden sounds and being inappropriately demonstrative to strangers! Dudley is extremely reactive to things. The only time he is still seems to be when he is chewing something – chewing releases pheromones that help to calm him; the things he chooses to chew aren’t always suitable and then getting them off him may be difficult. Dudley never stopped moving all the time I was there. He took a newspaper, a dish cloth, tried to stand up at the side, but his nose in a tea cup, bit my pad, jumped on people, jumped on the sofa – all things he knew he shouldn’t do and all things that usually would win him attention in the form of scolding.
He seems to be calmest of all when the young lady and her mother, who he has lived with since he was a year old, are out or at night when he’s asleep, which seems to indicate that humans cause the problem. During the day when he’s alone with just the mother he’s not too bad, but if she has friends around he goes manic which makes her stressed and anxious too. That will only add to the problem.
Dudley is very reactive to bangs, made far worse a while ago by a bird scarer and now he will frequently freeze on walks if he hears something. He refuses to go anywhere near the field where the bang had occurred.
Soon it will be November 5th and fireworks. He is terrifid and usually runs upstairs and hides in the bath. There are certain strategies here on the ‘Fireworks’ page. In Dudley’s case a DVD of bangs and noises could be very helpful. It could take weeks, starting off very soft and gradually increasing the volume, always ready immediately to take it back a notch if he gets worried. The behaviour of his humans during the firework sounds is key.
When people come to visit they can help him out. Nobody should excite him and if he’s given something special to engage his mouth on, like a bone or antler bar, it should help him keep himself calm. He really does his best. People sometimes think their dogs are naughty and see them in a whole new light when they understand why they are doing the chewing. The lady and her mother need to keep him as calm as possible, and this means they themselves need to be calm around him. His fears of walks need to be dealt with very slowly. Walking him happily out of the door would be a start, and they can build on that in tiny increments.
Dudley is three years old, a young dog. He is gentle and loving and has great potential. He is much loved and I know they will put in the work necessary to give him a calmer, quality life, not frantically stressing when people come or terrified of sounds out on walks and enabling him to relax. Helping him out with special things to chew at stressful times will help, and rewarding good calm behaviour with attention.