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).

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)

Poo Indoors. Emotions-Bowels Connection?

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. 

Why poo indoors now?

Over the past four months things have taken a downward turn with Tipsy defecating indoors regularly.  Possibly a couple of times a week.

There are questions to be asked. What was it about four months ago that could have triggered this? They have had her thoroughly checked by the vet and it doesn’t seem to be a health issue.she has begun to poo indoors

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.

The poo itself isn’t really the problem.

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.

What goes in comes out.

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!

 

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 Tipsy 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)

Feels Unsafe. She Runs for Home.

Eight weeks ago Holly came from a pound in Cyprus to live with my lady client. Holly is a Beagle mix, three years of age.

Holly feels unsafe with sudden soundsAlthough initially spending a lot of time in her bolthole under the kitchen table, she didn’t start off particularly spooked by sudden sounds. This is may have been because, trying to adjust, she was simply shut down.

Whilst becoming more confident at home, over the time she has become increasingly spooked outside.

With hindsight things should have been taken a lot more gradually, one new thing at a time, but she seemed to be coping. I believe things have been stacking up to a level where she’s lost her resilience.

It was, and still is, a world of new and unpredictable things. There will have been the cage for the aircraft, the flight, the car journey and then arriving to a house. Had she ever lived in a house before?

She was then taken out for walks. On lead, she was very scared of traffic, particularly lorries. She is scared of all wheels.

To start with the lady would let her off lead in the nearby park and she ran free. She was in her element.

Holly was waiting at the front door.

Then, after just a few weeks, she had run out of sight. The lady, in a panic, called and called, but Holly didn’t reappear.

With much more sensitive ears, Holly must have heard something the lady didn’t hear. It sent her running in panic.

She had run across roads and was waiting at the front door. There were scratch marks on it as she tried desperately to get in to where it felt safe.

It soon became apparent that she was becoming increasingly scared of sudden sounds.

As Holly adapts to her lovely new, but very different, life, increasingly she feels unsafe. Having run for home a second time she now has to remain on lead. A dog that feels unsafe will feel even more so trapped on a lead. It’s most likely, whatever her history, that she will have spent some of her life either as a stray or on the streets. No leash.

Now she is resisting going out on walks. The lady had been carrying her to the car and trying to find new places, not associated with previous fears. She’s now wriggling to escape from her arms.

When I arrived she quietly took herself off out of sight, to one of her sanctuary places.

She did appear eventually and was actually very friendly. ‘Holly-Come’ brought her running for food. People aren’t the problem. ‘Sudden’ things are, noises in particular – and they don’t have to be loud or nearby to spook her.

Poor Holly feels unsafe most of the time when out of the house.

We sat out in the garden, some distance away from the open back door. Holly joined us.

All was well for a minute or two and then there was a noise from a neighbour. It sounded a bit like a metal ladder being moved. It wasn’t loud. Holly turned and slinked across the garden and indoors.

She came back out. This is a brave little dog.

She was aware of other, softer noises and I immediately rained food around her. Fortunately she is very food motivated. If I heard something that she didn’t actually react to, it still produced food.

A little later I tried tapping my hand softly on the metal table, ready to throw food. It wasn’t softly enough and sent her running indoors again. It demonstrated clearly to both of us how, to work on this, we have to begin at an extremely low level.

“Desensitization consists of exposing a subject to the thing they fear in graded exposures, starting with a form that is dilute and non threatening, and working up to full exposure to the scary thing. Counter-conditioning consists of changing an emotional response (usually from fear to neutrality or to a positive response), by pairing the trigger of the undesirable response with something that evokes a desirable emotional response. Combining these two methods creates a non-threatening but very effective way to alter phobic fear responses.” Eileen Anderson

There will be two kinds of sudden sounds, those that the lady generates herself and those uncontrolled sudden sounds that occur in the environment.

Sudden sounds generated by the lady. 

She can control both intensity and the timing. I suggested she sits near the open kitchen door if in the garden. Holly’s feeling safe depends upon an escape route.

She can tap on the table. The tap has to be even softer than mine was. Simultaneously with the tap, she can gently say ‘Yes’ and drop some food. Saying ‘Yes’ with every sound is helpful because it’s not always possible to be sufficiently immediate with food alone.

The lady can gradually increase the heaviness of the tap to gentle bang. She will watch very carefully not to send Holly over her threshold. If she does so, then they go back to a level Holly that happily tolerates before ending the session.

Over the days and weeks this can be expanded to someone else making sounds in another room. They can download or buy sound effects and use it in the same manner – in another room and very softly indeed initially.

Sudden sounds that she has no control over.

Like the neighbour moving the ladder, sounds that ‘just happen’ are a lot more tricky.

If poor Holly feels unsafe in her own garden when there is a fairly gentle noise over the fence and an open kitchen door, imagine how she must feel when out on a walk and something like a bird scarer goes off or a motorbike roars past.

As soon as there is any sudden sound, however soft and even if Holly seems fine, the lady should say ‘Yes’ and drop food. It will undoubtedly take her some practice to perfect her timing and to be consistent.

She will hold back from walks for a while. A walk is useless when the dog feels unsafe. It does more harm than good.

Because of the ladder incident Holly now may be a bit scared of the garden.

Sprinkles! Unseen by Holly, the lady will sprinkle food all over the grass and then let her out, leaving the door open so she always has an escape route. The environment, not the lady, will be delivering the food.

Holly feels unsafe on walks.

It will be like starting all over again, gradually building up Holly’s confidence. Several very short sessions a day will work best, not going beyond the garden. If she is spooked, the lady should stop straight away.

She will begin by walking Holly around the house – being encouraging – and using rewards.

Next they will go around the garden. The door should be open and if there is any sign of fear the lady should say ‘Yes’, drop food and drop the lead.

When it’s going well, she can open the back gate. They can step through it and come back in again, many times, making a bit of a game of it…and so it goes on.

All the time the lady will keep counter-conditioning bangs and anything sudden with chicken raining around Holly!

This is just the start of the plan. How long will it take before she can walk to the park? When getting a rescue dog from a completely different life, people don’t dream of challenges like this. Realistic expectations are vital. It could take a long time to build up Honey’s confidence. There is no quick fix.

Three months later: ‘Honey has regained her love of the garden and she reached right round the side of the front garden and towards the centre of the front of the house yesterday.’ It’s great how she has turned a corner. I have found time and again that if people can be patient enough and follow our plan exactly, the dog gains confidence more quickly in the end.
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 Holly. 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. 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).

Jumpy and Easily Startled

Yorkie

Bud

I was welcomed at the door by two very friendly and seemingly confident little dogs – Bud, a Yorkie age two and his five-month-old son, Bentley, a Yorkie mix already double the size of Bud.

Bud, however, was strangely jumpy and startled by anything that might make an unexpected sound, even soft sounds coming from another room. He would instantly recoil and might run away from even what seemed like a soft tap, but he was back again in no time like nothing had happened.

Bud will also run the other way if he simply senses a sound was coming. If the man carries something through the room, Bud will run away in anticipation of the sound that object may make if put down noisily. If someone goes to push their chair back to stand up, Bud runs, anticipating the sound of the chair scraping against the floor.

Puppy Bentley seems now to be copying him. He also startles, but not so much – yet. Very possibly there could be a genetic element.

Bud’s bounce-back recovery was amazing really.  It all seemed a bit odd.

A dog quite this reactive to noises is likely to have other issues like excessive barking and fearfulness of new people coming into his house. Bud is friendly and confident with both new people and with other dogs. It seemed almost like an automatic reaction rather than deep-seated fear.

Bud apparently only became so jumpy at about nine months old and it coincided with a break-in when he was alone in the house. Despite men breaking into his house, he’s not scared of people as you might expect.

Other noisy things that frighten him include the usual – vacuum cleaner, things with motors like hairdryer and the ironing board.

People so often think that if they force the dog to remain in the presence of these sounds that he will gradually get over it. Called flooding, it very occasionally can work, but the risks are great. Nearly always the fear becomes deeper rooted, transfers onto other things, even to the point of the dog shutting down altogether. Unexpected bangs and noises are so much part of daily life they can’t all be avoided but they can avoid the obvious. Because stress and fear builds up in the system, the calmer the dogs can be in general the less jumpy they are likely to be.

Bud and Bentley

Bud and Bentley

So, the plan now is for them to do their very best to keep Bud (and Bentley) away from the things they know scare them whilst working on controlled sounds that they generate themselves.

I suggested they deal with one specific sound at a time and I believe that as time goes by the progress will spill over onto other sounds.

I noticed Bud flinched and ran away when I unthinkingly moved the footstool beside me. So, with my tastiest tiny treats and with the very friendly Bud beside me, I moved the stool a fraction, dropping food as I did so. He jumped slightly but I hadn’t pushed him over his threshold and he ate the food and stayed with me. I did this quite a few times, lifting the stool and putting it down again, a little more loudly as he stopped reacting.

Then the man said ‘Try this’, and dropped some keys beside me onto the stool. Bud ran. When he came back he was seriously spooked by the keys. I just reached out towards them and fed him. I silently touched them and fed him but he was already backing off. When they made a small sound he ran.

If the keys had been put down really gently initially we would have got further and it was a good example for the family to see of just how slowly and carefully they need to take desensitisation. It also demonstrated how once the dog is ‘over-threshold’ he’s not in a mental state to learn anything, so the session needs to end.

With each thing, the aim is for Bud to actually welcome that particular sound because it means yummy food. With sufficient careful work he will learn to love keys being put down, if not suddenly dropped!

Talking of food, the dogs’ diet has little nutritional value along with colourings and additives which could well encourage nervous behaviour. Unless people know better they fall for colourful packs and often rubbish food tastes good – we know that don’t we!  Many people don’t realise just to what extent food can affect their dog’s behaviour and nervous system. That is something easily changed.

As the jumpiness is so out-of-place with the rest of his character, I just wonder whether Bud may have inherited a tendency to startle. He was originally bought from a pet shop at about twelve weeks old so very likely was bred in a puppy farm. Who knows what his life was like during those first very formative weeks of his life?

He will probably always have the jumpiness in him if something is unexpected or sufficiently loud but they can help him greatly through deliberately avoiding exposing him to things that get him startled, jumpy or scared whilst working on controlled sounds.

Hopefully we have caught it soon enough to avoid Bentley going down the same route.

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 Bud. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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).