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).
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)