Scared of the Car. Scared of Traffic. Systematic Desensitisation

Barney is very scared of the car. He won’t get in.

scared of the carHe is very frightened of traffic also.

This is becoming a problem. Not only does it limit where they can walk him but they will need to take him to the vet soon.

Four months ago the two-year-old Staffie came to live with the couple. All they know about his past is that he was in rescue kennels for the previous eighteen months of his young life. Continue reading…

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).

Not an Easy First Dog

Lucy must have once before been loved.

Not an easy dog for first time dog ownersIn the few days since German Shepherd mix Lucy moved in with the young couple she has been through several stages as she begins to settle into a very different new life. She is their first dog so it’s a big adjustment for them also.

For the past six months the young dog has been living in a very ‘basic’ kennel situation. A chaotic and bleak place.

For six months she has had to toilet in the same place where she slept and ate, so it’s not surprising she initially had a couple of accidents in the house. Being their first dog that was something they’d not anticipated.

The young lady contacted me a couple of days after they had picked Lucy up because they were having difficulties on walks with the pulling, with her jumping about and her general excitability. She ‘wouldn’t listen’. She had growled at a friend coming in the front door. She’s their first dog and they weren’t quite prepared for this.

I visited on Lucy’s fifth day. She had already calmed down a bit. All toileting was now outside unless she was scared.

Her fearful reactivity to people coming into the house was increasing however.

When I arrived she barked at me loudly. I didn’t react in any way and, unusually, she didn’t pee with fear. I rBEautiful dog for first time dog ownersestrained the young couple from fussing her as this can transfer their own anxiety and I sat down. Lucy stopped barking. I dropped her a piece of food and she took another from my hand.

Then the beautiful dog came and sat on my foot. She rested with her head lovingly beside my knee.

My heart melted.

Over the next few weeks I shall be helping these new dog owners to field anything that Lady may happen to throw at them as they work through the ‘honeymoon period’. We are working on loose lead walking, a suitable diet, leaving her alone happily and other things.

.

We want to nip the fearful reaction in the bud.

The young lady contacted me this morning (the day after my visit) to tell me Lucy is now barking more at people and even cars that pass. The sitting room has a long picture window looking out over the road. Each day it gets worse.

The more frequently Lucy engages in this barking the more of a habit it will become, so now is the time to act. People’s instinct, particularly if it’s their first dog, is to try to stop the dog barking by letting the dog know she’s ‘doing wrong’.

In my opinion the only truly efficient way to change the barking is to change the emotions in Lucy that are driving her to bark. It is certainly fear in her case. There may be a touch of instinctive guarding or territorial emotion too.

When she barks – or better still if they can pre-empt the barking – they need to reassure her and call her away, rewarding her for doing so. If this doesn’t work, they will need to go over to her, help her and remove her. Any scolding will just make her feel worse about whatever she is barking at.

Why not, however, get to the root of the barking – change how Lucy is feeling about the people and cars going past?

I suggest they take her out the front on lead with a pocket of her food.

Stand. Watch. Listen.

With everything that goes past, feed her. If she’s reluctant to eat she needs tastier food and they may need to stand further back, inside the open front door. They can scatter food on the ground so she associates the scary area where she watches people approaching the house with something good.

Then they can come indoors and do the same thing from the sitting room window – watching and feeding, listening and feeding.

They may need to do this exercise very regularly for weeks and any time in the future when she looks like reverting.

It’s easy to see how Lucy’s fear of people both passing the house and approaching the house is linked to her fear of people entering the house. It may also be linked to her having been trapped in a kennel for the best part of each day for six months, unable to escape when someone walked towards her and entered.

With different management of visitors and Lucy feeling differently about  people approaching or passing the house, the fear of callers shouldn’t be too hard to crack. She is wonderfully friendly and affectionate once she’s feeling safe.

She should certainly no longer have access to the view out of that picture window.

Lucy’s reaction to people coming to the house could snowball into a bigger problem if not caught straight away. It’s unlikely that people with their first dog will have sufficient knowledge of systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning without some help.

 

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 Lady. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog along with listening to friends can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, making sure that we are dealing with the real causes. I also provide moral support which people will probably need for a while. 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 Get My Help page)