Terrified. A couple of months ago she was traumatised by thunder. Now Jessie won’t walk.

Published by Theo Stewart on

Beagle Jessie is now about 8 years old. They adopted her six years ago, a skinny and scared dog with no history.

In her lovely home she has gained confidence over the years.

Jessie used to love walks but now becomes frightened almost as soon as they leave the house.

Her main trigger for this was trauma caused by thunder a couple of months ago. Now other distance noises, especially aeroplanes, are a big problem.

A connection?

Something else developed at about the same time and it’s hard to believe they’re not connected in some way.

She has been having bouts of seizure-like episodes where she stands still, won’t move, pants and shivers. Extensive and expensive tests diagnosed this as a ‘movement disorder’ with no treatment given.

As the two months have gone by Jessie has become increasingly terrified out on walks. Strangely, she’s happy to have her harness and lead on and looks eager at the door. She walks out a few steps and then will go no further.

They have been taking her to places in the car but it’s like each place, with familiarity, becomes contaminated.

Terrified away from the house or the car

Now it’s developed to her getting in the car okay, but becoming terrified the other end, wherever they take her.

Jessie is a quiet, undemanding dog at home. Where she was playful when younger, she’s not interested in playing now – but will put in effort if food is involved.

She’s a foodie dog which will help us in our work to stop her being scared and start her enjoying the outside world again.

They will take it right back to the beginning – to the very bottom of the ladder. They will move up it one step at a time being prepared to go back down a step or two if necessary.

Preparing her for thunder

At the same time they will prepare her for thunder storms so that one clap of thunder doesn’t send her quickly falling back down that ladder. They will do this by using recorded sounds of thunder and planes, using systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

So far, just as most people would, they have used a degree of what I would call gentle force, insisting that she goes further each time she sits down and wants to stop. Maybe this has contributed to her becoming increasingly afraid.

The bottom rungs of the ladder

Here is the principal they will use – I shan’t go into detail here, but this is how they will start:

The lady will ‘lace the environment’ around the car with food before taking Jessie out. She will put a chair just outside the door.

Now she will attach a long line to Jessie’s harness and go and sit herself on the chair. It’s probably about 5 metres to the car and another 5 metres from the car to the road.

She will leave the front door open so that Jessie has total freedom of choice. 

Jessie will discover the food that happens to be on the very threshold of the spot where she begins to feel scared!

The lady will now throw food to Jessie regularly and most particularly if there are any sounds at all that the dog alerts to.

Step two of the ladder

Soon the lady can move the chair nearer to the car.  Then to the entrance to the drive. Slowly she can advance, a day or more at a time, to standing a few yards down the road. She will always give Jessie the option to run for home if she begins to feel terrified again.

They can pop her in the car sometimes – she’s happy with that still – and do the same thing the other end. Walk nowhere. Leave the car door open. Give Jessie choice and use food.

Slowly slowly catchy monkey.

A week later:

‘Me and Jessie had our first what I will call “successful walk” yesterday. Yesterday she got down the road and round the corner but stopped so we walked back but she walked straight past the house and we got all the way round the block and back home with no stopping, just to sniff and do her business.

Just under 4 weeks later:  “I thought I’d give you a little update on Jessie. She is progressing well and we managed a “proper” walk this morning 😁 She stopped a couple of times but I don’t look at her or pull her and she assessed the situation and continued happily. She even had a good run in the field!”

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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