As I sat down they turned off their TV (as people do).
Freddie was friendly but restless whilst doing some quite determined nudging and nosing for attention before sitting and scratching and chewing himself. The vet wants to investigate further but for now he is on anti-histamine tablets.
After about twenty minutes he settled down, to stretch out peacefully on the floor.
The daughter, on her way out, popped her head round the door and remarked how calm Freddie was. This is quite unusual in the evening.
The five-year-old Border Collie was picked up as a stray in Ireland three years ago and thanks to the care of his loving owners he has fitted into their life really well. He is friendly and gentle, gets on really well with their two cats and is great with other dogs.
Freddie’s two problems are that he is very reactive to animals on TV and he is scared of bangs. He hates the wind because it makes things clatter about. On walks he frequently bolts on hearing a gunshot or bird-scarer. He is a shaking mess with fireworks. Indoors he will suddenly begin to spook at something he has heard outside, inaudible to the humans.
In order that I could see how he was with animals on TV, I asked them to turn it on. Although there were no animals yet, within a couple of minutes he was no longer lying stretched out and relaxed. He was becoming increasingly agitated and beginning to chew himself. Then he looked at the TV, saw an animal, crouched, growled and then launched himself at it.
They turned the TV off again.
It took another twenty minutes before he was once more lying relaxed on the floor. The couple were amazed. It was such a graphic demonstration of the amount of stress TV was causing their dog, and like many people they have it on all the time they are sitting down in the evening.
We had tried turning the volume off, but by then he had seen the animal. I believe that the mere sound of the TV tells him that at any minute these beasts may be invading his room. It is possible that high background noise of the TV that we ourselves can’t hear may also trouble him. The TV makes him feel unsafe in his own home.
What can they do? They understandably didn’t feel that watching no more TV was an option, and besides, that would never address the problem. He needs to be desensitised carefully at a level he can handle, and counter-conditioned to accepting it. He already has a crate in the room, out of sight of the TV and where he happily goes at night, so to start with they can have the TV quiet and as soon as he shows any reactivity they can call him into his crate and give him something very special to chew – something like a favourite bone that he never has at any other time.
I strongly suspect that the raw skin condition due to his constant biting and scratching will also resolve itself as his stress levels reduce. With Freddie in a generally calmer state, they should more easily be able to work on the bang problem when they are out – starting by merely sitting on a bench somewhere he is reasonably comfortable, attached to a long line so he can’t bolt, and feeding him – ready to return to the car before things get too much for him.
Avoiding things altogether will get them nowhere, but he can make no progress, not even accept food, while he feels unsafe.
They will take their time and he will learn to trust them to keep him safe.