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noise sensitivity and agility


Carlasl
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So for the past few weeks I have been brain storming on how to get my dog Skye over her noise sensitivity with indoor agility. Outdoors she will go on any obstacle and is not scared of anything, the indoor noise just overwhelms her, and in my area ALL the agility events are indoors.

 

On another note, I would have never pegged her as a noise sensitive dog, she is a "little" soft, but really not anything like other border collies I have been around. So her noise sensitivity to indoor agility sort of surprised me.

 

Her biggest trigger seems to be the teeter (when other dogs are on it). But "all" the noises seem to make her a bit more nervous than I would like.

 

So I have talked to my trainer quite a bit and I talked with a gal who trains at our facility who had a very noise sensitive Sheltie and she said she just kept exposing it to her, but never forcing her to go over the teeter and she eventually got over it.

 

So this is the plan of action.

 

1. I am going to "sit in" on some of the more advanced classes and just sit with Skye to show the noise is no big deal, I will bring treats but she will probably only get them when she is calm. I am worried that giving treats when she is nervous will only reinforce her nervous behavior (also when she is really upset she won't even take treats).

 

2. I am going to tape someone going over the teeter and then copy it onto a CD to loop, and then I will play it at home starting at low volume and slowly raising it. I actually just saw a CD at cleanrun.com that is for this exact thing. I may just buy it.

 

3. Continue our agility classes.

 

4. We are going to go to as many agililty trials in our area as we can and just sit and watch. I took her to one last week and she was very nervous in the beginning, but after about 45min calmed down and was doing very well.

 

If anyone has any other suggestions or has seen any online articles please let me know. I need all the help I can get.

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I am worried that giving treats when she is nervous will only reinforce her nervous behavior

 

This is actually a myth and you don't have to worry about it.

 

Fear is caused by a biochemical response in the brain to something that the dog perceives as a threat to herself. Whether or not that something truly is a threat does not matter - the dog, for whatever reason - perceives it as such.

 

Let's say you were standing on a street and you suddenly saw a tractor trailer truck driving toward you at full speed. Let's say someone took your arm, pulled you out of the street, and handed you a check for a million dollars. Would the delivery of the money cause you to become fearful every time you saw tractor trailers?

 

Reinforcement is not going to cause your dog to become more nervous or fearful. It might help. Shoot, after getting a check for a million dollars, I just might start hanging around that particular street more often! But it will not cause your dog to become more fearful.

 

My bigger concern with what you describe is that you are going to be pushing her above her fear threshold over and over and over. Quite frankly, from what you describe I think there is a very good chance that you are going to find that her noise sensitivity is going to increase, not decrease.

 

I'm in this same boat right now with Dean and I know how difficult it is, but flooding the dog with indoor Agility noise simply won't make the dog suddenly decide one that that everything is fine. I sincerely wish it were that simple, but it's not.

 

Here are some tweaks that I would make to what you propose.

 

1. I am going to "sit in" on some of the more advanced classes and just sit with Skye to show the noise is no big deal, I will bring treats but she will probably only get them when she is calm. I am worried that giving treats when she is nervous will only reinforce her nervous behavior (also when she is really upset she won't even take treats).

 

Taking her to some advanced classes is not a bad idea. I've found that more advanced classes tend to be much quieter than lower level classes, so they are often a better place to work with a noise sensitive dog.

 

At first I would only have her in the room when the teeter is not out. I would put her on a mat or in a portable crate and toss treats to her frequently. I would not wait for "calm", although if I saw distress, I would remove the dog from the room.

 

I would start with maybe 5 minutes, no more. Sit in the room for 5 minutes, feed, feed, feed, OK - we're leaving now! When I saw the dog start to accept the 5 minute timeframe, I would increase to 10, still making sure that I didn't go in when the teeter might bang.

 

I would want the dog to understand, first and foremost, that the teeter will not always bang when she is in that room.

 

2. I am going to tape someone going over the teeter and then copy it onto a CD to loop, and then I will play it at home starting at low volume and slowly raising it. I actually just saw a CD at cleanrun.com that is for this exact thing. I may just buy it.

 

This is a good idea. Just be careful to take it slow. If you do too much too fast, you can accidentally sensitize the dog. But in small bits, this can work.

 

You can also get sounds of different teeters from Agility videos on youtube.

 

 

3. Continue our agility classes.

 

Is there any way you could keep her in the car when it is not her turn? The less exposure she has to Agility noise at this point, the better!

 

As you start to see her comfort level increase when she's in for her turn, you could have her in for longer.

 

I've had good success with teaching Dean that the car is a safe place. I play classical CD's for him when he might hear the teeter in the background and it has helped a lot.

 

For the teeter itself, if you can get ahold of the June 2008 issue of Clean Run, it would be like gold to you. There is a method for teaching the teeter to teeter-phobic dogs that worked like a dream for Dean. He can tip the teeter on his own now and can deal with the noise it makes when he bangs it. That has taken over a year, but it is paying off big time.

 

I hope that helps!

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Kristine I appreciate your response and I definitely understand a lot of what you are saying.

 

I honestly think flooding might work with her, and believe me I would not say that about every noise sensitive dog I have come across, but I will absolutely back off if I think it is causing her to become worse.

 

I also understand your point about rewarding nervous behavior, but with Skye, I have also found that ignoring nervous behavior seems to work with her. Like at the agility trial this past weekend, she was nervous at first and after walking around the arena a bit and letting her settle, I tried to give her treats and give her affection and attention, but it just seemed to make her more anxious and she wouldn't even take the treat. So then I just ignored her, and shortly after that she seemed to settle right down, tail was out and wagging at all the people she wanted to meet. I don't know for sure if it was just time, or the fact that she wasn't getting more freaked out by me messing with her. But after 45min she wasn't nervous at all, would take treats would do simple commands. So I really do have hope that just being around the noise more is actually going to work for her.

 

We have tried the teeter noise on you tube, but it is not loud and scary enough to bother her. Really you have to understand she really isn't a noise sensitive dog, it is just this teeter is SOOO LOUD, I have never heard ANYTHING like it at any agililty venue anywhere. I am really thinking that taping the one at class and playing it at home progressively louder is going to be the thing that works for her.

 

There is really no way to put her anywhere quieter in class, going out to the car would cause too much of a distraction, right now we are just learning each individual obstacle and not sequencing. So we are all in the room together working on stuff. The next class starts sequencing and working one at a time. If what I am doing isn't working at all then maybe we will go that route with her in the car when others are working.

 

I am pretty sure my trainer is getting me that issue of Clean Run (she was talking about it). The thing is she really doesn't have a problem with the teeter itself. I have one at home and she LOVES it, it really is her favorite. Even in class she will go over the teeter just fine (we control it so it doesn't bang for her right now). It is others making the noise that freaks her out the most.

 

Anyway, thank you for your input I really do appreciate it. I will keep this updated on how she is doing....I think the next couple of weeks will tell me if I think flooding will work with her or if we need to back off and take some more time.

 

Carla

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My young dog is also surprisingly sensitive. I made the mistake of being talked into a teams event at our big Royal show for only her second agility trial and unfortunately they started the whip cracking event while she was in the ring. She totally freaked and the next trial she shut down at any lound sound. I have had to take a 4 month break with her from trialing while I have worked slowly on her noise sensitivity. We have her first trial in 3 weeks time so we shall see what happens.

 

Any form of flooding freaks her out more. I work with treats and I find it does tend to calm her, I also use my non sensitive dog and she finds this reassuring especially if I get someone to stand ringside with this dog. I have entered my more experienced dog in the same novice events as a "not for competition" dog as she already has her novice titles so I can have her in the lineup at the trial with my sensitive BC.

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I have a dog who has global fear and extreme noise sensitivity. He does agility. The fears did not start until he was two years old at an indoor agility trial. And the teeter seems to be his biggest noise fear. We still have issues, but he is much improved. The things that have worked the best included the following.

 

1. Go to the indoor arena and play without all the noise. You can play fetch or whatever. The one I used allowed you to rent it for individual use an hour at a time. Small indoor horse arena - $25.00/hour.

 

2. The clean run tape is excellent. Start with the volume very very low and click and treat. I would ask for simple calm behaviors like sit and down after a while. Unfortunately, I tried with a whistle tape and he could hear the whistles before I could - he is afraid of whistles too.

 

3. Avoid flooding. It makes noise anxiety worse. In mine, he shuts down and flattens himself on the ground when flooded.

 

4. Take the pup to trials and start a good way away from the noise and click and treat. Gradually, move closer. Baby steps.

 

5. The teeter - I finally got him to like the teeter again when I started training my new pup. Her foundation training is different from my first agility dog. Rather than just learning to run across the teeter, we practice banging the end on the ground. Initially low to the ground then gradually raise it. You still run up and down on the teeter some, but you make a big party of the banging and noise. And you train the end separately then put it together. It gives them a sense of control. The other thing we do is race to the end while I hold it then drop suddenly - you build this up gradually. It decreases the hesitation in the middle/tip point. Anyway, as I was training her I retrained him with the new methods. They both run to the teeter now when they see it. A huge change for the noise phobic one.

 

6. Click and treat when other dogs go over the teeter in class.

 

Hope this helps some.

 

Mel

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Carla, does Skye like to play tug or any other game? I found with my shy timid dog that using play was more successful than using treats. Jill is a big tug player and I would start the game when I saw her begin to get worried. Her leash has the teethmarks to prove it! (gotta love leather - 7 years later and still going strong!) :rolleyes: . I used the leash since that was a tool I almost always had with me. The game distracted her but also, I believe, changed her emotional state toward what once bothered her. And we both had fun! Tug is a game you could use as you enter the building (which would make coming into the building a good experience for Skye) and when the noise of banging teeters starts to get to Skye. Distraction is a great training tool in many ways.

 

About whether to flood or not to flood, I think that depends on your read of your dog. Each dog is a individual. Actually, instead of flooding, there is exposing the dog to the stimuli (good) and overly exposing the dog to the stimuli (bad). Jill originally didn't like gunshots but then we moved close to a rifle range where every weekend gunshots could be heard. I didn't make a big deal of it and soon neither did Jill. I think she's like the rest of us; none of us even notice the gunshots now.

 

Try to keep your mood upbeat and the experience light and fun.

 

Ignoring nervous behavior (and I don't mean being unaware of it) is certainly better than overreacting to it. How we react can aid or hurt.

 

Keep us posted!

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I also understand your point about rewarding nervous behavior, but with Skye, I have also found that ignoring nervous behavior seems to work with her.

 

That's different. If ignoring her makes her more comfortable, then ignore away. Dean is like that. When he's experiencing noise phobia, he wants to be left alone. When really over threshold he can't take treats, can't play, can't carry out any behaviors on cue and he finds it highly stressful if you try to do any of that with him. He just wants to hunker in his crate if we can't get out of the situation immediately. Speedy, on the other hand, who is not at all noise phobic but has other fears, likes to be petted and spoken to when he's fearful, so I do that for him and it helps give him confidence and work through his fear. It's pretty cool to watch, actually! :rolleyes:

 

My point is just that you don't have to worry about teaching your dog to be more fearful by rewarding. If you found, as I have, that tossing random treats to the dog when he or she were likely to begin to get nervous, it is not going to cause the dog to become more fearful of something.

 

But if the dog actually likes to be ignored when experiencing stress or nerves, then that would be a good way to go. I always base my own response to my dog's fears on what the dog truly finds comforting/rewarding. Sometimes that is being left alone for a bit, sometimes it's more of a reassuring gesture of some sort, and sometimes that is removing the dog completely from the situation.

 

So I really do have hope that just being around the noise more is actually going to work for her.

 

I hope it works out that way. My own experience with a noise phobic dog has show that it isn't usually that simple, but you just may get lucky on this! :D For your sake, I hope it turns out that way. Competing in Agility with a noise phobic dog is truly a challenge.

 

There is one thing that I'm doing with Dean right now that I am finding is helping him. If you find that what you're doing isn't working after a few weeks, I would be happy to tell you what I'm doing. I'm not far enough into it to tell how well it will work, but so far we have made progress. It requires keeping the dog subthreshold, though, so it's not something you would want to try unless you decide not to flood. If you get to that point and want to hear about something kind of . . . different . . . let me know!

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1. Go to the indoor arena and play without all the noise. You can play fetch or whatever. The one I used allowed you to rent it for individual use an hour at a time. Small indoor horse arena - $25.00/hour.

 

This is an excellent suggestion. Teaching the dog that the training area will not always be noisy can be extremely helpful.

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In lots of cases if your dog is unable to take treats and respond to commands it is shut down

at that point it is not repsonding to training and is incapable of learning anything

 

Personaly I would get the dog far enough away that it is able to think again

 

It is good that it is able to calm itself down - at that point, when it is interested and calmer I would treat like mad

 

Also how about with the noise on tape treat it like clicker training

 

when the noise is v quiet and the dog calm treat every time the noise happens until the dog is looking to you for a treat when it hears the noise

That way conditioning the dog that the noise means good things

 

 

Honestly flooding can do more harm than good

its like if you are scared of spiders

One way to get over them is to have 1 spider far enough away that you know its there but are not scared, then slowly over time to build up getting closer to that spider but never getting scared of it

 

or

You could just be locked in a room with 200 spiders and left there

 

It might work - but the fear you feel at the time will be just horrible - and might make you many times worse

 

I know which method I would rather use on my dog

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This is kind of off topic, but not exactly. I'm wondering whether people think there is a difference between a "phobia" and a regular "fear" and whether they should be treated differently. I've found that a dog who is just generally uncomfortable in a particular situation can get over it fairly easily just by being exposed to the situation repeatedly--what might be called flooding. For example, a dog who is a bit nervous around people, in my experience, sometimes just needs to be exposed to lots of people and that's all it takes to get the dog over the fear. No sub-threshold gradual desensitization work necessary. (For example, my dog Lok crawled into his first obedience class on his belly and would cower when people went to pet him, but after a few classes he learned to love the class and the people there, and I didn't do anything to change his behavior, nor did we leave as soon as I saw fearful behavior out of fear that it would only get worse if we stayed.) What makes a dog like this different from other dogs or this fear different from other fears? Is it that the fear is not as strong or maybe that it is based in unfamiliarity in a dog of generally stable temperament while another dog's fear might be based in genetics?

 

Also, Kristine seems to be saying that a fear can never be encouraged or reinforced by a handler (or maybe I'm misunderstanding your point?) but I'm not so sure I agree. If a dog thinks X is scary and the behavior of the handler is communicating to the dog, yes X is indeed scary, then wouldn't that behavior reinforce the dog's idea that he should be afraid around X? Feeding treats alone may not be enough to cause this effect--I think we communicate more through our voice and body language--but I think it's possible that it could be in some situations.

 

Just wondering what people's thoughts are. I'm certainly no behaviorist, but I'm interested in the topic, having recently dealt with a fear-aggressive foster. Of course, I couldn't try flooding with him, since his behavior was dangerous, but I just wonder if there are situations where a dog exposed to a stimulus that causes a fear-reaction in him can just get over the fear on his own and if so, what factors influence whether this is a possibility for a particular situation?

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This is kind of off topic, but not exactly. I'm wondering whether people think there is a difference between a "phobia" and a regular "fear" and whether they should be treated differently.

 

Generally, yes, I do think there is a difference. And there are some differences between how I treat the two.

 

Dean has a phobia of the noise that the teeter makes. He had a fear of making the teeter move before he really understood the motion. I handled his fear in a very different way than I handle the phobia. The fear was something he was perfectly capable of "getting over" once he understood it. The phobia is not something that he has the ability to "get over". He just can't. It's not possible. It's no more possible for him to "get over" noise phobia than it is for someone to get over clinical depression or ADD or anything like that.

 

The main way that I can tell the difference is by intensity of the dog's response. In the case of the noise phobia, the noise can render him completely unable to function. If a large dog were to BANG the teeter near him, he would not be able to take treats, play games, or do much of anything normal. On the other hand, when the teeter "fell" out from under him at a trial one time, he was unaffected once he was away from it.

 

I've found that a dog who is just generally uncomfortable in a particular situation can get over it fairly easily just by being exposed to the situation repeatedly--what might be called flooding. For example, a dog who is a bit nervous around people, in my experience, sometimes just needs to be exposed to lots of people and that's all it takes to get the dog over the fear. No sub-threshold gradual desensitization work necessary.

 

I think the threshold is the key here. A dog who is a "bit nervous" is not over threshold. A dog who is a bit nervous or just a little confused or cautious has the mental ability to control his or her response to things to a great extent. Granted, pushing too fast or too soon can make a regular fear worse and send the dog toward threshold, but based on what you describe, I would not consider repeated exposure as flooding as I would in the case of a dog who is being exposed repeatedly over threshold.

 

My friend has a dog who gets stressed very easily. The first time she brought him to my house and he ran in the yard with my dogs, he showed many obvious signs of stress, but he was definitely under threshold. The second time he came, it was like they were his buddies and there were very few signs of stress. Had he been utterly terrified of my dogs, we would have handled the situation very differently. As it was, he was clearly able to work through and process the situation on his own.

 

(For example, my dog Lok crawled into his first obedience class on his belly and would cower when people went to pet him, but after a few classes he learned to love the class and the people there, and I didn't do anything to change his behavior, nor did we leave as soon as I saw fearful behavior out of fear that it would only get worse if we stayed.) What makes a dog like this different from other dogs or this fear different from other fears? Is it that the fear is not as strong or maybe that it is based in unfamiliarity in a dog of generally stable temperament while another dog's fear might be based in genetics?

 

Contrast Lok to Speedy. He went into his first obedience class hiding behind my legs and would run away and hide when people even looked at him. Even though he came to love the class and being around the people there, his fears did not go away. Like Dean with his noise phobia, Speedy was utterly incapable of "getting over" being afraid of people and dogs. He needed my help and a ton of patience and support - and quite a bit of retraining of his brain (not his behavior).

 

I think the difference has a lot to do with the dog's temperament and "wiring". The fear may not be as strong in some dogs as others, and the nature of the fear itself might be quite different even though it might look the same outwardly. So one "shy" dog might become a social butterfly once familiar with a given situation and people and another might need extensive desensitization/counter conditioning work to become even half as comfortable as the first.

 

Based on my experience with Dean and Speedy and dogs I've worked with in training classes, it is very obvious to me that different dogs process fear in different ways. That's why some hide for dear life and others become fear aggressive and others do just "get over it".

 

I had to put Dean on meds for the nosie phobia and the way that he processes fear is different from how it was before he was on the meds. He's the same dog with the same personality, but when he experiences a noise phobic incident he is now able to recover and return to normal pretty quickly after being removed from the situation. He coudln't do that before.

 

So, I think individual brain chemistry has a lot to do with this.

 

Also, Kristine seems to be saying that a fear can never be encouraged or reinforced by a handler (or maybe I'm misunderstanding your point?) but I'm not so sure I agree. If a dog thinks X is scary and the behavior of the handler is communicating to the dog, yes X is indeed scary, then wouldn't that behavior reinforce the dog's idea that he should be afraid around X? Feeding treats alone may not be enough to cause this effect--I think we communicate more through our voice and body language--but I think it's possible that it could be in some situations.

 

I'm not saying that a fear cannot be reinforced by the handler. I am saying that giving the dog something that is truly rewarding to the dog will not reinforce fear. I know that might sound like the same thing, but let me try to clarify!!

 

Let's say every time the teeter banged, I screamed bloody murder. Yes, my response would likely intensify Dean's fears. He would feed off of my response and likely become even more sensitized to noise.

 

But if I am responding to the noise proactively by giving him something that is inherently rewarding to him, that cannot reinforce the fear.

 

So let's say every time the teeter banged, I called him, ran out the door, and had him jump into a river (which he LOVES!!!!). That would not reinforce his fears even though I am giving him one of the biggest rewards he can have.

 

Again, think of it this way, if a truck were racing toward you on the road and someone took your arm, pulled you to the side, and handed you a check for a million dollars, would that person's action make you more fearful of trucks in the future? Now suppose this happened every day. You walked into the road, a truck started to drive toward you, and the same person showed up, pulled you out of the road (in a matter of fact way) and handed you a check for a million dollars. What would happen in the long run? Would that person's action ever cause you to be more fearful of the truck?

 

The key to "comforting a fearful dog" is to keep in mind that the "comforting" must be something that the dog wants or is reinforced or comforted by. A lot of times we decide what we think should be rewarding or comforting or reinforcing to the dog, and we miss the mark. When it comes to training simple behaviors, this is often not a big deal, but when it comes to working with fearful dogs, it is critical that the dog not find what you are doing aversive.

 

When I want to let a fearful dog know that I have his back and I am not going to let anything hurt him, I speak to him in a truly positve and encouraging voice. Not a tone that says "I think you're going to explode and I'm so worried right now but it's OK it's OK!" My tone says, "I know what you're afraid of, it's perfectly OK to be afraid, and I've got your back". I have found this extremely effective over time, particularly with under-threshold fears.

 

This is really something that you have to try to believe, I think. I've used the technique many times now and have seen dramatic results.

 

The only phobia that I've found truly difficult to help the dog with is noise phobia. In Dean there is such a deep-rooted physiological response to certain noises that he is often beyond my ability to help. I can only limit his exposure to those noises as best I can, desensitize low level noises as best I can, give him his meds, and make him feel as safe as I can when the noises (like thunder, fireworks, gunshots) are completely out of my control.

 

Just wondering what people's thoughts are. I'm certainly no behaviorist, but I'm interested in the topic, having recently dealt with a fear-aggressive foster. Of course, I couldn't try flooding with him, since his behavior was dangerous, but I just wonder if there are situations where a dog exposed to a stimulus that causes a fear-reaction in him can just get over the fear on his own and if so, what factors influence whether this is a possibility for a particular situation?

 

With a dog who is already showing fear aggression, the last thing I would do is flood. If the dog were able to "just get over" things through repeated exposure, you would be seeing the dog get over things, not become reactive.

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When do you know that flooding really is the bad choice? Obiously, with a fear aggressive dog, flooding is not a good choice for a variety of obvious reasons. But unless I missed something, the OP’s dog is not aggressive?

 

This is really interesting to me, both the relative value of flooding vs. desensitization, and if there are incidences where reward-based desensitization techniques might actually reinforce the fear. My first question, is how does this fit in with the suggestion (that has worked quite well for us) that you should never “reward” a puppy who is acting fearful for no reason by “babying” it, as this will reinforce the behavior. I know that typical desensitization training isn’t really the same, but these ideas do seem similar enough to me so that I can really see the point of the question, why will rewarding during fearful behavior NOT ever, with any dog, reinforce that behavior? To understand my question here, you would have to consider “babying” a rewarding thing for the dog.

 

The second thing this brought me to, was like Ninso described, what might be the difference between a phobia (that is, an irrational fear) and a true fear? Would this have any bearing on the potential value in flooding? Or is it simply based on the dog/situation? I ask because I feel like Odin and I are making some good progress right now essentially using flooding. He was attacked a few weeks ago while we were walking. He now fears the location of the attack (which sadly is an intersection that it is kind of hard to avoid on our walks) rather than other dogs. In my mind, this is a totally rational fear because he experienced an extremely unpleasant event there. He is actually quite logical, whether this is on purpose or not, in fearing the location because it is where *that* dog lives. Thus, another attack is much more likely to happen there than any other location or from another random dog. But, this intersection is hard to avoid if I don’t want to get into bad neighborhoods. So, this week we’ve started going back (which is not quite as dumb as it sounds as it is at times I am reasonably sure the dog will not be outside, and we had previously never had a problem in nearly 8 months of walking past there). This may be flooding but he is responding very well. The first day we went back he was practically crawling past the spot, and last night he was a bit nervous – we are both on high alert here - but otherwise fine. Am I throwing him into a room of spiders (good analogy), or am I “not babying” him?

 

ETA - Kristine's been posting while I composed this, sorry if you answered some of my Qs

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When do you know that flooding really is the bad choice? Obiously, with a fear aggressive dog, flooding is not a good choice for a variety of obvious reasons. But unless I missed something, the OP’s dog is not aggressive?

 

No, the OP's dog is not aggressive. Personally I would not consider flooding for a dog with any kind of very strong fear response. Fear aggression, a true phobia, or a strong fear response, as the OP's dog has, to something specific.

 

My first question, is how does this fit in with the suggestion (that has worked quite well for us) that you should never “reward” a puppy who is acting fearful for no reason by “babying” it, as this will reinforce the behavior.

 

It doesn't really "fit". It's a completely different point of view. Kind of like the difference between "never let a dog go through a door before you" and "letting a dog go through a dog before you is fine".

 

"Never reward a fearful dog" is one of those bits of conventional wisdom that has been widely accepted by many, but is not necessarily true in spite of the widely held belief. Based on the tiny little bit I have read about brain chemistry and fear, I am one who has come to accept that reinforcing a fearful dog will actually help the dog, not hinder.

 

Not to pick on you, but let's really look at what you said above. I'll use the puppy class instructor as the example!!

 

In the example that you cite, there is an assumption on the part of the puppy class instructor that the puppy is "acting fearful for no reason." Think about that - is the puppy really "acting fearful for no reason"? How do you or the instructor really know that? Why would one assume that if the puppy is displaying visible signs of fear that there is "no reason" for it?

 

There may not be an apparent reason for the fear response or you and the instructor may realize that there is really nothing that poses a threat to the dog, but dogs don't, in fact, act fearful for "no reason". If the dog is displaying visible signs of fear, then the dog perceives something as a threat to his or her well being.

 

Second, the instructor warns against rewarding "fearful behavior". Fear is not a behavior, it is an emotional response. If you were on an airplane and the plane suddenly started falling nose first toward the ground and you started to scream, do you think of that in terms of "fearful behavior?" Would you say to a friend later, "I displayed fearful behavior when the plane started to nosedive?" Of course not, you would more likely say, "I was scared out of my . . . .!!!!!"

 

We display fearful behavior as a response to experiencing fear. Usually a fear response is not terribly voluntary, espeically when fear is extreme. People scream, shake, run, pass out, pee themselves, etc. when they experience extreme fear. When it comes to people we tend to understand that "fearful behavior" is not the root of the issue - it is the the fear itself. Somehow when it comes to dogs, we tend to look at the behavior as if it were isolated from a fearful experience that the dog is having. With minor fears or stress, this is not usually problematic, but when dealing with a severe fear or phobia in a dog, it just won't work. You have to consider the whole picture to help a fearful dog learn to process fear in a new way.

 

The part of the brain that deal with emotion (the Limbic System) is distinct from the part that deals with behavior (Cognitive). Behavior, or cognitive actions, can be reinforced through rewards. Emotion, which is created through invouluntary chemical reactions in the brain, cannot be. The dog won't start to offer the chemical response in the brain that produces fear in the way that the dog will offer behaviors.

 

Finally, why would the instructor assume that offering any support to the puppy is "babying"? If the pilot on the nosediving plane came over the loudspeaker and said, "the plane will be under control in two seconds, we will not crash!", is he babying the passengers?

 

Removing a dog from a situation where he or she is experiencing fear, feeding a dog while the dog is fearful, or petting a fearful dog is not "babying". Those things can be very powerful means of helping your dog learn to process fear and deal with it, or they might not help at all. But "babying" is a very weak term to describe support and information that one can provide a fearful dog with to help the dog cope with the fear.

 

With a puppy or dog who is simply a bit nervous in new surroundings, letting the puppy sort through the nerves, stress and fear on his or her own (in essence, what you are doing when you "ignore" obvious signs of nerves or fear), can absolutely be the way to go. So for many owners of puppies who are not prone to fear as part of their temperament, "never reward a fearful dog" does the job. Basically, the dogs for whom that works don't need any extra help in learning to sort out and deal with minor fear or nerves. For many dogs, this is the case.

 

But in the case of a dog who is not mentally equipped to "just get over it", or to sort through fear or nerves on his or her own, then "never reward a fearful dog" can actually slow down the dog's process - and in some cases make it impossible for the dog to make progress in overcoming the fear.

 

Does that make sense? I hope so!

 

ETA - Kristine's been posting while I composed this, sorry if you answered some of my Qs

 

I think my earlier response did answer the rest of your questions, but if you have more, post them. I love this topic. I'm actually going to be presenting a seminar dealing with this sometime in the future, so the more I think about it now, the easier it will be to get all of my material together.

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As usual really great post

 

My tuppence from working with my 2 v different fearful dogs

 

Ben suddenly developed a fear of different floor surfaces and things moving under his feet, so much when we were on walks he would suddenly freeze if there was a drain or a change in floor surfaces

after checking there was no pain involved I just let him deal with it himself

I dropped the lead and walked away, as he was not shut down with fear he was able to make the choice that being with me was more important to him than whatever he was scared of on the floor and he came to me

and he was really happy when he had got there - all waggy tail and big grin

 

That also was a problem with the seesaw, he didnt like it moving under his feet

I put treats all along the seesaw and left him to make the desicion, then every day before a walk I lead him over the seesaw, in less than 3 days when he saw me putting on my shoes he ran over and did the seesaw by himself

 

these things were NOT flooding as he was scared but not terrified, he was still thinking. Like if you are not phobic of hights to step out onto a plank bridge that you know is safe - it scares you a little but not horribly

 

Mia on the other hand is fear aggressive of other dogs

I have spent lots of time with her teaching that if she sees another dog and sits nicely and looks at me she gets lots of treats

its just teaching her an alternative way to cope

If she has a hissy fit if I can I try and distract her too me and then reward her taking the focus away - if she is too far reacted then I move her away till she is able to calm down

 

 

I wouldnt think the situation of the walking the dog where it had been attacked is flooding

flooding would be making the dog walk there with lots of snarling dogs about

Your dog fears that it is going to get attacked there, you are showing it that nothing bad is going to happen

 

trust me if it was totaly shut down with fear you wouldnt be able to walk them to the spot

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I'm wondering whether people think there is a difference between a "phobia" and a regular "fear" and whether they should be treated differently.

 

Phobias are intense and often result in symptoms of panic (panting, increased heart rate, dilated pupils, drooling, etc.). It is important to note that phobias are usually made worse by continued exposure (sensitization) rather than better (desensitization).

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Thanks for your comments Kristine, it's an interesting point of view, and certainly not a topic I am well versed in so I hope you don't think I'm trying to argue or anything. Truly just trying to learn!

 

The main reason I was wondering is because the OP never really described the extent of the fearful behavior she was seeing in her dog and didn't even describe it as "fear" but as "sensitivity." It also sounds like the noises that are scaring the dog are relatively new to the dog (I think this is a beginning agility class) and she mentioned that the reaction surprised her, which would seem to indicate that the dog has not been fearful of noises in other situations. Yet based on her description she got a lot of answers of "never flood, flooding will never work, you have a noise-phobic dog and you need to desensitize slowly."

 

I'm wondering what would happen if Ooky had posted a topic saying "my dog was attacked at a specific location and now is afraid of that location" or if I had posted a topic last summer that said "my dog slipped on the stairs and now I can't get him to go up the stairs, he just sits and cowers" what kind of responses we would have received. It seems like both of us have taken the approach of simply communicating to our dogs "come on, bud, you're fine, there's nothing to be afraid of, lets go" and this approach has worked for both of us. Yet I wonder if we would have gotten the same responses as the OP?

 

Don't get me wrong, I can certainly believe that there are dogs out there that such an approach will NOT work for. I'm not saying at all that Dean isn't severely noise-phobic to the point of needing medication. I'm just wondering how you tell the difference (and severity of the fear response seems to be the answer) and whether there may be situations where people jump to desensitization as a solution simply because it is popular now without considering that this dog may in fact get over his fear on his own.

 

I can understand that giving a dog treats while the dog is having a fear response to something will probably not reinforce the fear. In fact, I can see it having the opposite effect. I'm guessing if it had any effect at all it would work something like desensitization, in that the dog would begin to associate the object of his fear with a good thing, and thus maybe start to get over the fear. But I think still think the advice about "babying" a dog who is showing fear is sound. I think it is very easy for us to communicate to a dog that his fears are justified, even without meaning to, and if WE think they are justified, well then they certainly must be. Neutral petting may not do this, but if you are "worried about" the dog while you're petting them, I think a dog can sense that worry and the dog could very well think you were worried for the same reason he was, thus reinforcing the fear. Maybe not by the act of "petting" but by the attitude that it is behind it.

 

I am also wondering, what is "threshold." Is a dog under threshold when he is displaying no fear response at all--totally confident? Or is a dog under threshold anytime he isn't over the top, out of his mind with fear? In other words, can a dog be somewhat uncomfortable and still be under threshold?

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Thanks for your comments Kristine, it's an interesting point of view, and certainly not a topic I am well versed in so I hope you don't think I'm trying to argue or anything. Truly just trying to learn!

 

I don't get the impression that anyone is arguing. This has been a great discussion!

 

The main reason I was wondering is because the OP never really described the extent of the fearful behavior she was seeing in her dog and didn't even describe it as "fear" but as "sensitivity."

 

Actually, I was working off of her description of her dog's response to the teeter from her other posts. In her post from January 26th:

 

This will be great once she gets over being terrified of it, but right now she completely shuts down when anyone goes over it and it bangs.

 

And January 31st:

 

Bad news, In class on Thursday, we were having class in one section of the building and people were practicing in another, it is a large warehouse type building and there are walls separating the two areas, but no ceilings so you can hear everything going on. Well the sound of the teeter being used sent Skye into the "Scary" place, she wanted out, she would still do everything I asked her to but in between obstacles she would go to the door and she was looking for a place to hide the entire class and shaking and panting.....

 

Terrified, shuts down, wanted out, looking for a place to hide, shaking, panting . . . that's much more than "sensitivity"!!

 

But, to be fair, I did remember those things from her earlier topic.

 

It also sounds like the noises that are scaring the dog are relatively new to the dog (I think this is a beginning agility class) and she mentioned that the reaction surprised her, which would seem to indicate that the dog has not been fearful of noises in other situations. Yet based on her description she got a lot of answers of "never flood, flooding will never work, you have a noise-phobic dog and you need to desensitize slowly."

 

I haven't had a lot of experience with a noise phobic dog, but with Dean it started a lot like this. He startled one time when somebody dropped something on the floor. He developed a sudden and inexplicable aversion to the sound of plastic soda bottles opening. A few months later it was fireworks, thunder, and then the teeter happened.

 

Unlike other phobias and fears, noise phobia really does seem to crop up out of the blue.

 

Of course I don't know her dog, haven't seen her dog, and can't say what is going on with her dog. But based on what she said in her other post which I quoted above, and the fact that the "sensitivity" has already generalized to all indoor Agility noise . . . that's exactly how nosie phobia starts for some dogs. It seems to crop up out of the blue with just a few seemingly random things.

 

Honestly, based on what she has said, there are some major red flags. I hope it truly is just a "sensitivity" that exposure can "cure", but knowing what I know now if I saw the same things in a new dog of mine, I would absolutely never flood and would desensitize slowly. And I would seriously limit the dog's exposure to those triggers for a good while.

 

I can't say whether her dog is noise phobic, but her dog sounds a lot like my noise phobic dog when the phobia began to crop up.

 

I'm wondering what would happen if Ooky had posted a topic saying "my dog was attacked at a specific location and now is afraid of that location" or if I had posted a topic last summer that said "my dog slipped on the stairs and now I can't get him to go up the stairs, he just sits and cowers" what kind of responses we would have received.

 

My response to those situations would be different from my response to this particular issue and situation. Fears that involve sound are different from other fears. Honestly, I didn't understand that until I saw it for myself firsthand. But knowing what I know now (and honestly wish I didn't have to know), I will never approach noise related fears in the same way that I approach other fears.

 

I still wouldn't recommend flooding in the dog attack and stairs situations. Pesonally I would choose more of a dog-led Premack approach. But I wouldn't be nearly as leery of flooding in either of those situations as I am with noise fears.

 

Don't get me wrong, I can certainly believe that there are dogs out there that such an approach will NOT work for. I'm not saying at all that Dean isn't severely noise-phobic to the point of needing medication. I'm just wondering how you tell the difference (and severity of the fear response seems to be the answer)

 

If you ever see it, you'll know! Melanie described it well. Panic, dialated pupils, drooling, rapid heartbeat.

 

and whether there may be situations where people jump to desensitization as a solution simply because it is popular now without considering that this dog may in fact get over his fear on his own.

 

Actually I tend to see the opposite. I see quite a few people forcing their dogs to do things when the dog is quite obviously stressed, and even slightly panicked. Sometimes it "works" and sometimes it doesn't change anything and sometimes it makes things worse for the dog.

 

I find that most people expect the dog to "just get over it" and fail to see that the dog needs help until it really is later than you want it to be when you begin helping the dog.

 

But I think still think the advice about "babying" a dog who is showing fear is sound. I think it is very easy for us to communicate to a dog that his fears are justified, even without meaning to, and if WE think they are justified, well then they certainly must be.

 

My thoughts on this are very different. If the dog is fearful, to my way of thinking, it is justified. Who am I to dictate to an animal that he or she does not have the right to be afraid of something?

 

Is it OK that Dean is afraid of certain noises? Yes. I wish he weren't. Most of all I hate to see him suffer. Secondly, I mourn a bit for the Agility-dog-he-could-have-been, but that's part of who he is and it is OK for him to feel that way.

 

Back in the day, I came to the point where I was truly OK with Speedy's fear of German Shepherds. I wish he had never had to know a moment of fear in his life, but that's part of who he is and it is OK for him to feel that way. Honestly, when I finally accepted that fact and gave him the support he needed, he got better quiickly.

 

I have a thing about seeing nuclear explosions on TV or movies. I will shut my eyes and not watch. Is that somehow bad or wrong or "not justified"? Is there really any reason in the world why I should make myself watch when it is something that brings up fear for me?

 

So, who am I to not accept my dog's fears of anything? It is absolutely my place to try to find ways to help the dog learn to deal, but part of my approach with fearful dogs is actually to communicate to the dog that it is absolutely OK with me for the dog to be afraid.

 

That's not everyone's way, but it's equally valid. And I have found that it helps the situation greatly.

 

I am also wondering, what is "threshold." Is a dog under threshold when he is displaying no fear response at all--totally confident? Or is a dog under threshold anytime he isn't over the top, out of his mind with fear? In other words, can a dog be somewhat uncomfortable and still be under threshold?

 

That will differ from dog to dog and depends a lot on the dog's temperament and the fear in question.

 

Under threshold is easy. When a dog is not displaying fear responses and is totally confident and unconcerned with the world around him, he is under threshold.

 

When the dog is out of his mind, over the top, out of his mind, he is way over threshold.

 

The grey area is the place in between. Where, exactly, does the dog get too close? That's really something that you have to get to know about your dog. Unfortunately, I have learned that too many times - with both of my dogs with fear issues - by pushing the dog too far and then realizing, "ooops!" I am deeply thankful that dogs are forgiving and setbacks are temporary!!

 

And I am deeply grateful for Maddie, my non-fearful girl. The fact that she takes dogs, people, noise, etc. in stride is something that I never take for granted!!

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Sorry this is long...

 

"Never reward or baby a fearful dog” Using treats or play may seem like we’re rewarding the dog’s fearful behavior when, in fact, when used correctly, they are distractions from the fearful stimuli. If the dog is food or play motivated enough, they are also a tool to help change the emotion of the dog. So treating a fearful dog in an uncertain situation can take the dog’s focus elsewhere (the treat or the game), and may take the dog from a fearful state to a more joyful emotional state which the dog may then eventually relate to the stimuli.

 

Our reactions. It doesn’t take much of a reaction on our part to reinforce our dogs’ fear. Just tensing our body and/or holding our breath, or frantically (note I said frantically) trying to stuff treats into our dog in an attempt to “help” them we convey fear to our dog and reinforce their fear. Our emotions need to be pure and honest in these situations. It is our emotional state, no matter what our actions maybe, that influences the dog.

 

Fear, phobia, socialization, genetics. Odin’s fear of the location where he was attacked is a logical, understandable fear. He had no inexplicable and illogical fear of the location beforehand. If he did, that would be a phobia. A bad thing happened there and he logically associates the location with the attack. If things continue to go well (and the attacking dog keeps away) Odin’s fear of that location may soon disappear. On the down side, one bad experience at that location may set him back and unravel some of the good that’s been achieved. Dog are interesting in what they associate with an aversive experience.

 

A dog may be initially be leery of new situations. Notice I said leery not fearful. I think there is a difference. The dog’s temperament, previous socialization, and the experiences he has in the new situation can determine how the dog will eventually handle the situation. Temperament matters more than socialization, however. My example is the two pups my friend and I got from the same litter. Oscar’s temperament is bold and outgoing; he thinks every outing is an adventure and he’s never met a stranger. His sister is more timid and easily stressed outside her normal environment and might be termed noise phobic. Both pups were equally socialized. Some dogs are in between, which it seems Lok is. Tentative at first, but with good experiences, easily overcame his initial reaction to being in class. The positive experience the dog has is one of the fringe benefits of attending positive motivational classes.

 

(Not to answer for Kristine, but I think “threshold” is the point where the fear has pushed the dog over his limit and he’s no longer thinking. Up to the threshold the dog may be frighten but still thinking. Beyond that point the dog is only reacting.)

 

Genetics, of course, trump just about anything. Maybe I’m stubborn but I want to give the dog every opportunity to live his life as fear free as possible and I’m going to try just about anything to help this dog. It may be knowing when to give into the dog’s fears and not push him, but it also means arranging positive experiences and positive exposure to many new stimuli, behavior modification, and building trust. Trust in me that I will not let anything bad happen and even if it does, it’s not that bad. Once that trust is earned, I am the dog’s safe place.

 

My dog Jill was a fear aggressive young dog – fearfully nipping people and dogs alike, scared to try any new physical feat (like wadding in the still water of a creek), generally scared of life (Jill is the aunt to SoloRiver’s Solo – isn’t there something about apples not dropping far from the tree? :rolleyes: ). Genetics counted for Jill’s behavior but so did the lack of proper early socialization and her basic temperament. We were lucky that a year of intensive (and I do mean intensive) work helped Jill if not overcome then learn how to deal with many of her issues. We were able to enjoyably & successfully compete in flyball, agility and sheepdog trials. She was able to lose her fear of dogs (she loves those big males!) and learn to accept people petting her and (gasp!) actually hugging her. She sometimes even solicits petting from strangers. This is not to say things don’t bother her. An overly rambunctious dog will have her coming and sitting quietly beside me but she enjoys the dogs at dog parks too. Her trust in me is complete.

 

:D On my soapbox now (sorry). I really don’t understand why any instructor would let a novice dog have a bad experience with a teeter (yes, I understand sometimes it can't be helped but prior planning and good technique can prevent most of it). A bad experience with the teeter can screw up the most solid dog. Sorry, that is just irresponsible instruction to me. Off my soapbox now… thanks for letting me vent. :D

 

The beauty of dog training & canine behavior is that not one thing works for every dog and the science and our understanding of dogs continue to evolve. My motto: remember each dog is an individual, be opened minded, be thoughtful, “read” your dog, keep what works, drop what doesn’t and be your dog’s trustworthy partner.

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Unlike other phobias and fears, noise phobia really does seem to crop up out of the blue.

 

Weird. I had no idea!

 

But, to be fair, I did remember those things from her earlier topic.

 

Ah, I see. I hadn't read any of the previous topics.

 

I still wouldn't recommend flooding in the dog attack and stairs situations. Pesonally I would choose more of a dog-led Premack approach. But I wouldn't be nearly as leery of flooding in either of those situations as I am with noise fears.

 

I probably just don't have the patience you do! I expected Lok to get over his fear of stairs (both the fear he had when I first got him that lasted for months and was accompanied by cowering, shaking and trying to run and hide, and his very temporary fear of the entry way stairs after slipping on them once) on his own. I did try treats the first time, but he KNEW when we were going to work on "getting close to the stairs" and just ran and hid! I'm sure it could have been handled through desensitization, but the "come ON you silly dog" approached worked fine for us. Yes, he was afraid the first 20 times I made him do stairs (and when I say I "made" him I didn't drag him or anything, just started walking up and waited for him to follow) he was terrified, but he eventually realized stairs were not going to kill him and now he doesn't bat an eye at them.

 

My thoughts on this are very different. If the dog is fearful, to my way of thinking, it is justified. Who am I to dictate to an animal that he or she does not have the right to be afraid of something?

 

I think we might be talking about two different things. I'm using the term "unjustified fear" to mean a fear of something that is not ACTUALLY going to hurt the dog. Of course, the dog is not a bad dog for being afraid of something that he has no reason to fear, just as someone who has a phobia of spiders is not a "bad" person even though the daddy long legs on the wall is not actually going to kill them. When I say we might accidentally communicate to a dog that his fear is "justified" I mean reinforcing the dog's idea that the perceived danger is an actual danger, rather than communicating to the dog that there is nothing to be afraid of. I just don't see any value in saying to the dog in whatever manner "I understand that you are afraid and it's ok that you are afraid." The dog doesn't need us to preserve his self esteem. :rolleyes: (Maybe that step is more for the human--so that the human does not become frustrated with a behavior that a pathologically fearful dog can't control?) He needs a confident leader to convey to him whether X is a threat or not.

 

Definitely an interesting topic--quite a lot of food for thought!

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I just wanted to say what a great thread, and I really appreciate all the responses.

 

A little bit more about my dog and her reaction to things.

 

I would not peg her as a noise phobic or fearful dog. Just in the last 24hrs, we had a HUGE thunderstorm, doesn't phase her (in fact she went outside and got soaked during it.... Our garage door doesn't have an opener on it so we manually pull it up and let it slam down, just a few minutes ago she was in the garage with me, I let the door slam down and it sounds a LOT like the teeter in our class and she didn't even blink an eye. In any situation that she has previously shown a fear response (walking past a storm drain) I just kept walking past them and she got over it very quickly, so that is sort of why I felt more exposure might help with her, but I do understand a noise fear is different than a storm drain fear....

 

Her reaction during class is sort of on the line, She tends to pant when she is at all excited, or just happy or just standing there.....of course there is a different pant when she is scared, but it isn't super frantic panting and drooling (okay maybe a little drooling). She does go off treats, but she also won't take treats when we are at Petsmart or at the dog park or otherwise distracted in any way. So for her going off treats when she is the tinest bit scared isn't unusual. She will still follow all my commands during class. I would say right now it is a strong fear bordering on a noise phobia. And I ABSOLUTELY do not want this to get worse or to start cropping up in other areas of her life....so I am not going to push it if she starts to get any worse at all.

 

I believe she is on the line, so to speak. I think the next two weeks will tell me either I am going to have to back waaay down and start working on this slowly, or she is going to start getting more comfortable.

 

I am still planning on getting the noise CD to desensitize and working with her at home, I think I am going to work on making my teeter at home a little more noisy and keep getting louder as she shows signs of not being afraid of it, now that I know she isn't afraid of the teeter just the noise. I am going to a more advanced class tonight to just give treats and praise during the class, there is a small room in the back we can retreat to if needed.

 

My Instructors have been nothing but helpful, we started out with a boom or buja board, banging it, then we progressed to the class teeter banging it, dogs were never ever pushed passed their limit and she always asks me what I want to do. Skye's issue is not going over the teeter just the noise, so we never ever let it bang when she was on it. But there is not much we can do in a group class if other dogs don't have a problem with it.

 

I wish I could afford private lessons, but that is not possible. I can go to a practice session on Sundays with other beginners (last time I was the only one there) but I cannot guarantee no one will be using the teeter. But I can go and just do some fun things while we are there and not push anything. Which is the direction we will head if the next two weeks show that she is not getting over her fear.

 

Thank you everyone so much for all your suggestions....

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Weird. I had no idea!

 

Neither did I until I witnessed it for myself. I was in denial for a long time, too, because Dean was supposed to be my "easy" dog!! :D:D:D It was easy to be in denial because it was so random and seemed so trivial at first. And since I had no experience with noise phobia in dogs, there was really a lot that I simply didn't know.

 

I thought I knew a lot about fearful dogs after rehabilitating Speedy, but I'll take Speedy's fear issues over noise issues any day of the week. Noise issues are insidious.

 

I probably just don't have the patience you do! I expected Lok to get over his fear of stairs (both the fear he had when I first got him that lasted for months and was accompanied by cowering, shaking and trying to run and hide, and his very temporary fear of the entry way stairs after slipping on them once) on his own.

 

I don't know that it's patience so much as I did what I had to do and liked the results I saw from doing what I had to do!

 

I actually did expect Speedy to just get over his fears of dogs and people when he was young. Without knowing any better I did quite a bit of flooding. In his case, it only made things worse over time.

 

One thing that I've found is that typically (and there will be exceptions to this, I'm sure), a dog who has a bad experience with something that causes a fear tends to get over that fear relatively quickly if the dog had a history of good or neutral experiences with that something before.

 

Also, I think it is easier for a dog to "unlearn" a learned fear than to learn a new response to something that he is simply fearful of by default. This would be different, I think, if the dog suffered something very traumatic.

 

When I say we might accidentally communicate to a dog that his fear is "justified" I mean reinforcing the dog's idea that the perceived danger is an actual danger, rather than communicating to the dog that there is nothing to be afraid of.

 

Gotcha! We are talking about two different things. Like "justifying it" by screaming every time the teeter bangs. I know that's absurd, but it's an exaggerated way to give the example.

 

I just don't see any value in saying to the dog in whatever manner "I understand that you are afraid and it's ok that you are afraid."

 

Would you see value in it if you saw a visible shift in the dog's attitude after saying it to the dog. I'm serious! What if you actually saw that happen? :D

 

The dog doesn't need us to preserve his self esteem. :rolleyes:

 

It's not to preserve the dog's self esteem, but simply an acceptance that what is is. If the dog is afraid of hearing soda bottles open, that is reality. I can't just change it by wanting it to be different. It's "justified" in that it is reality and I am accepting that reality (whether the fear is rational or not) and I'm not going to try to change the dog's attitude simply by willing it to be different! I've found that verbally acknowledging that fact can be extremely helpful.

 

I'd open a whole 'nother can of worms if I revealed my approach to bringing my own feelings on the situation into the mix, but I'll keep things simple and not do that!! :D

 

(Maybe that step is more for the human--so that the human does not become frustrated with a behavior that a pathologically fearful dog can't control?)

 

Yes, and this is huge. Whether or not the thing that the dog fears really will hurt him or not, if the dog has a strong fear response to that thing, he or she can't control it. We humans can put a lot of undeserved pressure on a dog to "get over" something when the dog is truly incapable of just "getting over it".

 

That's where accepting the situation and bringing rewards into the picture really comes into play.

 

He needs a confident leader to convey to him whether X is a threat or not.

 

True. There is no lack of confidence, though, in honestly recognizing the reality of the dog's state of mind and that I may or may not be able to change it over time.

 

Definitely an interesting topic--quite a lot of food for thought!

 

It is.

 

Speedy has been an education. Pretty much a college level education. And, as much as I hate that he had to suffer so much from fear when he was younger, I am very grateful for being able to learn all of this stuff.

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QUOTE

I just don't see any value in saying to the dog in whatever manner "I understand that you are afraid and it's ok that you are afraid."

 

 

Would you see value in it if you saw a visible shift in the dog's attitude after saying it to the dog. I'm serious! What if you actually saw that happen?

 

Sure! If I saw it happen I'd be a believer!

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"Never reward a fearful dog" is one of those bits of conventional wisdom that has been widely accepted by many, but is not necessarily true in spite of the widely held belief. Based on the tiny little bit I have read about brain chemistry and fear, I am one who has come to accept that reinforcing a fearful dog will actually help the dog, not hinder.

 

In the example that you cite, there is an assumption on the part of the puppy class instructor that the puppy is "acting fearful for no reason." Think about that - is the puppy really "acting fearful for no reason"? How do you or the instructor really know that? Why would one assume that if the puppy is displaying visible signs of fear that there is "no reason" for it?

 

There may not be an apparent reason for the fear response or you and the instructor may realize that there is really nothing that poses a threat to the dog, but dogs don't, in fact, act fearful for "no reason". If the dog is displaying visible signs of fear, then the dog perceives something as a threat to his or her well being.

 

Yes, I definitely see the your point here. I think that perhaps the main thing the "don't baby your dog" advice applies to is the "fear period" for puppies, which is probably a very distinct developmental sort of phase. And the "not babying" I'm talking about isn't meaning to ignore your pup, but just not to make it worse by doing the emotional equivalent of screaming everytime the dog goes over a teeter. Also, for what was explained to me, it really is to curb fearful-seeming behavior as something separate from actual fear - like if your puppy whines a lot, to not encourage whining or cowering as a good way to get attention when the dog actually is not really feeling fear.

 

Second, the instructor warns against rewarding "fearful behavior". Fear is not a behavior, it is an emotional response. If you were on an airplane and the plane suddenly started falling nose first toward the ground and you started to scream, do you think of that in terms of "fearful behavior?" Would you say to a friend later, "I displayed fearful behavior when the plane started to nosedive?" Of course not, you would more likely say, "I was scared out of my . . . .!!!!!"

 

We display fearful behavior as a response to experiencing fear. Usually a fear response is not terribly voluntary, espeically when fear is extreme. People scream, shake, run, pass out, pee themselves, etc. when they experience extreme fear. When it comes to people we tend to understand that "fearful behavior" is not the root of the issue - it is the the fear itself. Somehow when it comes to dogs, we tend to look at the behavior as if it were isolated from a fearful experience that the dog is having. With minor fears or stress, this is not usually problematic, but when dealing with a severe fear or phobia in a dog, it just won't work. You have to consider the whole picture to help a fearful dog learn to process fear in a new way.

 

Yes, I agree. But I do think people and dogs can be a bit manipulative too, and act more distressed than they really are to get certain behaviors out of someone else - i.e., using their cognitive parts of their brains to mimic limbic emotions to achieve an objective. Now with a true phobia of any kind or an actual reason to be afraid (likea fall or an attack), I would never expect that my dog was being manipulative, and if he ever showed the signs both you and Melanie described as being over threshold, I would immediately do whatever I could to remove him from the situation/calm him. I DO see your point that it is probably way more common that people think their dogs can just get over something when they are really experience valid (whether reasonable or not ) fear response.

 

Finally, why would the instructor assume that offering any support to the puppy is "babying"? If the pilot on the nosediving plane came over the loudspeaker and said, "the plane will be under control in two seconds, we will not crash!", is he babying the passengers?

 

I don't think offering support is babying - for that I meant picking up, cradling, ooo poor baby, wazza matter, you know, really calling attention to the fear. I guess this method appeals to me because I know that even when I am experiencing a valid fear, I am MOST comforted by my mom or my very calm best friend when they don't say, "yes, oh you poor thing the world IS falling to pieces", but when they tell me in a totally calm way, "Everything's cool. I got your back, but it's all good anyway." And if they seem to mean it, it helps me a lot.

 

But last night when Odin and I went back to the scene of our attack, I did praise him heavily as we passed to help reward his trust in me as well. He seemed a bit confused ("what? I did something?") but it did distract him from being nervous. I think based on your answers his situation was an ok one to try flooding in - his personality seems well able to cope with it, we had had many positive experiences on walks in that area before, and there was a real reason to be afraid - i.e. NOT a phobia.

 

Does that make sense? I hope so!

 

YES! Thanks so much for your great responses, I feel like I've really learned a lot. And have a much better idea of when to try flooding (Or the "c'mon, bud, you'll be fine" approach) and when to totally back off of that.

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Yes, I agree. But I do think people and dogs can be a bit manipulative too, and act more distressed than they really are to get certain behaviors out of someone else - i.e., using their cognitive parts of their brains to mimic limbic emotions to achieve an objective. Now with a true phobia of any kind or an actual reason to be afraid (likea fall or an attack), I would never expect that my dog was being manipulative, and if he ever showed the signs both you and Melanie described as being over threshold, I would immediately do whatever I could to remove him from the situation/calm him.

 

I know that the fact that my "first" dog that I got into training with was pathologically fearful does color my approach to fear. I'd readily risk a little "manipulation", which I could easily extinguish later, to avoid erring on the side of not offering my dog support that he or she might need if truly experiencing fear.

 

After all of the time and training and thought and learning I've put into helping Speedy over the years, and now Dean, worry about "manipulation" is not even a concern of mine in this context. In fact, I wish with all my heart that their fearful behavior had been an attempt at "manipulation" instead of true fear - that would have saved them having to go through being fearful, and it would have been a walk in the park compared to dealing with fear issues on the scale that both of them have experienced.

 

Even my "recovering" pathologically fearful dog has never "acted" fearful to get attention - and believe me, there is plenty this dog does for attention. He's an old smoothie. When he's not truly experiencing fear or stress he is so happy and relieved that he can't hide it. Oh, he has his behaviors that show me that he has an agenda - his ears stand up a little straighter, he has a certain way of moving, and his eyes light up in a very distinct way when he wants to get away with something. He also "puts on" the cute expression. But never, in over 7 years, has he acted fearful to get attention.

 

I made a mistake once of letting someone I trusted talk me into believing that he was past his fears and was putting on an act. I ended up wrecking many years of work that I had put into building his trust on that assumption and I learned a very humbling lesson. The damage that was done took over a year to un-do, but all of my future dogs will benefit from that lesson. Dean certainly has.

 

If I'm going to err with any dog it will be on the side of taking something seriously that might be some sort of act. I can always put "acted" behaviors on cue and use them for something later on if they really are "fake".

 

If I had a hundred dollars for all of the times that well meaning, but misinformed, people had told me that I should be ignoring my dog's fears, or that taking action to help the dog in some way (leaving the room, petting the dog, feeding the dog on a mat or in a crate, clicking/treating, etc) was the reason that the dog is fearful in the first place and I should not be putting up with it (ummm, yeah), or that I have to act like nothing is wrong, etc., I would have enough money to open my own training center for fearful dogs!!!

 

Speedy doesn't hide behind my legs when people look at him anymore, he takes part in classes with other dogs and competes on a fairly regular basis, most people who see him have no clue that he's not normal, and he adores performing in front of an audience of people watching him. And, in spite of the setback I mentioned above, I as able to regain his trust and move forward when I went back to doing what I knew was best for my dog. I can only conclude that in the end I did quite a bit right with him.

 

So, that's why "never comfort a fearful dog" is right out the window for me! :rolleyes: I'm not going to scream when the teeter bangs - literally or figuratively - but I'm not going to flood a dog to make him just "get over it" either. I guess my approach is just . . . different. And that's nothing new. :D

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