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Noise Phobia and Sports

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I'm starting a new topic for this since it really is off topic from the heeling threads.


I want to try some agility with her and will be using ONLY positive methods!! I MAY even pick up a clicker one of these days :rolleyes: I would welcome ANY tips on how to deal with her noise phobia??? It;s kinda funny, she is an AMAZING little heeling dog to!!! like a mini hackney!!! But I would never try to compete with her either becasue of her fears. Maybe someday we will be able to work up to it???


1. The main thing to remember with a noise phobic dog in sports is to take things super slow. With a dog who is noise phobic, teaching behaviors in a setting that is quiet before working in an environment where sounds are going to start to be a factor is crucial.


A noise phobic dog who has crossed the threshold into panic or fear cannot learn.


I made a big mistake with Dean with Agility for a long time. He was very nervous in the training building where he had been spooked by teeters banging and one very loud woman yelling at her dog. I thought that working on the Agility skills in that setting would habituate (make him familiar enough to relax) him to working there and that confidence would come with familiarity. That backfired. Not only was he unable to improve in his Agility skills, but he became very tentative.


This past fall, I took a new approach. I started taking him to class and we did no Agility. None. Zero. We worked only on making him comfortable out on the floor with the equipment there. He had learned - Agility equipment means stress and expectations. I set out to teach him that Agility equipment = games. It took a few classes, but I finally helped him get comfortable enough to play tug out there. Once he got to the point where he went out there expecting tug, we did restrained recalls (which he ADORES). Then we added in just a jump and a tunnel - to tug. Or restrained recalls over jumps.


Last week he accidentally crashed into a jump and it knocked over both the bar and a stantion. He ran to me, wanting to tug. That was huge!


The desire to play had to come before he could stop worrying about noise. Now that the desire to play is getting stronger, he can tolerate some noise. And we are able to start working on Agility skills again. At his pace - no pressure! But his pace is way faster than it was when he was worried!


2. Use the environment as a reward as much as possible.


Another thing that I did with Dean was to use something that he loves passionately to reward him for playing Agility with me - loving on his human friends. Dean gives the most wonderful upsnuggles and he loves with his whole being.


I would take him into the ring and have one of his human friends in there. First thing - he got to upsnuggle. Then I called him to play. Then I released him to go see someone.


It may sound like that's encouraging visiting, but what he actually learned is that he goes to visit when he's sent. When he's not sent, he does not visit.


In competition, he upsnuggles a friend outside the ring. In the ring, he pays no mind to the judge or ring crew - he has not been sent to them and it's time to play. After we finish, he gets to upsnuggle a friend outside the ring again.


This also helps create relaxation and a playful frame of mind.


And it can help take his mind off of moderate noise spooks and get his head back into the game. The more we play this, the more I see his capacity to recover from moderate noise spooks increase.


3. Limit exposure to noise as much as possible.


I made the mistake of trying to desensitize Dean to noise. I ended up sensitizing him big-time. I actually ended up sensitizing him to some things that he hadn't been bothered by before.


Because dropping bars spook him, teeter bangs spook him, and people yelling spooks him, he is in the car during Agility class. I play a CD in the car to "absorb" sounds that might bother him.


The car thing has served a cool second purpose. It has become a "safe place" where he can reset if he gets spooked by a noise.


I find that the less he hears sounds that spook him, the better he is able to ignore him. There is actually a physiological reason for that. When a dog (or human, for that matter) experiences a panic-type fear, certain chemicals are released in the brain that create the flight response. Those chemicals stick around for a while. If the dog is spooked AGAIN before the body has had a chance to remove them, now it's a double wammy.


A dog who has not been panicked by something recently has a much better capacity to recover from a panic response.


Does that make sense?


Of course there are things you can't limit. Thunder, fireworks, gunshots, etc. But I control what I can and I don't expose him to any noise that will spook him if I have a choice.


This has helped tremendously.


4. Expose the dog to "good sound". Play soft music (Through a Dog's Ear is wonderful). Talk to your dog. Any sound that the dog likes is helpful.


5. Contrary to popular practice, I do NOT "make" him do anything when he is spooked before letting him leave the ring. I've taken quite a bit of flack for this from some people (not my current instructor). There is a deep seated belief that if you "let" a dog leave when he wants to, instead of when you decide to, the dog will think he can leave any time he wants.


A dog in a noise phobic panic is not choosing to leave. The dog is responding to the flight response.


I have found that by allowing Dean to leave in cases when he gets spooked, and requiring NOTHING of him before leaving, his trust and comfort levels in the ring have increased. He knows he can get out if he needs to. He never, ever, ever tries to leave if he is not seriously spooked by a noise.


6. Gauge expectations to what is reasonable for the dog. I would never - ever expect Dean to sit at the side of the ring and listen to a teeter bang. But, he is to the point now where he's OK if the judge slaps the clip on a clip board in his presence (it happened at a Rally trial and he recovered!).


I only take Dean to one ring Rally trials. We only compete in Level 1 CPE since there is no teeter, and we will probably compete in NADAC since there is no teeter.


We are going to try Freestyle competition again in March. He will be outside until it is time for his sound check and he will go back outside after he is finished. His music is soft and the volume will be low. Even though he loves music, the sound system will present a sound challenge.


I only crate him out of the car. So, he doesn't compete much in the summer. In the car I can play CD's to integrate sounds in the area.


At one time I thought this was going to keep us from competing at all, but I've learned that there are ways - many, many ways. I have to be flexible. If we are at a trial and someone starts shooting guns right next door, we would have to leave. But his ability to integrate and recover from noises that create the panic response is increasing.


I hope that helps! Competing with a noise phobic dog is an unusual challenge, but when it all comes together, it is extremely rewarding.

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I did agility years ago with a noise phobic BC. I did a lot of training asking him to make noises and rewarding him for that. For example, if he smacked something with his paw and made a bang I gave him a huge reward. It didn't cure him of his noise phobia, but things like the teeter didn't scare him anymore because he knew he made the noise and was being rewarded for that.

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I did agility years ago with a noise phobic BC. I did a lot of training asking him to make noises and rewarding him for that. For example, if he smacked something with his paw and made a bang I gave him a huge reward. It didn't cure him of his noise phobia, but things like the teeter didn't scare him anymore because he knew he made the noise and was being rewarded for that.


I've done a bit of that, too.


I've found that with Dean I have to be very careful with this. Generally he is fine with noise that he makes himself, but if the sound is extra loud, it can spook him. And, if he makes the same sound over and over, sometimes it starts to freak him out a little after a few times. We have hit a few setbacks when doing this type of exercise, although sometimes it works out well.


The other thing is that I've found that while it helps habituate him to noise that he makes himself - like the teeter - that has not yet carried over to when other dogs make the same noise. I hope that someday it will but so far it has not.

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A good article by Patricia McConnell contradicting the common view that reassuring a fearful dog will reinforce its fear.




“You’ll just teach them to be more fearful,” according to the traditional wisdom. Only one thing: It’s not true.


We’ve been taught for ages that trying to soothe frightened dogs just makes them worse. It seems logical, in a cut-and-dried, stimulus-and-response kind of way. Your dog hears thunder, he runs to you and you pet him. Voilà, your dog just got reinforced for running to you when it thunders, and worse, for being afraid of thunderstorms in the first place. But that’s not what happens, and here’s why. First, no amount of petting is going to make it worthwhile to your dog to feel panicked. Fear is no more fun for dogs than it is for people. The function of fear is to signal the body that there is danger present, and that the individual feeling fearful had better do something to make the danger, and the fear that accompanies it, go away.



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The function of fear is to signal the body that there is danger present, and that the individual feeling fearful had better do something to make the danger, and the fear that accompanies it, go away.


And, if you think about it - this makes sense on a very practical level. In real life, getting to safety when danger is perceived is a very sensible thing to do. It is a survival instinct. If a tornado was approaching your home and you took shelter in a cellar, people would think you quite wise. If someone was standing there trying to make you run through a tunnel before you took to the cellar, would that make you more likely to want to run through a tunnel in the future?


Now, I know such parallels between dogs and humans are often frowned upon, but in this case the example is useful to illustrate what is going on with a dog in a noise phobic panic in a sport setting. The dog - for whatever reason - perceives the noise as serious danger on an involuntary level. It's not a choice any more than it would be my choice to be seriously afraid of that tornado. The sensible thing for the dog to do is to get to safety, not run through tunnels, or continue to heel, or whatever. And compelling the dog to do those things before being allowed to get to safety is not going to make the dog more likely to want to play that sport in the future. Doing so will not communicate to the dog that the noise is really nothing. To the dog it is not "nothing".


I've found over time that because I allow my dog to do what he needs to do to find that safety immediately he is learning over time that the ring itself is a safe place, and his ability to recover from noise spooks is increasing over time.


Also, I've learned to do this in a very neutral way. Any effort on my part to sound "HAPPY!" when he is spooked by a noise makes it 50 times worse. That might be something that is very individual to the dog. The very best thing to do with Dean is to say - in a neutral tone of voice, "OK, let's go" and get him to a safe place so he can recover.


When he hit the jump last week and sent the pieces crashing to the ground, the worst thing I could have done was try to verbally praise him. I said nothing. Not a word. I just stood there - watched him to make sure he was physically OK, and I let him decide what he was going to do. He stopped for a second and thought about it. Then he ran to me and bopped the ball tug toy that I had in my hand with his nose. He was free to work through it. He worked through it. We played and life went on.


Training and competing with a noise phobic dog is an education!

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