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Fear Phase?

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I remember reading on these boards, about some border collies going through a fear phase.  Looking for advice on Runa, my 4 year old bc.  She has always been very sensitive, to the point if I stubbed my toe and said “Ouch”, she thought it was her fault.  She was sensitive but not fearful.  It’s just been in the last couple months, I have seen a change in her behavior.

 Our last agility class had a dog that charged her through the barrier, never any physical contact, but it scared Runa.  After doing it to 3 or 4 others dogs, that team was asked to quit.  Runa seemed fine then, but two weeks ago we started a freestyle class and she totally shut down.  One of the dogs barked at her and I never got her back.  I couldn’t even get her to look at me.  It was heartbreaking to see her that miserable.  This training facility was new to her and the instructor said to be patient and see if it gets better.  This last week was a little better, we went early and played Frisbee to get her used to the space, but as soon as the other dogs came and class started she was in and out of shut down mode.  Also, she is now afraid of the clicker.  She was clicker trained for our first year, but when another team used a clicker she would try to climb in my lap.   

My instructor was the one who mentioned fear phase.  My impression was that it happened when the dogs were younger/adolescent?  Thoughts?  Suggestions? 

Thanks in advance,

Judith and Runa




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This seems pretty old from what I know about fear periods. There are certain ages where they're fairly common, and I've seen a whole lot of variability about when they occur, but a lot of ppl believe they end by about 18 months or so. I've also seen some mentions of early adulthood fear periods, but am not sure if that's covered by the 18ish month upper level or not.

What it sounds to me like is that you have a very sensitive dog who got pretty badly frightened and then may have had additional scary things stacking onto it, i.e. trigger stacking.

I once had a dog like that. Very sensitive and easily frightened. As you described she became so frightened of clickers after a teeter banged loudly at an agility class that she associated clickers with it and I had to stop taking her anywhere they might be clickers. She also made an association with slick floors after she ran into something in my kitchen and knocked over some stuff that was very loud and I couldn't take her anywhere with smooth linoleum or painted concrete floors.

I wasn't able to help her in her short life (she died from something unrelated at 3 yrs and 2 weeks old), but her life had become so restricted that I often wondered if she just gave up and didn't want to live anymore.

This was before I knew anything about vets using the same sorts of meds used for people with psychiatric disorders. Maybe they weren't even doing it then. If I had a dog like this now I'd be asking my vet for help, and maybe seeing a veterinary behaviorist who has expertise in using various meds for such things. My current anxious girl's on generic prozac and it's made a positive difference for her.

Wishing you and Runa the very best with this.


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GentleLake, thanks for your reply.  I had never heard of trigger stacking, but it makes sense, given how sensitive Runa is.  I didn't realize how much that dog charging affected her, but looking back, any time that dog was off leash, Runa wanted to be in my lap or be picked up (which I allowed). 

The last freestyle class, I brought the "Power of her Universe - her frisbee", and watched as "frisbee out" = normal Runa, "frisbee gone" = shut down Runa.  It was like an on/off switch.  After a while though, it was pretty much all shut down mode.  Her reactions make more sense now. When the frisbee was gone, she realized there were other dogs in the ring and shut down.  Duh!  Sometimes it takes a little insight from a third party for the light to come on. 

I think we will try one more class and see if there is any improvement.  It is a small class, five mellow dogs, and the instructor and the other teams have been wonderful and very accommodating.  They set up barriers to limit Runa seeing other dogs and they quit using their clickers.  They want Runa to succeed.  How nice is that?

Depending on how things go next week, I am very open to vet/veterinary behaviorist/meds, thank you for the suggestion. 

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I think the medication idea is a good one. I had a bc that we put on Clomicalm (generic is clomipramine). We tried doggy Prozac for her and there was no change. Clomicalm worked great for Shoshone. We had a friend who loved dogs, this friend has Tourette's Syndrome, and would make all kinds of funny chirps and other noises. Shonie would leave the room. After we put her on Clomicalm, Shonie would climb into Patti's lap for treats.

Do talk with your vet about some kind of anti-anxiety med,  You might have to try a couple different ones before you find one that works, but these medications can make a huge difference.

Ruth & Gibbs

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