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Melanie, I am guessing that you are involved in the study you have linked in your sig line. I take it that they are studying fear and anxiety in dogs. When I got Jackson, the breeders gave me a folder with all sorts of articles on dogs in general, and BCs in particular. One of the papers stated that you should be very careful with pup between the ages of 56 days(8wks) and 63 days(9wks) as this is when the part of a puppy's brain that controls fear is developing and is extremely active. That anything that scares pup then, will most likely lead to a life long fear of that. It does not say who wrote this nor where it came from.


Because of this, we were very careful with Jackson at those ages and he is not afraid of anything except the can of coins I scared the bejeebies out of him with(long story, I explained on another thread). Cheyenne, my muttley, I've had since she was 10 days old but did not know about the fear/age thing. However, we must not have scared her then because she grew up not fearing anything. However, when she was about 6, she suddenly became fearful of thunder and gun shots. And I mean the shaking, panting, worrying kind of fear.


Has the study found the age/fear thing to be a factor? Has anyone suggested this? Why would a dog that had been through so many storms suddenly become afraid of them? The new puppy I have, I didn't get until two days before he was 9wks. We had a terrible (well, I think they're great!)thunder storm tonight and Jackson and Skip were the only dogs not affected by them. Would any of them be good subjects for study? Thanks in advance.

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Hi Linda,


To be honest I am not really qualified to answer all your questions -- I am not a behaviorist -- I just have a lot of experience with one wacky dog. That said, if I remember correctly the whole "fear period" business is a bit simplistic. I'd have to go back and do some reading to be more specific. I've never raised a puppy so this has never come up for me personally.


We are still collecting data so we don't have results yet such that I can answer your question about the role of age and experience in the development of anxiety in dogs. There are questions in our behavioral questionnaire about history that will help us get to this but we are more interested in things that are hard-wired (i.e., genetically mediated). It is known of course that experiences during development affect adult behavior, but the research that has been done (i.e., Scott and Fuller) suggests that (again, if I remember correctly) responses are maybe not as plastic as a lot of people tend to think they are. For example, a dog has to be seriously deprived of social interaction during puppyhood to be truly "unsocialized," as fairly limited exposure to new people, dogs, places, and things seem to be enough to "inoculate" normal dogs against later fears. (Solo may actually have been deprived enough for it to matter, since he grew up in a kennel with little or no social interaction.) Not that it hurts to socialize the hell out of a puppy, unless you push them too far, but it probably isn't as necessary provided your dog is normal to start with. It's more important for dogs that start with hard-wired deficits (and Solo probably falls into this category).


As for noise phobias, I know that they often seem to come out of nowhere in mature dogs. The thing about fear responses to noise is that they are partially learned and that the association between noise and fear can strengthen over time. So usually the dog has always been afraid of noises, but his fear is not noticed until he's had a chance to "practice" the noise/fear association over and over again and his response has become more obvious. This is why it's best to treat as early as possible, before the response becomes very ingrained.


We are doing a special study on noise phobia in Border Collies and would love to include all of your dogs, affected or unaffected. If you're interested just PM me or email me directly.



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Linda, I have had dogs who I'm absolutely positive felt no fear connected with thunderstorms until they reached middle age, and then without any particularly bad experience with thunder/lightning they developed it. I don't know why -- though I assume there's a genetic component -- but I know it's a fact. In one or two cases I can rule out any exposure to people or other dogs with thunderstorm fears.


Once they start being afraid, I'm sure Melanie's right that each fear experience ingrains it more.

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About thunderstorms - I find it more with fireworks though - almost all of the dogs I know became scared of fireworks at 4 years or older. Something seems to just "click" at that age - even if the dog has never shown a fear of the fireworks in the past. Peanut (shih tzu) never cared about them until she was 4 1/2, now she hates them. Dazzle doesn't care now but I have a feeling that in another 3 years she might.


I thought that was an interesting fact.

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Absolutly no noise phobias for my dog. He just turned 9 months two days ago. I just hope he won't pick some later on.


He's actualy fascinated by sirens from fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, loud bikes. If we drive past a group of bikers on the highway, he attently observes them and can't seem to get enough of them, stares at them and wags his tail!


I think he wants to become a biker when he grows up! Or a fireman

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One of the interesting things about noise phobias is that, across breeds, they tend to be associated with other anxiety problems. In the only really good controlled study done on the topic (disclaimer: by one of the PIs of the project I'm working on now), in a case series of 141 dogs, if a dog had noise phobia there was a probability of 0.88 that it would also have separation anxiety. This also suggests that some dogs are more prone to noise phobias than others, or that the genetic substrate of the dog matters in addition to the experiences the dog has during development.


One of the reasons we are interested in looking at Border Collies (other than that noise phobia seems to be enriched in this breed) is that Border Collies often appear to be noise phobic without having any other anxiety problems. Whether this difference is apparent or real I don't know -- the data may not bear it out -- but if it is real then it means this is a very interesting breed to look at.


Phobias are qualitatively different from normal learned fears. Some of the criteria for phobias (these criteria are the ones that are used to describe human phobias, and noise phobias in dogs fulfill all of them) are that the response can become full-blown after a single traumatic exposure, that the response tends to remain extreme and invariant even if the stimulus is more or less intense, and that continued exposure to whatever the trigger is tends to sensitize, rather than desensitize, the fearful individual.


Fly is afraid of very few things. At some point in her life, perhaps during training before I got her, Fly learned to be afraid of sticks that are moved around or swung over her head. (Reasonable enough.) Her response is quite different from Solo's response to noises. She will look suspicious and back away. I can get her to accept a moving stick by clicking and treating her. When exposed to loud traumatic noises, Solo goes straight into a panic and immediately tries to flee or hide. The glassy-eyed panic mode is familiar to anyone with a noise phobic dog. There is no jollying or desensitizing a dog out of this kind of panic.


I tend to believe that dogs are either predisposed to developing phobias, or they aren't. If you've lived with a phobic dog, it's a very dramatic panic response and if the dog is panicked enough, there is no "reaching" him (calling names, snapping fingers, attempting to give treats or toys). Fly has spooked at sudden noises the same way any normal dog or person would, but recovers instantly. The response of a noise phobic dog is much less conscious. It's a good phenotype to be looking at for a number of reasons, but some of them are that it's easy to recognize even for someone who is not a behaviorist, it's quite discrete, and it appears to run in families.

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Oh, and here's the abstract for the study I reference above (sorry for the formatting):




Frequency of nonspecific clinical signs in dogs

with separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia,

and noise phobia, alone or in combination

Karen L. Overall, VMD, PhD, DACVB; Arthur E. Dunham, PhD; Diane Frank, DVM, DACVB


Objective?To determine the frequency of nonspecific

clinical signs in dogs with separation anxiety,

thunderstorm phobia, noise phobia, or any combination

of these conditions and determine whether these

conditions are associated in dogs.

Design?Case series.

Animals?141 dogs.

Procedure?Diagnoses were established using specific

criteria. Owners of dogs completed a questionnaire

on how frequently their dogs exhibited destructive

behavior, urination, defecation, vocalization, and

salivation when the owners were absent and the

types and frequency of reactions to thunderstorms,

fireworks, and other noises.

Results?Associations of the 3 conditions and of various

nonspecific clinical signs within and between

diagnoses were nonrandom. The probability that a

dog would have separation anxiety given that it had

noise phobia was high (0.88) and approximately the

same as the probability it would have separation anxiety

given that it had thunderstorm phobia (0.86).

However, the probability that a dog would have noise

phobia given that it had separation anxiety (0.63) was

higher than the probability that it would have thunderstorm

phobia given that it had separation anxiety

(0.52). The probability that a dog would have noise

phobia given that it had thunderstorm phobia (0.90)

was not equivalent to the converse (0.76).

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance?Results suggested

that dogs with any of these conditions should

be screened for the others. Interactions among these

conditions are important in the assessment and treatment

of dogs with > 1 of these conditions.

Responses to noise were different from those to

thunderstorms, possibly because of the unpredictability

and uncertainty of thunderstorms. ( J Am

Vet Med Assoc2001;219:467?473)

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What's surprising to me is Maddie and Dally were exposed to the same fireworks and barking dogs and Maddie didn't care one bit.


Dal wasnt totally frightened but, was bothered. With the firworks he chose to go under the porch and lay quietly. With the barking dogs inside a kennel he couldnt focus. You would have sworn he didnt have an ounce of training.

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None of the dogs have any seperation anxiety. Cheyenne seems only to be neurotic over thunder storms, however she stays in the house when we shoot the guns or DH is running some power tool. Vaccuums do not bother her. Jackson seems oblivious to all noises! It's like he accepts whatever he hears as part of life and is of no consiquince to him.


Maybe Cheyenne's developement of thunder phobia is like Eileen said, something that has to do with "middle age". Trust me, some of the storms I have been through with Cheyenne, I would have noticed if she was bothered by it. While she was on the truck with me, she did bark like crazy at ANY flat bed truck, loaded or not, so maybe it is the flat-bedders fault!

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Interesting, Melanie. Oreo's one of the ones who isn't really noise-sensitive, doesn't have seperation anxiety, but is terrified of thunder. She used to be a little wary of strange people and things, but in the way you describe Fly. The slightest hint of thunder and she panics.

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