Chicken Little gets braver
February 2, 2011 -
As you read in my last blog, my dog had a traumatic experience a little over a month ago. I knew I had to act fast and I tried many different things at once. I know it would have been more scientific to just try one thing at a time, but this is my best friend not an experiment, so I went the un-scientific route!
For the rest of the day I rewarded like crazy with treats whenever she was displaying confident body language and whenever she was around my boyfriend. She wasn’t limping after the first 30 minutes so I didn’t take her to the emergency vet as I knew that would be even more traumatic for her.
Monday, the day after the “incident”, I took her to her regular vet to make sure she was physically okay. I bought a “calming collar” at PetSmart and immediately put it on her. There are numerous different brands of calming collars that generally contain pheromones and scents or essential oils like lavender and chamomile. I also contacted a local veterinary behaviorist to purchase a DAP collar, which I put on after a couple of days. For those who haven’t heard of a DAP collar, it is a collar that looks something like a flea collar but it emits pheromones (specifically pheromones a mom dog emits to calm puppies). DAP collars are usually effective for approximately four weeks. They are not a prescription product, but our two local behaviorists were the only people I knew that carried them. They both know me so I didn’t have to take Kyra in for an assessment. While some people have had good success with a “calming collar”, I could really tell a difference when I switched to the DAP collar. I often refer people to a veterinary behaviorist for problems that aren’t suited to PetSmart training. I refer people to a veterinary behaviorist because I can feel confident that he or she has the proper training to assess and treat the problem. The generic term “behaviorist” isn’t regulated so that means that anybody can call themselves a behaviorist. There are good trainers that work with behavior problems, but a veterinary behaviorist can treat any underlying medical problems as well. I also started putting a flower essence in her water every time I refilled her water bowl.
She had some generalized fear of sounds and the environment but those went away on their own after a couple of days. Then she was mainly scared of my boyfriend- when he was standing or walking, and especially in the dark.
Besides the holistic “helpers”, I praised and treated her whenever my boyfriend was near her, when she would approach him, when she looked at him, etc. I would catch her just staring at him waiting to see if he’d fall down. When I started to click/treat for her looking at him, I noticed that her expression relaxed and she began to look at him in order to get a treat not because she was scared of what he might do. She would approach him hesitantly if he called her and he treated her for that. However, I found that if I sent her to “touch” him or “find” him, she approached confidently because she was focused on a fun “trick” she was doing rather than focusing on him. Those two things seemed to make a big difference in how comfortable she was with him. When they were alone together she would just stay outside. After a few days of that he started limiting her access to outside so she was forced to stay in the house with him. She could retreat to another room but she couldn’t just hide outside. Not being able to escape him (but not being forced to be near him) also helped. She was always willing to stay in the house with him if I was home.
After a couple of weeks she was pretty comfortable with him except in the mornings, in the dark, and when he was getting ready and leaving the house. This is understandable because it mimicked the situation before the “incident”. She would stick to me like glue and listen for every little sound he made. I tried treating, making her lie down, letting her go outside, etc., and nothing seemed to help. After about 3 weeks her DAP collar seemed to lose effectiveness so I ordered another.
Then after about 3-1/2 weeks I had an idea. The crate!! Kyra is going on 10 years old and hasn’t been crated at home for about 8 years. She has always viewed the crate as a safe zone and she knew I wouldn’t let anything “get her” if she was in there. I had an old mesh pop-up crate in the garage and we brought it in. It’s huge, doesn’t go with the décor, makes it hard to walk around the bed, and works like a charm. As soon as I put it up, she went in and lay down. Now she sleeps in there (in case he gets up in the middle of the night – scary) and spends the morning in there until he leaves. I have recently let her come out to “have breakfast” (i.e. get table scraps) with him and each day when he leaves he gives her the yummiest cookie (tripe!). The first few days she would approach hesitantly at the door (near the spot of the “incident”) for her cookie, but now she runs right up and is thrilled. Having a safe zone in the crate really helps her feel comfortable. He ignores her in the crate and doesn’t go anywhere near it. These last few days she’s been happier and more confident than she’s been in the last 5 weeks.
Things aren’t back to normal but I think they will be in time. It’s hard to believe that one bad experience with someone she has known and loved for so long would have such a big effect. I guess some dogs would have gotten over it on their own, but I know Kyra and she needed an intervention! When something makes a big impression, one-trial learning can occur. While it took a ton of effort from me, and still takes some effort, it’s worth it to not let her be scared. This was a great learning experience for me, but if I could turn back the clock, I’d skip it. Maybe you can learn from my experience J