Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thunder and Fireworks and Noise, Oh My!

I had been waiting for this day to come. Ever since I'd read in Patricia McConnell's book For the Love of a Dog that thunder phobia is most likely to start between the ages of 3 and 7, I'd been worrying. Maisy had always slept through storms like they weren't even happening, yet she was so sensitive to nearly inaudible (to me, anyway) noises that I just knew it was coming.

And it did. Of course, there was a special little irony in it happening less than 72 hours after we'd gotten a gold star from the veterinary behaviorist. Maybe that jinxed us, or maybe it was a coincidence, but either way, when the storm started getting noisy, Maisy started getting antsy.

First, she pressed herself up as close to me as she could get. Then, she started to pant slightly, even though the air conditioner had made the house quite cold. Finally, she began to tremble and shake. I gave her a dose of her as-needed anxiety medication, and gradually the shaking and panting stopped, although she stayed curled up next to me.

The next night was even worse, as it brought with it the kind of storm that uproots trees and causes massive power outages and contaminated water that will probably give you e. coli when you excitedly make coffee after the power comes back on. (True story. Mostly.)

Suddenly having a dog afraid of storms has been very hard on me. Although Maisy and I have dealt with fear issues for pretty much her entire life, the thunder phobia threw me for a loop. Before, I'd always been able to manage her fear. I could choose to avoid whatever was freaking her out if I wanted. Or I could choose to carefully expose her to it at low levels at times I was prepared to work with her, both physically and mentally.

Now, though? Well, the weather is unpredictable and uncontrollable. We can't avoid it, we can't set up the situation to make her successful, and it happens at times that are highly inconvenient, such as the middle of the night. Worse, it can happen when I'm not even home, leaving Maisy alone with her fear, something that makes me feel terrible.

And it didn't stop there. Although we didn't have any more storms over the next few weeks, we did have the 4th of July, and with it, fireworks. About the only good thing fireworks have going for them is their predictability. Well, and I suppose if we tried really hard, we could avoid them, but given that I live in the middle of a large metro, that would be hard. Still, I can't change the volume nor the timing.

I love my dog dearly, so seeing her so scared is hard on me. Feeling powerless to help her is even harder. Thankfully, I've been lucky enough to learn a bit about behavior modification and we have the support of an excellent veterinary behaviorist. With these two things in our favor, Maisy and I have been able to start dealing with her new noise issues. That doesn't make things any more pleasant, at least not right now, but it does give me hope for the future.

In the next few weeks, I'll discuss what we've done, how it's worked, and where we're at now. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences. Is your dog afraid of thunder or other loud noises? How old was he when it started? Do you totally share my distress about not being able to protect your dog from everything? I'd love to hear from you!


Jen said...

After the age of 5? I missed that! And I thought I was such a McConnell reader.

Elka seems more likely to startle at smaller noises. She used to be afraid of plastic shopping bags (think Wal Mart), for instance. She isn't BFF with them now, but will pick up an empty one and bring it to me. If it has things in it, she won't.

Really, I just made it a point to be casual or non reactive about the object of her fear. When I shook out a plastic bag, as one does, and she was all "OH GOD, a plastic bag!" I would stand in place but hold it out for her to investigate. Or I'd leave them around so that she didn't HAVE to interact with them, but they were present and I guess just became familiar. Can't do that with thunderstorms, really, though I've heard of people having success using recordings.

eileenanddogs said...

I have one sound sensitive dog, a so-far non fearful dog with a very sound temperament, and a feral puppy who is quite bold other than with people. (Also a very old deaf dog.)

For several years I have been doing counter conditioning of thunder with my sound sensitive dog using cheese whiz. (Can't control the distance/volume well enough to do desensitization.) The sound sensitive dog has improved from panic to "OK now we are going to all cuddle up and have cheese whiz." She is still a bit nervous, but does very well when she can be right next to me.

Interestingly, the other two dogs, who have gotten into the act, now have a great response to thunder. They got pure classical conditioning, with nothing to "counter." Clap of thunder, and three heads turn, two attached to wagging tails, looking for their cheese. I mentioned this humorously to my teacher, and she said, "That's what we want!"

I realized that the other two getting cheese probably has some prophylactic effect. I hope I lucked out. I'll let you know in a few years.

My heart goes out to you about this new challenge. It's so hard to see your dog scared like that.

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

So, I was kind of wrong about that reference, Jen. It's from the book "For the Love of a Dog," and the actual age is 3 to 7. I'm not sure where I got 5 from... I'll go edit the post in a minute.

Eileen- the short version of the next post is that we've been doing counter-conditioning, and the results have been encouraging. :)

Jen said...

Well, for 3-7, 5 seems like a good way to split the difference! I guess I need to read For the Love of a Dog again. I love her books!

Lynn said...

I'm sorry to hear that Maisy is developing a fear of storms. I read the same McConnell information and have been using CC to try to prevent thunder phobia from developing...we get really large, fairly regular, summer thunderstorms here. The downside of "prevention," I suppose, is that I'll never know if it makes a difference, but if Maya's storm-related stress stays low, I'm hardly going to complain about that ;-)

Hope Maisy learns to feel more relaxed about unexpected sky noises. She is such a cutie.

Jennifer Jo said...

Oh Jeez! After all you've been through - to now have to add to it with this issue. Zainey started developing her noise phobia's closer to age 2 - such a sad state it can put them in. Her other issues kind of take center stage for now, and luckily we live in Cali where real storms are rare, but I'm still looking into getting 'mutt muffs' to help with the management of scary noises until ds/cc can make a real effect. Google pix of dog's wearing them - if nothing else, they're a cute accessory!

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

Lynn, I always meant to do the pre-emptive work like you are, but Maisy was sleeping through storms and I didn't want to wake her up to do it. Or it was just really inconvenient (like when I was in the shower or something). :(

Sare said...

Hi Crystal:
You might remember Reese she is my border collie who has storm phobia. It has been the hardest thing I have had to deal with. Storms are unpredictable, the weather predictions are bad and most of the storms come at night. I know you will get through this with Maisy like you did her other challenges, but It will take some time. The other thing that is a challenge is the dogs can make some progress over the spring, summer, fall months when it storms. Then we get a big lull during winter and then the storms start in the spring again. Trying to retain the progress over the winter is difficult. But I have no doubt you will work through this.

katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Since so much of Maizey's fear is to things I have absolutely no control over I completely empathize! Rain and the sound of dogs barking while she is inside are just two of the things that trigger her. Neither are things I can control at all. I really hate seeing her afraid and I really hate not being able to stop it even more.

Then there are the things that I could just manage but instead use as a training opportunity. I spent a whole morning doing CC/D to magpies one time. They insisted on landing on our neighbors roof and instead of just closing the blinds I decided she needed to learn to deal with it. I can't be home 24/7 with her and worry a lot about random things triggering her so we work on desensitizing to as many of those things as I can.

I'm sorry your girl is developing a new fear, but am confident you'll help her through it as you always have! (BTW, it's been a while since I left a novel length comment, so I guess it was due!LOL)

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

Sare, I hadn't even got to thinking that far ahead! I've been so focused on the now. Thanks for the heads up that we'll probably regress over the winter.

Katie- I agree! I can't protect Maisy from everything, and have definitely taken a CC approach so that I don't have to worry about storms that happen when I'm gone. :)

Shannon @theDIYdog said...

I have a fireworks-phobic dog, too. Luckily there aren't many thunderstorms in California, but fireworks terrify her. I've had some luck with counter-conditioning...fireworks = hot dogs rain from the is a process and they do regress if you don't keep it up.

My old neighborhood was terrible for fireworks, for a whole 2 weeks before and after the 4th I had to deal with them. It's not so bad where I live now, thank goodness. But I still can't watch John Wayne movies. Sienna doesn't like that loud, Old West gunfire.

There are some CDs out there to help with desensitization, Victoria Stillwell and Through A Dog's Ear did a thunderstorm CD which got pretty good reviews. And there are always Westerns...with the volume down low. :)