Category: Fear

When a Dog Suffers a Trauma

When a Dog Suffers a Trauma

The scene is the back interior of a car. There is a bowl of cat food in the foreground. In the back is a dog crate with a distressed brown dog looking away.

Here’s a photo that breaks my heart. Clara the bold, refusing to leave her car crate, even to eat some cat food.

This is what happened.

Early in December, I took Lewis and Clara to the house my sister is going to move into so they could mess around while I cleaned house. It was raining and dreary. There were leaves layered on the lawn and on the steep driveway.

Clara always jumps into the car on her own, but I help her get out. It’s the same routine we’ve had since she was a little pup. After I open her crate door, she comes to the back driver’s side door where I am standing and walks into my outstretched arms, and I lower her down. We do this even though she is 45 pounds, because my SUV floor (on top of the folded seats) is too high for her to jump down from safely, especially at her age.

A red Subaru Outback is parked on an inclined concrete driveway covered with leaves. An arrow points to an area on the concrete just below the back door on the driver's side.
The arrow marks the place I put down Clara after I lifted her from the car. The driveway was wet as well as leafy.

So on this day, she came out of her crate and came to the car door. I beckoned, and she stepped into my arms. I lifted her down. When I put her down on the wet driveway, she slipped and fell onto her side. She didn’t appear to be injured, but the fall was traumatic. She scrambled up, jumped back into the car, and dove into her crate.

I coaxed her out, and she stood there with her back legs trembling, as she does when scared. I couldn’t tell for sure, but she seemed unhurt. Then she scooted back into her crate again and wouldn’t come out.

Clara used to retreat to a crate as a puppy when she was scared or overwhelmed.

Coaxing Her Out of the Crate

I drove back home with both dogs (Lewis had never gotten out of his crate). When I got into the garage, I opened Clara’s crate door, but she wouldn’t come out. I let Lewis out and took him into the house, closing the car door before we went. I didn’t want Clara to try to get out on her own in case she ventured out of the crate.

I returned to the car and tried to coax Clara out. She wasn’t having any of it. She crouched in her crate, looking petrified. I got ahold of her collar, but she was a dead weight, and I didn’t want to resort to force in any case.

I went in the house and came back with two bowls of cat food. The ultimate treat. I planned to put one bowl near her crate, and another on the floor outside the car.

The scene is the back interior of a car. There is a bowl of cat food in the foreground. In the back is a dog crate with a distressed brown dog lying in the crate, backed up from the opening, looking at the camera and ignoring the food.

I set a bowl down in front and a little to the side of her crate. She didn’t budge. I had to hold back tears. She wouldn’t come out for cat food. I left for a bit, shutting the car door. When I came back, she was still in her crate, the cat food untouched.

I left again, for a little longer. When I came back, she was in her crate, but the cat food was gone. She had come out and gone back in again. I was simultaneously relieved and heartbroken. She would come out and eat when I was gone, but not when I was there. Ask anyone who takes in fearful foster dogs. That’s how she was acting, creeping out to eat the food when I was gone, then scuttling back into her safe place. I appeared to be associated with the trauma.

I brought cat food again and left it. Each time when I came back, she had eaten it. She started hanging out in the front of her crate with slightly more relaxed body language. Finally, on about my fifth try, she came out to eat the cat food while I was still there. As desperate as I was to get her out, I didn’t grab her. I let her have the cat food, then she went back into her crate, as I figured she would. This gave me confidence to proceed, though.

I needed a new way to help her out of the car. She didn’t know how to do it on her own by taking a step on the floor of the car, and I was sure she wouldn’t walk into my arms. I decided to use my Klimb, a sturdy, low platform designed for dog activities, as a landing pad. I opened the rear hatch, took Lewis’ crate out, and put the Klimb next to the back of the car. Clara has experience Jumping down onto the Klimb already. I bought it as a step off my bed for disabled Zani, and Clara has used it as well. We do all sorts of training and husbandry on the Klimb, too. It is conditioned as a happy and safe place.

I set up the Klimb. I put the bowl of cat food down near Clara’s crate and she came out and ate. As she did that, I again refrained from grabbing her, but I closed the crate door so she couldn’t hurry back in. She tried a couple of times to get back in her crate, then she walked to the rear where I was waiting. I tapped the Klimb and cued her to jump down on it, and she did! I had yet another bowl of cat food ready. She gobbled it happily, jumped off the Klimb, and went into the house. The timing was great. My partner Ruth had just finished having lunch and had saved a couple of pieces of hot dog for Clara, as she always does. Clara slipped straight into one of her happy routines.

Back in the House

Clara didn’t act scared of me. What a relief—I had been fearing the worst. I have always been her safest anchor in the world. I was safe again, outside the car situation. I had no idea how she would react when we tried the car again.

Over the next couple of days, Clara got excited and asked to come along every time I went somewhere, which made me hopeful.

The traumatized reaction was atypical for Clara. She is physically bold and has never been afraid of objects or unstable surfaces. I was deeply upset by this development. I wanted and needed to help her feel better about exiting the car. Riding in the car is the doorway to lots of enrichment and fun for her, besides being a necessary life skill.

I have seen this kind of large fear response to an event only a couple of times with dogs, and I have learned to take it seriously. I needed to make a careful plan. It’s human nature to minimize this kind of thing in our minds, to assume the dog will “get over it.” It would have been natural for me to try the next day to “see if she would get out of the car the normal way.” I didn’t. I might have tried to change the situation a little, go somewhere different with a better landing area, and assume Clara “would understand that this was different and wouldn’t be scared anymore.” But I’ve finally learned that fear doesn’t work like that. I fought my impulses and made a plan that changed the picture a lot for Clara, because who knew what part of the situation her fear had already generalized to?

Addressing the Fear

The view is through the open rear hatch of a Subaru. There are two dog crates with a Klimb dog platform fitting vertically between them.
Klimb between crates: the front bottom leg is removed

I successfully rehabilitated Clara’s fear and she can again exit the car.

I abandoned the old method of lifting her down. Not only was it now associated with her fall, but I have a shoulder problem and the process causes me pain, too.

With encouragement from Marge Rogers, I figured out that I could fit the Klimb in my car along with both crates. It fits vertically between them if I unscrew one of the bottom legs. I purchased the Klimb’s custom nonslip cover. I had been using a square of yoga mat, but wanted the extra security of the better fit.

Our new method was the same way I got her out that first day: step down onto the Klimb, then down to the ground. But I didn’t want to always have to get her out the back. I needed to have the option to put the Klimb next to a door as well.

Here is the plan I made and carried out. You can see most of it in the video embedded below.

1. With Lewis’ crate removed, I cued Clara to get into and out of the car via the Klimb placed in back. I reinforced generously, especially for coming out. I used either spray cheese or Stella and Chewy’s dehydrated raw food for every step.
2. Next, I cued Clara to get into and out of the car via the Klimb placed next to the passenger side door, which she has never used before.
3. First with Lewis’ crate removed, then with it present, I cued Clara to get into and out of the car via the Klimb placed next to the driver’s side. This is her lifelong exit location from the car, and was the most likely to have fear attached to it, so we worked up to doing it last.
4. Finally, we took it on the road. We went somewhere fun. She was happy to jump out via the platform.

A Klimb dog platform is sitting on the level part of a mostly inclined driveway next to a red Subaru. The Klimb is placed next to the back door on the driver's side as a step for dogs when they get out of the car.
The Klimb goes flush next to the car and the car door opens over it. Perfect!

Designing a Training Plan for One Dog

I tailored this plan with Clara’s history and capabilities in mind. I’m not suggesting this as a method for anyone else.

Luckily, Clara was not scared of getting into the car, being in the car, or riding in the car. Just getting out. So I needed to take an operant approach. I would have made a different plan (and likely a longer one) if either of the latter two had scared her. I would have used a classical conditioning-based method.

Here are some reasons why my approach worked for Clara, but might have been a bad idea for some dogs.

1. It involved jumping onto a small surface. It would have been a different and longer process if Clara hadn’t already been comfortable with the Klimb. She has had lots of good experiences on there, including jumping down onto it as well as up. She grew up in an agility household and got plenty of practice jumping on and off a variety of things.
2. My method involved a bit of luring or targeting as I beckoned her onto the Klimb the first few times. For some dogs, that would have been too much pressure. It’s not a good idea to lure a dog toward something that scares them. Again, Clara’s comfortable with the Klimb.
3. The area behind my car in the garage was a tight place to work. You’ll notice it in the video. Clara was exiting the car straight at the closed garage door, which was very close. She had to jump down and immediately halt her forward motion. A bigger dog, or a dog lacking her physical ability might have had a hard time. But she coped fine. I made this choice because leaving the garage door open would’ve had its own set of problems.

For those who would like some more general instructions for a dog who may not be used to getting onto a stool or platform, here is a video by the wonderful trainer Donna Hill with step-by-step instructions on teaching a dog to enter and exit a car using a step stool.

Video of Training Steps for Getting Out of the Car

The great thing about a dog who loves to go places in the car is that going to a fun location becomes the large, terminal reinforcer. I’m still using higher value reinforcers for moving on and off the platform, but I’m gradually fading them to lower value as she becomes fluent with this new system. You can see in the video that she is interested in the environment as soon as she exits the car.

Might Clara’s Reaction Be Related to Cushing’s Disease?

Clara was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease last May (2022). Her original symptom was extreme hunger. Her case is mild so far, and she is not on medication yet. But over the summer, she started exhibiting some weird fears.

I suspect those fears, and her high-magnitude response to a onetime fall, are related to the Cushing’s. This disease causes dogs to have an overabundance of cortisol in their system. Not a great situation for a dog with fears and who had such a hard start in life. Her recent anxiety and fears could also be early symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction. Cushing’s may raise the likelihood of that condition as well (da Silva, 2021).

My vet and I are trialing some meds. The thought of Clara having added fear and stress in her life makes me feel sick. I’ll do anything in my power to help her. In the meantime, I’m relieved Clara is comfortable getting out of the car again. We dodged a bullet. I’ll be keeping the Klimb in there for good.

Reference

da Silva, C. C., Cavalcante, I., de Carvalho, G. L. C., & Pöppl, Á. G. (2021). Cognitive dysfunction severity evaluation in dogs with naturally-occurring Cushing´s syndrome: A matched case-control study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 46, 74-78.

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

Photos copyright Eileen Anderson. The photos of Clara frightened in the car were digitally altered by a Photoshop specialist to remove a whole lot of white dog hair that was sticking to the fabric on the back of the rear seats. I don’t mind telling you about it, but I’m glad I didn’t have to let you see it!

Just a Whisper: The Early Signs of Fear in Dog Body Language

Just a Whisper: The Early Signs of Fear in Dog Body Language

A white dog with brown ears and ticking, wearing a blue harness, looks at the back of a construction worker's trailer

It’s pretty easy to recognize intense fear in dogs. A tucked tail, crouching, panting, a tight mouth and wrinkled forehead, shrinking away. But my friend and coauthor Marge Rogers has taught me the importance of seeing the early signs. The whispers, she calls them, that precede the “shouts” that come later if we don’t heed the early warnings.

I caught a “whisper” on camera.

Continue reading “Just a Whisper: The Early Signs of Fear in Dog Body Language”
Experiencing a High Magnitude Punisher and Its Fallout

Experiencing a High Magnitude Punisher and Its Fallout

Black and white cartoon drawings of two stinging insects flying together in a threatening manner
Cartoon stinging insects, since I don’t want to trigger any phobias. See the link immediately below for photo of Polistes exclamans, the common paper wasp species that was living on my porch.

Photo of Polistes exclamans in nest

silver metal storage cabinet with a blue tarp on top. The cabinet door is partially open.
This was the cabinet on the day that I found out there was a wasp nest under the blue tarp

One day last summer (2021), I was on my back porch. I lifted a tarp I keep over my cabinets so I could close the door, something I’ve done without thought dozens of times. A wasp flew out from under the tarp at warp speed and stung my hand so hard and painfully that it felt like a blow. For a moment I didn’t know what happened, but my hand hurt like hell, and I realized that a stinging insect had gotten me and that there were more of them.

I yelled and scrambled back into my house, frantically scanning to make sure no wasps had come in the door with me. I slammed the storm door and the wooden door inside it. But the wooden door doesn’t latch all the way in the summer and wouldn’t stay shut. I needed to get away from that wasp and its colleagues so badly that I leaned on the wooden door with all my body weight for an embarrassingly long time, on the off chance that a wasp might be between the doors. I recovered slowly from my scare. My hand throbbed and started to swell.

Continue reading “Experiencing a High Magnitude Punisher and Its Fallout”
6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW

6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW

firecracker exploding in the air with lots of orange sparks

Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until Canada Day or Independence Day to start worrying about it! You can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Get Ready

Here are some things you can do today.

1. Check with your vet about medications
If your dog gets very anxious about noises and you have never talked to your vet about it, do so now. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help. And if you can’t get in before the holiday, do your best with some of the other ideas here to get through it and call your vet as soon as you can. This is a long-term problem. Sound phobias tend to get worse and are not something to be taken lightly.

Continue reading “6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW”
If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

“What are we here for this time?”

Every year I post an article that lists last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on Independence Day and Canada Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years, I have tweaked my list. I’ll be updating and reposting it in a few days.

But here is an earlier reminder with the most important tip of all.

See your vet about medications (or speak to clinic staff by text or phone if that is an option).

There are new products on the market, as well as several options that have been around for years. Here is what Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinary behavior resident, says about the benefits of medications.

Now is the perfect time to add an anti-anxiety medication to your firework-preparation kit. The right medication will help your pet remain calm while not causing significant sedation. It is important to practice trials of medication before the actual holiday so the effect can be properly tested.

There are a variety of medications or combinations that your veterinarian might prescribe. Medications such as Sileo, clonidine, alprazolam, gabapentin, or trazodone are the best to try due to their quick onset of action (typically within an hour) and short duration of effect (4–6 hours).

Medications such as acepromazine should be avoided as they provide sedation without the anti-anxiety effect, and could potentially cause an increase in fear.

Pets who suffer severe fear may need a combination of medications to achieve the appropriate effect, and doses may need to be increased or decreased during the trial phase. Ultimately, there is no reason to allow a pet to suffer from noise phobia. Now is the perfect time to talk with your veterinarian.

Dr. Lynn Honeckman

Sound phobia is a serious medical condition that usually gets worse. Nothing else comes close to the efficacy of medications. The research on music, pressure garments, and supplements shows weak effects at best. The best way to help your dog get through the coming holidays in the U.S. and Canada is to contact your vet for help. Call now.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

Related Post

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

“What are we here for this time?”

Every year I post an article that lists last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on New Year’s Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years, I have tweaked my list. I’ll be posting it tomorrow.

But here is an earlier reminder with the most important tip of all.

Continue reading “If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now”
The Day I Got Paid for Crying

The Day I Got Paid for Crying

Lately I’ve been thinking about something that happened to me in my early 20s, a pivotal day when I had an emotional reaction unlike any before or since. The experience has remained vivid to me all these years, but only recently has it snapped into place among my thoughts about behavior. It’s a human corollary to “you don’t need to worry about reinforcing your dog’s fear.” I underwent an intense, long period of extended respondent behavior followed by something that would be a huge reinforcer for operant behavior. Did my respondent behavior get reinforced?

Here’s the story.

i finished my master’s in music when I was 21 and was already working professionally. I played the harpsichord, and although I gave solo performances now and then, I specialized in the improvised “accompaniment” of the Baroque period: basso continuo. This meant that I got to play in ensembles from duos up to full orchestras, including opera orchestras.

Continue reading “The Day I Got Paid for Crying”
6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting TODAY

6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting TODAY

firecracker exploding in the air with lots of orange sparks

Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until Canada Day or Independence Day to start worrying about it! You can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Get Ready

Here are some things you can do today.

Continue reading “6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting TODAY”
Does Walking Your Dog Up to Something Scary “Cure” Their Fear?

Does Walking Your Dog Up to Something Scary “Cure” Their Fear?

Animal statues can be pretty scary for dogs

Will walking your dog up to something scary make their fear go away? Possibly, if your dog is not very scared in the first place. But it’s not a good method for helping a fearful dog.

Fear Rarely “Goes Away”

I am afraid of flying. I hate it but I do it if I have to.

Continue reading “Does Walking Your Dog Up to Something Scary “Cure” Their Fear?”
If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now

What are we here for this time?

Every year I post an article about last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years I have tweaked my list. I’ll be posting it in a few days.

But here is an early reminder with the most important tip of all.

  1. See your vet.

If you see your vet now to discuss prescription drug possibilities, you have time to make sure they work for your dog and your vet can adjust them if necessary. There are new products on the market, as well as several options that have been around for years.Here is what Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinary behavior resident, says about the benefits of medications.

Now is the perfect time to add an anti-anxiety medication to your firework-preparation kit. The right medication will help your pet remain calm while not causing significant sedation. It is important to practice trials of medication before the actual holiday so that the effect can be properly tested.

There are a variety of medications or combinations that your veterinarian might prescribe. Medications such as Sileo, clonidine, alprazolam, gabapentin, or trazodone are the best to try due to their quick onset of action (typically within an hour) and short duration of effect (4–6 hours).

Medications such as acepromazine should be avoided as they provide sedation without the anti-anxiety effect, and could potentially cause an increase in fear.

Pets who suffer severe fear may need a combination of medications to achieve the appropriate effect, and doses may need to be increased or decreased during the trial phase. Ultimately, there is no reason to allow a pet to suffer from noise phobia. Now is the perfect time to talk with your veterinarian.

Dr. Lynn Honeckman

Sound phobia is a serious condition. The best way to help your dog get through the coming holidays in the U.S. and Canada is to contact your vet for help. Call now.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

Related Post

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