Monday, December 31, 2012

Phobias in dogs

Feisty, my Pyrenean Shepherd, developed an unexplained fear of camera clicks about two and a half years ago.  I first realized it about a two years ago.  When I realized what was causing her to completely freeze and tremble I did some brainstorming.  Something I just now learned Patricia McConnell recommends.  I wrote down everything I could think of that might have contributed to the fear.  I worked it back to the litter of puppies I had raised six months earlier and the flash photos I took of them when they were really little and their eyes were not open.  I then speculated that the flash of the camera looked like lightning and Feisty's fear of lightning that was tied to thunder, now had been classically conditioned to camera clicks.  Since I didn't realize it was happening at the time and it was about six months later before I put it all together I was not able to do an immediate intervention.

I've begun to ponder this again and look up my old resources from my days of studying psychology because today I discovered that the phobia has spread to include the sound of the "i-click" clicker - the softer clicker noise.  I have at times noticed that some people's mouth clicks stress her slightly.  I had hoped it would not spread to the clicker which is used a lot at our training school and where she spends most of her days with me.

I think back to a seminar with Suzanne Clothier many years ago where she talks about phobias in dogs and how difficult these pathological fears can be to overcome.  In re-reading psychological literature written for humans it becomes clear why it is so hard.  In humans classical conditioning is often used to desensitize humans to a fear of something.  Humans can visualize what they are afraid of - they can start mentally at a very low level of fear/arousal.  It is much harder with dogs to get to that low level.  I have tried using a CD that has camera clicks on it and turning the volume down as low as it goes.  The problem is that in her mind it goes from 0 to 100 in intensity no matter how gradually I try to increase the volume.  There is almost no in between state in terms of volume.  She can hear a camera click at 100 plus feet - the length of an agility ring with background noise around her.  

I have a phobia too, I have a fear of heights.  I can recreate some level of fear just by visualizing being at the edge of cliff, or watching a movie at the edge of a cliff or even looking at a picture from the edge of a cliff.  Pictures from hang gliding are the worst for me.  Yet I can sit in an airplane and look out the window and I just love that.  But when I'm even in a low level of fear no amount of my favorite food paired with that image will change my association.  No amount of verbal rationalization can change my perception.  So I can understand why this approach does not work well with Feisty either.

It would not be such a problem except that there are now photographers around every agility ring at every trial, especially national events.  Only if the background noise is really loud and intense or it is really windy can she function.  I often will yell cues loudly and talk loudly to her when we go past a photographer when we are running.  I often try to ask them to not take pictures of her but I can't always arrange that.  If she freezes I just pick her up and carry her.  If she keeps running past them and doing agility I don't fix anything and just let her keep running.

Now that her fear has spread to the sound of a soft clicker it can make things even more complicated.  It is hard for others who do not have a dog like this to appreciate how debilitating these fears can be.  Unless you have lived with a dog like this and tried to work through it you really have no idea how difficult it is.  I have tried essential oils and rescue remedy and herbal calming tablets.    My next recourse would be to give her anti-anxiety medications however those produce drowsiness and can interfere with safe functioning while running agility courses.  If it were a fear of thunder and we are at home trying to sleep through a late night storm then drugs would be perfect.  But in the case of this kind of phobia it comes up at agility trials and training.  I could switch activities but there are photographers present at almost every sport including more and more at obedience which is her other favorite activity.  I could opt to not trial her and that is always an option.  However when she is not afraid she runs like the wind and she truly looks like she loves it.

On the positive side, she is not as bothered by the flash from the camera on my phone which I can totally silence.  I don't take it for granted and we have a huge happy party anytime it is on and I take a picture with her around.  Usually I try to put her away so she doesn't have to deal with it.  So I am now contemplating what is next for her.  I have downloaded the music from Through a Dog's Ear that I learned about from Patricia McConnell and may try that with her for some calming background music.

It is never a dull moment when you own a Pyr shep!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Wow, it has been a long time since I've blogged!  I've had a lot of posts in my mind over the months.  Now on this wintry day where I'm house-bound it seems like a good time to catch up!

I have had a lot to reflect on during the last week.  Many hopes and dreams have dried up this past week.  After spending almost every weekend from Jan - June trialing in AKC to keep Sinco and Feisty in the top 5 for their breeds so we could go do the AKC Agility Invitational next weekend, it seems like it was not meant to be.  First my knee got progressively worse with all of the trialing and there were many decisions about when and what surgery to have.  A surgery in July to remove torn meniscus only revealed how bad the bone on bone is on the inside half of my knee.  It seems to have been trauma related because the outside half of my knee is in great shape and my other knee is fine.   I was a passenger in a car accident in my 20s where my knee hit the dashboard and swelled up immediately.  I decided to withdraw from the NADAC Championships that were at the end of September because I felt like I was not well enough to run that many long courses with two dogs over a week's time.  I had gotten out of shape with the knee surgery and inability to fully use my knee.  This was a big disappointment to me.

Now I had to decide about the AKC Invitational in December.  I felt that may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.  I went back and forth about whether to have surgery for knee replacement before or after the Invitational.  I opted for after and opted for hyaluronic acid injections beforehand to help provide some cushion and reduce the pain.  They helped more than I realized for awhile.  I started those at the end of August.   On Labor Day I sprained my left ankle badly rolling it off a curb while carrying metal crates.  I have never sprained an ankle like that before.  Fortunately the ligament went back into place on its own the next day but the pain and swelling persisted.  I was lacking stability now on both legs.  In October I started physical therapy for both my knee and ankle I needed strengthening if I was going to run in December and to help my recover after my surgery.  It helped a lot, I am able to straighten my legs, I have better balance and have been able to build back muscle I was losing. I also started weekly chiropractic adjustments to help keep me aligned which has helped a lot too.  I use the Medi-pro red light on my left ankle and foot quite a bit.  My surgery was scheduled for Dec. 20th just two days after returning from the Invitational.  I want to be able to run at AKC Nationals in March.
On Nov. 20 I felt my knee twinge while herding.  The hyaluronic acid injections that had helped suddenly wore off and fluid filled my calf within hours and then was gone.  The pain doubled in intensity in my knee almost immediately. 

Also in mid-November Sinco hurt her wrist and toes presumably while killing a large rabbit in the backyard.  Tuesday this week, after a month of having her take it easy and lots of laser and medi-pro red light on the front feet we tried to do a little agility.  She seemed full of energy and really ready to go, no sign of soreness when her feet were palpated and she was running in the yard with no sign of pain.  However she held up her right front foot almost immediately after doing a pinwheel of jumps.  She showed more pain there than she had the whole month before. That was it, the decision was made to not go to the Invitational.  I was heart broken and yet I had been feeling signs over the last six months that we were not meant to go.  Since Tuesday we have not been able to find pain in her toes.  She will start wearing a boot on that foot and having a healing magnet on that foot when she is resting.  I have also started her on a course of Doxy in case it is a case of Lyme's.  She has never tested positive for it but I have had enough dogs with tick borne illnesses to know that the symptoms come in many forms.  Doxy is a pretty safe antibiotic and I always have a lot on hand from past experience.  Trying to cover all the bases.  The boot should arrive Monday and I can see if she will acclimate to it and be able to resume normal activity with it.  She and I will rehab together it seems.  Fortunately I won't be able to do much so if we have to rehab her it is better when I'm rehabbing also.

I had early on chosen not to enter Feisty in the Invitational even though she had qualified.  I had heard there would be a lot of photographers - more than even at a nationals.  Feisty's fear of camera clicks would paralyze her there if that is the case. That would stress her out too much.  She loves to run in front of a crowd if they are far away in a stadium/coliseum type setting like when she ran at NADAC Championships in Springfield IL.  But this would be much closer quarters and would be much more stressful for her. So I did not enter her.  It turns out that was a good choice because yesterday she ruptured an anal gland and had to have emergency surgery.  She cannot do agility for 10-14 days.  I am not sure whether the Universe didn't get the message that she was not entered at the Invitational...

Not being able to go doesn't take anything away from both dogs being #3 for their breed from 2011-2012.  I'm very proud of our accomplishments.  It was hard work, especially to be there with an Australian Shepherd.  While I was looking forward to seeing a variety of breeds and the best agility dogs of those breeds compete and to be with friends and students who were also going, I must admit I am a bit relieved.  I was worried how well I would be able to run and whether Pam would have to run her for me.  I think the universe has been trying to tell me that we are not where we need to be to do this now and I try hard to listen to my intuition and to what the universe tells me.  Sometimes the universe has to get out a 2 x 4 and hit me over the head but I do try to avoid those kind of lessons.

My intuition has served me well over the years with business decisions as well as personal decisions.  Whenever I procrastinate on something there is almost always a really good reason for doing so.  Other times when I rush into something it is almost always the right time to rush into it.  There are times when overcoming obstacles is the right thing to do and I find I can do that with patience and planning if I am meant to overcome them.  Sometimes I am meant to go around them and sometimes I am meant to go in a different direction.  When I am faced with large obstacles I do stop and take my time to see what feels like the right path to take.  

I have also learned that I need to stop and take time for myself.  This is a hard one.  I am fortunate to be able to do work I truly love.  I love helping people have more fun with their dogs, helping them learn more about a sport to do with their dogs and seeing them achieve their goals.  Whether they want to compete or not, if my students really want to learn and try hard that is what is rewarding for me.  

But I know that I need to do things for me to help me recharge my batteries and do other things I enjoy.  Being able to go on a cruise to Alaska this fall and to be able to take hundreds of photographs was truly a fun escape for me.  I got to rediscover my favorite non-dog hobby of photography.  I am now trying to find my winter boots so I can see about taking some photos of the winter wonderland.

I have not had a day like today where it is just me and the dogs and I don't have to be anywhere all day long in a very long time.  Trialing every weekend to make a goal was fun to a degree but it was a lot of time away from home and family and a lot of time on the road because I had to travel to Chicago, Omaha, Des Moines and other places where I could be sure I would get into the trial and where the running surface was good for all of us.  It was fun to see people I haven't seen in years and to watch teams I rarely get to see.  We won't be able to go next year because I have hardly trialed at all in AKC this year, hardly trialed at all period and I have knee replacement surgery coming up.  But maybe the year after that and maybe with Carmine or maybe not.  We will see.  I will let my intuition guide me.