Creating A Climate For Change

Ready for action!Imagine you have to study for a big exam or are trying to learn to use a new computer program or figure out your taxes. Do you pack up your supplies and go sit in the middle of a busy city intersection? Or perhaps more realistically do you invite the neighbor kids over to play video games in your living room while you replay in your head all the injustices you feel were inflicted on you by your parents and older siblings? Hopefully you don’t do any of the above if you actually want to get something done.

When working with a fearful dog it is important to create a climate both internally and externally that will facilitate, not hinder, learning. We do this by making sure that whatever scares our dogs is not surrounding them in such proximity or quantity that they can focus on nothing else. In order to learn new behaviors and skills a dog needs to be able to process information and think, something they cannot do if they are scared and overwhelmed.

Changing a dog’s internal climate is not as easy or as under our control. Understanding how classical counter conditioning and desensitization ‘work’ is important for every owner of a fearful dog. The use of behavioral medications can also help a dog’s brain be more open and susceptible to new information and learning. The behavioral meds commonly used today are not merely sedatives employed to depress a dog’s reaction to a trigger. By changing the chemistry of a fearful brain, or a depressed brain, it is possible to create a climate in which learning and change becomes easier for a dog.

By controlling and managing what you can in relation to your dog’s experiences you may find that you can help your dog ace the next test that comes their way.


23 comments so far

  1. Beth on

    One trainer I consulted with recommended putting my fearful dog on medication but I didn’t consider it. Those, like me, who don’t want to go that route might check out flower essences in helping their dogs reach/maintaine balance. The essences I have used are Anaflora essences, created especially for animals. There’s one specifically for dogs in training (Good Dog)but for the more challenged, there are several formulas created to address more deeply seated issues.

    I understand how medications are supposed to work, but my dogs have experienced so many side effects from medications (and vaccinations) that I prefer not to inflict any more unnecessary insults to their systems.

    • fearfuldogs on

      As owners we make the choices we feel are best for our dogs. If you have found flower essences to help your dog that’s great. Every dog is different and the flower essences and supplements I tried did not seem to make a dent in Sunny’s stricken, shut down state, so at the advice of a trainer and with the support of our vet, started meds.

      I have changed medications, added others and continue to try a variety of other treatments other than meds to help him. I mention meds because many dogs out there are suffering. If a vet suggested that they could ease the pain and suffering of my injured dog with meds I would take them up on it. I feel the same way about the emotional suffering that can be eased through the prudent and supervised use of behavioral meds.

      I am not in any way finding fault with your choice. My experience has been that many people choose not to use meds because they do not understand how they work and assume that they are merely suppressing their dog’s behavior.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me and readers of this blog. I will always assume that we are on the same page in regard to the care and concern we feel for our dogs.

  2. I can’t stop giggling over this new, useful way to employ the phrase “climate change.”

    This need to create a learn-able moment and a conducive training environment is why flooding is such a bad idea. Sink or swim doesn’t float (ha!) when it comes to fearful dogs.

    I, like Beth above, resisted the medication route for years. BUT, since we’ve gone to a 2-medication routine with Lilly, we’ve made incredible strides.

    I completely understand the concern. Been there, but now I completely regret the time lost trying other ways. It breaks my heart to think Lilly could have been feeling better years ago.

  3. Beth on

    I think most dog owners do what they think is right and hopefully will try to find the best solution that works for their own dogs according to their own judgment. I use the term \”insult\” because that\’s the term my homeopathic vet uses – as we are following the homeopathic route, we avoid medication. I\’m glad your dogs are doing well!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think that it’s great that you’ve found a vet to help you homeopathically and you took the time to share your experience with us. A problem that I think arises is that many dog owners try to ‘treat’ their dogs without any guidance from a professional.

      I have not tried homeopathy with Sunny, one reason being that I have put a substantial investment in routine vet care, acupuncture, training classes, etc., I would like to though. I have four dogs so my annual expenses for their care is high, two are seniors.

      Since I have had good results with meds, and they are inexpensive, we’re on that track. But I remain open to all the options out there.

  4. Beth on

    Many dog owners I know treat homeopathically and some administer remedies themselves – THey seem very proficient at what they do, but I prefer to consult a professional !! 😉

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think homeopathy is one of the treatments that seems ‘safe’ for people to experiment with, and it seems to be. My attitude is that if I think something is going to powerful enough to help my dog then it might also be powerful enough to hurt him. Plus I feel like I flounder when I try ‘alternative’ meds myself, never being really sure I’m addressing the right issue with the right remedy, etc.

      It’s especially important because given that much of the change that occurs is very gradual with a scared dog, I’d rather not waste my time waiting to see if one treatment is going to work before I switch to another. Every day being scared is a lifetime for a scared dog I imagine.

  5. Lizzie on

    Surely you needn’t choose conventional medications over alternative. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    My last Labrador, Lucy had a multitude of ailments, which sadly ended her life at only 7 years of age. Although she did not have psychological or emotional problems, her physical ones were stressful enough and took their toll on her, and my everyday life. I’m lucky enough to have a vet who practices homeopathy as well as conventional medicine and suggested we try acupuncture and hail stones to compliment Lucy’s treatment. At that time I would have done anything to help Lucy as she was so often in a lot of pain.
    Well the acupuncture did help an awful lot, as Lucy was an ideal patient, being very chilled whilst she was being needled. The only thing is that the effect didn’t last very long, but then neither do drugs, I mean you have to administer them every 24 hours or so.

    But as you so rightly say, every dog is different. What works for one may not work for another. All you can do is your best to make informed choices maybe with the help of someone else who has more knowledge and experience than you, but in the end, you know your dog better than anyone.

    I don’t think drugs would help Gracie’s deeply rooted fears or alter her brain to such an extent that she could be helped to overcome her reactive behaviour, simply because I think she is too old. However she is happy enough with me in the home, it’s just outside where she has problems, and I’m more than happy to control that as much as I possibly can.
    I have been giving Gracie a suppplemnt of L-theanine for the past 5 weeks or so as I’m told it has a calming effect, but I’m not seeing any obvious change. Who knows, ultimately I may decide to try other medication but I doubt it as I’m not a great fan of mind altering drugs as they were prescribed for Lucy and didn’t help her pain management at all!

    Also another interesting point of view offered by one of the other vets at my practice is that she likens Gracies’ behaviour to that of an autistic child whose brain simply works in a different way to other ‘normal’ children and whilst they can and are able to be helped, the biggest task is trying to find a way to help them.
    Ironically dogs can and do play a BIG part in helping these children as some find that they can relate to a dog as speech is a particularly difficult area for them, and of course a dog doesn’t use language in the way we do.

    It’s all food for thought 😮

  6. Beth on

    a little off topic but animal behaviorist Temple Grandin is autistic and her theory is that dogs are very like autistic people who notice every detail about what’s going on around them. She has worked for many years to make conditions for cattle more humane by designing facilities to be more cattle friendly. Her first book Animals in Translation was a bit dense for me to get through, but interesting. Her latest release, Animals Make Us Human was much easier for me to digest and fascinating as well.

  7. fearfuldogs on

    I think that Temple has interesting things to say but have never really been able to understand how she knows that dogs think like autistic people. Not finding fault with her, just question when anyone comes up with what is an unproveable theory about what dogs think about, why they think about certain things, or how they think.

    • Lary Lindsay on

      I haven’t re-read her books recently, but my recollection and understanding is that she felt that autistic people observed the world in a similar fashion to animals, almost hyper awareness of movement, observing and reacting to very small environmental changes, whether visual, auditory, scent of other, which is quite different from saying that animals think like autistic people.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Those are good observations to make and point out. Thanks.

  8. Lizzie on

    As the trainer whom I consulted about Gracie said, ‘The only one who knows what’s really going on in it’s head is the dog!’

    Perhaps it’s as wise to go with what’s comfortable for your dog, and indeed yourself, and not to analyse so much maybe?

    I am finding that time is the healer here, together with a close realtionship, as you said in the first instance with this post Debbie.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hmmm…try to get me not to analyze so much…never happen! I can stop eating cheesecake more easily. Wonder why that is?

      • Lary Lindsay on

        You can stop eating cheesecake!?

      • fearfuldogs on

        Only with great effort 😉

  9. Beth on

    I think most of her knowlewdge comes through observation – she was able to determine what scared cattle and how to fix it by seeing details that most people would think was irrelevant. I know that my dogs notice these details and through time, I have developed the same skill to a point out of living with my dogs – – for instance, noticing the sound of the UPS truck while it’s still blocks away, or spotting a cat under a bush at long distances (well usually the hysterical barking clues me in in this case

    Her latest work about what animals need to be happy was really great. especially solutions for issues like redirected aggression. To me, it made a lot of sense.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’ve never read her books so can’t really speak about them, I just have wondered how she ‘knew’ what animals felt or thought. I can’t agree or disagree with what she’s written (til I read it!) but understand her work has helped animals so that’s a good thing. I have heard her speak.

      I tend to be skeptical of things even if they ‘make sense’ to me. That is because I don’t think of myself as necessarily being completed informed on many topics. Cesar Millan’s techniques make sense to a lot of people, which is part of his popularity. Saying that women aren’t as smart as men because their brains may be smaller, made sense to people (and I dare say still does to some).

      I’m not criticizing or attacking your position at all! Just sharing a bit about how my brain works. It’s not always pretty.

      • Lizzie on

        Maybe not, but it’s always interesting and thought provoking ;o

      • I’m a huge Temple Grandin fan. Animals in Translation truly changed how I understand how Lilly perceives her world. It made a huge difference in our lives.

        BUT, I did recently interview a BIG NAME behaviorist who asked these same kinds of questions: How does she know what she thinks she knows?

        For me, the autistic connection seemed viable to me, long before I knew or read Temple Grandin.

        Now that I’ve had this rather intense conversation with this doubter, I cannot read Grandin’s newer work without hearing his questions in the back of my mind.

    • Lizzie on

      I dare say that if you have a dog that is scared when outside of it’s ‘comfort zone’, ie in the outside world, you are always scanning the surroundings. I know I am when out with Gracie.
      I think the fact that I am trying to ‘control’ the environment makes me much more aware of what’s going on than I have ever been or have needed to be before.

  10. Beth on

    It’s true that fearful/reactive/prey driven/etc. dogs teach you to be hyper-alert. I can hear and am ready to react to the sound of the jingling of the collar of a loose dog before I even see him, the quiet whir of on an approaching speeding cyclist and I still wince sometimes when I hear a doorbell on TV ring…even at someone else’s house and my dogs aren’t there. 😉

  11. fearfuldogs on

    Regarding Roxanne’s comment. I don’t see anything wrong with questioning something but still going along with it. There’s very little in life that isn’t worth a healthy dose of second thought.

    Chances are most of the stuff we believe has been made up by us or someone else, and sounds good to us. Without turning into a philosophy blog, what exists that we can say with complete certainly ‘is’ what we say it is? Holy toledo, am I sounding like a particular president or what?

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