Today I was prepared to protect Zuri from the noise and chaos when the tree loppers came with trucks, electric saws, grinders and mulching machines. Part of me wanted to instigate a behaviour change plan to help her overcome her fear. The other part of me decided that I don't have to be planning alternative behaviours and graded task approaches to scary stimulus all the time. I can take a chill pill and just protect Zuri, put her in a quiet, safe room and manage the situation.
Dogs are the best teachers.
What started off as management actually became a process of changing behaviour, guided totally by Zuri's responses. I closed the windows, shut all the doors and left Zuri in her safe place under the desk. I went outside to the mayhem of saws and rumbling mulchers. I peeked inside after a few minutes and Zuri was standing at the front door. Huh? Are you interested in what's going on, Zuri?
I opened the front door a little, so it still offered a buffer of safety but also enough so that she could come out if she wanted. She poked her head out and then walked out. She stayed close to me, watching intently. I had no treats. The door remained opened and was her escape route should she decide she'd been outside long enough. Having the choice to stay or go is very important for fearful dogs.
She stayed. The noise was quite incredible and when a tree fell, the ground actually shook. Zuri took it well. Then, after only a few minutes, she surprised me by moving away from me and settling on her favourite outside chair to continue to observe proceedings. Then she settled further by resting her head on the arm of the chair. When the noise increased and machines moved closer, she got off the chair and came back to me. I simply leant my arm on her back to give for moral/social support. The front door was still open, she could have run inside, but the social contact seemed to be what she needed in that instant. Then she returned to her bed.
My heart leapt when she started rolling in the grass, right next to the mulching truck, amidst the raking workers. This is the epitome of a relaxed and content Zuri.
Sometimes, doing "nothing" is one of the best ways to help a dog overcome fear. By nothing, I actually mean letting the dog guide the process. I actually did a lot of deliberate and strategic things:
* I made her feel safe and did not compel her to face her fear in any way.
* Yet I listened when she felt brave enough to come out and opened the door.
* I didn't cajole her out or coax her out with treats, I let her make the choice herself.
* I still provided safety by leaving the door halfway open/closed as a buffer to the noise and as an escape from the noise if required.
* I stayed still and consistent, let her do all the moving - she knew where I was all the time, could return to me or go inside at any time.
* I didn't ask her to do anything.
* I Let her take her time. She had all the time in the world to watch, listen and gather information from whatever vantage point she felt comfortable.
* I've provided her with a history of alternate behaviours to fall back and a history of removing her or helping her cope with stressful situations in the past.
Sometimes, seemingly doing "nothing" is doing a whole lot of something!
Watch the outcome in the video below. Email subscribers can see the video here.