Updated: Feb 19, 2022
Happy Halloween! 🎃
We're having a not so spooky evening of scent work and treats - but we might cuddle up and watch a scary movie too!
I talked a little bit about where Badger came from in my last post but I wanted to go through some of the issues she had/has (all of which got worse after another dog attacked her mid-September) and what I have done to try and help her work through them. Badger is a very noise sensitive dog, even small noises such as twigs snapping in the park or someone shutting a car door would (at one point) have her shaking, drooling and telling me she wanted to go home. She has made progress with these fears and she is now able to hear a lot of different everyday noises outside and still enjoy her walks. Loud bangs will still scare her and we will go straight home to avoid trigger stacking (see below).
Every dog has a threshold, and events that happen to or around your dog throughout their day will contribute to their stress levels. Imagine these events stacking up one on top of the other until your dog can't cope and goes over threshold. This is known as trigger stacking.
I have seen trigger stacking in Badger in our early days together. We went to the park and something spooked her (I still don't know what it was) and she was indicating to me that she wanted to leave so we started off back home. Along the way a squirrel was jumping between the trees and making little sounds as twigs snapped above. The sound wasn't loud at all but Badger was noticeably more stressed. As we reached the edge of the park we went to cross over the road and someone was having a bonfire in their garden. The fire cracked loudly and this sent Badger over the edge. She began shaking and drooling and we hurried home. I felt so guilty because I was the person she was supposed to feel safe with and I had put her in this situation. I didn't know how to help and was dreading our next walk, so I rang my friend Lucy (amazing crazy dog lady and founder of Roaming Dogs Rescue, check them out if you haven't already). She said Badger needed a few days at home doing activities that would empty her emotional bucket and allow her to properly decompress.
So we did, and it opened my mind to the best way to help dogs. If your dog doesn't feel safe outside, play inside! Allow your dog to engage in naturally calming behaviours that come naturally to them. Let them sniff, chew and forage - it's fun for them and for you as well.
As well as scent work, we also started listening to noise desensitization tracks at home, once or twice a day for about 10 minutes at a time. We started at a very low volume and gradually increased every day, pairing it with snuffle mats, licki mats, treat puzzles and of course lots of cuddling and relaxing touches (inner thighs, tummy and ears for Badger). We continued this every day for about a month and I have noticed definite progress. It's not hugely noticeable if you're not familiar with her but it's massive to me and Badger!
I have also been looking into ACE Free work at the suggestion of my friend, Jo. Free Work is a way of introducing your dog to new and unfamiliar objects in a fun and safe way so they can explore and be rewarded at their own pace. You provide objects of different textures, colours, heights and sounds and let your pet touch, smell and listen, often while they look for treats hidden among them. It's a great way of building your dog's confidence. HERE is a great video to show how it works.
As it is approaching bonfire night, people around our area have been setting off random fireworks on and off for the last few weeks. Badger has managed quite well when hearing them. For some of the quieter ones she often doesn't get up from where she's sat; for the louder ones she will get up and come and lean her weight against me until they've stopped and then she will return to where she was sat. I would definitely recommend Free Work and sound desensitization to anyone who has a noise sensitive dog as the results have been fantastic for us.
After she was attacked in September, she also became more defensive with other dogs. She has always been uninterested in other dogs and would air snap in their face if they invaded her personal space or pushed her; but after the attack she became much less tolerant. I made some changes to my work schedule so I could make sure she only went on the group walks with calm, independent dogs, and avoid any playful or boisterous dogs. She's very happy with this change and she's not felt the need to air snap at any dogs on group walks since, as her personal space is respected.
(Badger with Tess and Winnie on Friday)
It's been a long one so I will wrap it up for now and keep you updated in future posts, but thank you again for reading and I hope you found it interesting!