Friday, January 22, 2010

Bang Goes the Hockey Puck

Today, my sister, Marge and I returned to a park that we haven't been to in a long time. I thought that it would be quiet at noon on a Friday - kids in school, people at work. Unfortunately, this visit wasn't all that different from our last visit (which was probably the most awful outing I've been on with Marge), because Marge was extremely sensitive to some of the sounds around us.

It's really hard to see her so confident and happy to start out, eager to get out of the car and explore the park, only to have her enthusiasm shattered a while later when something scares her.

The biggest culprit? - hockey. There is a small rink where people on rollerblades can play. When the puck hits the wall, it, as you can imagine, makes a loud noise. This sent her into such a panic the last time we were at this park (in September) that we had to leave, and it was the last straw before I took Marge to the vet, looking to find a solution to these issues. The other source of sound came from park personnel doing.. well, something. I'm not sure what.

In an effort to find a bright side, all I can say is that she didn't panic as badly as she did last time. However, there was still plenty of "get me out of here!" on her part, which makes it probably her strongest fear reaction in a long time.

I didn't really know what to do - she took treats most of the time, but she was pretty stressed out. She was fine while we walked on the wooded trails deep in the park. But, once we got back to the main part of the park, she heard the sounds again. So, we tried going on the beach. She didn't hear anything any more, but her heart obviously wasn't in it. She lagged behind us instead of excitedly jumping in front of us.

Eventually, towards the very end of our visit, I just sat with her in the middle of a big open field and slowly fed her treats as she soaked in the world.

It took a while, but she did start to look a tiny bit better - not much, but just a little. We walked in the general direction of the car, sort of zig-zagging our way to it so that she didn't just make a beeline for it.

She found something stinky to roll in - normally, I would have called her off of it, especially since she just got bathed last night. But, I thought it would make both of us feel better for her to just let loose and do what she wanted. After that, we went home.

This park confuses me. Marge has attended agility trials here (May '09 and August '09) and hasn't had much of a problem. Hopefully, we'll be competing here this summer, too. She used to LOVE going to walk on the paths, on the trails, on the beach, in the fields. Even when people were around. Were there no sounds then? Or, did she only become afraid of them now?

I've wondered to myself if Marge can be conditioned to these noises, just as she's become more conditioned to the sounds of my neighborhood. I don't know if it's better to avoid the park in favor of others, or to go to it often so that I can help her to realize that she sounds aren't going to hurt her. It's not a particularly busy park, which makes it nice - but, as we've found out, the hockey playing and seemingly constant park maintenance make up for the lack of traffic.


NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! January 22, 2010 at 7:19 PM  

Thank woo fur letting Marge have SOME fun!

Khyra & Khousin Merdie

Raegan January 22, 2010 at 7:24 PM  

Oh it's so hard to call dogs off rolling in smelly stuff; they look too totally blissed out!

Golden Woofs! SUGAR January 22, 2010 at 7:37 PM  

Woof! Woof! Sure ... keep on going n get used to the noises ... smells and other stuffs. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

Natasha January 22, 2010 at 8:11 PM  

What does Marge do when she has a reaction?

I'm glad she relaxed enough to have fun in those leaves!


Dog_geek January 22, 2010 at 8:15 PM  

I would make myself a plan for counter-conditioning for the sound sensitivities (and for some of Marge's other issues, like your dad coming through the door, for example.) Patrica McConnell's booklet "The Cautious Canine" has a pretty good outline for how to counter-condition, if you aren't already familiar with the process. It isn't a matter of the dog just getting accustomed to the sound, but rather that the sound actually becomes the predictor of good things -an R+.

Cyndi and Stumpy January 22, 2010 at 8:19 PM  

does Marge love tug and catch?

My first schutzhund partner was extremely gun shy. He was also very toy oriented. Our trainer had me take him about a half mile or so away from a shooting range and play with him (we used an 18" section of car radiator hose, no roll easy to control and play tug, too and cheap cheap cheap). Not necessarily throwing it but keeping him engaged. Each time we went out we'd go a little closer. It didn't take long before he didn't even hear guns! Maybe toys to focus and engage instead of food all the time. squeakies or her very favorite toy?

Two French Bulldogs January 22, 2010 at 8:39 PM  

Poor baby..hope you don't get as stressed next time. the treats were a good idea. Maybe she willa associate the noise with treats. We will keep our paws crossed.
Benny & Lily

Bijou January 22, 2010 at 8:40 PM  

Hi Marge,

If certain sounds make you nervous then maybe you just need to be around them more often so you can see they are nothing to worry about. That might get you over your fear, specially if Sam brings along some treats and gives you one every time that hockey puck hits the wall.

I'm glad you had a good roll. My mom tells me if I get all stinky from rolling I can't share her bed.


The Army of Four January 22, 2010 at 8:55 PM  

Rollin' rollin' rollin'.......
Hee hee hee!

D.K. Wall January 22, 2010 at 9:04 PM  

A scared dog is always the hardest to work with (ours is Kiska - and rehabilitation is being measured in years). My only advice is lots and lots of patience.

Sam January 22, 2010 at 9:13 PM  

To answer your questions..

When Marge reacts to a noise, it is a purely fearful response. Her body language goes from chilled out and engaged in what she's doing to super tense, ears back, tail droopy, head up and looking all over for scary things. When it's a really scary sound, she'll pant, shake, and pretty much pull in random directions trying to find cover.

I responded to Dog_geek on their blog, but I DO know about counterconditioning, it is just really hard to implement when the sounds are infrequent. When I said I'd return to the park to help Marge realize that there's nothing wrong with the sounds, I didn't mean I'd just walk around and wait for her to wear herself out (flooding - eek!) but I'd actually put some sort of conditioning plan into action. It's just hard to figure out exactly what to do since a) there's more than one stimulus and b) they're not constant and sometimes are absent altogether.

Regarding toys, she's not much for toys at all, especially when she's nervous about something. She'll tug only when she feels like it. It's food all the way with Marge.

houndstooth January 22, 2010 at 9:30 PM  

I can tell you a story about our first greyhound and maybe it will help you some and maybe not. Treat was very outgoing, a total social butterfly when we brought her home. Often, as we were out walking, dogs in people's yards would bark at us, but she ignored it completely. She had a small injury on her leg when we got her. One day we were at a meet and greet with our adoption group and a small dog came by, barking like crazy, and then jumped up on her leg. I'm guessing the little ankle biter hit her sore spot just right. She became very fearful of walking in our neighborhood because suddenly, she didn't like dogs barking at her. It was terrible to watch. She LOVED going for walks, but it got to the point where she was afraid to leave our driveway, since there was no route that didn't involve a barking dog. We tried a lot of different things, but the main thing was that we had to take it in very small increments, treat the daylights out of her when we were out, and take it at her pace. The more she went out and things were okay, the more she relaxed. We adopted a second dog, which also gave her a lot of confidence, because he turned out to be a real basketcase about going out and she decided she had to protect him from the world. You may not be in a position to adopt a second dog, but if you have a friend with a very confident, bomb-proof dog, she might take a lot of cues from that dog if you could go back for a short time. I would say not to push it for a long time, either. Let her enjoy it for a little bit and then go.

kissa-bull January 23, 2010 at 1:07 AM  

gweat job on gettin better marge
we knows you'll keep doing great wittle by wittle

the houston pittie

Sara January 23, 2010 at 6:43 AM  

I really feel for you. We have one park that Oreo really panics at too. Of course it is the nicest park we have around here! I think it is because it is just too wide open, not enough trees, but I'm just not sure. I'm like you, wondering.... should I bother bringing him there at all or go everyday, and put him thru that stress? My plan now is to just drive to the park and feed him treats in the car with the door open!

I think you did all the right things while you were there. Just keep plugging along. Although, I know it is really tough.

Dog_geek January 23, 2010 at 7:44 AM  

Hi Sam - I totally understand how difficult it is to deal with noises that are unexpected and unpredictable. For many noises, though, you can enlist the help of others to make the sound at times when you are prepared and ready to condition. Have your boyfriend or sister go to the park with you and stand in the hockey arena with a stick, and spend 10 minutes having them bang on the side every 15 or 20 seconds while you work with Marge, for example.

BRUTUS January 23, 2010 at 8:26 AM  

The more you expose her to, the more she'll learn to cope with all those sounds. This is a problem close to home for me too, since Brutus' satellite dish ears can hear an ant sneeze two miles away! Although in the past I had problems with loud noises in the house (vacuum, blender, ect.), now I can used a down/stay to get Brutus to relax. He has "something" to do and focus on, and that has really helped (not to mention good practice for the down/stay). I've read several times that using "incompatible behaviors" can be really effective - the best example I can think of is teaching stand or down for greetings to a dog that likes to jump up when saying hello. Maybe you could use this somehow with Marge and her noise reactivity... The other new thing I'm trying are DAP (dog phermones) to help Brutus relax in stressful situations. I wipe down his crate bedding with them (it does seem to help with the separation anxiety), and have also bought a DAP collar (haven't had it on him yet, plan to use it some next weekend at the trial). Not terribly expensive and might be something to try on your walks when you anticipate a more stressful surroundings.
Sorry for the long comment - just always try to think of anything new that might help you & Marge!
Have a good weekend!

Dexter January 23, 2010 at 8:30 AM  

Oh dear. Who knows what is going on in that pretty little black head? Don't give up. Sometimes I get scared of things that didn't bother me before too because they have changed in ways that momma must not notice.


Marg January 23, 2010 at 9:20 AM  

This is our first visit to your blog and we like it a lot. I am a Border collie and I am very, very sensitive to noises. The cats get under the house and make terrible noises and I go nuts. My mom thinks I have extra sensitive hearing. Nice to meet you two.

Frankie Furter and Ernie January 23, 2010 at 9:27 AM  

It is sooo hard for us to tell our two leggers what is bothering us. Just keep trying girl. I'm just sayin'.

KB January 23, 2010 at 10:04 AM  

I see Dog Geek's points but I also see the difficulties in implementing them. I'm wondering if there's a way to isolate one of the sounds, e.g. ,the hockey puck someplace less scary (at home). I'm visualizing a friend 'making the hockey puck noise' with you a far enough distance away that Marge doesn't freak out. Then, Marge gets a treat for each hockey puck noise.

The example in my life that I'm thinking of is K's terror of skateboards on campus as a youngster. I found a skateboarder to help me in a quiet place, and he'd toss K treats as he skated by. Eventually, K became ambivalent about skateboards, enough so that she can stand next to a skateboard park calmly, as long as no one comes too close to her.

I realize that Marge's issues are tougher but I wonder if you can isolate some of the noises that scare her to work on them alone.

Gus, Louie and Callie January 23, 2010 at 10:46 AM  

We think you should continue going to get her used to the sounds. Perhaps just short visits would be in order. Something to get her over her fears..
Good luck. Plenty of love will get her over her hurdle...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Kathy Mocharnuk January 23, 2010 at 2:31 PM  

wow, hockey sounds, those have got to be hard to handle, my noise reactive Skyler would go nuts I think. I think to sensitize Marge to those noises, she has to be far enough away that she is just on the edge of being upset, so she can still take treats or think enough to do other behaviors, but if she is beyond taking treats, I was always taught that is too high a threshold to actually work on it. Is the park set up so you could go but stay far enough away from the sounds bothering her that you can work on it? I wonder if doing some of the exercises with just louder sounds at home where you could control what she is hearing and you could take it very slow at her pace, like say teach her to knock over an empty soda can on a surface where it will make noise, then more cans, then cans in a pyramid, maybe the cans on a surface that will make more noise, so she is in control of making the noise, or dropping a book and treating to the point she is happy when she hears something like that maybe shaping her to ring a bell, like one of those bells they put on a desk to call for help, or one of those "easy" buttons from staples-that can be a super cute trick-or some of the exercises like that they use for getting dogs used to teeter noises?????? Just some weird ideas-you could teach her and highly reward her for some games like that in her home where she feels very safe and then take them out to some other places, not sure it would generalize and help with other loud noises but it might. I would follow your instinct because you are the Marge expert and you are very sensitive to what she needs!

Lorenza January 23, 2010 at 11:06 PM  

I understand how you feel with some noises Marge!
There are some of them that scare me a lot! Metallic ones are the worst for me!
I hope you find a way to get used to those noises!
Take care
Kisses and hugs

tula monstah January 24, 2010 at 9:38 AM  

Hey Marge, rolling rollin rollin... the shorter recovery time after a scury noise & sitting & enjoying the grass is progress:)

click & a treat to ya!


Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 4:39 AM  

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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