Dog Training Update: Fearful Dog Freakout
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s report about our recent hike with the girls from Cowgirl by Proxy, Lilly suffered a major fearful dog freakout on our short hike. I have several theories on why she melted down in the most unlikely place.
Fearful Dog Freakout Background
Lilly is somewhat famous for throwing herself to the ground in dramatic fashion (as if gravity suddenly got stronger right there). She curls one arm under, drops her head, tucks her tail, and flat out refuses to move.
This behavior provides the opening for one of my essays about Lilly that was published in a book called My Dog is My Hero.
We’ve seen this behavior many times before:
- At dog training classes (especially while learning agility)
- At public locations with too many people or too much noise
- In the veterinary hospital (including the parking lot)
But, we’ve never seen her meltdown or “go flat” as we call her shutdown behavior while doing something fun … like hiking.
We tried taking a break to let Lilly mellow out, and she even offered a rousing bout of “jumping her jitters out,” which is often how she shakes off something scary by jumping straight into the air (as high as my face), but after just a few more feet UP the trail, Lilly threw herself to the ground.
So, I sat with her, while the others went on, and eventually began making our way back to the car. All I had to do was ask, “Are you ready to go back?” and Lilly practically sprinted back down the mountain.
If Wishes Were Horses, I Would Ride Ride Ride
Or so the song goes. I seriously considered giving Lilly a xanax before we met up with our hiking pals. Remember, we only use it as-needed now … rather than twice a day every day.
I decided not to because:
- Lilly has been doing so well this summer.
- We’d be outside in a wide open space.
- We were only talking about 2 other leashed dogs of stable and known temperament.
Plus, I was doing a product test on a dog pheromone collar that is often used to keep dogs calm (especially dogs in a group or new situation). The one we have comes under the brand name Nurture Calm 24/7. I got it for FREE in the exhibit hall at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
BUT, one of my veterinary blogger friends SWEARS by DAP collars for foster dogs and newly adopted dogs, so I figured, “Why not?”
I don’t think it helped. In fact, I have a theory that somehow Lilly is sensitized to the smell and associates it with something bad … not something good.
Fearful Dog Triggers
DOGS: Now, it’s entirely possible that hiking with 3 extra people and 2 new dogs was simply too much for Lilly.
NOISE: However, the night before our hike some yahoo in our valley shot off a gun for an hour or two — bam, bam, bam. We’re lucky that we hear almost ZERO fireworks we live (rural spot, high fire danger), but we do often hear guns.
In fact, I joke with another rural-living friend that … “You know you live in the country when you say to your fearful dog, ‘Nothing scary. Just guns.'”
Lilly reacts to the noise (usually), but the other night it really set her on edge.
SO, while we were hiking, someone near the Dream Valley Ranch began shooting too. Just a few shots a few times for a few minutes, but it easily could have been enough to upset Lilly.
SMELL: Either I’m right about this pheromone collar upsetting Lilly, OR there is a chance she responded to a nearby known BEAR den. A scent or smell makes a lot of sense because Lilly kind of flipped out for no apparent reason.
SUMMERTIME PATTERN: There is also a good chance that this hike merely coincided with the return of Lilly’s seasonal fear.
Later in the afternoon, after some minor thunderstorms and dinner, I temporarily lost Lilly in the middle pasture. I called and called and called for her. I walked around and looked for her, and when I finally FOUND her … she was cowering in the tall grass hiding.
When I herded and / or convinced her to walk toward the house, she tried to squeeze between the garage wall and some of Tom’s tools. She did NOT want to go in the house … that’s a uniquely SUMMER ONLY, EVENING ONLY thing she does this time of year.
So, I got her in the house. I took off the pheromone collar, and I gave Lilly a xanax. She finally relaxed and slept while we watched a movie. We also let her sleep with us that night so that I could keep watch on her.
The next day, Lilly seemed mostly normal (for her), but not quite 100%, so I kept her inside with me while I worked. She mostly slept.
So, I’m not exactly sure what caused Lilly to meltdown, but those are my thoughts. Ideas?
I really try not to be overly attached out outcomes with Lilly because everything is a process, but I will admit that having her get this upset during something I’d hoped would be fun for us both put a real damper on things.
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