Dog Training Update: Summertime Fear Flare-Up
In summers past, I lamented the resurgence of Lilly’s inexplicable fear flare-ups. It happens only in the summer and only in the evening. Trust me, we’ve run through all the possible scenarios. But, I have a new theory.
Summertime Dog Fears
First, a little history, the strangest thing happens when summer rolls around. Lilly suddenly acts like coming inside the house (again, only in the evening) is the scariest thing ever. Sometimes, the fear spills over to me or Tom or anyone who tries to coax her inside.
Lilly flings herself to the ground, worms around like a furry hovercraft, and even screams bloody murder if you reach for her collar in hopes of leading her inside.
It’s darn near the saddest thing. Me? Me of all people … to have Lilly act like I’m a horrible, scary person breaks my heart.
BUT, because of the very real predator situation in our high-altitude valley in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Lilly simply cannot be left outside alone … especially at dusk or after dark.
Summertime Dog Fears Possibilities Debunked
We’ve run through all the possible scenarios about which people commonly ask, including things like air conditioning, but we don’t have air conditioning. We just open a few windows at night and air things out.
Indeed, Lilly has had past fear breakdowns relating the window over the kitchen sink. Just this one window terrifies her, if you open it. Or, I should say used to terrify her. She seems to have gotten over it in the last 2 summers.
But, she showed summertime fears long before we installed that new window, so it cannot be that.
Lilly does NOT only balk at coming inside say the front door. She has flipped out over every door we have. So, it isn’t a door thing.
There is also a theory that says Lilly simply enjoys being outside in the summer, which is true, but it does not fully explain the full-on breakdown she has about coming inside.
Summertime Dog Fears: New Theory
Even though due to family and work stress, my ability to read for pleasure is greatly hindered, I’m REALLY trying to make time to read more this summer. So, I’m just now getting around to reading Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz.
I’ve interviewed Dr. Horowitz several times on dog behavior issues over the years, so I’d been wanting to read the book.
I came across this passage about how air currents and smells move in rooms, and it made me wonder if this isn’t what makes any and all doors inside the house seem scary to Lilly. Maybe there is something about the invisible thresholds into the house that matter: [emphasis mine]
“If we attend carefully, we might notice the gross changes of the day: the cool at the moment the sun sets, or the time of day registered in the amount of light streaming in the window — but the day’s changes are infinitely more subtle than this. With sensitive machinery, researchers can detect the gentle air currents that form as a summer’s day ends: warmed air pulled up along the inner walls creeps across the ceiling, spilling into the center of the room and falling along the outer walls. This is no breeze, nor even a noticeable puff or waft. Yet the sensitive machinery that is the dog evidently detects this slow, inevitable flow of air, perhaps with the help of their whiskers, well positioned to register the direction of any scent on the air. We know they can detect it because they can also be fooled: brought into a room that was warmed, a dog trained to follow a scent trail may search first by the windows when the track is really closer to the room’s interior.”[p 214-215]
So, if we follow the idea that Lilly’s recent complete fear shutdown episode on a hike might be related to the scent of a bear, then in my mind, perhaps there is something about the way the air moves in our house at night and only in the summer that brings scents that upset Lilly and make the house — her happy, safe house — the scariest place in the world for a few hours, each night, in the summer.
What do you think? I’m I reaching too far on this one?
Thank you for your help. It really does mean a lot to us, and we’d be thrilled to give $1,000 to our pet charity of choice, if we win.