Friday, December 3, 2010

Fickle Fear

I'm happy to report that my knee is much better this week. I haven't had any pain on our last two hikes, which is a huge improvement from where I was just a few days ago. While I'm still avoiding major hills, keeping things short, and still make a conscious effort at walking downstairs, I feel like I'm finally healing. Thanks for everybody's good wishes and for your concern. While finances won't allow for a PT right now, I trust myself to listen to my body, knowing what's too much, when medical attention isn't optional, etc. Right now, I feel good about my progress and know that I'm just dealing with a stickler injury that's going to take time to heal.

With Kona getting less trail time, a change in
her behavior has become more pronounced. "Outside," use to be one of Kona's favorite words. It was in fact the only word that could wake her from her slumber. The yard was a sanctuary where she chased squirrels, helped garden, basked in the sun. In short, it was one place where she was not fearful, where she seemed like a normal dog.

For about a month now, Kona has been afraid of the yard. Or, probably more accurately stated, she becomes afraid when she's in the yard. So much so that she jumps up and down at the fence, trying to escape. While different neighborhood noises have always had the potential to spook Kona, she's never had this kind of reaction. Ever. It's truly been a night and day change. Kona's fears have manifested differently and to different degrees before, but I've never experienced such a drastic change in her before. I'm at a loss.

And I'm feeling heartbroken. The best way I can describe it is imagine one of your favorite activities you share with your dog. Now imagine your dog being terrified of her old favorite thing. With Kona, having so few "safe" places and things makes this sting all the more.

While this has been going on for awhile, It's been more in my face now because I don't have "outside time" to help get Kona's energy out.

*I'm trying to piece together what's happened. Kona's not afraid of the yard itself, but by noises she's hearing in the neighborhood. I first noticed Kona's panicked reaction at the end of August when new neighbors moved in three houses away. They have two young kids, and Kona would go into full flight mode when she heard them while we were outside. But, she only acted scared when she heard the kids. (While kids have always had the ability to really scare Kona, this particular reaction is far worse than anything I've seen before while she's in the yard).

*School started back in the middle of September. The elementary school is at a distance where I can hear muffled kid noises if I'm outside during lunchtime (and really stop to listen).

*During the first week of November, our nextdoor neighbor went back to work and a nanny started coming over to take care of her three month old son. (Kona only ever showed curiosity about the newborn, never fear, but she did seem concerned that a new adult was around when the nanny arrived).

*The bad, generalized yard fear seemed to start (or notch up several degrees) one morning in early November. I stood at the gate to the yard with a cup of tea in my hands when Kona turned briskly around and ran back to the back door. She looked at me with the expression she gives me when I've "done something wrong." I thought I might have spilled some of my hot tea on her. (Still not sure if I did). best guess is that her fear started with the new neighbors, then with the added school sounds and the changes happening next door her fear went from specific (new neighbor kid sounds) to generalized (nearly any sound). It's so bad now that she actually paces the yard, seeming to anticipate something scary. She can't relax while she's outside.

I've been trying to keep upbeat, with my bum knee already making me feel bummy, so haven't written about this new fear change. But it's been dragging me down lately as I have no clue how to help Kona. She's so instantly over-the-top freaked when she hears something that I don't think any kind of counter-conditioning or other go-to fearful protocols will do any good.

Please send some courage to my Kona Dog.


Sara said...

Oh AC, I'm so sorry. Kids voices are Oreo's biggest, biggest issues too. I agree, counter conditioning is not effective in cases like these.

Our behaviorist told me if Oreo goes "over the top" to go to him, put him on a leash, bring him inside, and have him go to his mat, and do day one RP. She emphasizes breaking that panic as quickly as possible, so the dog learns other behaviors. Easier said than done, but Oreo is learning gradually.

She would also tell me to bring Kona in the yard on a leash for the time being, and do simple commands as soon as you get out the door, to prevent her from going over the top and/or pacing (Oreo circles). That would help her relearn other behaviors, besides panic.

Not being there, I'm not sure if this would be good for Kona, but I thought I'd share the advice I've received.

Be brave Kona!

LauraK said...

Kona girl! You need to be courageous out in that back yard! Your mama loves you and wants to have fun out there with you :)

I'm sorry this is bringing you down AC, does she have any doggy playmates that you could use to make it a fun place for her again? I'm not really familiar on how to deal with stuff like this- but maybe a confident dog could teach her the ropes? Just a thought. We'll be thinking about you two, and hopefully you can start having fun in the backyard again! Best of luck to you :) I'm glad your knee is doing better!

KB said...

I am so sorry that this has happened to Kona and you. I think that I understand how you feel... And the helplessness to make her feel better must make you want to cry.

When my K had her most extreme fear issues, one thing that we noticed was that her cousin dog, S, could teach her to get over fears. He was a calm and confident older dog, always sweet to her, and never afraid. We kept asking to "borrow" him for weeks at a time because K was so much better when he was with us (we ended up adopting him because it was best for both human parties and S).

That makes me wonder if Kona has any trusted dogs who could "show her the ropes". In my limited experience, it's not like magic. It takes time... so Kona probably wouldn't immediately be confident in the yard just due to a calm leader dog being around. But, it might help after repeated good times in the yard...

That's my very amateur 2 cents, based on one dog's experience. I hope that others (e.g., Roxanne at Champion of my Heart) will weigh in. They have much more experience than I do.

I'm thinking of both of you. I'm so glad to hear that your knee is on the mend.

Sam said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this setback. Is she still getting L-Theanine? If so, how much and how often? Perhaps, due to your limited time outside, you could give one large dose to Kona before she goes out in the yard (rather than two smaller doses each day, which is what I do).

How about sound desensitization CDs? It's a pain, I know, but since she's spending so much time indoors anyway, perhaps you could get one or two (there are ones for kids and loud noises), and play them at a very low setting during her meals.

Her reaction sounds like it's very similar to Marge's fireworks reaction. Marge's made a great deal of progress with other loud noises, but fireworks remain our enemy. She flies from 0-60 pretty much instantly.

Dawn said...

Awwww Kona-girl! Those noisy kids aren't bad...just noisy! Sara's advice seems sound, as she has some of the same issues with Oreo. I have the opposite problem with Katie, she's not afraid of anything, even those things she should be.

I hope you can help her get over it. Living in fear is just no fun for her or for you!

Kathy said...

I am sooooo glad your knee is doing better. Will Kona do anything like play with her toy, or her favorite game like close to the back yard with the door open when the noises are happening-will she eat back there? I personally would think, and I wonder since it used to be a place she really liked and she has a really good history of good feelings about that area, it seems that helping her attach a good feeling again to the back yard would work and be so much easier to work through then a new area she has never felt anything but scared about. Seems that since this is a new thing that you will be able to tap into the first learned behavior which for her was enjoying that area. I wonder if it is a particular sound that sparked this? Maybe a journal with the good reactions and the bad reactions would help pin point so you know where to start working???? Boy that has got to be frustrating and sure makes you wish she could sit down over tea and let everyone know what the problem is. Kona is so lucky to have such a sensitive friend, you have come so far with her and it sure seems that behavior never goes in a straight line, but there are always back slides, so try not to be too discouraged, although I know it is so scary to see our furry buddies in distress..

Barb said...

I can offer you no advise, AC - only hope that you and Kona will eventually overcome this setback.

Diana said...

Im glad your knee is better. Im soooo sorry about Kona's fear issue. Its so hard when you cant figure out what the problem is or how to fix it. My heart goes out to you. Diana

Kristine said...

That really really sucks. I'm glad your knee is doing better at least. It's doubly harsh to not only be missing out on your favourite activities, but also to see your dog missing out on them as well perhaps due to the changes in your lifestyle.

Other than working on slowly re-introducing her to the yard as a positive place, I don't know how I would go about tackling this. I wish I did. I feel frustrated for you. I will be sending all the courage I have to Kona and I hope you both recover from these setbacks soon.