by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Training Dogs Afraid Of Loud Noises
Hi there! I love the blog!
I recently got my 8 month old female GSP “Charley” from her board and train program. She has received e-collar training for every command. The e-collar is not a punishment tool, but a communication tool. She is amazing in the house – no accidents, knows how to place/down/heel/sit/stay/come/off/etc. She has been introduced to agility and will start scent games and snake avoidance in the Spring. She plays fetch well and also has met my nieces and nephews this weekend for fun time in the backyard. She even did great while one nephew played the ukulele in the back yard. She does great off leash on hikes and while doing training at the training center we visit each week for polishing classes. We will be starting doggie day-care once a week this week! She really is so sweet and amazing…
However…. My problem is that she absolutely is fearful of getting on the leash to go for her morning and afternoon walks that last anywhere between 20-45+ minutes. It’s like she knows it’s coming and cowers/pouts. I try to put the leash on and just walk in the backyard/house and she’s totally fine, but going through the front door is a chore. The first couple days we had her she was exposed to some fireworks on a walk that were very very loud and ever since then she is pretty skiddish about loud buses/diesel trucks/construction noise near the house. Inside the house – fine. Backyard – alright, looks around at super loud noises and then proceeds to keep playing. We live in a busy neighborhood with lots of distractions and new houses are going up each day. I am doing my very best to remain calm yet assertive and even give her treats when we pass an object that gives her the shakes. Her whole body trembles. It’s really sad and makes me feel terrible because she NEEDS to go walk to get pushed through some of these issues, but I can’t help but think I may be making everything worse. 🙁 Sometimes she tries to run/escape away from me, but eventually settles back in with a “come”. It is taxing as I know she needs her walks along with some off-leash fun in the yard and neighborhood dog park, but the walks are difficult to start. I also know she is only 8 months old and has only been in our home since Dec. 29th. I’m running out of new ideas.
Do you have any suggestions to help her emotional state? Is there something else I should try? I really want the best for our GSP. Again, thank you for the blog. 🙂
Rachael from Texas
When doing behavior modification for fear, it is crucial that you understand that Charley’s behavior is not voluntary and she is not being stubborn or defiant. Fear is a survival state and is thus treated differently than regular training. If food is used, it plays a different role(that of creating a positive association rather than as a reward for a voluntary behavior that is offered by the dog). Charley has clearly demonstrated a deep fear of going for a walk. The fear starts with the leash, then going out the front door, and peaks outside. This is a classic example of a negative association created with a scary experience and the events that led to that experience (which now are predictors of something scary. If you press to get the leash on her and coax her to do something she is afraid of (even when you try showing her there is nothing to fear), you risk sensitizing her to the situation and making her more afraid. What is desired is de-sensitization, which must be done gradually to be effective. A good explanation of the concept can be found here- https://positively.com/contributors/counter-conditioning
It would be best to enlist the help of a force-free trainer that is knowledgeable in science based behavior modification to help you design a program to help Charley overcome his fear. Make sure the trainer does not employ any kind of flooding technique (making a dog “work through” scary situations) because of the risk of overwhelming and sensitizing that I mentioned. You can do a search for a trainer near you through this site – https://apdt.com/trainer-search
My advice to you would be to temporarily suspend your desire to take Charley for a walk and find ways to exercise her with games and enriching mental activities (lots of examples can be found on Youtube). Start with desensitizing very gradually (without eliciting avoidance) to the act of leash clipping leash (with professional guidance). If she runs away at the mere sight of the leash, that would be where you would start, not with attaching the leash to her collar. If she is not afraid of car rides, try taking her to a different neighborhood or a park for walks, but only if she enjoys it.
Fear is best addressed with a willingness to make her sense of safety be your top priority. Being assertive is counterproductive because this is not a disobedience issue. When an animal (or person) is so afraid that she trembles, the mind is not in a state to learn. Survival mode has kicked in and that primal state will overshadow “logic” or obedience every time. That is why helping her feel safe while you train in small baby steps is so important. http://somuchpetential.com/the-value-of-empowerment-to-our-pets/
Hope this helps steer you and Charley in a positive direction.