Everyday Adventures in Havachon Heaven

The Good, Crazy, & Adorable Life of One Havachon Puppy

Learned Fears

on August 11, 2010

I don’t think most dogs – or people, for that matter – are born with fears, I think for the most part fears are learned reactions to specific events. We may not remember what it was in our ever-so-impressionable youth that set our fears in motion, but those incidents certainly can have a lasting impact.

So it is with dogs too, it seems. Our Daisy was so tiny when we first got her that we could only use two fingers to stroke her little head! To a puppy that tiny, everything must seem so big, and loud noises must be awfully intimidating. Now, at 4 months old (we can actually pet her head normally now that she’s all of 6 pounds LOL!), she still doesn’t like loud noises, but her reaction now parallels our reaction directly, which means we can get past that knee-jerk reaction of fear in minutes.

It all started when she first came home with us. As luck would have it, this shy, cautious puppy happened to be in the kitchen when I dropped a frozen ice pack from the freezer onto the hardwood floor. What a racket that made! Well, she turn-tailed with her ears plastered to the back of her head and ran at top speed out of the kitchen and into the family room, straight underneath the footstool, which was her favorite safety zone. It took a long time for us to get her out of there, but wouldn’t you know it – a short time later I dropped a pan lid on the kitchen floor, which now confirmed in her mind that the kitchen was one SCARY place! Same reaction from her, but this time she stayed under that footstool….period.

After that, she refused to come into the kitchen at all. She’d sit at the edge of the family room doorway, staring longingly inside at us, whining pathetically for us to keep her company. But no matter how much we coaxed her, she wouldn’t set foot in that kitchen.

I’m not really one to have the “dropsies”, but for some reason, I continually dropped noisy things on the kitchen floor for the next two weeks! The fear of loud noises really set in, and it carried through to other places and sounds. We couldn’t take her outside when the guy next door was mowing his lawn; she’d be scared silly, tremble, and bolt back into the house. Other loud noises would make her jolt, and you could practically see the decision-making process going on in her head: “Should I run? Is this scary?”

In reading Jan Fennell’s book The Dog Listener, we discovered that dogs look to their leader – hopefully, that’s us – to take cues as to whether to be frightened, trusting in new situations, etc. Jan said her dogs were scared of fireworks, so one night she took them out into her back yard during a fireworks show nearby and just talked to them in a calm, normal voice while watching the display, paying no special attention to them or coddling their fear. In no time, the dogs started calming down and finally just ignored the fireworks altogether.

So we put Jan’s solution to the test with kitchen noises. When something noisy happened and she bolted away, we would laugh (she reacts very well to laughter and always wants to join in the fun!), calmly saying things like, “It’s no big deal. What a silly noise that was.” in plain conversational tones. Well, guess what – within a couple of days, she started inching her way back into the kitchen! And within the week, she no longer ran from the room where she’d hear a loud sound; in fact, we can even get her to play in the back yard when our neighbor is mowing his lawn!

When she hears a loud noise now, she jumps but then stops and looks at us to see just how seriously she should take that sound.

The key was to act like we’re not affected by the sound, which, in turn, shows her there’s no danger and she needn’t be affected by the sound either. Jan says that showering a scared dog with the type of affection that we would a scared child who just had a nightmare only instills the irrational behavior in the dog; because their minds translate our behaviors differently than human minds do, they see our affection as praise for their behavior. Therefore,  their fears will continue and even escalate over time.

Makes sense to us – we certainly can’t argue with proof! 🙂

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One response to “Learned Fears

  1. Judy says:

    You really handled that situation very effectively and it sounds like really good advice to follow in that type of situation. I’m glad to hear she was able to conquer her fear:) Way to go Daisy!!

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