Noli me tangere (and a report card)

Last night, I reviewed the initial form that I’d filled out for the veterinary behaviourist in March 2016 (the one that laid out my concerns about Lyra). Interesting! It led me to conclude that

1) Lyra has improved in her sound sensitivity. While she still finds some sounds very aversive, and scary, she seldom shuts down and she bounces back more quickly. E.g., tonight she heard a car (always worse indoors; she’s fine if she hears one outside); she jumped off the sofa to go downstairs, but I was able to engage her with a ball, and she was fine in a moment.

2) in general, she recovers more quickly from a startle event (e.g., novel item, stranger at door).

3) she is more relaxed with strangers at a distance. BUT

4) she is less predictable re. people who engage with her. This last point is perplexing me no end. It is full of “on the one hand … on the other” syntax. She invites a stroke or face rub, then growls at a much-loved person (well, she has done this about 8 times in the past 3 months). She approaches strangers, then backs away. So far, I seem to be the only one who is spared (the only thing she won’t let me do is trim her nails; and even then she just pulls away, she doesn’t growl) which suggests that it’s a fear issue: no one is as familiar to her as I am, or as firmly associated with treats! At least it proves she is capable of being relaxed with someone. Still, I can’t figure out why she’s become nervous with family (even if it’s only sporadic), especially as she’s so fond of them and is growing more trusting of me. My one guess is that in the general busyness of the past 6 months, I’ve taken on even more of Lyra’s care; the others spend less time with her. On the whole, though, she is calmer about visitors to the house. If people ignore her (as instructed) she soon relaxes. When the kids have friends over, I “manage” things but no longer worry.

Tonight, I am over the moon because the man who once (inadvertently) triggered her worse reaction ever 10 months ago — a frantic alarm bark — came to the door unexpectedly. Any time he has come, since that episode, Lyra has been anxious and subdued, though not aggressive. This time, I don’t think she barked once. I told him not to reach for her; he crouched down and tried to ignore her. She wagged her tail (loosely) and checked him out; she lifted her face gently to his. She was not effusive, but she was not visibly frightened, and she took treats easily. At one point, she left the room (i.e., no hypervigilance), then came back. I really think the trick is to not reach for her …

I had a chat today with the owner of one of her siblings. Her dog was given a similar diagnosis and outlook by a behaviourist: “wiring” issue, will always be a “special needs” dog, but can be helped significantly with +R and CC/DS. I felt cheered by the moral support, and the reminder that our dogs — if not model dogs — are redeemable.

Thoughts on medication/treatment: fluoxetine has likely been helping, if undramatically, but I need to do more work with Lyra around people (as well as traffic). I’ve done little consistent CC/DS around people. I need to shift the priority: e.g., my first step has been to ask immediate family to give her treats more often. The main triggers are: 1) walking straight towards her (if a stranger); 2) reaching out for her (most people, especially men, unless well known), 3) touching her for more than a few seconds (ditto); 4) leaning over her (ditto). I get courage from the fact that she can — and often does — feel happy with people.

For now, though, our motto is noli me tangere (unless followed by treats).

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