Coping with Fear

Early on, Lyra was fearful of certain noises to an extreme degree. Mostly, she feared traffic sounds — heavy engines (buses and garbage trucks) especially. She bolted if a car drove past. It took months of work to get her able to walk down a quiet road without startling. At 7 months, she developed a fear of strangers. At 21 months, she began to react to handling even by people she knows.

When she was 15 months, we took her to a vet behaviourist. He diagnosed her with a fear disorder and sound sensitivity. He recommended a three-pronged approach: 1) medication, 2) counter-conditioning, 3) management. We’ve been following this — with adjustments to meds — ever since. She has made significant progress in some areas: she is able to walk happily on quiet streets and parks; she can relax with strangers in the house; and she recovers more quickly from scary events.

It’s unlikely she will ever be a happy-go-lucky dog. I predict she will never feel entirely at ease being handled by strangers, or get over the most severe of her sound phobias. However, we can avoid (most) triggers, most of the time, and we can help change her emotional responses to lower the impact of triggers we can’t avoid. Every fearful dog is different. My goal, here, is find ways to enrich Lyra’s life through training and play, to learn more about what makes her tick, and to continue to work on making her feel safe.