Lyra’s fear profile

Things that provoke fear or fear-aggressive behaviour in Lyra

Sounds made by heavy trucks (especially garbage trucks) and buses; the sound of highway traffic at a distance; the reversal beep of vehicles; cars or trucks that make a clattering sound; busy streets; a person reaching towards her; a person running or striding towards her; a person other than me handling her; any person trimming her nails; having her harness placed on her body; car ride; dogs pushing her; dogs jumping up at me or other favourite people (may be resource guarding); scooters with wheels that clatter; cats she doesn’t know (and other, wild animals); the sound of a children’s playground; vacuum cleaner. (I’ve used bold to mark the triggers that have the biggest impact on our life together.)

What do her responses look like?

Vehicle/traffic sounds evoke a range of response — from twitchy ears (mild vigilance), to rushing toward me, to standing in one place, panting and refusing to move, to hiding. If Lyra is home (inside or out) she can usually be distracted with a ball game. Beyond the home, she is harder to distract; she simply wants to escape. If a car or truck makes a clattering sound, on the other hand, she will sometimes bark and lunge towards it. If a person comes towards her unexpectedly, she will sometimes bark. Otherwise, she tends to look away from strangers. If a person reaches for her (even if she has solicited attention in a friendly way) she will often duck her head and body away, or show her belly with her tail tucked. Sometimes she will pull back quickly, with or without a growl/yelp; sometimes she will give an air punch before pulling back, or even (on a few occasions) an air snap. She will submit to being handled at the vet’s, but her demeanour is very subdued, her breathing is quick, and her pupils are dilated. (I use a muzzle to be safe); in the waiting room she will pant, drool, and pace, or hide under a chair. When I get out her harness, she tends to back away at first; as soon as it is placed on her, she does a little shake-off, then seems happy again.

Recovery

Lyra tends to recover quickly — as soon as the (perceived) threat is gone. E.g., if a person reaches for her, and she growls or pulls back, she cheers up as soon as any distance is gained (happy face, waggy tail). She comes out of hiding as soon as the sound stops. Even after a long session at the vet, she cheers up (happy face, curiosity, bouncy step) as soon as we go to the desk where I pay the bill.

How often is it happening?

Most days, she will hear something that makes her hesitate. On any given (daily) walk, she will react in very mild ways to at least one trigger. However, with management, the events that cause the most significant fear behaviour tend to be two or three times a week (sound triggers) and once or twice a month (hand approach).

Vigilance

Fortunately, Lyra does not seem to spend much (if any) time anticipating a scary sound or other event. She does not hide in anticipation, or show stress between triggers.

Generalizing

Curiously, Lyra does not seem to associate the sound (of heavy trucks, etc) with the appearance. E.g., she can watch a garbage truck move along a road, without any sign of distress, if the truck keeps at a steady pace and does not make typical garbage truck noises. The same is true for buses. It’s the starting and stopping she hates, but she has not generalized this to the bus or truck itself. E.g., she can walk past a stationary truck unbothered. Where she does seem to have generalized is with handling. She used to be fine with most people handling her. Now, I am the only one she hasn’t yet reacted to.

Impact on our lives?

Huge. There are very few places I can take Lyra. Our walks are limited to the ravine near our house, which we can access by cutting across fields and only a few roads. We don’t have a car, and I can’t take her on a bus. I don’t take her anywhere that triggers discomfort unless I have to (the vet’s). On Friday (garbage collection day) I keep her in the house, as the trucks collect in our neighbourhood anytime from 6 am to 8 pm. Inside the house, I try to give her respite from sounds by 1) playing with her, 2) comforting her, 3) adding alternative, non-scary sounds. Fridays can be exhausting. Even on other days of the week, I don’t leave her alone for more than two or three hours at a time. Every time visitors come to the house, we have to set Lyra up for success using gates and treats, and by giving clear instructions to visitors (e.g., don’t reach for her; ignore her). We only use dog parks, now, if no one else is there (so, never in the summer). The cost — of vets, meds, gear, etc. — has been high.

Note: the basic idea for this profile came from Amy Cook’s “Sound Advice” course offered by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.