From early fear to diagnosis


Lyra at 8 weeks

Lyra did not “present” as a fearful pup at first. At 5 weeks, she was relaxed when held and eager to explore. At 8 weeks (when we brought her home) she did not enjoy the journey, but she settled quickly into her new home.

I first became aware of her fear when she startled (dramatically) and shook at the sound of a bus braking then revving its engine. She had the same reaction to a garbage truck. However, the full extent of her fearful responses to these sounds only became obvious when we began to take her out into the world, several weeks after we brought her home: e.g., she trembled in my arms if we got near a bus. She became reluctant to walk along the sidewalk on our quiet street when she could hear cars in the distance; a walk to the park was out of the question for many weeks. But even so, the idea of a clinical problem took a while to form.

Lyra at 10 weeks

Her “people fear” did not develop until 6 or 7 months, when she began to bark at random strangers and show anxiety when children came close to her in any sudden way. This, in spite of the fact that I’d worked hard to give her good experiences with children at the local school. Shortly after she turned one, she was so alarmed by a bell sound that she refused to walk near the path that led to the source of the sound; many months later, she is still reluctant. Yet she is not sensitive to all sounds; she doesn’t mind fireworks or thunder, or a pan clattering on the floor. It’s as if her brain latched on to specific sounds, early on, and won’t let go; while with other sounds that initially scared her (such as the vacuum cleaner, or geese honking overhead) she has been able to overcome them with the help of counter-conditioning.

Sounds are not the only struggle. Lyra dislikes being handled (though she will allow me to brush her, and will approach her favourite people for a cuddle). She is wary of hands reaching for her. And she continues to be alarmed by people who move suddenly (especially, toward her or me) or carry sticks or strange looking packages. This, in spite of the fact that she has no history of abuse. The most inhibiting fear is that of busy roads and intersections, insofar as it restricts our movements and her range of activity — but her own worst fear is the sound of garbage trucks and buses, in any location.

I did try to socialize her to handling and people at an early age. But it was hard to keep her under threshold — because even in our house you can hear a car pass by.

On March 17, 2016 we took her to see a veterinary behaviourist to get a full assessment and treatment plan. We took her back again on April 27, 2017.

The diagnosis? Anxiety disorder and sound sensitivity — partly innate, partly worsened by experience.

Lyra — 5 days before her first birthday