Lyra’s treatment plan has three main components: 1) management, 2) behaviour modification, and 3) medication. To complement treatment — and while her world is limited by fear and sound sensitivity — I want to enrich her life in non-scary ways.
I need to limit (as far as possible) her exposure to stimuli (triggers) that cause fear. Each exposure worsens her condition by further sensitizing her to the trigger and raising her stress levels. One of the key words in stress management is “threshold” — the point at which a dog becomes too scared or aroused to benefit from training. For example, when Lyra is over threshold, she won’t eat anything — which means she can’t learn to associate good foods with the trigger. I’m trying out a few things — e.g., mutt muffs, doggles, white noise machine, etc. — that may (or may not) help soften the triggers, but the main area of management in my plan is trigger avoidance.
Behaviour modification: counter-conditioning and training
I need to help her make new connections; to develop a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER) where currently her response is fearful. She needs to learn new (better) behaviours when exposure happens — which it will. (E.g., if she barks at a person coming towards us, and the person backs away, her bark has “worked” in so far as it creates distance between her and the scary thing. I’d rather she learnt to move around my leg, so that she feels protected without needing to bark.) I also hope to build her confidence through play and through training.
Lyra takes 30 mg of fluoxetine in pill form (wrapped in cheese) each morning after food. We’ve also added buspirone (10 mg twice a day). We tried situational medications (trazodone and clonidine) but they did little to alleviate her fear; trazodone had a further effect of increasing anxiety about 6 hours after intake.
Blogger Linda P. Case (The Science Dog) argues that labelling a dog “excitable” (etc.) — the fundamental attribution error — results in a belief that nothing can be done to help the dog. (See her article from April 5, 2016.) Lyra has been diagnosed with fears. She likely is innately fearful. But the goal of the label is to help focus our efforts to help her — not rule them out.