Do you know all those little electronic dings and
The other night, in the midst of a
She jolts off me like she was shocked. She leaves the room. She doesn’t return.
I still don’t think too much of it, but did notice that the reaction was bigger than I’ve seen before.
Around ten minutes later, I’m getting ready for bed. First, it’s time for our ritual bedtime peanut butter
She doesn’t come. She usually races in from wherever she is hanging out when the peanut butter jar comes out. She will leave her relentless hunt for squirrels to come in for peanut butter. But, there I am,
I go upstairs, and I find her under the bed. Now, she does like it under there and doesn’t use it only as a place to hide. But she’ll thwack her tail if I talk to her and come out if I ask her to.
No thwack, no movement. And I’m standing in the room with an open jar of peanut butter. She won’t come out when I call her.
Sound sensitivities are serious, and when they worsen, it is time to take IMMEDIATE action. I knew two things: (1) she would need behavioral medication and (2) I can’t be objective enough with my own dog, so I need other eyes on this with me.
I called to get a consult with Dr. Wailani Sung, the Seattle area’s veterinary behaviorist. We refer to each other, and she had already seen Stella for help with firework and thunder phobia.
Treatment Plan, Day 1: Keep the Dog Feeling Safe
The first thing that’s important with working with a fearful dog, as Debbie Jacobs from Fearful Dogs always says: keep the dog feeling safe.
Step 1: Medication
The first step in “keeping her safe” was a prescription for Sertraline and Xanax. We use Xanax already for situational noise phobias like thunder or fireworks. The Sertraline is a new medication for her.
High-frequency electronic sounds are hard to avoid in a home, particularly one which has my office. So for those
I did not hesitate to medicate her. The behavior modification will NOT work if she’s in a constant state of fear. Karen Overall considers sound phobias medical emergencies. They can generalize and become more sensitive to the noises fast.
Dogs with sound sensitivities are not just a little nervous—it’s panic. Enough panic so that my normally happy, bouncy,
Step 2: Preventing the trigger from happening
Next step is stopping the noise. If the noise creates peanut-butter-avoiding fear, why would I ever want to hear that ting until she is desensitized and counter-conditioned to it? (More on CC/DS in later posts).
The first thought that came into my head is one that most of my clients must think when I tell them what they need to do to keep the dog’s environment clear of the scary things: “Oh, geez, how can I do that?” Two iPhones, an iPad, an Apple Watch, and three laptops. I work on computers or devices a lot of the time. They all ding and ting.
At one point yesterday I started to count how much dinging and
Then I told myself to suck it up (no, I don’t ever say that to clients) and figure it out. Keep her safe. So now:
- The phones are on do-not-disturb, which means they will make no sounds, even incoming calls. The phone call noise doesn’t seem to bother her, but I just want to reduce all potential triggers now.
- The computers are muted. No dings and
- If I need to use the sound, then I unmute and re-mute as soon as I stop watching it.
Day 1 Happenings
Woke around 7 to the normal ecstasy of starting the day. Stella gets a Xanax and her first dose of Sertraline.
Stella on Xanax is like watching a drunk dog. The drug disinhibits so she is delightfully naughty and even more snuggly. She stayed
Oh, and she also got some good food containers out of the garbage and feasted on them (disinhibition—the naughty wins out). I also got a serious amount of face licking, which is not usual for her.
How did I do with removing the bad sounds from our environment? I’d say I got a B-. This mute/unmute/mute again is not regular behavior. So I found myself unmuting to hear something, and then completely forgetting to re-mute. I typically caught it sometime later, but a few times the
One time, I was in the garage next to the office, and I heard a series of emails come in on Outline. I forgot to mute again. It didn’t phase her. Without medication, she needs to have two floors in between us before she doesn’t react to the noise.
Very glad I got some Xanax in her today.
I did notice a few times that when I picked up my phone, even with no noise, she started to move away. Ah—so now the fear of the sound has spread to me just holding the phone at times.
Dogs (and humans) can feel kind of weird when adjusting to an SSRI. I always advise my clients to keep their dog’s world smaller (and safer) while she adjusts. I think that’s easy peasy for me. We can hang out in the yard and house.
And then it hits me. Hmmm, Stella is my neutral dog. She helps often with reactive and fearful dog clients. I can’t put her in those situations when she may not feel herself. Bummer. That’s not only an inconvenience but also a business challenge to address.
- I am putting a small post-it note on all my laptops to remind myself to re-mute.
- I am putting a sign on my front door asking people to shut off their phones or put them on DND before coming into the house. If I don’t do that, I know I am going to forget to tell people.
- I will start to work on creating a positive conditioned emotional response to the appearance of the phone.
- I will record the
tingsand dings to create sound files that I can use for counter-conditioning and desensitization.
Time Spent Today
Shutting sounds off computers: 15 minutes
Giving Stella meds: 2 minutes
Explaining plan to my assistant: 5 minutes
Mute/unmuting: 2 minutes
Total time: approximately 24 minutes