Treatment Plans for Behavioral Regressions

Or, alternative title: Adventures in the Willie Wonka Fear Factory. If you’re cocking your head in confusion, this is about Willie’s recent (and relatively new) fear of men. To review briefly: As a puppy he was pathologically afraid of other dogs, exceptionally sound sensitive and, in some contexts, quick to anger. But he adored people, loved everyone. As an adolescent, like many dogs, he developed new fears, and became cautious around unfamiliar men, but it was easily handled by having guys throw balls for him. I always knew I’d need to manage it and that I could never completely close the book on his fears, but it was easily handled and he usually appeared to be thrilled to meet unfamiliar men after about 4-5 months of counter conditioning.

And then, three weeks or so ago, he barked in terror at a male visitor. He was so fearful he urinated on the spot (the spot being the living room rug–no worries there, it is ancient and god knows how many microscopic particles live within in it, but I mention it just to let you know he saw the visitor, barked in terror and peed his pants where he stood.) A week later he avoided another male visitor, a guy he’s met multiple times and always been friendly around. His fear was overwhelmingly obvious–no barking, but avoidance, tail tucked, head down, eyes round, commissure retracted, weight backward, etc etc.). We had our friend toss treats and that helped, but he never completely settled into what I’d call comfort.

Two questions arise when a behavioral problem you thought was handled pops up again like a moldy piece of toast: 1) What on earth caused the regression?, and most importantly, 2) Now what? I write this out in hopes it will help others follow along if/when their reactive dog slips backwards a few steps. Of course, all cases are different, but it often helps to follow a treatment plan as a way of storing potential tools in your tool box…

Skipping ahead to #2, “Now what?” has already started: Willie has so far had treats thrown by 3 unfamiliar men. So far, all sessions have gone well. All sessions have also been out of the house, and Willie appeared much more relaxed around the guys than he did inside the farm house. Here’s what’s good about that: First, it’s always good to start classical conditioning exercises (CC) at the lowest level of intensity. If and why Willie is worse at the house is an interesting question, but my first sessions of CC taught me that 1) new-guy-at-home is scarier than new-guy-not-at-home; potentially important information, and 2) outside is where we should start because it’s the lowest intensity trigger for him.

After Christmas I’ve arranged for several male friends to come by. We’ll start with Willie meeting them outside, first far away, then closer. Then I’ll have them come inside with food or toy in hand. If that goes well, I’ll ask the next guys to come inside the house before meeting Willie outside. They’ll be asked (okay, told) to avoid approaching Willie, but to toss treas or toys for him. One of my challenges is that Willie’s best CC’er is to chase after a thrown toy. I can’t let him do that yet with his shoulder, so I’m asking guys to toss the toy directly to Willie so that he can catch it in his mouth.

I’ve made other changes too, but to explain those I need to go back to the question of what the heck caused this in the first place. Whenever you have a problem like this, it’s smart to sit down and write out all the possible causes you can think of. You may never know the answer, but it can help create a comprehensive treatment plan. Here’s my list, along with some thoughts about the potential of each to have affected Willie:

1. Isolation after injury and surgery. Seems reasonable, but since the injury was in Feb and the surgery in May, you’d think it would have shown up a bit sooner. He saw almost no visitors for about 3 months after surgery, but after that we did start having people come to the house and he seemed fine. The first sign of trouble was actually at PT about 3 weeks ago, when he barked, for the first time, at seeing someone out the window in the treatment room door. Both Courtney and I were surprised, because he’d never done that before, and he’d been there twice a week since late June. I would have thought this would have shown up at least by fall if that was the primary issue BUT I’d still rate it high on the scale of probable causes.

Implications: Set up more CC sessions with guys I trust to not overwhelm Willie, following the protocol in The Cautious Canine. We have some CC scheduled for next week, with dog savvy guys who actually will pay attention to directions and CC rather than scare Willie. It’s a bit challenging, because the best CC for Willie is a thrown toy, and I can’t do that yet with his shoulder. We’ll use treats and I’ll use Watch and Tug, plus guys tossing treats and toys. I’ll keep you posted.

2. Effects of anesthetic. I’ve seen several dogs in my practice who did indeed change after surgery (also noted by a thoughtful comment from JH in the comment section) and have often wondered about the effects of anesthetic on certain physiologically sensitive dogs. This is possible, but again, it seem less likely because the problem showed up relatively recently. The dogs in my practice became hyper-reactive early on after surgery.

Implications: Doubtful it’s a cause, but never hurts to think about a dog’s internal physiology. He had another acupuncture session last night, this time for calming and soothing. We discussed potentially using laser acupuncture versus needles, given how sensitive and reactive Willie is.

3. Effects of surgery itself. Not sure what to say about this, but given what a huge assault a major surgery is on the body, it has to be considered. However, again, the regression seems so far after the fact that it seems unlikely.

Implications: Same as above.

4. Presence of Tootsie. Tootsie had been at the farm for about two months before the first signs of trouble appeared. As I’ve written, Willie was clearly not comfortable around her for the first few days, and they still (still!) work hard to ignore each other, but he seems to have adapted to her as the new normal. He still gets lots of attention from me, and has learned that she’ll never challenge him for anything, although she’ll try to squeeze in when he’s getting petted. I suspect he’s learned that although he’d rather not have to compete, life goes on even with a pushy, tiny little princess in the house. I don’t think just her presence is a factor; just guessing here, but I’m bet some serious money on it.

Implications: Tootsie is here to stay, so I’ll go back to CCg him with Tootsie’s name (I did that for about 3 weeks, “Where Tootsie?”).

5. Tootsie’s barking. This one has a higher probability in my mind of having an effect on Willie’s emotional circuits. Tootsie came as a barker–she barked in the morning to get let up on the bed, she barked for her dinner, etc etc etc.  We’ve made great progress, none of the above happens anymore BUT I still can’t leave her either in her crate or loose in the house if I leave it without her barking. I’ve done lots of management around this, but about a month ago I got lazy and would leave her and Willie in the house if I had to run outside and do something quickly in the yard or barn. She’d stand at the window and bark like some crazed, operatic mouse, and I think listening to it was hell on earth for sound sensitive Willie. It didn’t happen very often, but I am sure it wasn’t helping anything. I also had to ask myself if she barks in her crate when I’m gone. I’ve snuck around quite a few times, creeping back to the house and every time she appears to be sound asleep and quiet, so I doubt this is the problem. I’ll keep my eyes (and ears) on it though.

Implications: I never leave him anymore in a situation in which Tootsie will bark while he’s beside her, and I’m working hard on teaching Tootsie to not bark in a crate or if left alone in the house when I leave for a few minutes. I’ve learned I can toss a handful of kibble on the carpet, leave the house with Willie and return to find Tootsie sleeping in her bed in the living room. “Quiet in the crate” when I’m elsewhere in the house is going to take more time, but I’m working on it and carefully managing it at all other times.

6. Change in diet, addition of chicken and lamb. About a month ago I found myself with lots of chicken and lamb scraps. I’ve avoided feeding those protein sources to Willie because of Chinese Medicine’s suggestion that they are “hot” foods and not good for reactive dogs like Willie. But all was going so well, and it pains me to throw food away, so I started giving Willie some of each for a period of about a week. I have no idea whatsoever if this was causal, but it’s easy to change, so I did.

Implications: Easy — Willie is back on beef, beef liver, fish, duck and pork as protein sources. And he’s getting even more cooked greens than usual (mostly kale and collard greens, some parsley, some celery, spinach, broccoli).

7. Sushi: Sushi as a source of stress for Willie ebbs and flows. I’ve written about it before, about his obsessive desire to herd her and his inability to see her as anything except a small, hoofless livestock representative. We worked through it well years ago, but the combination of less exercise and Sushi being in the house more because of winter has caused the problem to increase. He tends to be on edge when he gets obsessive about Sushi, and I would put this high on the list as one potentially contributing factor.

Implications: This is a tough one, obsessive as it is, as we’ve all discussed in previous blogs. It’s complicated by the fact that my allergies to Sushi continue to worsen, and I feel badly that Sushi can’t cuddle with me like she used to. Right now we are managing things and I’m working hard on keeping Willie occupied with something non-Sushi related. All alternative behaviors (sit, lie down, go in your crate, get a toy) act as secondary reinforcers, so it’s not easily fixed.  I’ll write more on this later, but it’s a big topic and better saved for posts in the future. At the moment it’s being managed relatively well, but it’s on my list for things to make even better in the future.

8. Electro stimulation in physical therapy. Willie had 2 sessions of this right around the time he first reacted to seeing people out the window. Could this possibly have affected his nervous system in a negative way? I suspect it’s doubtful, but the health care professionals I asked say no (3) and yes (1), and I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.

Implications: I have no idea if this had any effect on Willie, but we stopped it just in case. Luckily, he didn’t really need it anymore anyway, his muscles in his shoulder began relaxing again so that he could do his stretching exercises.

9. Acupuncture session right around the time he began regressing. I’m doubtful that this was causal, given how often he’s  had acupuncture, but he had a new practitioner this time, and who knows? I had one acupuncture session in which I was miserable for a month afterward. Anything with the power to do good has the power to do harm.

Implications: His new acupuncturist, Carrie and I discussed this last night. I cautioned her that with Willie, “less is more,” and to use the fewest, thinnest needles she could. We also discussed laser acupuncture next time as I mentioned above. I’ll probably put him back on either Shen Calmer or some kind of homeopathic remedy for fear and anxiety, but I want to spend some more time thinking about what would be best for him.

I’ve written all this out in hopes the structure of 1) thinking about causes of a regression and 2) designing a treatment plan around it, is helpful to anyone else out there whose dog has gone backward a bit. I think it would be extremely helpful to other readers if you wanted to share your own program for if/when this has happened to you and one of your dogs. Needless to say, I could write about so many aspects of Willie’s behavior and treatment that this blog would turn into a book. I’ll stop here, and enjoy letting others add their own methods.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm:

Here’s Willie (or rather, his nose), in the middle of an acupuncture session with his new acupuncturist, Carrie Donahue, DVM. He’s not a fan of the needles, but Carrie is extremely gentle and patient, and Willie sits politely for her as best he can. You’re just seeing his nose because it was dark outside and I couldn’t get a good picture of him looking at the camera without eye flash, so the heck with it, I just focused on his nose. “Do what you can”… a good perspective any time, including with photographs, and treatment plans for that matter…

We woke up this morning to another surprise snow. It won’t last long, and it’s only a little over an inch, but still, it was gorgeous when Willie and I went up the hill (too wet and cold for a hill walk for Tootsie).

I thought the image below would be a lovely way for Willie and I, and all at Redstart Farm, to wish you and yours some peace, warmth and love this holiday season. It comes with my gratitude for the community that has grown up around this blog. Thank you all for joining me in an inquiry about our miraculous relationship with dogs. Body wags to you all.




  1. Evie Smith says

    Have you considered increased feelings of vulnerability related to Wllie’s decreased mobility? I’ve lost track of the time correlation between his increased post surgical freedom and resurgence of his fear. Maybe there was a security in being in his crate.

    I love the snow picture. Can’t wait to see our five frolicking in the snow again! Even our former California dogs love it and I may have clean floors for awhile.

  2. says

    My bet is on Tootsie. Not her being there per se, but her emotional reaction on a day-to-day basia to her day-to-day life. Dogs in general and Willie in particular are SO sensitive to emotions, and after all, he and Tootsie do speak the same language. We tend to forget how powerful this language is between dogs. It sure trumps our efforts to communicate with them.
    Tootsie may be triggering an emotional response in Willie and he has linked it with MEN in a superstitious way. When Tootsie barks at the window, does she look fearful? Has she had any fearful incidents around the time Willie began his man phobia? Of course, it you weren’t there and she freaked out at the UPS man or someone coming to the house, you wouldn’t know.
    And the big new thing in Willie’s life is Tootsie. Big change in life may lead to big change in behavoir.

    Or some other dog may have triggered it.
    Maybe the fear reaction began when Willie first barked at his therapy visit. Was there a dog in his vicinity who was afraid, anxious, or fearful? Again, the link between another dog’s fear and a man passing by the window may have started there.

    When I am stumped by one of my dog’s reactions, I go through all sorts of sophisticated reasons, but the one that is usually closest to the truth is the most basic one, dogwise. I forget how basic a dog really is and that’s when I forget to look for zebras and not horses. And I forget to look at the problem from the dog’s point of view. And his point of view is usually an emotional one which reflects the simple, straightforward, and literal events in his world.
    Wouldn’t you love to get inside their heads for just five minutes?

  3. Carrie says

    Thanks for the tips about behavior regression! My dog has anxiety issues, and sometimes regresses from a good point to fear. Lately she’s terrified to leave our apartment, even to go do her business outside. I’m working on building up her confidence about leaving the apartment, but it’s very frustrating!

    The snow looks delightful! No snow down here in Texas, but great temperatures make up for it.

  4. Kat says

    I’d echo Evie Smith in wondering about feelings of vulnerability. I know my brother-in-law’s dog got very reactive quite awhile after the surgery for his second knee repair. He was actually better during the healing process than after he was declared mended and able to resume life as normal. Watching him with his people I noticed that while he was healing they were very protective of him but once the vet declared him mended they stopped being protective. It seemed to me as an observer that once they stopped protecting him he felt he needed to protect himself and became very reactive to anyone he didn’t know and trust. And this was a dog that had been pretty much bomb proof before the second knee was done. When they started being more proactive in managing his interaction with new people he relaxed again.

    Thank you for your willingness to share all the ups and downs with Willy. Having recently added our very own reactive canine it is a huge help hearing about treatments and managements from people I trust and respect. There are so many sources that want to tell me I’m doing everything wrong by not making her confront her fears and in comforting her and by using food in counter conditioning and…

    And finally thanks for sharing the lovely photo. What a gorgeous photo!

  5. says

    Love this post, I make these “plans” with my clients’ dogs whenever we have regressions. In my experience, sometimes is something kind of mild, that generates a little generilized stress (I’m thinking barking+isolation) and that umbalances the dog and sends him downhill.
    Its like some dogs get over little stresses reaaalllyyy slowly, and when they are like this, small triggers push them over the edge (kind of what happens with allergies). Maybe that’s what triggers his obsession with Sushi.
    Try getting his carbohydrates high and his proteins lower, helps building up tryptophan in the brain. I have some dogs that get anxious over treatment,

  6. says

    I had the same thought as Evie, that perhaps Willie always had an underlying fear of men (which you dealt with when he was young) but now his injury has made him feel more ‘exposed’ or unsafe, so the fear has resurfaced?

    I have a reactive dog who has, at times, regressed. My method was simply to take a deep breath, swallow my pride, and start from square one.

  7. Russell says

    I’m sorry to hear about Willie’s latest problems. Perhaps it is time to question the entire system, a radical rethink that could resolve some of the issues you have encountered. Behaviourism itself needs an overhaul. The basic tenet of controlling others is at fault and has insidious effects that can eat away at any organisms self-worth.

    . . . any system based on the control of behavior through the use of rewards (or, of course, punishments) contains the seeds of its own destruction. There may be a temporary period, lasting even for many generations, during which some exciting new system concept so appeals to people that they will struggle to live within its principles, but if those principles include incentives, which is to say arbitrary deprivation or withholding at the whim of human beings, inexorable reorganization will destroy the system from within: nature intervenes with the message,

  8. says

    Wow, am I glad I read this? Inka’s confidence is growing by the week, and I’m provisionally planning to have him castrated in March when I’m on leave. I did not know that anesthetic can effect sensitive dogs, which Inka certainly is. I will have to remember that.

    Please send some of that snow to Cumbria, I would love it, and I would love to see Inka with it!

  9. Mary says

    Gorgeous picture – almost spiritual. Absolutely love dog noses, too! Peace and happiness to you, and a healthy New Year.

  10. says

    Poor Willie! Obviously, you’re the very last person I’m qualified to give advice to, and really, you’ve already outlined and detailed everything that could have caused it, and what you’re doing to fix it. I love referring people to your blog (and books).

    That is a gorgeous picture. We’ve had hardly any snow, so Elka has not been able to frolick as she likes. Has it been two whole months with Tootsie already? Wow.

  11. JJ says

    The picture of Willie in the snow is breathtaking. That is an amazing photo.

    I wanted to thank you for this post. It was so educational. You considered factors that I would never have thought to consider. I appreciate that you included ideas that you pretty much discard out of hand. It gives the rest of us ideas for factors that may apply in our situations.

    I don’t have a dog with behavioral regression problems, but I’m keeping this post in mind in case I ever do. Also, I’ll be sharing this with friends. Have a lovely weekend. Thanks!

  12. Ravana says

    How about “All of the above.” I’ve noticed that my neurotic dog will withstand a ton of things I think might set him back and nothing happens and then out of the blue with no trigger I can spot he has a setback. I’ve come to think that neurotic overreacting is like allergies, you can be around allergy trigger a or b or c and not have a bad reaction, but be around trigger a, b and c in rapid succession and two days later you’ll be sneezing your head off.

  13. Beth with the Corgis says

    Is Willie always crated when you leave the house? Does he have a view of any windows?

    I’m just wondering if it’s possible that someone (intruder, utility worker, delivery person) was at the house once when you were not there and behaved in a way threatening to Willie, and now he’s generalized it to “all males who come to the house”.

    For a dog with a history of fear-based problems, such a scenario might be enough to scare the pants off him (whereas a more confident bold dog might just see something like that as part of his everyday responsibilities and not be bothered by it).

    All your reasons sound plausible, but as you mentioned all seem like they would have happened at a different point in this process.

  14. Lacey H says

    Happy holiday season to you and yours as well.

    I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Willie’s gradual increase in freedom for activity might be a stress factor too. It’s often the total build-up of stresses that results in a resurgent problem. New Tootsie + increased Sushi + anything else might gradually accumulate quite a stack for him.

    Most of my fosters have been fear-reactive cases, and it’s impossible to get at “root causes” – but the attempt to account for the evident feelings can be worthwhile too. Even an invented back-story can make it easier on the coping human.

  15. Marianna says

    Thank you for this timely post. A fellow dog rescuer is having regression from her bc since she has started fostering. I will share this with her.

    One thing I thought of, after I had knee surgery for a long time, every now and then I would get what they call zingers. I would step funny and my knee would have a shooting pain. Could Willie have had one of these when he saw something outside and barked for the first time?

    I studied animal acupressure and its the same concept and points, just no needles. I think there is benefit with the needles, but acupressure does help and may be a better option if Willie doesn’t like the needles. There are probably some in your area.

    Wish you the best.

  16. trisha says

    Very interesting comments so far, thanks for all. Here’s some feedback and more information: I agree Tootsie might be having an effect on Willie, but it’s not because he’s picking up any fears from her as best I can tell. She came, as a mill dog, with house training issues, barking, no frustration tolerance (no aggression, just demanding barking) and no idea that the noises Jim and I made had any meaning, but she has never been afraid of people. She ran right up to Jim and jumped up on his legs when she first met him, and greets all people the same way. She was confident at the senior center around wheelchairs, walkers, & oxygen tanks. I don’t think her barking at the window has any fear in it (I’ll bring Willie out and listen again); rather she simply sounds frustrated.

    Some of you made thoughtful comments also about Willie’s sense of vulnerability while he was recovering. I’d say that’s gone now, he appears to behave as though he is totally fine and would be thrilled to go back to working sheep. However, I don’t think this hypothesis should be dismissed by any means, I think it is a good one. He was very vulnerable for a very long time, and perhaps as importantly, had his job taken away from him. He took working sheep very seriously and appeared to gain confidence once he learned he could boss sheep around. Now he’s not allowed to do that, and it makes sense it would take away a feeling of control and confidence.

    I’ve also thought of something else I should probably add to the list: It occurred to me that, as I always advise clients, I’ve kept up Willie’s CC with male visitors throughout the years. Whenever delivery men came I’d have them throw a toy, etc, even though it seemed unnecessary. I’m wondering that “maintenance” CC was more important than I realized. Food for thought.

    Also, thanks for the interesting idea about the increase in freedom acting to release some of his fears. I have to ponder that one, very thoughtful idea.

    One more thing: a good friend, very dog savvy, visited in June and just reminded me by email that while she was here Willie growled when he heard thunder, for the first time ever. Hmmm… that’s very interesting: that was about 6 weeks or so after his surgery. Hmmm….. (thanks Debby!) Also, that brings up another possibility (are they endless?): Age. Lots of dogs tend to act on their fears more as they age, and Willie is five years old now. Just something to keep in mind.

    And Beth, that’s a great point about an intruder or visitor scaring Willie when I wasn’t aware of it. I have had clients whose dogs turned out to be traumatized by burglers, so it’s a very reasonable suggestion. All I can say is I hope not… but I suppose I’ll never know. There are women who have keys to the house and have come to let him out, but he adores them and I can’t imagine that contributing in any way to the problem. If a guy came in, it was an intruder, and I’d imagine I’d fine evidence of it. (One hopes.)

    One thing I’m realizing is that I’ve spent so much time on Willie’s physical recovery (about 1.5 hours a day for month after month, + 2 afternoons a week driving to town for PT) that his mind has been relatively neglected. I’d love to say I spent all these months teaching him a million new tricks, but the effort above didn’t leave me much time or energy to do more. I’m going to add more mental exercise, and brain storm ways for him to feel more confident and control. Again, thanks for your comments. The good news here is that, because Willie so inherently adores people, and has always loved men especially, I’m confident he’ll get through this if it’s handled right. I’ll keep you posted.

  17. says

    Hi Patricia ~ I read every single one of your blog posts, but (I’m so sorry to say) I don’t think I have ever stopped to comment, or at least, it’s been so long I don’t remember. This post really struck a chord. I am floored by your comprehensive approach to solving Willie’s dilemma and I am so grateful that there is such a caring, attentive and deep-to-the-core dog lover in this world to think this deeply and write such things. And to RIGHT such things! You help and encourage the rest of us, probably more than you may know. I just want to say “Thank You” for that, for all you do for dogs & their well being, and for sharing it here. I have two fur gals – both adopted from rescue groups, both with their own unique issues and challenges. They teach me every day about living in this world that often frightens & overwhelms them. They have become my greatest gifts. They do not give up and and I will never give up on either one of them.
    With kindest regards, Christi. And Isla and Quinn, too!

  18. Mrs Toby says

    I also have a BC that is fearful and very sound sensitive. She had a accident and the sensitivity to sound and the fearfulness had increased alot after that. I have been working with her for a 1 1/2 years. She has come along way and she also has some relapses and then jumps ahead in her progress. I found that she does need daily work. I try some things that don’t seem to help or that she seems uninterested in but try it in a few weeks and then it may work. She also started nose work and herding and that has helped her alot! I don’t think she will ever be 100% but I am willing to take her has far as I can. I am presently working on her fear of taking walks. She also has a great fear of the sounds of buses, trucks, semi’s dump trucks etc. I have attempted clicker training but……fear of the clicker sound (even the click of a pen). So I guess I am trying to say that daily work is needed and it needs to be changed all the time to keep the mind working. I also believe that the accident maybe playing a part in the regression.

  19. Rachel says

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about why Willie is more scared of men inside the house than outside.

    I have a similar problem with my shy pup.

    When we’re outside, especially if he’s off-leash, he doesn’t mind being near people if they ignore him (if they attempt to interact, he moves further away).

    When we’re inside, even if people are ignoring him, he will act much more nervous, even with people that are ignoring him. Rather than just moving away, he’ll pace around, tail tucked, nervous-alert ears, keeping an eye on the visitor at all times.

    Maybe he feels more secure when he sees an escape route so he can get away if necessary? Or maybe he feels like the visitor is invading his refuge? Or maybe it’s just less frequent that someone comes over (we see people outside every day), so it’s a more novel event?

  20. Donna in VA says

    Very thought-provoking. Mainly you have made me realize that I have tried (probably unsuccessfully) to combine different approaches to my sheltie’s noise sensitivity. When he alarm barks at something elsewhere in the house, I have been calling him to me. Mainly to get him close by me, get him away from the source of the alarm (something in the yard, a computer noise, the doorbell), and calm him down.

    On the other hand, I have a problem with his anxiety when we prepare to fry something at dinnertime – literally when he sees me putting butter in a pan, he will treat it like a threat. He hates the sizzle of something hitting a hot pan. In those cases, I have been sending him away when he starts to get worried (“go out”) – to wait in the foyer or dining room (he is compliant and seems content to wait elsewhere) until the initial sizzling subsides.

    Two different and opposite sets of directives on my part that may be resulting in progress on neither??

  21. Donna in VA says

    Also, I am looking forward to the future cat and dog article. We got a dog-savvy cat in October (picked her from among the other shelter cats especially for this reason.) She has been a real pro at handling the dog so far! It has been 8 weeks and I am so pleased with the progress to date. My sheltie does not have much of a prey drive or herding instinct. He has been treating the cat as if she were another dog – sniffs her rear, give play bows and playful barking. It has been so fascinating.

  22. Chris Carney says

    Gosh, my first reaction was that I would be scared to walk in and see a person in my kitchen, stranger or acquaintance, unless it was a family member. You’d freeze with fear, wouldn’t you? Then afterward, the reaction set in against men again.

    Just my guess, obviously, and the first thing I thought of because it’s the scariest thing that happened next to all the others that you describe. And yes, I happen to be an easily startled person.

    Great good luck, I know he’ll come back around. Willie is a VERY good boy! (Not to mention handsome, which never hurts!) ; ]

  23. Larry C. says

    Several thoughts:

    The change in behavior may be a response to chronic pain, or something as simple and uncontrollable as the change in the seasons.

    Greens are not always good for you. Many greens are high in oxalic acid, and my doctor says stay away from them if I know what’s good for me. Chard and spinach are particularly bad, I don’t know about collard greens. I also don’t know if a dog’s kidneys can handle high levels of oxalic acid.

    We adopted a young dog once who was terrified of men. She quickly bonded with my wife, but wouldn’t willingly be in the same room with me, and outdoors wanted to stay at least 20 yards away. This went on for six months, until I started coming home at noon to walk her. Just a few weeks of the routine bonded her with me, and I became “her guy.” She still didn’t warm up to other men, but she quit being terrified by them.

    You may never know the cause, but if I had to guess it would be the extended confinement after his injury. That’s a terrible torture for an active breed like a border collie, and it’s not surprising that it would trigger old phobias. You need a man to take him on 2 or 3 long walks (30-45 minutes) off a leash every day. My dogs require a minimum 5 mile run twice a day when they are young, but now that they are 7-9 years old, a mile or two twice a day is adequate. I find that if I walk a half a mile, they will do their 2 miles just running around and checking things out.

  24. trisha says

    Thanks so much Christi, that’s a lovely Christmas present! And Donna, interesting question on your part. Myself I’d change having him leave the kitchen “when he starts to get worried” (so he gets reinforced for leaving and never loses his fear of the noise.) Perhaps best to CC him to the sizzle? Start him in the living room, put on the food (not too much sizzle!) and have the noise lead to something good each time. Then gradually have him closer and closer… Sounds like you’ll be cooking a lot of bacon. Can I come over?

  25. trisha says

    It’s true that some greens have high amounts of oxalic acid, which is why I give Willie mostly Kale — much lower levels than spinach. And thanks Larry for the advice about a man walking Willie: I’m happy to say Willie and I have got one, a good one at that, who spends lots and lots of time with Willie. Jim is absolutely Willie’s favorite person (it depends on who has been gone the longest, seems I win out when I leave town and come back!) W is working up to off leash walks of that length, but not ready yet.. but we’re getting there.

  26. em says

    Happy Holidays! I was so sorry to hear about Willie’s setback, and I hope that you can help him resolve it soon. I certainly appreciate your thorough and thoughtful post about it. You are certainly in a much better position to know about Willie’s situation and emotional life than I, so I hope you won’t think it rude if I chip in my two cents.

    I think you’ve done an excellent job discussing many of the possible sources of Willie’s distress, but it occurs to me that in the past few months, almost EVERYTHING about Willie’s life has changed-the surgery (after which he seemed to feel distrustful of you temporarily), the confinement, the physical restrictions, the members of his family (he may have no personal gripe against Tootsie, but like many children who become anxious or resentful about a new baby, her presence may be affecting his confidence about his place in the family), the physical therapy, and his relationship with you. Even though I’m absolutely positive that you love him to the bottom of your soul (that comes across with crystal clarity), being responsible for his rehab and recuperation changes the way that you relate to him. It must. If nothing else, you have to watch him like a hawk for signs of of physical pain, and closely monitor his physical activities. It saddens me that Willie had these episodes, but it makes sense to me, too, in a way. To a high-energy working dog who has lost his job and his old routine and gained a sibling and an owner who is suddenly acting like the world’s most loving buzzkill, it must seem like nothing in his life is certain anymore.

    It stands to reason that these changes may be anxiety-provoking, and that their effect may be cumulative and may worsen over time, particularly stress over physical restrictions. Many people show the same reaction (not the peeing their pants part, just the anxiety and restlessness) at the end of a recuperative process. When a wound is fresh or an illness severe, the patient feels much less impulse to behave normally, they don’t try to, and thus don’t feel as stressed or frustrated by their inability to carry on as usual. It’s toward the tail end, when one feels BETTER, that inactivity chafes the most and decreased mobility becomes a source of anxiety and frustration, because it feels like you SHOULD be able to do what you want to do, but you can’t.

    I hope Willie pulls out of this quickly-I’m completely confident that you can work him through it– and starts to feel more at ease soon. Thank you so much for sharing his story with us, I can’t tell you how much it has helped me better understand my own dogs. Best Wishes to you and yours for a happy holiday and a bright new year.

  27. Donna in VA says

    Thanks for the confirmation. I am going to start a “we love butter” and “we love frying pans” program tomorrow. He is very food-motivated so I’ll be using that in the kitchen. I would prefer him to think that being with me is all wonderful goodness rather than sending him away in order to cook dinner.

  28. Beth with the Corgis says

    Donna, about that sizzling sound: Maybe it IS just the sound of the sizzling. Just to give you something to think about, though: we set off the smoke alarms in our house once (hard-wired, very loud, they all go off together) frying something on the stove. For ages after that, my Corgi Jack would whine and run upstairs whenever we turned the stove exhaust fan on high. He associated that (and not the low fan) with the possibility of the alarms going off.

    I would not label him sound-sensitive, though like many herders he is acutely sensitive to anything out of place. However the smoke alarms were ear-splitting. I believe they caused him ear pain (they hurt MY ears and of course mine are not as sensitive as a dog’s). Since he’s not especially sound-sensitive, simply cooking several times without setting off the alarm was enough for him to get over it (and a session or two of getting treats with the fan on).

    Point being, the sizzle may have become associated with something else in your dog’s mind.

  29. Kat says

    I’m not sure if this is relevant with Willy but I had a “well duh” moment today when I was complaining to friends about Finna. She’d been making fairly steady progress until the last several days when she’s been very difficult. I was going on about the big picture and they calmly pointed out that everything in her routine is messed up because of Christmas and the attendant holiday chaos. I was so busy looking at the forest of the various triggers we’ve identified, and the training we’re trying to do and all of that and ran smack into the tree I couldn’t see because I was so busy concentrating on the forest. I don’t know whether it’s just me being more relaxed now that I see what’s going on or whether she’s had enough time to adjust to the new normal but she’s been really really good since I got home. Now if I can just get her through the Christmas guests that I learned about this afternoon. Not much recourse when your mother-in-law invites herself.

  30. Larry C. says

    Excellent comments about how important routine is to a dog. They get a lot of security from knowing just when and how something is going to happen, and any interruption in their routine is a sure source of stress.

  31. trisha says

    em and all: the more I think about all this the more it makes sense that his regression is the result of a cumulative process, related directly to the change from what was basically an institutional life to one of more freedom. I always figured it resulted from a variety of causes (altho I neglected to make that clear in the post), but I agree with several of you that the change from being so carefully restricted and controlled (like prison) and now he’s a bit like a prisoner who has to make many of his own decisions. Given Willie’s extreme number of fears as a puppy, it makes sense. Along with CC and a careful diet, acupuncture etc, I’m going to take a two pronged approach. Put his hobbles back on (sort of like a thunder shirt if you think about it) when we go on walks and when he’s meeting guys, work hard on his internal physiology, which I think has been significantly altered.

    Now we’re going to go enjoy Christmas Eve! Treats all round (Liz: the treats are a smash! Tootsie would learn to ski for them…..)

  32. Susan Mann says

    I’m thinking of the Bite Threshold model, (yeah, I know he’s not actually biting!) and that it isn’t any one factor, but the accumulation of several of these factors increasing his overall stress so that something that is usually tolerable, now isn’t.

    Good luck with all of this!

  33. Linda says

    My little dog, Risa, is so sound sensitive that she panics when my husband uses the toaster. She just knows he will burn it & the fire alarm will go off! Have a wonderful New Year! I second Christi’s remarks–your blog is wonderful.

  34. Laurie says

    Quite timely article. Winding down a year and a half long construction project, new baby, and just moved. On top of that the routine is really messed up for long physical activities. The weekly jiking excursions have been rare. And Amos just keeps showing more signs of regression. Obsession about the cat is returning. Recently heard from my brother that he has gone from excited to terrifying barking at the gate. He is bolting in the yard and running like he did when he first came here on at least a weekly basis so that I often have to leash him to take him out or risk him hiding in corners all day, and that had stopped for the past two years. We have a training plan in place around settling him and my other dog more in the house around the baby, but I had not noticed how bad the rest of this was getting as it snuck up on me. The causes seem obvious… And I guess the plan is to go back to all the CC and routine and activity we implemented when we first adopted him. And then, maintain it. It was easy while we were so busy and he seemed to be adjusting well to stop paying attention to the maintenance. Thanks for a great article. Time to sit down and do some more thinking about a consistent approach!

  35. Greta says

    I am not convinced that teaching a dog to leave the kitchen when scared simply reinforces leaving and avoids allowing him to overcome his fear. In some cases it seems to me to give the dog a power to regulate his environment so he can have a chance to DS. Seems to me a lot of dogs magnetize to certain people or situations despite feeling fear, and get stuck in conflict. Wanting to go up to scary strangers with treats is an example of this. Teaching a retreat option can be incredibly helpful. ‘Trapped’ is as often mental as physical. (For people, too!). Giving the dog an out can be a gift and I have seen it unblock the recovery process for quite a few client dogs.

  36. Nicola says

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – and I hope it WILL be happy for Willie. Poor guy, he’s had a tough year (so have you, Trish). I’d really be interested in a post on how you handled Tootsie’s barking- I have a barker in my household, but have learned to live with it – some ideas on how to change it would be great.

  37. Rebecca Fouts says

    As far as the acupuncture — consider that this new practitioner may have managed to hit just the right spot, and some cell/energy garbage was released into the blood stream and body. Some suggest this can also affect the neurotransmitters — which can cause anxiety and all sorts of other health issues when they’re unbalanced. (For example, Fibromyalgia is now considered to be a condition of neurotransmitter dysregulation — the dysregulation causes hyper-sensitivity in the central nervous system, and in some, can cause fatigue, anxiety, etc) Often, when you feel crappy after massage or acupuncture it’s because you’re detoxing whatever garbage your cells have been retaining. It’s why you’re suppose to drink a lot of water after massage and acupuncture — to clean out the garbage released into the body.

    And maybe it’s a combination of all these changes in the house — you listed so many.

    Also, you’ve listed the changes for him — but what about changes for you? It is the holidays, and people are often more stressed — which can go right down the leash. There are often changes in routine, in decorations around the house, new people, different activities.

    Just a thought.

  38. trisha says

    Willie continues to do well, I’m so pleased. A super dog savy friend came by last night and Willie was thrilled to see him. We had him stand in the exact spot where the ‘scary man’ stood a few weeks ago, and Willie ran right up to him to say hello. However, he no doubt heard Justin’s voice (and he’d been over on Monday) and probably recognized it, whereas he’d never met the ‘scary guy’ before. But still, great progress.

    To Kevin: I couldn’t agree more that you can’t separate internal physiology and behavior any more than you can separate out yolk and egg whites once they’ve been stirred together. Early on in my practice I started attending to a dog’s internal physiology as an important component in behavior, and I saw over and over again how important it is to focus on all aspects of an animal’s health when looking at behavior. And good question Rebecca, could it be that the one acupuncture treatment was the primary factor in Willie’s improvement? Perhaps, very well could be, we’ll probably never know. I still suspect that it was (is) a combination of factors, from that to diet to the hobbles and….. Rebecca’s comment is well taken about whether our behavior had an effect on Willie. I have thought about that quite a bit lately, given the sadness of the first Christmas without 2 important family members who were always integral to our holidays together. I’ve called Willie “Trisha’s Mood Ring” for years, so yes, I think it is absolutely possible that what was going on with Willie’s humans was one of the factors in his behavior. So glad that he is doing so well now!

  39. says

    I would propose that we make a distinction between CNS and Enteric in terms of complex social behavior and learning, otherwise by attributing high social/learning functionality to high cognition, we are indeed looking at a scrambled egg. For example, since we know the relation of the yolk-to-the-white in terms of the egg, we are able to make a distinction between them in regards to how they contribute to the organism. So in that regard, beyond the overt health connection, as in, an irritable bowel can make for an irritable dog–is there a distinct role for the enteric nervous system in complex and social behavior? Which nervous system might be the most likely candidate as germ of social structure?

  40. Fiona says

    Hi. Just doing some research on behaviour regression. George the Beagle has had spinal surgery to decompress two vertebrate in his neck after potentially months of pain (I misinterpreted his clinginess as general attention seeking for reasons below, not neck pain). His recovery has included 4 days at the surgery, 2 weeks of crate confinement and 4 weeks of house confinement and no exercise for 4 weeks and then 5 – 10 minutes of exercise for two weeks (not nearly enough for his usual quota)

    The other potential contributors to his behaviour change is that our baby has become a toddler and completely obsessed with him (and all my work in making sure she respects his personal space and sleeping quarters are tested regularly on a daily basis) AND I’m 25 weeks pregnant.

    Likening his vet/crate experience being very carefully controlled and structured existance (like prison) has resonated with me. George was fed, toileted and entertained with treats very routinely for two and half weeks.

    I do think his lack of exercise, the exposure to two lots of anaesthesia, the surgery itself and the resulting change to a highly structured lifestyle afterwards has been the main contributors.

    He was a very well trained dog. He now challenges my partner and I on every command.

    My challenge now is to now work out where to go from here. Instinct tells me to go back to “Say Please” basics for EVERYTHING and hope the vet approves more exercise time.

    Any other hints will be gratefully received.

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