Thursday, August 26, 2010

thoughts on fears

While I was waiting for Misty during her ultrasound, there was a German shepherd in one of the exam rooms, with the door open.

Ten years ago, my dog (Munchkin) and I were attacked by a German Shepherd.

Ten years later, I am still terrified of the breed, especially the ones that look like the typical police dog.

At one point, the dog/owner came out of the exam room and walked by me to bring the dog outside to relieve itself.

I tried to remain calm, but my panic rose. I turned my body to the side in my chair and tried to make myself invisible.

After they came back in the office, my fears had escalated to the point where I had to leave the building. I was terrified the dog would charge at me, even though I had no reason to believe the dog was aggressive.

I've been thinking about this for days, and comparing myself to Oreo.

How many times have I seen Oreo try to make himself invisible, by hiding under a chair, or squeezing his body into a corner, or running away to escape his fears?

How can I help him with his fears, if I, a human with means of logic and reasoning, can't squelch my own fears?

The experts say to feed the dog food to desensitize and such.

Well, feeding me food around a German shepherd wouldn't work. What would be rewarding for me? A room full of puppies perhaps? Even so, I don't think any amount of positive experiences could get the image of the attack out of my brain. I will always see the breed as powerful and potentially deadly.

I can avoid German shepherds for the most part, and live my life fear free.

Unfortunately, Oreo's fears are more broad. So, we'll keep trying, but from now on, when I see him start to get stressed over something, I'm going to remember how I feel when a German Shepherd walks in the room.


Priscilla said...

I'm so sorry you have had to go through this trauma. Oreo too. I guess in a way, it's good that you can relate to your dog's fears.
I guess it's easier for you to avoid GSDs than for Oreo to avoid many other things! Guess he must feel pretty terrible everytime he's scared. Poor guy!

Priscilla said...

P.S. Forgot to say, I'm glad it isn't rotties you are scared of!

Jules said...

That must have been a terrifying experience. This certainly puts things in perspective.

AC said...

I feel likes it's very hard to override fear with logic. Fear is so often a physical manifestation more than a cognitive one - you *feel* panic while your brain may be imagining that room full of puppies. I think this is why cognitive therapies often provide limited success for people who have experienced trauma. While they address the thought process, they often ignore the body process.

In the same way, CC seems limited in helping dogs with high-level fears. They can't learn a new association when their bodies are on hyper-drive.

What an important reminder of how much fear stinks!

Sara said...

Well said. Fear is truly a physical response, one you can't control.

Dawn said...

I'm so sorry you had that experience. This made me tear up it's so sad. GS's make me nervous, but I don't have that same fear. I was babysitting once when I was a teenager for a family that had a vicious GS. They always put the dog in the basement when I was there alone with the kids. Then the wife died. The next time I babysat the husband forgot to put the dog in the basement, he was out in the yard and I didn't know it. The kids and I went out there and I ended up spending the whole rest of the afternoon on top of the swingset slide because the dog wouldn't let me near the kids.

On the other hand I've had two of the sweetest GS's in some of Katie's obedience classes. Hopefully you will have some good experiences with the breed sometime. Meanwhile, it's good you can relate so well to Oreo!

Sara said...

There is a GS in our agility class. I can be in relatively close proximity to her because she is all black. Since she doesn't look the dog that bit us, it doesn't provoke the severe fear & panic. However, I could never get close enough to touch the dog.

Hope you got paid extra for that babysitting job!

AC said...

An interesting read about trauma and the body:

"Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma," by Peter A. Levine.

This is admittedly a subject-hobby for me, so it may not be as interesting to anyone else =) It looks at why wild animals almost never suffer from trauma even though they face traumatic experiences all the time, while people (and domesticated animals) can experience the lasting effects of a scary experience.

Sara said...

sounds fascinating..I'll check it out.

Rob said...

The only dog that ever bit me was a German Shepherd. I was out on a walk and this dog and its owner walked past without trouble and then all of a sudden I felt something grab my arm from behind and it was the dog that just passed me. Thankfully it was winter so I had a thick coat on so it didn't hurt me but it was a bit of a shock as the dog gave no sign of anything to worry about as I walked past it. The guy apologised but I have to confess that at the time I was in no mood to accept it. Tippy was like Oreo in that she was often afraid of something that you could see no reason for and it didn't seem to matter what you did there was no getting her out of it once she was that way with something.

Ricky the Sheltie said...

I'm sorry you and Oreo had that experience. I know you know intellectually that it's not all GSD that are bad but it would be so difficult to learn to know that emotionally.

Sara said...

Bob, That is exactly the type of thing that I am afraid unproked attack.

Poor Tippy, I didn't know she had some fears too.

Marie said...

Your post reminds me of things I read and experimented with when we had Rogue with us.

I've read lots of people say that you can use food and desensitization, but what I found worked best sometimes, was neither of those things. In fact, I found that in some cases, the food actually came to have a negative association to her, like it was an indication that she was going to have to do something icky or scary. :-(

What worked in some cases was using what she found most rewarding. Like in this case, the most rewarding thing to you was to get out of that building. So, I would ask for the dog to step inside, and then the reward would be to leave again. (Not make them stay in the environment that is freaking them out). Then we would repeat the steps again. We did use food as well, but the biggest reward was getting away from the pressure or the fear.

I don't know if any of that makes sense now that I'm trying to write it down, but nevertheless, that's what your post made me think of.

Kathy said...

Having my tri color sheltie Skyler who is a very fearful guy who I did a lot of reactivity work with and Liz who experiences so much is a hard thing to come up with how to handle things, there are so many schools of thought, the CC which works nice for some things, the relief of pressure where the dog handles some tiny thing and you let them leave, getting the dog more excited and stimulated by something else so they are not thinking about what they are scared of, think of a dog scared of a lady with a hat but if they are chasing a squirrel they will run right past the lady with the hat and not notice...there is all the control unleashed type work, I have a book case full of different materials and a little dvd case full of dvds of seminars and presentatins and have attented lots of seminars and gosh....seems like so many schools of thought, and then there is the whole medication or supplements question. It is a wild and confusing world to figure out how you really want to handle helping your doggie handle things a little more comfortably....and it sure seems so many shelties can be little worriers....
Hang in there, ...having had the experiences you had you are the perfect person to find a way to help Oreo learn to work through these fears and feel safe.

Sara said...

You make perfect sense, and I think I have been feeding Oreo in the face of his fears far too often. I see far more "u-turns" coming up in our furture.

You are right, there are so many techniques! I think I have to figure out what works for Oreo in a variety of situations....ex/when the next door neighbor's kids are outside, I can use his ball as a distraction, but that won't work in other places....