After the Craze

I mentioned yesterday that last week was a little tough around here. New random fears, intensification of some old fears, escalation of the few actively bad behaviors that Silas has, food issues. Blah, all around. But since Friday or so, things have been fantastic.

The progressive parents I know say things like, “Oh, Junior is having a rough time lately. I think he’s about to enter a new developmental stage.” While “stages” for dogs Silas’s age aren’t a well established psychological fact, I’m starting to wonder.

Fear is, for good or ill, not as linear as other dog training behaviors. A dozen things can factor in at any one moment. Subtle differences in context can make a huge difference for a dog. Is there just a scary thing? Or a scary thing and a weird smell? Or a scary thing and an uncomfortable stomach? So, I wouldn’t expect to see a sharp extinction pattern with fear like you sometimes see with a routine offered behavior.

After our bad week, though, we’re getting some very compelling evidence that there has been a leap forward of sorts. I give you Exhibit A:

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We’ve had this chair Silas’s whole life. He has never, ever liked it. It’s one of those IKEA chairs that flexes, and he is not a fan of the moving furniture. He won’t even sit with a person in that chair. Sunday night when my husband got up to help with dinner, Silas hopped right up, curled up with the pillow, and started taking a nap.

Monday he was willing to go out on the sidewalk, in the middle of the day. Monday afternoon we went to the park (a different park than the one he’s been afraid of lately), where he walked better on his leash than he ever has. Exhibit B:

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And that was from the second we got across the scary, scary road. Silas doesn’t always pull on his leash, but he is always as far ahead as he can possibly get. We spent at least half of the walk with an actual “U” in the leash, not just no tension.

One last gratuitous park photo:

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He jumped directly onto that log. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but it’s easily waist high or more on me. I stepped back to the end of the leash to get the photo, and you still can’t really see the ground. Hard to believe that a baby gate keeps him out of the bathroom, isn’t it? (Poor baby; I forgot his water, and they closed a lot of the trails in the park so we had to go the long way. He was way too hot by this, which was at the end of our walk.)

I’m definitely going to take it easy on him the next few days, after the sidewalk and the park in one day. I can’t count on this being a “phase” rather than a “freak event.” But I can hope.

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4 thoughts on “After the Craze

  1. We all have fears. Some are justified and others are irrational, lucky for us we have reasoning ability. He is still very young (yes?) and hopefully he will outgrow some of them. IMO it is important to continue and expose him to new things and things that are important to you, in a positive manner. It just takes time. I think some day you will look back and be amazed at his growth.

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    1. He has outgrown a lot of things–as a puppy, he was afraid of a lot more routine, day to day things. Aluminum foil crinkling, plastic bags, things being on the edge of the kitchen counter.

      It’s a fine line between exposing him enough to make him better, or so much that he regresses. I lost a lot of our progress on the sidewalk last week, because I tried taking him out every day. By the fourth or fifth day, he was a cowering mess. It’s hard to know what is “just enough.”

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  2. Right on. I think it’s so great you have this blog now to document Silas’ bad days and good days. It makes it so much easier to track success over time.

    It’s hard for me to believe sometimes but our dog really has matured a lot in the last two years. Things do eventually get calmer as they get older and fears do decrease. She still seems like a nutjob to me at times but I bet if the younger Shiva could travel through time, I’d see many changes between the two today. And I am sure you would with Silas.

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  3. When we had our fearful foster, Cherie, I found that just hanging around the house for a couple days after a bad day really helped. And she seemed to come back better than ever when we returned to walking in the neighborhood.

    The brain is so complex. Silas may be progressing through stages. He might see other things to be frightened of that you don’t recognize.

    Isn’t it amazing to have such a smart little guy here to watch and learn with?

    BTW, those ears on the top picture are to die for.

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