Weirdophobia

Fear periods are something we’ve heard about a lot throughout our years of raising puppies for CCI. According to my Puppy Raiser Manual, one such period occurs when pups are between 8 and 11 weeks old. Then a second kicks in between 6 to 14 months. “Corresponds with growth spurts,” my manual reads.  “May be frightened of new things or even known things.” Aside from the fear of stairs with open treads — which have terrified several of our pups — no previous puppy of ours has suddenly become afraid of something. But once again, Adagio is breaking new ground. Two entities currently frighten him:

The Dog of Death. This one is somewhat understandable. At least we know its genesis. Our walk to the neighborhood coffeehouse often takes us past a house where, months ago, a dog would usually spring to its feet at our approach and bark ferociously at Adagio through the wooden fence. It made even Steve and me jump a couple of times. It startled Adagio, and he put his ears back, but we always quickly moved on past the house.

One day, the house seemed empty. The dog appeared to be gone. Yet at some point — weeks later — Adagio began acting afraid at our very approach to the house. He whimpered. We pointed out to him that this was silly. The scary dog was nowhere to be seen. But over time, Adagio’s reactions grew more and more extreme. He began to scream and yelp and cry as we approached the fence. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like:

One day we realized there was indeed a dog in the yard, where new owners seemed to have moved in and begun a backyard renovation project. When we turned and walked up the alley that runs behind the house, we could even see this dog, a friendly soul who wagged its tail and never so much as emitted a snarl, let alone any menacing barks. One day, when Adagio was squealing in terror as we passed the house, we even met the dog’s owner, who told us its name is Rile. (I’m not sure that’s how it’s spelled.)

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Strangely, when Adagio has come face to face with Rile, he calms down or acts like he wants to play.

To this day, Adagio continues to make a spectacle of himself every time we walk anywhere near the house. Steve and I should probably just avoid it. My manual says, “Don’t force dogs into fearful situations. Ignore the scary thing so dog won’t be afraid. ” But it seems so ridiculous for him to be terrified of the Dog of Death, as we have come to think of poor Rile. We keep walking by ever so often to see if Adagio has finally come to his senses.

In the meantime, last week he began to act afraid of…

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The Bowl of Terror. The bowl in question is his water bowl — i.e. the large metal bowl from which he and Tucker both have been drinking for all of Adagio’s life. We keep it on the patio and typically fill it with water a couple of times a day.

When walking back to the house from the lower yard (where we typically go for his toileting breaks), I realized one recent day that Adagio was veering over to the outdoor fireplace. It took me a while to realize he was doing that to avoid walking close to the water bowl. I could scarcely believe this. It’s such an innocuous fixture. It’s given him so much pleasure — quenching his thirst! — over the course of his short life. Moreover it’s his only source of water. He’s never been one to drink from toilet bowls or the pool.

But afraid he clearly is. Happily, we’ve observed that when he gets thirsty enough, he walks right up to it and drinks. Once sated, he bolts away.

What can I say? He’s a weirdophobe.

I also comfort myself with the thought that he completely got over the fear of open-tread stairs. Now he ambles up them without a second thought. We can hope he’ll also make his peace with both Rile and the Bowl of Terror.

 

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Scaredy-dog

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Meh. THAT is not scary.

After CCI puppies are turned in for their Advanced Training (as Beverly will be four weeks from today), one of the first things that happens to them is that they undergo a series of exams, both physical and psychological. Over the years, we’ve heard about what’s involved in the temperament testing. A volunteer dons a cape and mask and approaches each puppy in a vaguely menacing fashion. Apparently this scares some of the dogs, and they bolt to get away. That’s a bad thing.

So the other day, we figured we would give Beverly some early exposure to this kind of creepy apparition, to prepare her for the ordeal. We had our son, Elliot, put on a cape and scary clown mask and suddenly emerge from the door opening onto our pool deck. Steve had Beverly on a leash outside, and we were delighted to see she didn’t flinch. Instead she wagged her tail a little and started to move toward Elliot. He pushed the button on an umbrella, and it popped open. We’ve had at least one (non-CCI) dog who was terrified of this. But again, it didn’t bother Beverly.

What does scare her are stairs that you can see through. As I’ve reported before, we’ve been working on getting her up these at the building where we attend puppy class. She’s still uneasy, but we can now usually coax her up one set there.

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This photograph was taken at our class last week. But when we tried to make her climb up another set of open stairs in the same complex — one where the lighting made the absence of a back to the stairs more obvious — she reacted with stark terror. She wouldn’t even look at them, let along try to ascend.

Will this one character flaw doom her chances as a service dog? That scares Steve and me.

Breakthrough

Life with Beverly has been so calm, so orderly, so free of bad behavior that it has left me with little to report on for this blog. Last night, however, Beverly made a breakthrough that was exciting.

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In general, she has learned all her commands with little fuss, but over the past few months she developed one terrible phobia. Faced with having to go up a set of stairs with open treads, like this one, she becomes frozen with terror. Most Friday evenings, we join a group of friends for a potluck and movie-watching in the Hillcrest condo of our friend Alberto. He lives on the third floor, connected to the ground by an elevator and a set of stairs — with open treads. Beverly is not the first puppy to be afraid of them.  I’ve reported on our troubles with various of her predecessors. But Beverly has been the most afraid. Week after week Steve has patiently worked with her, trying to lure her upward with increasingly irresistible treats. She descends with no problem, but she has mulishly resisted climbing.

So at puppy class last night, when our instructor, Shaina, asked if anyone was dealing with any problems, Steve lamented about what a challenge it has been to try and overcome Beverly’s open-tread terror.

“Let’s all go work on it together,” Shaina suggested. “Right now.” First she directed us all to pass our dogs to the puppy-raisers on our left (so every dog was being handled by someone more or less new to him or her). Beverly went to Mark, whom we know fairly well. (With his wife, Karla, Mark is raising an easy-going pure-bred male lab named Keegan.)

Outside, most of the dogs ascended the stairs without incident. 062717 Stairs2

Mark approached with Beverly, and for a minute I thought perhaps she would be swept up in the momentum of the group ascent. 062717 Stairs3

But then she seemed to realize what she was about to do. She froze, then turned away, cringing.062717 Stairs4

Oddly, a moment later, Keegan had trouble with the climb — despite the fact that he has gone up and down even scarier stairs many times. Happily, he was being handled by Dan Flynn, who along with his wife, Janice, is one of the most experienced puppy-raisers in the United States. (They’re raised more than 20 CCI pups — most of whom have graduated to lives of service.) Dan helped us in the past when one of our charges was terrified of open-tread stairs, so I wasn’t surprised to see him calmly coax Keegan upward.

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Mark waited, then walked over again with Beverly. She put her front paws on the lowest step…

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but then  she seemed to think better of what she was doing, and shied away. Mark led her back, and she got up two steps.062717 Stairs 8

She looked panicky and backed off again, but Mark led her back, and in a daze, I watched her timidly scurry all the way up to the landing, where her buddy Keegan was waiting. All of us assembled puppy-raisers cheered, and Mark gave Beverly many pats and a food treat.062717 Stairs9

He led her down the stairs and approached the stairs again. This time she hustled up the Treads of Terror with notably less hesitation.

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I’m not sure if she’ll bound up the ones at Alberto’s this Friday night. But if she balks, I now feel confident we’ll be able to get her over it. It was another lesson in how life is easier when one is raising one’s puppy within a supportive village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climbing up stairs with open treads can terrify puppies. It’s understandable. If you’re little and low, it looks like it would be easy to slip through the openings and fall to your death. We saw the effect such stairs had on Dionne (our fifth CCI pup) whenever we entered the stairwell in our friend Alberto’s building. Dionne was normally a bold and fearless spirit, yet she would freeze at the sight of those stairs. We worked for months to overcome that, trying in vain to lure her up with various tasty treats. But nothing worked until a fellow puppy raiser who is extraordinarily experienced broke through her phobia during an outing at Fashion Valley.

Kyndall has been having a similar reaction to the very same set of stairs. But last night we had a breakthrough. Our contribution to the evening’s potluck was hummus and sautéed lamb, and I had to slice off a lot of lamb fat while preparing the dish. Both Tucker and Kyndall watched me intensely as I did this. They stared. They drooled. To lift their spirits, we mixed in a few small bits of the lamb fat into their dinner kibble. But Steve cut up most of it into tiny squares and took a small bagful of it with us to Albie’s.

We entered the Stairwell of Terror. Steve got out a bit of lamb fat.

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Lamb fat in hand, he started up the stairs, and Kyndall bounded up after him!

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We cheered and praised her (including Albie, who is making a documentary about raising service dogs and so was filming the proceedings). Once or twice, she hesitated and we could see the old fear grip her.

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But Steve waved the lamb in front of her nose, and each time it did the trick.

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She walked all the way up to Albie’s place on the third floor, wagging her tail and licking her chops.

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It will be interesting to see how she does next time. (I’m thinking we need a little stash of that fat in reserve.)