POG: parent/owner/guardian

Anyone have a dog that is sound-sensitive? Bad with, say, smoke alarms? Fearful, even? You will relate to this story.

It happened to me and Tawny the Wonder Dog, my at-least-10-year-old mix who over the years has been my baby, frustration, teacher, lab rat, best friend, partner. As a trainer, I couldn’t have asked for a bigger challenge or a better dog. As a POG, I am hopelessly in goofy dog love with her. As a person, I am a crazy Gemini, and I often feel the twins fighting over who I should be when dealing with her. Since she came to me in 2004, we have worked through many of her issues, including lots and lots of fear problems. These days, she is not easily rattled, even by the big semis thundering past us on our walks and the earth movers tearing up the concrete at the end of my street.

With that background in mind, here’s the story: Recently, I was in my bedroom folding laundry, Tawny snoozing on the bed. I had just turned the TV on (ancient TV that had been giving off a slight burny smell for a few days. No biggie, I thought, still works! [Yes, I am a cheapskate.]).

Apparently, this was now more than a slight smell, because the smoke alarm went off. Tawny flew off the bed; I said something unrepeatable in polite company, turned the TV off and turned the bathroom fan on. The alarm stopped but then started again, and the other two alarms that are waaaay too close to the first one (thanks, design geniuses) went off too.

As I was standing there contemplating my next move, I noticed Tawny cringing in the hallway, shaking hard enough to rattle the teeth out of her head. I had never seen her like that before, scared yes but not terrified. She was terrified.

When I saw that, I reacted as any loving dog POG would. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her everything would be all right. I wanted to comfort her and make her feel better.

It took every bit of inner strength I had not to do it.

It killed me, but as a trainer I know that comforting a dog when s/he is frightened is the worst thing you can do because it reinforces the fear reaction. I had to help her, but I couldn’t do it that way.

Instead, I led her into the garage, where there are no smoke alarms, while I turned off the circuit breaker that powered them. I left her in there while I pulled all the back-up batteries so they weren’t chirping. I then called my mom, even though it was very late, and asked her to if I could bring Tawny over while I sorted this out.

After I was reasonably certain I had the alarms reset/back to normal, I retrieved my girl. Clearly, she was still freaked out–following me everywhere, crouched low, tail down, eyes bugging, heavy panting. Did not want to go in the bedroom. And omigod that bone-shattering shaking. I was afraid she was going to have a heart attack.

Still, I resisted the urge to hold her and calm her down. It was agonizing, but I had to. Instead, I did what I tell all my students, clients, friends and family to do. I completely ignored her fear and went about acting as if nothing had happened. I returned to folding my laundry. I plunked down on the couch and turned on the non-burny-smell family room TV. I yawned. I sighed. I talked to her when she looked like she was less tense.

After what seemed like forever, she lay down and rested her chin on her paws. Later she followed me back into the bedroom, clearly stressed, and eventually went up on the bed and fell into an exhausted, snore-filled sleep. I stayed awake for a long time after, watching her sleep, hoping the alarms would stay quiet, and worrying how she would be tomorrow. I was fearful this had traumatized her, and that I would have to work hard to recover her.

But here is the best part of this story. This is why I love being a trainer, and why I’m glad my trainer twin won over my POG twin.

It worked.

Tawny woke up the next day just fine. I noticed a slight hesitance on her part to go into the bedroom, but it quickly went away. And I have seen no lasting effects whatsoever.

I know my methods are sound, and I had every confidence what I did was right and would work. But like every other person on the planet who suffers when their dog suffers, my first helping instinct was the wrong one. Had I not fought that urge and followed my trainer instincts, I would have had a very different outcome. And a lot more work to do. Instead, after one long night, I had my dog back 100 percent.

Still, it was really, really painful. I love T to pieces and never want her to struggle. I’m glad I managed to do what was best for her. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, maybe this will give you the strength to do the best thing for your dog as well.

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