Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Figthing Fears

I have a toddler and a collie – I know a little bit about dealing with fears and phobias that pop up at random and I think I'm getting pretty good at working through these situations effectively.

Conditioned Emotional Response or CER – classical conditioning forming an emotional reaction between a conditioned stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. We often deal with fearful responses and CERs are very strong and hard to extinguish.

Poor Beamish must have been trained on a shock collar before I got him. The mere sound of the warning tone before he'd get a burst of citronella from a scent collar or on the electronic fence, or even the warning tone on a cross walk signal, turned him into a frozen, quivering mass. There was no shock associated with the tone the 3 years he was with me, but the fear was there whenever he heard the sound.

Bug had no particular feelings about my cousin until my cousin watched Bug during Bug's seperation anxiety phase. Now Bug always associates my cousin with me leaving and says she doesn't like her, even though they have a lot of fun when they are together and even if I'm not going anywhere.

Counterconditioning – changing the student's association of a conditioned stimulus to an opposite association.

One of Beamish's triggers was the presence of a sheltie. Whenever he'd see a sheltie he would get very stiff and start showing aggressive body language. If the sheltie got close enough, Beamish would lunge at it. We happened to be staying in a place where we saw a couple of shelties frequently. Beamish and I would sit off to the side and every time he noticed a sheltie I would click and give him a treat. By the end of that trip he was doing a pretty good job of looking at the sheltie calmly and turning to me for a treat. We had begun to counter his negative response toward shelties with a more positive, or at least neutral, response.

My aunt happened to watch Bug several times during her separation anxiety phases. She knew that Bug had a strong negative response to my leaving, so she brought ice cream with her whenever she came to watch Bug. Soon Bug was telling me “bye bye” because she knew she wasn't getting “i teem” until momma left.

Desensitization – introducing small doses of the fear-provoking stimulus and gradually working up to exposure to the entire stimulus.

Cousteau did not enjoy our 19 hour drive from Massachusetts to Wisconsin. (Neither did we!) He refused to get into the car for weeks after we moved, probably because he was afraid he'd be stuck in the back of a packed car with us screaming at him to lie down or he'd get tangled in his seat belt during rush hour traffic or some doG awful road construction again. We started throwing treats in the car and letting him get back out. Then we took short trips to fun places. After a few months he was able to get back into the car on his own without complaint and even tolerates road trips well now.

For some reason, Bug was terrified of the vacuum. From the very first time I turned it one she freaked out. We started vacuuming in a room as far away as we could get from her and worked closer one room at a time as she allowed us to. We also introduced a toy vacuum and a smaller, quieter electric sweeper. Over time she could happily play with her toy and remain in the room with the electric sweeper. Then she moved up to using the sweeper herself. Now she can tolerate being on the same floor, a room away from the “big Daddy vacuum”.

Flooding or response prevention – a barrage of the conditioned stimulus without the unconditioned stimulus present. In other words, the presence of the big scary thing in huge amounts.

I didn't realize I was flooding with Lacey, one of my foster dogs, and I'm lucky it worked. She was afraid of big, tall men with deep voices. My dad happens to fit that category. We started off with some counterconditioning, but then I needed to run into my grandmother's house and dogs aren't allowed there. So I tossed Lacey's leash to my dad and went in. Lacey began freaking out, but eventually settled down. I don't think this would have worked if I hadn't started with the counterconditioning, though.

I can't think of a time when I've used this with Bug. It just isn't a very pleasant way to deal with a CER. I've tried it a bit with my fear of snakes by forcing myself to go into the herpitarium at the zoo and look at the snakes surrounding me. Even though the snakes are behind glass, the longer I am there, the more anxious I feel. Maybe if I sat in that room for hours and hours I would become so exhausted by the constant anxiety that I wouldn't be able to shake and hyperventilate, but I'd be just as terrified the next time Bug and my husband wanted to see the snakes.

No comments: