This email was sent by Linda S. about her Australian Shepherd Mix:
It might be suspected that your dog has a small genetic disposition of being noise sensitive to begin with. Regardless of that possibility, it appears that she has been exposed to some traumatic experiences as you described. Those definitely had some huge impact on her perception of- and reaction to those events! The goal here is to depress or even erase the strong behavior of running away.
The behavior of flight is definitely a fear based behavior. Fear is an emotion. If we can manipulate her emotions, then the behavior will change.
The training has to be conducted in a controlled environment. You have to be able to gear the level of intensity and therefor also the distance in which the scary stimuli are created.
As you know your dog best, purposely create an event that you know will trigger fear. The level of fear should be just at a level that it is slightly noticeable to start. The moment she shows a slight reaction / awareness of a scary event- have the most positive happening to her. Flood her with food or toy play or cuddle….whatever you know is the greatest for her. And then end the sequence. It should not be a circle of the event happening- the positive happening-and then the event repeating. Make a session one sequence. Event happens-she notices- and something greatly enjoyable is happening. Do NOT talk during the whole process. YOU don’t want to be in the picture. Until the end of course when you provide the goodies.
Now, one might argue: But….by following the suggestion, don’t you actually reward the undesired behavior?
No, we change emotions to manipulate the behavior. This is NOT instrumental learning. The subject does NOT actively participate in the process.
Let me give an example of humans, maybe you can relate a little better:
A person is scared of the phone booth. He likes candy more than anything. He is taken to the the booth just up to a distance where he realizes it is there. It is not that close to where he would be freaking out! Then he gets a large load of candy and we will walk away. After a few repetitions, we might be able to take him closer. Until he actually will start to like the phone booth!
Success will very much depend on our sensitivity to measure the amount of fear allowed and the amount of control we have over the set up.