This morning I took Ross and Mira out for a hike together. These are the two that I have to keep an eye on if we run into other dogs, and so I was hoping to run them early enough in the day that we simply wouldn’t encounter anyone. However, being an unseasonably warm and sunny day in November, others had the same idea. We only encountered two groups of people, one with a dog, and one without. Each time I either saw, or intuited that someone was coming (I have this uncanny “spidey” sense around when to leash my dogs) before we actually ran into them. I leashed up both dogs and then proceeded to pass the other hikers. Each time Mira barked her little head off the instant she saw the others approaching. While Ross only barks when up close to another dog, Mira sets off the alarm the second she discovers we’re not alone in the woods. It doesn’t matter if they have a dog or not, although she almost turns herself inside out if there is one.
Mira reacts the same way whether or not she’s on a leash. Yesterday I had her out with Hannah, and we ran into two beautiful Irish Water Spaniels. The other dogs were off leash so I left mine free too. Mira charged up, barking her little head off, hackles raised and pranced around the other dogs.
She gets over it pretty quickly, and settles down and interacts more or less appropriately after the initial 1-2 minutes. Interestingly, she doesn’t react at all when meeting other border collies. All my dogs behave differently when we meet other border collies; they are much more relaxed, as if meeting a long lost friend. But Mira is downright fearful of non-border collie dogs.
After our walk, I came home to a very quiet house. Hannah and Kestrel were up in my bedroom, locked in with bones to keep them busy while we were gone. As I came in the house, I heard their footsteps, but not a sounds emerged from that room. Not a yip, not a bark. Normally when I come home, it’s pandemonium. There’s so much barking I can’t hear myself think. But with Mira (and Ross) out of the equation, the other two are quite silent.
This evening I took Hannah and Kestrel for a run just before sundown (I can’t believe it’s pitch black at 6pm, thanks to the time change!). We also encountered two new dogs, a Malamute and a black Shepherd mix. Both intimidating dogs. All dogs were off-leash, and when they met there was not a sounds. No one barked, no one fussed. The other owners started calling their dogs back, so I whistled once and my two came flying back without hesitation.
The difference between how Mira reacts and how the other two do (Ross is not included here because he is not all border collie) is night and day. Border collies should be quiet dogs; they are not supposed to bark and fuss and make all sorts of noise. This is something I quite like about the breed. I was very dismayed when Mira turned out to be such a noisy thing. It’s really irritating. She barks at everything and anything. A squirrel running by, a strange sound, the cat she lives with, my roommate coming out of the bathroom with a towel on her head. If Mira was a human, she would be labeled “extrovert” as everything that passes through her head comes out her mouth. It’s as if she is announcing everything, all the time. “Alert, alert!! Terrifying Monster…. oh, it’s just a squirrel…” “Alert, alert!!! Terrifying Monster… oh, it’s just the cat…” “Alert, alert!!! Terrifying Monster… oh, it’s just our roommate…”
I really wonder what’s going on in her wee head. Then again, maybe I don’t want to know. The world seems like such a scary place to her.
On a positive note, the homeopathic remedy I gave her two days ago seems like it might be helping with one aspect of her fear. Since the day I first moved to this house and left her outside during some fireworks while we ate supper, and she subsequently escaped the yard and got lost, she has become thunderphobic. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given how sensitive she is to external stimuli, but I am not happy to see this develop. In a dog as naturally reared as she is, I really shouldn’t see any of these behaviours, and especially not this one. It’s been an interesting learning experience for me to observe behaviours, and age of onset of these behaviours, which I had previously blamed on environmental factors such as vaccines and kibble, still rearing their ugly heads in their absence. I do believe these factors are at least partially to blame, having damaged previous generations. Certainly I wouldn’t want to see what Mira would turn out like if she were fed Old Roy and repeatedly vaccinated! But perhaps there’s something else going on too.
Why the onset of thunderphobia at age 2.5, which is common in conventionally reared dogs? Is there something that happens at that age? Is it just a coincidence, with the phobia being linked to the experience of being lost? Or is there some physiological change causing over-sensitivity? I don’t have an answer for that, or even a speculation. Except perhaps that there definitely is some change in a dog when it reaches this age of maturity. Mira has in many other ways settled down nicely since turning two, and Hannah changed even more at age three. All in good ways. Hannah became more confident, calm, relaxed. Mira has also calmed down, no longer constantly pacing and getting into stuff, and otherwise being a puppish (that’s Kestrel’s job now). But she’s also become more insecure. She’s clingy, jealous and a bit bitchy with the other dogs, and now somewhat thunderphobic. I don’t like seeing a progression in this direction, especially after two years of steady improvement before that. I really hope it doesn’t continue.
I decided to give Mira a dose of a homeopathic remedy indicated for anxiety and also sound sensitivity, particularly thunderphobia. The next day she was quirkier than usual, suggesting a possible aggravation. Aggravations are not idea, indicating that you probably gave too strong a dose, but they can also mean that you are at least giving a remedy that is having impact on the vital force along the lines of the symptoms I am hoping to improve. Seeing them get worse is often what happens before they get better (although ideally you give a gentle enough dose that you only see improvement, without the aggravation. Aggravations can be miserable). I didn’t bother working her that day, having learned the hard way that if I see signs of an aggravation in the dogs, it’s best to let them be quiet and not to ask for anything until it passes.
That was two days ago. During this morning’s hike, we heard a lot of gunfire. The last time we heard gunfire Mira glued herself to my leg for the rest of our walk, and then hovered about me during subsquent walks even when guns were not going off. Today she flinched when the guns fired, and even trotted back to me for a second or two, but then she went back to running about. There were at least a dozen gun blasts during our time in the woods (all coming from the far side of the river so I hoped we were safe), and – other than checking in with me after each bang – Mira stayed calm and continued to enjoy herself the entire time. That is a nice change and I hope it holds. Time will tell.