The Chair of Terror
To me, it is not so scary. It is sad because my husband now rarely snuggles on the sofa with me; he can now be found in his chair (often asleep), but to my dog (who is really “his dog”) this chair is plotting his and our demise.
My husband has wanted a recliner for a while. He likes to get home and kick back and occasionally rock himself like an old person (ha ha I am kidding, who doesn’t like a good rocking chair?).
But one of my dogs is TERRIFIED of it!
Now, we have talked about my baby’s lack of confidence before.
Occasionally it shows up when the ceiling fan comes on, or when I decide to blow dry all this hair of mine and he scuttles out of the room.
But for some reason this chair is even more menacing than anything else we own.
Jo, as we affectionately call him, is his daddy’s boy. He lives for when his dad is around and takes him out hiking or training. His life revolves around his dad.
So the fact that the apple of his eye is sitting in scary chair, is more than his little mind can take.
When he is brave enough to be in the room he curls up in a ball, stares and whines at his dad; but for the most part he is too scared to go near or sit with him.
So What Do I Do?
Okay, I know he is completely insane. No one has ever beat him or chased him with a hair dryer or a Lazy Boy. But knowing that he is crazy only sets me back, if I truly believe it.
I think people think… “There is nothing to be scared of “COWBOY UP” (I am from WY).
But when it comes to phobias it doesn’t matter what you think or say, forcing the fear on the person or the dog is going to make it worse, and pretending it doesn’t exist certainly doesn’t help!
Phobias by nature are not realistic.
- Are you terrified of spiders?
- Maybe heights?
- Or being buried alive?
It’s not realistic that spiders are going to kill you, or that falling to your death or being buried alive are something that is likelyto happen to you. But that doesn’t mean if you have a sincere phobia that my saying that will cure your feelings.
I personally am afraid of heights and driving off mountains or bridges.
My mom was and probably still is claustrophobic. I remember as a young child taking a tour down into a cave in beautiful South Dakota (some of the best caves are here). We were in a line of what seemed like a hundred people (as an adult I am sure it wasn’t quite that many) but it was a lot climbing down a staircase into a cave! My mom started to hyper ventilate; next thing I remember was her pushing grown 250# men out of the way and screaming to get to the light.
My dad was put in a very awkward position of staying with us little kids and worrying about my “crazy” mom.
But was she crazy? Yup, the walls were not going to move in on her and entomb her, the cave was perfectly safe. But that doesn’t mean that what she felt wasn’t very real for her.
Have you ever had a panic attack? I, unfortunately, have and it feels like your heart is going to beat out of your chest and you are going to die.
I think this must be how our dogs feel. It doesn’t matter if their fear is “real” to us or something completely silly (like being scared of a wonderfully comfortable Lazy Boy chair), to my dog it is very real and he doesn’t know how to cope.
Counter conditioning can be very effective when dealing with phobias.
Counter conditioning is the conditioning of an unwanted behavior or response to a stimuli (the scary chair) into a wanted behavior or response by the association of positive actions with the stimulus.
What does that mean?
I know it is a little hard to understand, but I end up pairing the CHAIR with FOOD or happy things.
As a dog owner I have to be empathetic and figure out WHY I think the chair bothers him.
Honestly, I think it is the clicking it does when my husband leans back and pushes the foot rest out. The rocking squeak doesn’t help either.
If I just expected him to COWBOY UP I would never have taken the step to realize what it is about the chair that bothers him!
Be kind and be thoughtful and don’t force or the behavior is likely to get worse, crazy and out of control!
Work at your dog’s pace.
I started out by extending the foot rest and feeding him on the chair.
The chair isn’t as scary without me in it to make it rock and make noises. By eating in it he can realize that it isn’t soooo bad.
Some dogs may not be able to go that fast. For some eating 5 feet from the chair or whatever the stimulus is would be too much. If that is the case then back up 20 feet or however much it takes.
It is really in your dogs “paws” and what he is capable of; if he yawns (sign of stress), licks his lips, diverts his eyes, STARES at the stimulus (more on staring at thing click here) , or tries to run, you are too close. Back up until his tail is in a normal place (more on the importance of tails here).
You want to see signs of “normal pet dog” not PANIC DOG.
If you aren’t quite sure… you are too close!
Work at Your Dog’s Pace
I have been feeding him off the foot rest for a couple of weeks. He is still skittish if it moves so I want him to be solid before I start showing off what the chair can do.
I also have to control his “daddy”. No swinging and rocking while he is in his chair and his dog is in the room.
I think sometimes guys want to call the dog over and then do whatever scares them cause they think its funny… but it is not. It is just making it worse.
So if he needs to push and extend and rock, his dog goes down into our exercise room in his crate with a bone this way he is not traumatized.
Pretty soon I can see myself rocking and feeding him.
Then I will extend the foot rest, make it click and feed him. But right now I work at his pace in his comfort level.
It doesn’t matter if it takes 3 weeks or 3 months or more, the most important thing is to help him realize there is nothing to be scared of.
And, I don’t coddle him.
If he gets panicked for some reason, I don’t chase him or pet him or tell him “it’s okay”. I don’t want him to think I like his response… so I ignore his fearfulness.
I don’t want him to think he is in trouble (that will make it worse)
And, I don’t want him to think I am praising him… “it’s okay, it’s okay” sounds a lot like “good boy, good boy” and (that will make it worse).
So if he panics I ignore him and make a mental note to back up in his training.
The most important thing is to be kind.
If your child was scared of the dark you wouldn’t beat her and put her in a dark room. You’d get a nightlight and spend time reading to her and maybe sleeping with her for a while.
Treat your dog with the same kindness, he needs love and understanding (without encouraging it) and work it through at his pace.
You will have a better dog, and a better relationship in the end… and people can rock and recline!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.