Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fear - a ramble about how fear happens and how the fearful mind 'thinks'.

For those of you who have me as a friend on the mighty Facebook, you might have read my status update yesterday about a spider.

That incident has proved... interesting and I want to examine it and subsequent events a bit further.

To start with, prior to yesterday I would not have said I was scared of spiders.

I can watch them, I know a fair bit about them (they have hydraulic legs man, that's SO cool!), I can remain calm in the presence of them...

What I did not like was a spider ON me, particularly one on me, unexpectedly, which has happened perhaps five times in my entire life.

Yesterday though a spider crawled up my sleeve - I felt something tickle and thought it was a crane fly as we have got tons of those at the moment. Brushed it off, didn't see anything, continued doing whatever I was doing...

Then I felt a tickle in my cleavage - ooh err missus, so I peered down the front of my top...

And a HUGE  house spider peered back! For those of you not in the UK, (and those truly terrified, sorry for this!)...

This is the guy I saw..

He was probably not far off the size he appears on your screen now (body about 1.5cm, huge leg span of around 4inches).

I stood up, screaming, tore off my top shaking it, still screaming, he fell to the floor and ran under my desk, squeezing past the dog who was lying with his back against the wall.

He was so big the DOG felt him trying to squeeze past, got up, looked, saw the size of him and ran away!

I took a little while to calm down - notably I could not calm down until I made my partner find the spider AND kill it, a step I have never needed before (just being clear that the spider was not longer ON me has always been sufficient in the past).

If it were not for the fact that I take beta blockers, I suspect I would have had a raised heart rate, certainly the cup of hot sweet tea I had immediately after did its job!

So, to cut out all the waffle - I was scared, by a spider. The spider met its maker, end of story?

Errr, well - no.

Because there are more spiders, in fact until earlier today there were at least three more I was vaguely aware of, having seen them in certain locations repeatedly in the last few weeks.

I have to point out here, I know about house spiders - they breed in early autumn, ie, now, and the females tend to stay put in their tube type webs, with the males roaming around trying to find them. It is this roaming around that leads to us seeing them as, for most of the year they stay hidden, eating woodlice and whatever comes their way.

Unlike most spiders, Tegenaria (both T. domestica and the large T. gigantea) males do appear larger than the females. Actually they aren't, their leg span is bigger but their bodies are smaller - however that is NOT what you see when you spot one scuttling along the floor or peering up at you from between your boobs!

What you see are HUGE HAIRY LEGS, mainly!

So - whats happening now is both weird, and interesting.

Even though I understand why these huge hairy male spiders are hurtling about my house, even though I know they really can't hurt me (you can feel their bite but they are not going to cause you even the pain of a wasp sting), none of this matters...

My brain is now in spider spotting mode - and this is the interesting bit that relates to canine behaviour modification.

I am scared - therefore my brain is working hard to SPOT the trigger for my fear. I am actively looking for the scary thing!

Most people with a fearful, reactive dog, miss this. We tend to think if our dog is scared of something, they want to avoid it, and so we don't recognise that actually they may be on high alert, LOOKING for that trigger, because no matter what it is you are scared of, its always going to be slightly less scary if you KNOW where it is, than if its going to leap out at you in an ambush!

Today another spider 'attacked' me - it didn't actually attack me of course, but it ran down the landing and into the bathroom when I was sat on the loo and of course, my brain still being hyper-aware and looking for spiders, saw it SPRINT down the landing and run UNDER my legs... and I was trapped!

I'm quite impressed I saw it in some ways because I was sat on the loo, reading a book, (sorry if its TMI on my toilet habits!), the point is I was not consciously looking for spiders, I was involved doing other things...

What I was however, was trapped and vulnerable (I don't think I need to explain just how vulnerable one is when sat on the loo, I think we all get that!).

This incident actually sent my heart racing despite the beta blockers, it was in many ways MORE frightening than the 'spider down the top' event of the day before.

Immediately following this, I spotted and had Mike kill two more big spiders, cashing in on my brains hyper-awareness to identify spiders from shadows or clumps of dog fur on the floor (ok ok so i read on the loo and I don't hoover that often, so sue me!).

So, to translate this further to dog behaviour modification..

Stress from a particular incident does NOT go away immediately - I was still stressed and hyper aware 24 hours after the 'spider down the top' incident.

Fear leads us to subconsciously spot the trigger, because the trigger we SEE at least, cannot then ambush us.

Even when occupied with something else, the hyper-aware state of the brain will continue to spot the trigger.

Being trapped and vulnerable and already stressed will INCREASE the stress of any subsequent incident, even if that incident is apparently far less upsetting than the initial one was.

  Now, I fervently hope my fear does not escalate - I should think that knowing my OH can come and remove a spider for me will help with that.

It is interesting to note that for a variety of reasons I am not compelled to kill the spiders myself (though, having OH kill them IS an increase in fear on my part, previously I have been happy to remove them myself and throw them outside). I suspect in part this is just my personality, I'd rather not kill things. In part it is a peculiar fear in itself, I don't like the pop or the mess or the feeling of crunching an exoskeleton, even under a shoe!

Similar things will happen with dogs - though for different reasons (probably, I can't swear there aren't dogs out there that plain don't like the feeling of biting something) - some will want to run away, some may make an aggressive looking display that is really a bluff, some will actually be aggressive and intend to do harm.

I do think that all this reinforces my belief that, when dealing with a fear problem, we should absolutely NOT go looking for triggers to try to desensitize our dogs to. Our fearful dogs are going to be a million times better at seeing those triggers, long before we do - if we try to expose them on purpose, even below threshold, we increase the stress and we really risk making matters much much worse.

It also helps me understand 'stress stacking' - there is no way I'd have screamed and made OH come and kill todays spider IF yesterdays incident hadn't occurred. (I know this because its happened before). It was the stress from yesterdays incident that made todays incident all the more scary, simple as. So it really hammers it home to me HOW important it is that we give our dogs a break and we DON'T expect them to progress at our pace, handling one thing on day one, two things on day two etc etc.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

excellently said.

To provide a real world dog example of what Emma talked about, my dog has gone from being reactive to people and dogs he did not know at any distance to a dog that has dog buddies, passes dogs, actively seeks out attention from people outside the family. it all started with "avoidance".