If you haven’t read the previous blog, none of this is going to make much sense so take a minute and go back and read the previous blog before you read on.
Today we are talking about our next step with Pickle and her aversive feelings towards me having a bath and where we are at right now, 3 months + since starting all of this. So, from having Pickle in the bathroom with a licki mat and turning the taps on and off, making splashing noises, and me sitting in an empty bath I thought to myself… does she know I’m not actually having a bath? I was sitting in the empty bath fully clothed. I mean, how clever could she be? In actual fact, whether she is clever or not has nothing to do with this, it’s all about whether my getting undressed for the bath is all part of a pattern that ultimately results in the trigger for her. Please, I don’t need any comments about me being naked being a trigger of fear for you – it’s too predictable 😉
The next step in my investigations, as the dedicated owner I am, was to go through the motions of having a bath, every single step I would normally take including getting nudie and see how she handled it. Once I was in the bath, she definitely became more unsettled, but never too uncomfortable that she couldn’t lick her licki mat – success! For me this was the ultimate test as the thought of going through all the motions of having a bath just to find that she freaked out when I got in, oh man I would have been gutted. It’s like making a delicious cake then giving it away without eating any - all the effort and no reward.
As we did when I sat on the edge of the bath, I started to turn taps on and off to see how she responded. Then once she was comfortable with this, I would make some splashing noises. Move around a little bit in the bath, pick up items on the floor next to the bath e.g. my iPad etc. But being sure never to step up the stimulation until she was comfortable enough to be laying down licking her licki mat and stay laying down licking while the noise/movement occurred.
Now staying happily laying down when MOST noises happen
This has been a slow process and it takes patience. If you push them too hard too fast you will just undo all the good work you have done. Now where are we currently? Right now when I go and turn the taps on to the bath she will immediately run upstairs to the bathroom, showing signs of mild anxiety. If I didn’t give her a licki mat she would happily sit outside the bathroom waiting for me, like she did before this whole strange situation. But I prefer to continue with the licki mat. So, after I turn the taps on, I then go downstairs to get her licki mat with peanut butter. She then races me back upstairs with a huge smile on her face cos she knows she’s getting a delicious treat. I keep it on the floor mat in the bathroom next to the bath and she will happily lay there licking it.
Happily licking away as I come in and out of the bathroom getting ready for a bath
Occasionally she might get a fright from something and stand back up, but then goes back to laying down. She is not completely relaxed in the bathroom and is more reactive to noise when in there, but it is a huge improvement. When her licki mat is done she will either stay laying on the mat until I am done, sit outside the door like previous, or even go downstairs and completely disengage from the situation – YAY! End goal for me would be that she doesn’t feel the need to be present at all. Not because I think she’s being a creeper, but because it will mean she’s comfortable with the situation and is happy to disengage from it.
And so, we will continue this journey of habituation to me having a bath and hopefully one day we will get there. But - and I mean this, it may not be achievable, and that’s ok. The main thing is that she is no longer bordering on panic, because that nervous shaking dog was really killing my relaxation vibe.
Until next time, enjoy the journey to becoming a mindful pet owner.