aliens, anxiety, bissel, carnivals, dogs, exposure, exposure therapy, fairs, fear, noise, photos, socialization, training, vacuums
We got a new vacuum the other day.
Our old vacuum, a Bissel specially designed for picking up pet hair, has been sitting unused for the greater part of a year. I have only dragged it out and switched it on when the cat litter spilled or when the fur levels on the carpet upstairs had reached our knees.
It was a great vacuum once upon a time. In our old apartment, which largely featured open space, it sucked things up great. However,
- It was never really the same after PH decided to deal with the Spot Incident by soaking up vegetable oil with cornstarch and then vacuuming up the goopy mess
- Our new house has about the same square footage of our old apartment, but split onto two floors, with stairs in between. There are no wide open spaces. Only corners. And crevices.
Suddenly big-and-heavy-and-filled-with-goop was no longer appropriate for our household. PH knew we needed a new vacuum, but kept putting it off, because, well, we don’t have any money.
Last week we went out and picked up a Bissel EasyVac for 40- bucks, and it runs great. It’s small, lightweight, no-frills, but it gets in the corners and gets the fur off of the floor.
However, it doesn’t run as smoothly as our old massive vac. PH was holding Babby when I flipped it on for its inaugeral run, and Babby startled noticeably and started to fuss while clutching his father’s shirt.
This is really the first significant fear reaction we have ever seen in Babby. Sure, he startles to loud noises – he even did that in the womb – but he had always recovered quickly. The old vacuum never bothered him, on the rare occasions that we lugged it out and dragged it along the floor.
But he’s getting older, and this one clearly freaked him out.
Now, I’ve never had a baby before, but I know what to do when dogs are scared of something:
- Acknowledge their feelings with moderate sensitivity. Scolding a fear reaction or totally ignoring it doesn’t help anyone feel validated. Don’t coddle or get overly mushy, though, because if you’re like “oohh, poor Doggy, it’s scary isn’t it? Yes, let me pat you and take you away from that,” they’ll assume that it means that it really IS scary and their fears are totally justified. So instead you say, “oh, are you scared? It makes a big noise, doesn’t it?” in a sympathetic but cheery voice.
- Smile to show them that you aren’t scared of it, and preferably demonstrate its harmlessness by approaching the fear object yourself and interacting with it.
- Encourage – but do not force – the dog to approach the object. We often use treats tossed near the vacuum, for example, or just sitting by it and encouraging the dog to approach US.
- Never remove the fear object or take the dog further away from it until the dog has managed at least a partial recovery. Otherwise the dog will learn that reacting fearfully makes the object go away, and they will also always remember the object as scary.
Perfect Husband has seen me deal with fear reactions in dogs before, not to mention helping me through my anxiety exposure therapy CBT, so we immediately began to treat Babby’s fear in the same way we treat mine/a dog’s. We didn’t even have to discuss it. We’re a well oiled machine. A well oiled fear-fighting machine.
He hugged Babby and said “Oh, is that big noise scaring you? It’s just a vacuum. Look! Wow!”
I smiled at Babby and moved the vacuum around and said “Oh, it makes a big noise, so you’re scared, but it won’t hurt you. See, it’s a vacuum! I’m using it! Wheee!”
As I went around the room talking to Babby happily, PH slowly approached closer and closer. He stopped if Babby acted too frightened, and then once Babby relaxed a bit, inched yet closer again. By the time I turned off the vacuum, Babby was right next to the vacuum (still in the loving safety of Daddy’s arms) and starting to relax. You could tell he still wasn’t pleased, but at least he wasn’t trying to climb his father like a tree.
We have noticed several similar fear reactions to loud noises since. So we think it’s time to start socializing him. If we want to avoid his picking up on my anxiety, we need to raise him with the CBT skills that I had to be taught in adulthood:
- approach your anxieties, instead of running away.
So when we saw that the Midway had set up at the local mall, we decided to take Babby. Sure, he couldn’t go on any of the rides (they wouldn’t even let us get on the sedate choo-choo train that went around an oval track a 5 km an hour which the conductor could stop with his hand and that had a sign saying “everybody welcome!”) but we figured it was good socialization just to be around all the noise and bustle. We always used to take dogs to the fair for the same reason.
So we loaded Babby into my new rebozo and walked around.
As we predicted, the noise freaked him out. He was clinging tightly to me. He especially disliked that one that goes up and spins and holds everyone to its sides by centripetal force. I told him I don’t like that ride either.
But I hugged him and told him that it was cool and pretty, rather than scary, and showed him that I wasn’t actually afraid of it (which is only partially true – I wouldn’t get on that thing if you paid me) and we walked all around and ate corn dogs and he began to relax.
Then PH tried to win stuffed animals for me, as he usually does. He eventually gave up trying to win the GIGANTIC fluffy penguin toy, which would have taken up a quarter of Babby’s room but would have made me inexplicably happy, and eventually just won a stuffed alien that I liked, because it reminded me of my little Babby.
So, all in all, it was a productive day.