Fear of Coughing??

Posted by shecart
Jan 7, 2008
My 3 year old adopted lab golden retriever mix female has developed an uncontrollable fear of my husband coughing. It does not matter if it is a slight cough or worse right now as he has a cold and is coughing more. She can wake from a sound sleep if he coughs. Right now she is really bad as he has a cold. It is not even a really bad cough but she will get very nervous and pace. She will try to climb up on things (i.e. the night stand) or knock things over and shake uncontrollably. I am trying not to enable or encourage her fear but with him having the cold I am really getting concerned for her. The other night she was so bad that husband went downstairs and I kept her in the bedroom with me and had the radio on so there was noise, she could still hear him and was frightened out of her wits. Finally he came upstairs and we went downstairs on the couch. She did climb up on the end of the couch and stayed there the rest of the night shaking whenever she heard him but would settle down a bit. She is constantly glued to my side right now and will squeeze herself in any area to be beside me even puts herself between the toilet and the wall. Please help with any suggestions you might have. Thank you, Sheila
Posted by Todd
Jan 7, 2008
Hi there Sheila
Thank you very much for your question and i must say this is a very intruiging problem one that i have surely never encountered before

I have an idea of the 2 main problems with her as far as i can tell.
The first is the fear of the coughing, i am at a loss to explain why this may be as a traumatic experience is often the first point in these problems. This will be a very tough problem to deal with as to control it you first need to desensitise her....which is a problem as you need to start at a low level.

So i will give you some basic advice first. Whenever she acts fearfully she is running to you, and you (unwittingly) are rewarding her by giving her attention and saying everything is alright. So the first thing i want you to do is to completely ignore her when she is acting scared.
This means no eye contact, body language, turning away from her and no petting or comforting her. Although this sounds mean she needs to learn that fear is not an appropriate response to the coughing.
But ignoring her is not enough. At the same time you must look for signs of confidence, this may be not cowering, standing up or not hiding. When she starts to show this you need to reward her, and in so doin build up her confidence. Praise her with a quiet voice and pet her gently.
Continue with the ignore and reward.

Whenever your husband is around her she should have an opportunity to get away and not fedel trapped. 'Trapping' her will only make things worse so always give her a chance to escape.

1. As soon as you see signs of distress from your husband coughing, distract her by playing a game, or getting your dog to do some tricks. Make sure you give it lots of treats for paying attention.

2. Counter-Conditioning. Teach your dog to react in a non-fearful way. You can do this by slowly exposing your dog to the noises that frighten it, but pair it with a fun game, or some treats. You could start with a tape of coughing or making your husband muffle his coughs as much as possible. You want the sound at a volume low enough that your dog is not scared, then while it’s playing, give your dog some treats, or play a game with it. Next time, turn the volume up a bit louder (cough louder), and continue giving your dog the treats. Over time continue increasing the volume. If at anytime your dog begins to show signs of stress, stop the tape, and try again another day.
You may want to bet the one coughing to see if that changes how she reacts

3. Medication. Your vet should be able to prescribe some medication that will decrease your dogs stress levels in situations where your dog would normally be anxious. You are best to speak to your vet about what would be suitable for your dog. If you are hesitant to medicate your dog, you could try Rescue Remedy, which you should be able to find in a pet store. It is a very safe, very gentle and natural sedative, which can have a good anti-anxiety effect. You simply apply a few sprays in the mouth or on the nose.

Now the fear may not be due to the coughing and more your husband, a common problem in adopted dogs. If this is the case he should not be involved in reprimanding at her.
From now on when your husband does not have a cold i want him to be in charge of her. I want him to be the one to feed, the one to train her, the one to walk her and the one to give her attention. This seems a good deal for you but in return you must ignore her (now not so good a deal ). The aim of this is to a) stop her being scared of her (if that is a problem) and b) to stop her separation anxiety with you.
This will need to go on some time to help teach her that your husband is okay.

This will take a great deal of patience to overcome, always give her a way out and never push her to do something. Be consisitent and i am sure things will work out. Please let me know how things go

Kind Regards
Todd Field