Monday, August 10, 2009

Immersion therapy

Almost two years ago, possibly a bit longer, Logan developed an extreme phobia to dogs, just out of the blue. He was never attacked or hurt by a dog and he's lived with Buddha since the day he came home from the hospital. It became apparent how serious this phobia was when we were attending a baby shower while I was still pregnant with Carter.

We were sitting in the kitchen chatting and eating cake while the kids played out in the back yard. The host had a mellow black lab who was out there with the kids. Suddenly, we hear Logan screaming bloody murder and see him running up the deck and scramble up on top of the picnic table, almost trying to scale the back yard wall just to get away. Nothing happened to him but he was hysterical. It was horrifying for him and it startled the rest of us.

Since then, he has been terribly afraid of all dogs (expect Buddha). When we visit a friend's house, they have to keep their dogs gated away or Logan will freak out. Not a tantrum, but have a panic attack. His last Halloween was almost ruined when one our neighbors neglected to keep their young, hyper dog away from the door and when we knocked, the dog escaped and ran throughout the neighborhood. Logan didn't want to continue trick-or-treating and it took an act of congress to get him to knock on another door, with him questioning us if there was a dog on the other side.

As time went on, we thought this was something he would grow out of. We thought that as he got older, he would have a better understanding of dogs or situations and would be more comfortable. This never happened. His fear is as extreme today as it was at the baby shower. He has a true phobia.

I just feel so bad for him. A boy so afraid of dogs...and in our town to boot! Everyone has at least one if not two. He deals with this fear on a regular basis - weekly. That's a lot for a kid to be terrified.

I had been researching for quite a while on how to help him out with this. In situations where he is panicked, there is no reasoning with him or trying to encourage him to relax. "Talk therapy" isn't the answer, but immersion therapy is.

Immersion therapy is pretty much facing the fear head on. There are steps you take and you try to learn to relax when you are panicking most, so this takes a lot of work with a three year old. Logan is fine with talking about dogs, looking at pictures of dogs and seeing dogs from afar where he knows he is safe. He gets scared around dogs that are close to him on leash and terrified of dogs on the loose.

This morning we went to an activity with a therapy dog. Last month when I saw this coming up, I was thrilled and made sure to sign Logan up right away. This was our first step in facing his fear. Being close to a very mellow, obedient dog who wasn't on leash. The timing couldn't have been more perfect since he had another panic attack at a friends house last week.

I had been prepping him for a few days, letting him know that we would be around a dog that wasn't on a leash and that the dog would be there to read us stories. He thought it was pretty cool. I asked him if he was afraid and he told me that he was scared of barking dogs (even though the dogs he panics around aren't barking). So, I kept talking to him about it for a couple of days. Then Friday morning he was pretty excited about it all, telling me how happy he was that a dog was going to read stories.

We got to the garden where story time was hosted and as the therapy dog came walking to the picnic area, Logan became a bit more concerned and started to back up onto a park bench that we were sitting on. I kept reassuring him (as I always do) that the dog was nice and that he was OK. He sat right up close with me in the front row, the closest people there, and he listened to the stories and became more comfortable around the therapy dog (who happened to be a black lab).

After the first story, the dog was entertaining the kids by playing games like catching treats and playing peek-a-boo from under a blanket. I tried to gently encourage Logan to participate in all of the activities he could. And he did. He really liked throwing treats to the dog, helping to cover the dog with a blanket to play peek-a-boo and even petted the dog - on the tail with her head between the owners legs (she figured out Logan was afraid almost right away).

After another story, the kids played London Bridge with the dog. The older, taller kids bent down with the hands on the floor (like downward dog in yoga), making an arch for the dog to crawl through. One girl volunteered to go first and while we were watching I asked Logan if he wanted to try too (thinking he wouldn't and we would have to figure something out to help him feel more courageous). But, he excitedly said yes and he actually let the dog crawl underneath him. This was shocking and such a HUGE step for him. He did great!

At the end of story time, the kids could come by and sit with the dog and pet her. Carter enjoyed his time with the dog and his little baby friend, but Logan wasn't too keen on petting her again. so, I considered this a huge victory in his battle and left it at that.

Since he made such incredible progress, my next step is to continue looking for therapy dog activities around town. After he becomes comfortable with that, we'll work on being comfortable around his friends' dogs and then last, we'll venture out to play with hyper puppies. It's going to take some time, but I think he can do it.


Kate said...

Too bad you aren't closer to Aurora. My golden is in training to become a therapy dog and is INCREDIBLE with young children. If you ever come down to Denver, let me know. Scouty would LOVE to meet Logan. :)


Kristin said...

Awww, thanks!! :)