Startle Response

I have a really low startle threshold.  Just ask my husband.  He thinks it is mind boggling ridiculous how I scream when the dreaded, anticipated thing finally occurs in a movie or TV program.  He says, “How did you not know that was going to happen?!”  Well, I did, they practically told me it was, I just didn’t know it was going to happen right then that second.(1)

I’ve done a lot of personal behavior modification over the years to improve recovery abilities.  Since attempting to increase my startle threshold point has been rather non-effective over the years.  Depending on context I mostly just flinch or ‘jump’ in my head with near instant recovery.  Unless I’m really concentrating on what I’m doing (like mowing the lawn and my neighbor pops into my restricted field of vision to say hi and scares the crap out of me completely unintended) or watching TV.

This past month we’ve had a house visitor a couple of times.  A dog who belongs to a past client, and though he is an unknown mix breed he has a few common complications of being a double merle (2).  Primarily deafness and some vision loss.  And this dog has a really low startle threshold too.

Gee, I can empathize dude.

When you can’t see or hear the world very clearly it has a tendency to creep up unanticipated and scare the crap out of you with a much higher than normal regularity.

So we did a lot of remembering where he was and making extra sure he realized where we were at any given time.  Tapping on his crate or the near by floor to wake him up before opening the door or walking past him.  Using more deliberate hand gestures and voice to get his attention.  And practicing recovery, “nope, the sky still isn’t falling” when he did startle.

There were a couple of instances where he startled and reacted to something, and our 2 dogs simply stood there, quietly looking at him.  You could almost hear them thinking, “What are you barking at?  There is nothing the matter.” And after a very short amount of time with them not joining in, he stopped and went, “Why don’t you guys care?  Shouldn’t you care?  Aren’t we all about to die?  What, no?  We’re not?  Oh, huh.  I never thought about it that way. Ok, if you are so sure, maybe you are right.”

After each couple of days, he was reacting to less around our house and recovering faster.  Taking his cues from our dogs and from us on what might be important to care enough to stress about, and what might not be so important.  He had a good visit, got to go back to home to his mum who works really hard to reinforce and teach him these skills as well, and unlike if he had been at a boarding kennel with other dogs barking when he barked, he got a chance to further practice and generalize the reality that ‘Nope, the sky still ain’t falling.’

photo 4
Our Chicken Little friend lying on the dog bed chewing on a Nylabone


  1.  It’s to the point that I flinch even once during a TV show, and Tom automatically gets up and leaves the room.  Not to return until the show is over.  He thinks I’m ridiculous too.
  2. Merle is a dominant coloration pattern found in some breeds of dog.  Including many herding breeds.  If both of a dog’s parents show the merle gene (meaning they display the dominant merle color pattern), the puppies born are considered double merles.  Which is linked to certain health and sensory concerns.  Such as hearing loss, and vision loss.  These concerns are not likely to be if only 1 of the parents is merle but the other is say a tri color or other pattern, even when the puppies then show the merle gene.   To learn more check out:

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