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Spiders and reactivity

Discussion in 'General Discussions and Lounge' started by JudyN, Sep 15, 2020.

  1. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    I know, I know, I'm always using analogies involving fear of spiders to describe the process of desensitisation and counter-conditioning, but I have had a bit of an insight into my own spider phobia that may (or may not) relate to dogs.

    Last year, I started a new hobby - photographing and recording insects and other bugs in my garden. In a short space of time, I discovered that not all hoverflies are the same, and to date, I have photos of 10 different species of hoverflies that have visited my garden. And then there's the bees, and the flies, and the butterflies, and the beetles... and the spiders :eek:

    I've never been too bad with garden spiders, and a spider suspended on a web is great for practising manual focus. Then the little black spiders in the conservatory became interesting because after taking a photo of one at a safe distance, I realised it had the image of a skull on its back (it was a noble false widow, if you're interested). And the tiny little jumping zebra spider - it was only when I zoomed in on the photo I realised how cute it was.

    But, the big brown hairy ones... yeek! I got a photo of one in the compost bin, but I had to get someone else to id it for me as I simply coudn't do random google image searches for 'big brown hairy-legged spider'. I joined a FB group for 'bugspotters' and though I found I could look at some spider photos, others had me going AAArrrgghh!!! and scrolling on past.

    A few weeks ago, I looked at a photo of a spider in the FB group, and thought, hang on a min - isn't that the sort I'm meant to be scared of? Nah, can't be, I'm not reacting. Must be a different species. But then that happened again, and again. What I found fascinating was that this wasn't me going 'Hmmm, I don't like that but I think I can be brave and look at it,' it was as if I had two pathways in my brain, the unemotional spider recognition path, and the emotional EEEKKK!!! path - and the emotional EEEKKK!!! path had simply been switched off, without me 'doing' anything.

    And though I'd never have thought it possible, I can now proudly look at a photo I took of a spider and think 'Wow, you can even see all the hairs on its legs!'

    I could, of course, see how far I can go, and actively seek out the big hairy type, either in images or in real life, but I'm actively avoiding doing that. I'm fairly sure that the more I see a spider and trigger that emotional pathway, even just a little, it's more likely to be reinforced and reactivate in the future. I have a thread of my spider photos on another forum, but I'm not going to 'test' myself by looking all the way through it in case that many spiders in one go triggers me again. It'll be interesting to see what happens when autumn comes and the big hairy ones appear, but I'm not going to overthink it, I'll just see what happens.

    Sooo.... if you've bothered to read this far;) I do think this shows the power of working well within our dogs' comfort zones. As well as them learning a 'logical' 'If I see a dog I get a treat' response, their emotional fear pathway can just switch off, as if by magic :)
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
    Flobo, Finsky, Ari_RR and 1 other person like this.
  2. Hemlock

    Hemlock Well-Known Member Registered

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    That is really interesting! I always find it useful to have a human parallel example when I am helping people to manage unwanted behaviour, and this has given me a huge opening into such conversations. THANK YOU for having such an analytical mind and for sharing this with us.

    I think zebra spiders are cute as well. :)
    Ari_RR and JudyN like this.

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