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Shih Tzu with anxiety, fear issues

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Shih Tzu with anxiety, fear issues
  • Wow.  I just read the thread about the Bishon with issues and can I relate!  I bought my Tzu from a show breeder because I wanted to avoid "puppy mills" and backyard breeders.  Ginny was 6 months old and the breeder said she was too small to show well so he was selling her.  She was so cute that I overlooked every sign she had issues.  First of all when I reached out to pet her, she peed all over her breeder.  Then she wouldn't let me hold her.  The next day when we came over to see her again, see wouldn't come up to us like the other shih tzus did, but was pacing rapidly around the room.  The breeder said her nickname was Ginny Go Round because she circled a lot. 

    Well we did buy Ginny because she was so darned cute.  She's still so cute, but has this little one had issues.  She is afraid of everybody and everything and had lots of digestive issued--caused by her extreme anxiety and fear.  It's been almost 4 years and actually I think she's getting worse.  Thunderstorms take her into panic mode and she nervously circles for hours--around chairs, around the table, anything that she can circle.  She just won't be consoled.  Earlier this week we had a power outage, the computer UPS beeped, and she panicked--again  for hours before she would settle  down.  The next day after a panic attack, it's diarrhea!  We are constantly having diarrhea issues because she constantly has nervous upsets.  Anything can cause a nervous attack--loud noises on the TV, sudden sounds outside, etc.  

    I am her favorite and she tolerates my husband.  Anyone else she will cower and run away from.  She likes walks but hates the approach of other people or dogs.  She has one dog friend--a very calm Shiba Inu--they just ignore one another and that's her idea of a friend. I can't kennel her because she is in such a panic around other people, so we take her with us when we go visit kids or go on vacation.  In March we took her with us to Arkansas.  It was a rather quiet motel, no other dogs around and not too many people, but a day after we got there the diarrhea started and by day 3 she was passing lots of bright red blood--all from stress.  After we got home, it took 4 days for the blood to stop & her digestive system to get back to normal.

    I really wish we had taken her back to the breeder soon after we got her.  I think she was just born this way.  I talked to the breeder several times after we got her and he did offer to take her back, but I was determined we could help her.  There's no way I can part with her now because we absolutely love her, and being a retired couple we are hopefully the best family she could be with.  A home with children was not in her best interests.

    People, dogs, noises.  All of these cause her stress.  And she reacts with the anxious circling--for hours.  It's hard to get through to her at those times because she's in a state of panic.  After the UPS alarm incident, I put her leash on & walked & walked her.  She seemed fine but the moment I took the leash off in the house, the pacing, circling  started.  I could make her sit beside me but she wouldn't relax.  As soon as I put her down the pacing, circling resumed.  I put her in the yard and she paced and wandered around like in a trance.

    I guess right now my most important issue is this:  how can I calm her down when she's in panic mode?  I know that the root of the problem is to stop whatever causes the panic itself, but I just don't know if that can be stopped.  What can I do after the panic sets in?

  •  Your dog's behavior might be classified as stereotypical.  Read this article and see if you recognize some of the issues: http://www.mypetspages.com/petinfo/behavior/compulsivebehavior.php

    You may want to have a conversation with your vet, especially since she exhibits physical symptoms, and, afterward, possibly a referral to a veterinarian with a specialty in behavior.  Some dogs can be helped with a combination of medication and behavior modification. 

    You may want to have a look at this product: http://www.thundershirt.com/

    I don't have a lot of experience with it, but I do know that my own dog is less anxious when she is wearing her tracking harness, which suggests that there is something to the notion of "wrapping" the dog in something.

    There are some good books on the market for owners with shy dogs.  Probably the least expensive of the lot, and still a good read, is Patricia McConnell's "The Cautious Canine".

  • Grannyplt
    She just won't be consoled.


    Avoid petting her while she in that state of mind, avoid telling her "it's ok", avoid feeling sorry for her. Every time you do something like that you are actually nurturing the behavior, telling her it's ok to be scared, this makes the issue to last longer. Even when it might not help to cure the behavior at least you will not promoting it.

    Think about a toddler that falls on the ground, he will look at the parents to see their reaction. If the parents come to him and try to comfort him then the kid most likely will start crying. If the parents dont comfort him and just say something like "hey be careful", it's more likely that he will just stand up like nothing happen and starts walking again. With dogs you dont really need to say anything at all, just dont nurture the behavior while you at the same time work with the issue all together

  • Just wanted to say that I agree with the advice from both spiritdogs and espencer.  Big kudos to you for being willing to make every effort to help your dog. 

  • Thanks so much for the help.  In all of my surfing the web I had never read the article on compulsive behavior or seen the thundershirt.  I just ordered a thundershirt--what a wonderful thing--if it helps even a little.

    The compulsive behavior article is very interesting & has lots of information in it.It said "For some owners, the compulsive behavior may be seen as an acceptable behavior which helps to reduce stress in their pet."    Does she need to pace to come to grips with her own fears?  Also the article says "denying the pet access to the focus of its behavior has mixed results...In many cases, restricting access will worsen the problem by increasing anxiety or arousal."  If I try to make her stop the pacing will she do something worse?

    Does this mean that when she starts her anxious phobic circling I should just leave the room and let her keep circling for as long as she wants? She really is upset and will at times follow me to another room and find something to circle.  I could just go outside and let her calm herself, but it does take a long time.  It seems cruel to leave her to cope with her own fears.


  •  Actually, I don't agree that you cannot comfort a fearful dog, however, I think it's more important to reward bravery, because sometimes, what you are rewarding is actual movement toward the scary stimulus - almost like telling your dog its OK to investigate.  New studies are showing that comforting your dog has little to no effect on increasing (or decreasing) fear. 

    Here's a neat web site for owners of fearful dogs.  Not sure of all the content, but it seems fairly comprehensive.  Take what you need and leave the rest.


  • Okay I just read your post and I thank you for your reply.  It is going to be so hard to do!  The next time she does her nervous circling I will just ignore it, but it will not be easy.  I may have to leave the house. 

    I am wondering if I should get another dog for her to pattern after, hopefully a nice calm little one.  Could this have a good effect on her, or would she be absolutely too jealous. 

    I had talked to my vet about her anxiety and compulsive behavior and he gave me some xanax.  He said to give her 1/2 first to see how she does.  The last thunderstorm I gave her the 1/2 and it did absolutely nothing for her--I think it might have caused her constipation, which is the opposite of what usually happens--in reality part of her stool was extremely hard & dry and  the other part very soft.  I have not tried it since but I do know that 1/2 pill did nothing to help her.  Maybe I need to take the xanax!

  • Grannyplt
    I am wondering if I should get another dog for her to pattern after, hopefully a nice calm little one.  Could this have a good effect on her, or would she be absolutely too jealous. 


    I would advice against that, the other dog could actually follow the fear pattern of the first dog and then you would have 2 dogs with the same problem, it's just too risky. You however could act as the "second dog" and be the calm pattern for her to follow. You should never include a second dog into a household while having issues with the existing dog. You dog needs all the time you have in your hands to help her

    New studies are showing that comforting your dog has little to no effect on increasing (or decreasing) fear. 


    You are correct, by petting the dog while in fear you dont increase the fear, instead by petting the dog you support the level of fear she is in. It wont decrease either but you are just "holding it in place"


  • I'm going to give you an entirely different type of counsel -- I would tell you to take this dog to a vet who does Tradiational Chinese Veterinary Medicine -- preferably one good with herbals.  Given that the behavior patterns are so very obsessive you would be surprised how much TCVM might help her. 

    When we adopted Kee Shu -- a peke with some really severe compulsive behaviors, my vet diagnosed her with compulsive behaviors bordering on seizure activity (you could get her 'out' of her behaviors but it was an effort). 

    Acupuncture is awesome for behavior problems -- particularly when combined with massage.  But adding the Chinese herbals can make such a huge difference.  With Kee -- within a year you wouldn't have known she was the same dog.  (and she was about 16 then!!!!  She was well entrenched in all her paranoia by the time we got her).

    She had four WONDERFUL years with us -- ultimately became an awesome therapy dog wothing with **CHILDREN**.  Believe that one if you can. 

    Such a difference.  http://www.tcvm.com -- if you want to email me I'd be glad to try and help you choose a vet that may help.  TCVM approaches these sorts of problems completely differently from regular veterinary medicine AND they would most *definitely* be able to help the nervous digestive issues as well. 

  • I guess down deep I agree that getting another dog to "calm" Ginny wouldn't be the best thing to do.  When I first got her I still had 2 old wonderful, calm Shih Tzus that have since gone on to the rainbow bridge.  They ignored Ginny and she ignored them, but she wasn't afraid of them.  They had lots of health issues so I was glad Ginny wasn't the type of dog to jump all over them or expect them to play with her.  I wanted another shih tzu before they died, to console me when they did go, if that makes sense.

    Callie I'd like more information on Chinese Medicine so I'll contact you directly.  I'm excited to try something that may help.  I am open to all reasonable things to try.  I have even gone to a Body Talk Access practioner to try and help her (energy healing) but I don't think this has helped. She did convince me that her diet wasn't the REAL reason for the blood, mucous, and softness in her stool--it is her nervousness and stress.  But some foods are more gentle on her system than others.  I also pray for her and ask God to help her and calm her. Maybe the help I get from this chatboard is His way of helping me because I know He uses people to help other people. Anyway thanks and God bless you for taking the time to try & help.  I love getting replies & am still reading the website about fearful dogs.  There's so much information there. 





  •  Sometimes, medications don't work if the dog can already sense the storm's approach, which is usually before humans sense it.  I dislike medicating dogs just based on the forecast, as we all know that predicted storms don't always occur, but have done so in the past with severe cases.  TCM is an interesting approach, and Callie has had good luck with it.  If you don't have a practitioner in your area, you could also try a holistic vet, if you want to investigate natural alternatives.  http://www.ahvma.org/  Some people like the DAP diffusers (dog appeasing pheromone).  I have found them helpful only in some cases, and in others, just like your experience with the Xanax, not very effective. 

    Getting a second dog actually makes some dogs more anxious, not less, especially if their early socialization was insufficient, or if they have separation anxiety (not your dog's situation, but worth posting for the lurkers) it's usually useless, as their focus is really on the human they are bonded to. 

    Here's some info about diarrhea, which in your dog's case, seems chronic.  It may be worthwhile to investigate whether she has any food allergies (get insurance *first* - this can get expensive).


  • spiritdogs
     Sometimes, medications don't work if the dog can already sense the storm's approach, which is usually before humans sense it.  I dislike medicating dogs just based on the forecast, as we all know that predicted storms don't always occur, but have done so in the past with severe cases. 

    You're right -- my thinking with this dog is that it's not just a learned behavior to one or two things -- I have a feeling this dog has been "off" since it was a pup and the breeder thot it would do 'better' in a home.  But I think it's just continued to worsen -- that's why I suggested she see a vet who will be more than a little familiar with dogs with seizure type disorders (i.e., brain/neuro problems).  We talked this afternoon and she's actually got a lady not terribly far away who could be a perfect solution for this dog (she's not just TCVM -- she's a specialist in acupuncture -- the highest rating you can get thru the Chi Institute) and she'll have a good likelihood of having enough experience to really dig deep enough to diagnose this properly.

    I also checked the ahvma list for her and I *think* this lady she's going to call likely may be a darned good option.  She's actually got quite a good choice if this one doesn't work.

    I'd hate to see a vet simply try to medicate this dog -- you'd have to SO sedate this dog into oblivion then you don't have much to work with for re-training.  But to actually do something to work on the part of the brain that controls this type of activity will give her a better shot I *hope*.

    Acupuncture applied the right way and maybe some herbs -- if that successfully reduces the aniety level without flatlining the dog -- then hopefully acupressure could be used also when anxiety spikes at home. 

    It's interesting -- one of the latest members of the Chi Institute faculty is the person who is the head behaviorist at the University of FL -- I'm really tickled to see Dr. Curtis get interested in acupuncture.  It's usually far far more effective on a long term basis than drugs -- to be able to get down to actually re-training a dog rather than merely medicating it into compliance (and she's always been a postive-only trainer and she's had some awesome results)


  •  I happened upon your post and joined this blog so I can share what has worked for us.  I purchased a 4 1/2 months Shih Tzu from a breeder who lived in a rural community.  Gatsby was happy and well-adjusted but was no used to loud urban/suburban noises.  A car driving by, a helicopter, a large barking dog, a dropped pot, a surge protector alarm - these are examples of everyday noises that scared him.  He would duck his tail and run to the other side of the room.  I would soothe and console him until he felt better but each episode would repeat in fashion.  The loud noises inside large buildings made visits to Petsmart, etc. an uncomfortable experience for him.  He would reach better when Checkers, our older Pek, would go with him since the noise didn't bother Checkers.  However, are many times when Checkers can't go, such as obedience class.

    I have a friend who is a professional trainer with degrees in animal behavior and years of experience.  She gave me advice about this problem that has been pure gold.  As a note, the advice she has given me over the past 5 months has proven to be spot on.  Here is what she said:

    When we here noises, we have to judge them as life-threatening or not.  This is a natural part of our nature.  It is our job to teach our dog which  noises are life-threatening and which are not.  We do this by how we respond to the noise.

    When a loud noise frightens Gatsby, my consoling him reinforces to him that being scared is the correct response.  I need to retrain his response to normal loud noises.  

    Instead of trying to avoid these noises, set up situations where he can learn the correct response. 

    Gatsby loves to play with his squeaky toy.  The sound of the toy signals to him that it is time to play.  This toy is the trigger noise that I use to retrain his respond.

    To do this I occasionally will make a loud noise such as a dropped pot or ringing door bell.  Immediately I squeak the toy and say in my happy, playful voice, "Wasn't that funny?  Oh let's play with the toy.  Here go fetch."  Each time I do this, he recovers from him fear faster than the time before.  He seems to think, if Mom's thinks that was funny, then I do too.

    I just started this two weeks ago and I have noticed a huge improvement.  If we go to the park and he seems concerned by the large dog, I just stop and say in my happy voice "What a big, silly dog.  Let's walk and have some fun."  He then thinks that he should not be afraid of this dog so he can go back to normal mode.

    I noticed from your responses the mental conflict that you felt about ignoring your dog when she was afraid.  I hope that this will work for you.  This gives you an active role in responding to your dog's fear instead of standing down and letting her deal with the fear by herself.

    If you try this, it will be important to stay consistent in your response.  These scary noises are really just noises not real life-threatening situations.  Consoling her teaches her that these are life-threatening noisesRedirecting her response to it's time to play, teaches her that these are not life-threatening noises.

    I would keep handy at all times the toy that you use to trigger the let's play response.  I would also be consistent to use that toy noise to mean let's play.  That way you reinforce the connection between the play noise and the learned response of that it's play time.

    All the best,

    Gatsby's mom



  • Gatsby's mom
    If you try this, it will be important to stay consistent in your response.  These scary noises are really just noises not real life-threatening situations.  Consoling her teaches her that these are life-threatening noisesRedirecting her response to it's time to play, teaches her that these are not life-threatening noises.

    Gatsby's mom your whole POST is wonderful.  Really good explanation of the way the dog "sees it" vs. the mental responses WE go thru.  Great input!!


  • Oh,thank you.  I can do this.  i will pick out her favorite toy & use it as a fun time when she panics. I'll also do the dropping a pot, etc.   I also got a "thundershirt" to put on her when it's a long drawn out thing--like a big thunderstorm.  Many thanks to everybody for their input.