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anxious dog!

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anxious dog!
  • I have a 3 year old lab mix named Xena who is a wonderful dog.  She is amazingly smart and knows more tricks than I could list.  She also knows the names of about 10 of her toys, will fetch the newspaper and has figured out a lot of things like learning to open and close dogs and turn on space heaters.  She recognizes certain music, watches TV and retrieves items I drop,

    I have never known such a smart or sweet dog.

    When Xena was a puppy she was very friendly and carefree, but as she's gotten older, she has become more anxious about everything.  If she sees two mail trucks across the street in the morning (instead of the normal one) she is upset for the rest of the day when we go outside, even after they're gone - she will look over to where they were.  She gets upset when the lawn has been mowed, she's scared when the garbage can is at the curb instead of next to the house.  She flies across the room if I drop a piece of paper on the floor.  She's scared of storms, boxes, dogs, people, bags, rugs, anything that's different or out of place.  When I set her food down, she gets anxious and leaves the room.   When we go running together, she shakes with fear before we start.

    I want to think that if she were "socialized" more she would get better.  But if your dog is scared of a sheet of paper, clearly that's not because she hasn't been around a lot of dogs or people.

    What can I do to help her?

  • The first thing I would do is get her in for a COMPLETE physcial, including blood panals.  She may need medication to help ease her anxiety, but something like valerin root which is natural, is a better place to start.

    It sounds to me like it is going to take a lot of time and a lot of work to try to desensitize her to things.  Seriously, start with her vet.

  • I agree with the vet check, especially her vision. Since it seems that it is the "out of place" things that perturb her most, perhaps she does not see as well around her as she used too and is startled when she realizes the environment is not "as it should".

    One thing you might want to try is a DAP (appeasing pheromones) collar on her outside the house and a couple of plug-ins in the house. I've never used them and they do not work for all dogs but there is some evidence they can help (http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.233.12.1874).

    Spip was pretty suspicious when younger. She would bark at things out of place, like the neighbor's lawnmower left along our fence, a box of tools dropped by in our backyard by a friend, etc.; she never reacted if she had seen us move the things, only when they appeared from nowhere.  What I did heavily (and still do on occasions when she seems unsure about a "new"  item) was to go towards the object, touch it, sit by it, etc. all the while talking to her in a happy silly voice.

  • Thank you so much for the response, glenmar!

    She has had regular physicals is a healthy weight, has lots of energy and other than being anxious, she has no signs of any problems.  I do not want to medicate her for a psychological disorder, though I am open to a natural solution such as Valerian root.

    I understand socialization and desensitization, but how often does she have to see a piece of paper to know that it's not going to hurt her?  Because she is so aware of her environment, she startles so easily.



  • My dog is the anxiety queen. Working thru anxiety disorders in dogs takes a lot more than desensitation. It takes years of behavior modification techniques and sometimes that needs to be paired with medication for a little while to get you started. Dogs do not learn when they are in that high state of anxiety so meds help to bring that down a tad so the dog can learn. 6 months on meds paired with behavior mod and you can prob ditch the meds as the dog will have learned some coping tools in that time. Do a search for vet behaviorist and find one who is trained and certified. Do a lot of reading. My vet behaviorist (diff than a regular vet) had us do natural meds plus prozac. Then we did a lot of training....a lot. Stuff like teaching the dog to relax on command or using a specific touch. There are still some things we struggle with (like a normal neighborhood leash walk) or going into chaotic situations) but this particular dog has come so far that she is training for search and rescue. (She is no longer on prozac but i give her l theanine still
  • Thalie, you have some excellent thoughts.

    Her vision is excellent, as I mentioned in my first post, if I drop something, she'll spot it and bring it to me.  She watches TV and can recognize different animals and reacts differently to them (dog vs horse for instance).  And she sees things across the street that upset her, for instance if the neighbor's car is usually in the driveway and it is missing.  

    I will look more into the DAP.  I do have some Lavender and your suggestion makes me think we could see how that does.  If we use it and she is calmer, I can work with some of the things that make her anxious, such as paper, and see if she can get more used to them while she is calm.

    Touching a "new" item does sometimes help, that is a good suggestion also!

    I much appreciate the help!

  • She sounds a lot like my parents' Dobe whom they adopted at about 3yrs old.  It's taken her almost 2 years in their consistent care to learn she doesn't have to freak out when a piece of furniture is moved, or something is added to a space, etc.  Their home is structured and stable and she knows she can count on them.

    The fact that your dog was raised by you from puppyhood and (only now?  Or only now to this degree?) is displaying this behavior makes me wonder what has happened in her environment and exposures (to people, places, things) that has pushed her probably natural anxiety to such a level.  Do you have children?  Has someone been added to your family?  Have you moved?  Have your schedules changed?

  • Hi Miranadobe.  You're right, a couple of things did happen that I think exacerbated her anxiety.  

    About a month after she moved in, she and my other dog and I were in my backyard and my little dog was attacked by the neighbor's pitt bull.  Xena ran back into the house so she did not see much of what happened, but as I mentioned before, she is a very smart dog.  I was able to save my little dog and though he was badly hurt, he made a good recovery.

    And about 7 months ago, our house and neighborhood were hit by tornadoes.  After that she became more scared when we ran through the neighborhood because of all of the changes and all of the work being done to repair the damage.

    She is 3 now and I would say she's become consistently more anxious the last couple of years.





  • LoganXH

    She is 3 now and I would say she's become consistently more anxious the last couple of years.

      That corresponds with her maturity from puppyhood to adulthood.  She sounds like a naturally anxious dog with some levels of neurosis that have just become stronger as she's come into her own.

    The tornadoes in your neighborhood have not helped, most assuredly.  All the change that happened when her neighborhood was destroyed, coupled with all the change that happens as you rebuild is likely blowing her mind.

    If you have a neurotic dog to serious levels, you will have a challenge to build a consistent stable environment for her to recover some sense of stability - which will be on a fragile balance for probably all of her life.  I'm saying lots of "ifs" and "probably" because nobody can diagnose your dog over the internet, simply hypothesize.

  • Any idea what she's "mixed" with? 

    The reason I ask is this -- at one time I had a sheltie/corgi mix -- and when he was young I thot he was THE most neurotic dog I ever knew. 

    Now granted, -- I knew much *less* then than I do now and I'm sure I said/did much of all the wrong things. BUT something happened when Foxy was in his senior years that finally made it click for me.

    A friend of mine with herding dogs had made *me* far more aware of how incredibly ingrained herding behavior is.  Somehow we expect a hound to 'sniff' and laugh about it.  But a herder WILL HERD.  Part of herding behavior IS an awareness of the environment that is unique to herders.  (which is why I thot of it in your description)

    I used to be clueless why my dog would particularly get all upset in the car.  Now riding down the highway?  no biggie!!  But try to go thru a parking lot or across an intersection where people were waiting for a bus and others crossing the street and traffice turning left or right?

     O ... M .... G...........***HISSY FIT***

    One day Mother Stupid (that's me) finally figured it out.  Any time something in his environment (including TRAFFIC on the street) moved in an un-structured way -- it made him nervous!!!

    As long as the traffic was barrelling down the highway in nice straight lines he was FINE.  But people waiting at busstops?  crossing streets -- THAT WAS MESSY -- it **REQUIRED HERDING**!!!!

    And if that herding instinct was frustrated -- yep -- he was nutzoid about it.

    Foxy too, lived thru tornados and it had a HUGE impact on him.  A tornado sounds a lot like a freight train going over your head -- it left him hugely storm phobic.  I developed my little "storm party" system and it really helped him on that issue. (literally as soon as it looked like it was going to storm, I'd give him some valerian glycerite tincture, gather all the goodies I could find food-wise and we'd sit and WATCH for a storm to begin -- every flash and boom I'd give yummy treats and "count" between them to get an idea of whether the storm was increasing or retreating and basically let him see it was PREDICTABLE -- rewarding both the flash and boom with treats.)

    But once again -- it appealed to the herder instinct because I showed him some measure of predictability to the storms.  All a herder needs is to know **someone** is in charge.  And phew -- if it's not him he's often relieved.

    My point is this -- if it is possible that your dog is mixed with herder (and I can't tell from your pic) -- then you may have better luck if you give him structured herding outlets -- games you devise to allow him to "control" aspects of his environment.  Like toss a bucket of tennisballs in the air and ask him to 'get' them (a treat for each one he drops back in the bucket). 

    There can be many variations on that theme but the point being to let the dog have an outlet where they get TO herd and be rewarded for it. 

    A herder WILL know when every leaf drops, or a piece of paper flutters to the ground.  So rip some paper up and toss it in the air making a game of picking it up. 

    Some have mentioned above about the usefulness of herbal or even drug therapy.  The point being -- if a dog has moved from a normal (altho maybe naturally anxious) frame of mind to a high state of anxiety ALL the time, then you have to dial that back a bit so the dog CAN think and make better choices of what is really bad and what is merely "ok".

     I could also defuse Foxy verbally -- if he came to be upset about some "thing" wrong in his world, I would ask him to "show me" -- and then we'd go look at it.  That was my cue to say "Oh -- you're right -- Mrs. Smith's car is gone -- but it's Tuesday and thats' OK!".

     Now -- maybe Tuesday doesn't have a thing to do with it -- BUT your prounouncement that is "is OK" is really what the dog needs to hear.  That YOU know about it and are not concerned.

    But how you handle it has to be very matter of fact and low key.  You can't "oh baby -- it's REALLY okkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk -- tsk tsk sweetheart ..."

    Nope -- just plain say "Yep -- you're right -- the driveway is empty -- thanks for telling me but **I know and it's ok!**"

    There are homepathics like Heels "Calming" or even Boiron's chamomillia can be instantly calming as well.  Valerian *in tincture* works fast, and homeopathics work fast -- so they're easier to work with in cases of anxious dogs rather than having to wait for something TO work.

  • Callie - I'm going to disagree with you.  The last thing this dog needs is a verbal cue to mark her disordered reaction, imo.  (ie, actually saying "it's ok", etc)  She needs owners who are matter of fact and solid and stable and don't play into it.  They simply SHOW her that life is ok, on an extremely consistent and calm and grounded basis.  Pretty much what you do, other than I wouldn't reco having a conversation w/the dog about it.  The words don't mean anything to a dog at that point, other than a cue.  They don't reassure her, they just mark the circumstances.  Dogs are learning first by behavior/body language, etc.  Make the behavior deliver the message that everything is ok first.

    If the circumstances are as described without extenuating aspects, this dog would likely do best in a situation with true structure and routines and exceptionally regular schedules so that when a minor anomaly in her environment comes up, she can turn to her owners who have been creating calm consistent structure and they will go about their day as if nothing is abnormal about the item moved in the room, and she can feed off of that.  Any reaction in them will escalate the reaction in the dog.  Again, they have to SHOW this dog that life remains ok even when a piece of paper falls.

    Enduring a tornadoe has likely pushed this dog's threshold beyond an above average neurosis to a serious condition, and this will take WORK to get her back to her above average neurosis state.  WORK that will take a load of time.  This isn't going to happen in 6 months.  Again, hypothesis based on what's written - I worry about the dog's tolerance for pressure and what she does when put under pressure (yes, you know where I'm going w/that), so a behaviorist or experience behavior modification trainer with personal observation of this is important, I suspect, if the owner wants to truly solve the problem to the best of the dog's ability.  Again, I suspect it isn't ever going to be "solved", just mitigated.

  • miranadobe
    Enduring a tornadoe has likely pushed this dog's threshold beyond an above average neurosis to a serious condition, and this will take WORK to get her back to her above average neurosis state.  WORK that will take a load of time.  This isn't going to happen in 6 months.  Again, hypothesis based on what's written - I worry about the dog's tolerance for pressure and what she does when put under pressure (yes, you know where I'm going w/that), so a behaviorist or experience behavior modification trainer with personal observation of this is important,

    I agree. 

  •  Agree with what Julie, Paige - Mirandobe and Jackie have said.

    I would describe my own dog as hyper-alert and easily excitable to the point of not being able to function mentally LOL. He was rock solid in storms - sleeping through them and enjoying being out in them Surprise until last April when we had tornadoes touch down very close by - no damage to our home or immediate surroundings but when it was over there was a burning smell and a strong scent of recently damaged trees.

    Since then he has a terrible time in storms (we actually had a couple of serious storm related issues closely following the tornadoes that reinforced how dangerous storms are to our dog).  I am only mentioning this because it sounds as though the tornadoes you had were even closer, there is no doubt in my mind that events like tornadoes can alter a stable dog (I know of 3 others in our neighborhood that were fine with storms until the tornadoes) so the impact on a dog that was already displaying anxiety will be significant.

    The others have already said what I would say with regard to moving forward - good luck and give her a belly rub for me!!

  • LoganXH
    I want to think that if she were "socialized" more she would get better.  But if your dog is scared of a sheet of paper, clearly that's not because she hasn't been around a lot of dogs or people.

    I wanted to comment on the above statement.  The critical socialization period for dogs is during their puppyhood.  I don't think Xena's current fear issues are solely due to a lack of early socialization (obviously, I have no idea how well socialized she was as a puppy) but it certainly does contribute to how well dogs handle frightening events or new objects as adult dogs. 

    Trying to force her to face her fears such as taking her running when she's obviously frightenend will often make matters worse.  As others have said, you would be wise to consult a behaviorist who uses positive methods and can advise you from a position of direct observation.  As much info as is out here on the internet, this is clearly a case of a dog who needs much more than casual advice on a forum. 

    This is a locator from the IAABC.  http://iaabc.org/consultants and another from the CAAB- http://www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com/

  • We went to the Vet and Xena is in good health.  He wanted to sell me Virbac's Anxitane (for $60 a box) and I saw it online for $30, and then discovered that it is just L-Theanine (for people) which is about $8 a bottle.

    Xena has been taking it for a few days now and it has made a huge difference in her anxiousness.  She is still alert and active, but not so startled by things.  It is too soon to know how much it will help her, but so far she seems much happier.

    The vet is going to have their behaviorist call me, but we haven't talked yet.

    Thank you for all of the good feedback and suggestions!