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Dog with serious anxiety problems

Discussion in 'Dog Training and Behaviour' started by Brooky_AGB, Apr 15, 2019.


  1. Brooky_AGB

    Brooky_AGB PetForums Newbie

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    Hi All,

    Long story this one but we have a six year old Cockapoo. She wasn't a rescue but we are her second owners since a very early age and the poor girl has terrible anxiety problems with other dogs. I think a mix of a flighty, dominating nature mixed with a bad incident as a pup has given her real mental problems.

    We have spent a fortune with dog trainers over the last six years and we are at our wit's end. She is hopeless with other dogs and gets very agressive. She is also very difficult at home when people visit barking and jumping up when people come into her space. It takes ten minutes for her to know it's ok and settle down.

    She had improved slightly but got bitten by another dog last week and now she is terrible. If she even sees another dog on the side of the road she will kick off and try to bit me if I try to calm her. Treats are ignored. Everything is her business.. I can't even walk down the road with her on a lead without her trying to look in car windows.

    Has anyone else been through this? I think we are going to have to go the medical route with some kind of sedative as we have exhausted everything.

    I have considered rehoming but it doesn't feel right. She is a lovely girl at heart and we feel a responsibility to look after her. We have a young family (1 & 3 year old) and it's got t the stage where we just can't take her anywhere as it's so overwhelmingly stressful at all times.

    Has anyone been through this and come out the other side?
     
  2. JoanneF

    JoanneF PetForums VIP

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    She does sound highly stressed - it might be worth trying an Adaptil collar to take the edge off things for her, or Scullcap and Valerian.

    Can you take at least two days where she has no stressful incidents, sees no other dogs, no visitors etc. to allow the cortisol (stress hormone) in her body to dissipate first? Then there are things that you can do to help, but don't expect it to be a quick fx.

    Dogs have an invisible radius of space around them called flight distance - anything in that space triggers the fight or flight response. She is going into fight as she thinks that is the most likely strategy to scare off the other dogs. So we know, from what you have said, that her flight distance is a lot greater than just a street width. Can you find a place with good visibility all round where you can give her much, much more distance? You might need to walk her at very early mornings or late evenings to achieve this. But ideally you want her to be far enough away from other dogs that she is aware of them but not reacting. It could also be helpful if someone else was with you that could approach anyone with a dog and explain she is in training and ask them not to get close. Reassure her, and reward her calm behaviour. Very gradually you can work on reducing the distance. But I am talking in terms of weeks and months here, this is not a quick fix. Also if she has had an episode, the stress hormone will flood her body so if she encounters something else, it will take less to set her off than it would on another day when she has no cortisol in her system. In effect, her flight distance will reduce after a stressful incident.

    As well as distance, trainers also talk about duration (she might later tolerate a dog for five seconds but not ten) and distraction (she might learn to tolerate a calm dog but not a bouncy one).

    This is not uncommon, it is redirection - she can't get at the other dog so she redirects her frustration/anxiety on to you.

    This is because she is already over threshold - it's a little bit like trying to apply the brakes after you have driven over the cliff edge. A highly stressed animal will have no interest in food, the stressor has completely taken over her focus. The key is to stop her before she gets anything like as aroused as this.

    In terms of your visitors, can you use baby gates to manage the situation, so she can see what is going on but not actually be part of it until she is calm?

    And for walking down the road trying to see in car windows, I may be oversimplifying this but keeping forward momentum might help, possibly with a really smelly treat in your hand to keep her focus. You want her to learn that you, the treat and her walk are all far more interesting than the car windows so be upbeat and encouraging, jolly her along and past any cars.

    On a final note for now, if she is reactive on lead, please user lead on a well fitted harness rather than a collar to reduce the risk of damage to her throat and trachea.
     
    #2 JoanneF, Apr 15, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2019
    niamh123, Magyarmum and Lurcherlad like this.
  3. Ian246

    Ian246 PetForums Member

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    Two things strike me:
    1. Sedatives can’t be the answer as, from what you say, you’d have to have her permanently sedated which doesn’t seem fair. Sedatives are really for one off situations where a dog needs temporary calming.
    2. Rehoming May be an answer for you, but it’s not going to change her behaviour. So (and I do NOT mean this harshly) it boils down to how much care for the dog.
    The only real answer is not to put her in the situations that make her anxious. So, steer clear of people with dogs when you’re out walking - if they’re coming towards you, just turn about and walk smartly away. If you absolutely cannot get away for some reason, try to put yourself between your dog and the other. It’s not ideal, but it may help. If you tend to use a collar and lead, I’d suggest using a harness as you can get hold of that if necessary and keep your dog close. She may learn that you can protect her and she might therefore calm down a bit, though I’d not be too hopeful. The key is for you to remain relaxed (easier said than done, I appreciate) and to appear to be in control. Certainly don’t shout at your dog or tell her off (or at the other dog). If the dog is loose, ask the owner firmly to call her dog off as yours gets anxious around other dogs.
    With regard to visitors, there’s a drill that might help: tell them before they enter the house to ignore your dog completely. Don’t go near her and do NOT invade her space (her bed, or wherever she tends to go.) Once she’s established that the visitors seem OK, she might go up to them....but she might not. Let her make the decision in her own time, on her own terms. If she approaches visitors and seems to want attention, they can get down to her level and without making eye contact, give her a stroke on her side, or rub her chest lightly. Don’t stroke her on the head (definitely don’t pat her in the head!), or on the back - a hand going over her may seem threatening to her.
    With time things may improve, but the issue may well be very deep seated and your dog may always be reactive like this. However, if you can manage the situations that make her fearful, I’m sure life will improve for both of you. Either way, it’s going to take time, patience and perseverance.
    I hope that helps and it’s just for starters. You may (8 emphasise ‘may’) be able to reduce her reactivity to other dogs eventually, but that is a further process, and I think you probably need to absorb the above first.
     
  4. Brooky_AGB

    Brooky_AGB PetForums Newbie

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    Thank you both so much for your time. I really appreciate the detail you have gone into and I believe that although you are both clearly very experienced they are all things we have tried. Maybe it is my fault and I'm not very effective at seeing them though.

    I fear the only answer really is to try to avoid situations that cause stress and learn to give her as much space as possible. She's a happy dog at home.

    @Ian246 mentioned prompting visitors before they come over and this is something we have done many times but it's never worked. They say "oh it's ok I don't mind" and then give her all the attention she shouldn't get so we've given up on that. Visitors just cannot give in to the demands of a dog which is frustrating. I have noticed how much she plays up to the ones who do give her the most attention and are weakest towards her. Especially when they stay and come down in the morning and get jumped all over.

    Thanks again everyone.. We will plug on.

    She is our only dog and I do wonder if she would thrive in a bigger pack with a family who have a few dogs.
     
  5. JoanneF

    JoanneF PetForums VIP

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    I think, since she seems to be dog reactive, that would be incredibly stressful for her.
     
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  6. Brooky_AGB

    Brooky_AGB PetForums Newbie

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    You say that but there are dogs she's ok with. She knows my mums dog well and is fine with her.
     
  7. Lurcherlad

    Lurcherlad PetForums VIP

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    Sounds like she’s on the look out for the things that scare her tbh, rather than “everything has to be her business”.

    Have a quiet week at home to allow the stress hormone to dissipate.

    Avoid walking in areas where there will be off lead dogs and work at avoiding other dogs, keeping at a distance where she is able to relax so you can reward that behaviour.

    If she’s kicking off, they’re too close and it’s too late to learn to be calm.

    Keep her on a harness and leash so you have full control and can make a quick getaway.

    You will need to be very firm with other owners to keep their dogs away from her.

    Indoors, I would pop her behind a baby gate with a filled kong or tasty chew so you don’t have to rely on people obeying your rules (or ignoring them). She can see what’s going on without being under pressure.

    Only if you think they will obey you, once she’s settled, perhaps bring her in on a lead to sit/lay by you while the visitors ignore her.

    Gradually, she may learn to relax around both these triggers but if not, it doesn’t have to be the end of the World - just give her an environment where she doesn’t have to feel anxious.
     
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  8. Brooky_AGB

    Brooky_AGB PetForums Newbie

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    Thanks everyone. We will do everything we can to keep her stress level low. How do we keep ours low? :Woot
     
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  9. Lurcherlad

    Lurcherlad PetForums VIP

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    Wine or Valium! ;)

    Seriously though, taking these measures should lower stress levels all round :)
     
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  10. Burrowzig

    Burrowzig PetForums VIP

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    And could make life hell for the other dogs.
     
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  11. Pixie2010

    Pixie2010 PetForums Senior

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    My stress head dog has skullcap and valerian tablets and they help hugely by seemingly taking the edge off. We also don’t take her out every day due to her fear aggression with other dogs. (She happily lives with 2 others).
     
  12. Brooky_AGB

    Brooky_AGB PetForums Newbie

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    Thank you my mum said she used v-calm for horses and said it was very good. I think this is worth a try. :)
     
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