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Canine Behavior/Anxious/paranoid behavior


QUESTION: We have an 11 yr old wire fox terrier, she is a retired show dog, we adopted her at the age of 4. We know she was not raised in a consistent family environment but had a fabulous personality. She initially was very calm, loving and playful. Very tolerant of most situations at home and traveling but was very skiddish when walking out and about town, basically scared of just about everything (other dogs, strollers, bicycles, orange cones etc). She did not exhibit this apprehension when in the show ring. We were making great progress and then approx. 2 months later ( I believe when she realized she wouldn't be returning to the breeder) she started having separation anxiety. We took her to the Cornell veterinary hospital for a behavior evaluation. At their suggestion we medictated her with Valium when we had to leave her home alone. They didn't have a lot of insight for us. We were able to wean her off her meds and worked consistently and gently to help her over come this. She travels with us quite frequently adapting well to her present surroundings. But we have also left her home with an in house dog sitter on many occassions without incident. A little more background when we first got her. We noticed that she stumbled a lot and would sit gingerly as if her hips hurt but without any vocal display of pain. We had her checked by the vet ( X-rays) everything seemed to be fine. We also noted within a year that her hearing was off as well as her eyesight. She has been a very healthy dog all this time, active and playful.
Now onto the real problem: 4 months ago she was left home with the sitter (same sitter we've used and trusted many times). She acted very normal when we returned, nothing out of the ordinary. The next day however she left our yard unexpectedly and was returned by a distant neighbor. When back in the house she was acting as if she was terrified to be in the house and kept trying to get out the door or hide behind us. She was still acting strange when we got home from work that day. We thought this was a short lived incident until a week later she disappeared again while in the yard with my husband. Then it turned into waking us up in the middle of the night, straddling me and hyperventilating in my face. We were unable to reassure her or calm her. This went on for many nights and no sleep for anyone. The vet believes it is due to her failing senses as she is almost totally deaf now. So he prescribed amyltriptoline but we had to keep increasing the dose in order to get her to calm down. She will be in a deep sleep and jerk awake suddenly as if hearing voices, becomes very frightened, tail and ears down and would crawl inside us if she could. This was such an abrupt change in her behavior. She seems to have had a sudden psychotic break. She is no longer playful, she seems too drugged to do much of anything. All systems are normal, she eats and drinks normally. If I wean her meds she's back to total panic mode. We have watched her leave the yard looking back toward the house several times then just trotting off. You can tell when she's going to do this she gets a possessed look in her eyes and all reality leaves her. People have tried to convince me there is a ghost in our house but I am a non believer. She seems to have a relapse every time someone visits even though these are familiar people to her.
Do you have any suggestions? I feel so bad for her.

ANSWER: NO "show dog" is afraid of anything, anywhere, or it is of no use in the breed ring.  So the dog already had a problem with socialization when you acquired her.

The behavior you describe seems to be in line with serious cognitive dysfunction.  A dog that is going deaf (cataracts can be REMOVED) is in huge stress.  Her ability to "make sense" of her surroundings seems, from your description, to have seriously eroded.  There is absolutely NO CAUSE FOR THIS DOG TO BE IN ANY WAY ABLE TO LEAVE YOUR PREMISES.  She MUST be on leash (even long training leash).  You need the evaluation of a Veterinary Behaviorist.  From the following sites, you will hopefully be able to find one.  If not call the veterinary college in your geographical area.  Get copies of all her veterinary records faxed to his/her office BEFORE your appointment.  There ARE medications for dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction.  But there is also a mandate, as the steward of an innocent animal, to do the "right thing" if her quality of life is so diminished that she is in constant fear:

Age eleven might not seem "old" (some small breeds live far into their teens) but it is, in fact, elderly.  A consultation with a veterinary behaviorist, who might (at first) offer medication (such as Anipryl) is absolutely necessary.  If she does not respond to treatment, then you must make the humane decision, the most difficult decision of any Human who cares for innocent creatures.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I don't dispute that she came with issues. She is a retired champion and I had seen her show and walked her around the grounds with all the other dogs myself. She was confident, without fear or apprehension. My confusion lies with the suddenness of her panic and anxiety, fine at 9:00 PM and not fine at 6:00 AM. Her quality of life has not deteriorated to the terminal state yet but working in health care I do understand the difference between quantity and quality of life.
Thank you for your time.

The dog is displaying signs of cognitive failure.  It happens in humans (dementia, alzheimer's, the result of TIA, neurological problems).  She absolutely requires a veterinary behaviorist ASAP.  Her quality of life depends on it.  There are medical remedies to assist any dog with this problem and a veterinary behaviorist will be able to recognize the situation and help you to address it.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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