Canine Behavior/Neurotic dog
Dr. Connor: Can you please help us understand/treat our dog's increasing nervousness?
I have a 5 year old Wheaten named Clover. We got her from a reputable breeder when she was 8 weeks old. We met her mother and father, both of whom seemed to be happy, cheerful dogs. Clover had a wonderful puppyhood and up until about a year ago seemed like the best behaved and most cheerful dog I have ever owned. She has suffered from skin problems and allergies since her first 8 week vet check. We have spent thousands on veterinary explorations, with veterinarians in 3 cities, including full workups for allergy testing, allergy shots, various limited ingredient diets, raw food diets, holistic treatments, etc. Nothing has worked and she has now been on a regime of Prednisone - 5 mg every second day - for the past 3 years. No other medication. This seems to keep her itching and scratching under control. I mention this because it is her only health problem, but her itching can seem to get worse when she is anxious. She has regular vet checks - saw the local vet a couple of weeks ago and got a clean bill of health.
Behaviour. Clover was a typical terrier puppy. She was quite boisterous in puppy class and had to work with the bigger dogs, as she was too rough with the little ones. That ended when she matured and she became very sociable and happy at her daily dog park outings. Got along with other dogs and - like most Wheatens - loved every human she met. Our one behavioural issue was with the "Wheaten Greetin'"... jumping on people she met or who came to the door and refusing to stop. By the age of 4 we had come quite a long way with that at home and in the dog park. At home, I would tell her to go to her bed for the first few minutes when people came to the door, and she was getting pretty good at complying. At the dog park, she more or less matured, and didn't react too much unless people made a fuss over her. Overall, she was just fine. She is also the most obedient dog, and certainly the smartest I have ever owned. She will heel off lead wonderfully, she has a huge vocabulary, and she always comes running when called. She was our little shadow - always trotted from room to room with us, curled up on the couch or under our desk, staying close and very happy and attentive. We love her to bits.
My husband and I live in Victoria BC and both work out of our home, so Clover has lots of contact with us and isn't often left alone. There are no kids or other pets in our home. When we go out, Clover is attended by or stays with our next door neighbour, Louise, whom she loves. We do, however, travel quite a bit for business and some holidays, and Clover stays with Louise or comes with us. She is never kennelled, nor do we leave her with strangers. We spend summers at our cottage in Upstate New York, and she has always loved it there... she can run free and has no restrictions. We have driven across country with her a couple of times (3000 miles) with no problem. She has also flown back and forth with us about 4 times, and she has never seemed to have any problems with that.
Okay, now the problems. About a year ago, Clover started to seem more anxious. When I would ask her to go to her bed when guests came, she would immediately start chewing her legs. We did some agility classes, and she was extremely good - smart, quick and seemed to enjoy it. But it also seemed to make her anxious... in the middle of the class she would pull to try to go back to the car. So I didn't continue with the classes, even tho she was great at it and I loved it. (BTW, we do not ever hit her or yell at her in training - positive only. She is smart and sensitive and doesn't need that.) She also started being anxious about children... turned away, hid if they came to the house, wouldn't look at them.
About a year ago she also started reacting to electronic noises - it started with Skype, and now includes any ping, voice or sound from our computers or even putting the phone on speaker. She immediately runs and hides under the bed. She's not at all afraid of thunder, trucks, firecrackers - just computerized noises - and now things like the phone on speaker. Since we both work on our laptops and phones at home, this is an issue. In addition, this year she and I flew out to the cottage in mid May. For the first few weeks here, she hardly left the house, unless I walked with her. She didn't volunteer to go outside, ignored chipmunks outside the window, and spent a lot of time under the bed. (She used to be enthralled by chipmunks and squirrels and chased and barked and had a wonderful time.) I thought perhaps the flight had traumatized her this time, and hoped she would get better. After 6 weeks, she is a bit better, but not much. She retreats to under the bed with anything unusual, is very scared of electronic noises, and has lost much of her joy in life. She rarely goes outside, doesn't want to play with other dogs and, when we are out for the afternoon and ask our cottage neighbour, Libby, to visit her, she won't even go outside to pee.
She still likes going in the car, and going for hikes in the woods if its just the three of us. Bit we just came back from an after dinner walk. She reluctantly joined us, but stuck close by and did very little sniffing or exploring. It makes me very sad.
We want our happy dog back! What do you think we should do? We very much appreciate your time and consideration, Dr. Connor. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Unexpected changes could occur in the dog's behavior due to long-term use of this drug. Excessive restlessness, anxiety, or aggression could be attributed to the prolonged use of prednisone. Hence, it is important to monitor any abnormal behavior in the dog."
You say you visit upstate NY often. I don't know where in upstate NY you visit but I strongly suggest you call Cornell Veterinary School and get referral to a Veterinary Behaviorist in the region you visit. I believe the prednisone may be the problem. It is also possibly your dog has an autoimmune disorder which can cause cognitive problems in HUMANS as well as other odd symptoms the Human can report and the dog cannot.
You can't afford to waste time here. Every day the dog is learning more about fear and how to "protect herself" from things she cannot control. Some of this behavior may require sophisticated counter conditioning. Although I can help you with that, you are best off finding a certified applied animal behaviorist who can work with your veterinary behaviorist, evaluate the dog and come up with a plan of counter conditioning that will lessen (and hopefully extinguish) the fear behaviors you are describing.
You can look for a veterinary behaviorist here, if you are unable to get referral from Cornell (which would surprise me greatly):
I don't know much about the availability of such professionals in BC. I did find the following site:
A veterinary behaviorist will know exactly if the prednisone (which is not supposed to be a constant medication, this is a powerful corticosteroid) is associated with the behavioral changes. I strongly suspect that it is. Unfortunately, there are no acquired fight/flight mechanisms in place that have to be addressed slowly and with patience.
Please report back using followup feature with any conclusions you are able to reach with appropriate professionals.