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Canine Behavior/hypervigilant Pyrenees


QUESTION: My female Pyrenees is about to turn 7. It seems she has always been very leery of everything and if things change, she stops eating. She is protective of our yard but otherwise a scardey cat (any loud noise, storm, rain, wind). Recently our neighbor used fireworks for 4 weeks to chase the geese away from our lake. My dog lost a lot of weight and I went to trying everything to get her to eat. Lots of human food as a last resort. She also would not eat out of her food bowl so I fed her on her bed and ours. Now that the noise is stopped, she is still reluctant to eat out of her bowl in her usual spot. I am still mixing human food with her chow but HAND feeding her. What can I do to unspoil her now? It seems like this dog will almost starve herself. Is there a way to make a dog less vigilant?

ANSWER: Your dog's temperament is not what the breed standard calls for; I presume she has "always been very leery of everything" is a combination of temperament flaw and poor socialization.  This breed is hyper vigilant, very protective of its living space and "people", and can easily attempt to "take over" (rank opportunism) if not properly managed and trained carefully and with great patience with positive reinforcement only.

That being said, it is extremely rare for any dog to actually starve itself to the point it drops substantial amount of weight that is visible to its owners.  I think you have one alternative here and I urge you to attempt to use it.  Find a Veterinary Behaviorist; call the veterinary teaching college in your geographical area and see if they have a hospital or clinic, they will have a veterinary behaviorist and may even be able to direct you to one closer to where you actually live.  Your dog needs to be evaluated, neurologically, an ophthalmology checkup, full blood chemistry and then will require medication and behavior modification.  There is presently a medication used first on a special collar, but this dog will probably require more serious intervention.  Here is a link you might find of use to offer other such experts:

Now: move the bowl to another room; put the food down, walk away; leave it there for up to half an hour.  If dog ignores the bowl, pick  it up out of her sight and put it back mid-day; repeat this late afternoon, early evening.  You are now giving her three separate opportunities to eat.  DO NOT show anxiety, do not coax her, do nothing; be casual.  If, by day four, she has not eaten:  Use a second bowl for her food near the first in the new location (that is empty).  Ask her to "work" to eat ("sit" on command, taught only with positive reinforcement).  When she sits, take a handful of food immediately from the bowl in your hand and put it into HER dish on the floor.  Walk away.  Count to ten.  Go back to her bowl (even if she has not eaten anything) and repeat "sit", handful into her bowl, walk away, until the portion of the first, second and third meals is fully in her bowl.  Do this for three days and REPORT BACK PLEASE, USING FOLLOWUP FEATURE.  After the three days of "sit" and placing food into her bowl, begin to ask her to "work" for everything, a little at a time:  going in/out, coming into your bedroom, being petted, etc., one thing at a time.  While doing this, use HIGH VALUE food reward (very high value: cut up steak, hot dog bits, string cheese bits).  The moment she "sits" for anything, pop a high value food treat into her mouth.  Once she has been on this regimen to the point where she is working for EVERYTHING, use the technique back at her food bowl: but this time, have her portion of food IN that bowl and place the treat INTO the food bowl.

Let's see if we can counter condition the dog; change her mind about what happens when she eats from her bowl, what you do when she doesn't, and teach her that food is a reward for "work" (she needs a JOB, this is it) that will segue into her eating the contents of the bowl along with the treat.  Keep her on three meals a day (smaller portions than once or twice, obviously, but sufficient enough to maintain her weight or even add weight).  This will take a great deal of patience and effort but it's worth it.  The dog isn't "spoiled", she is in a state of high anxiety.  After you have seen the veterinary behaviorist and the dog has been put on medication, this slow counter conditioning might just do the "trick".  Let me know by followup how she is doing.  TY.

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

QUESTION: Yes, I agree it is an anxiety problem and many treatments have been tried on her in the past. I did take her to training classes and always used positive reinforcement. She had a full blood panel done last fall. Will it be OK to continue with our 1 successful feeding method? In the morning we give her dog treats on her futon (all of our dogs have shared it in the family room). Unless there is a storm, it is usually the 1 consistent time she will eat. I will move her feeder (raised feeder) and do as you suggest otherwise. I will also contact the OSU behaviorist, 2 hrs. away in Columbus. We have tried the pheromones on her and "Composure". What is the other medication you are referring to?

I don't know about your "behaviorist" in Columbus....check CREDENTIALS, be certain this person is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, not just a dog trainer calling him/herself such.

I suggest you do as I explained in my original answer regarding counter conditioning this dog to feeding times.  As for other medications that have been used, this is why I suggested a veterinary behaviorist.  It is well worth the drive, even three hours in each direction, to see a professional.  The general vet will only do so much.  Were you to be one of my clients, and had no medication been used thus far, I would begin with propanolol, this is a beta blocker that truncates the rush of adrenaline; it must be used under the supervision of an experienced veterinarian since it will also effect blood pressure and heart function; weight of dog is taken into consideration when this drug is used for this purpose and it is normally perfectly safe.  There are many new medications used to treat anxiety disorder in dogs.  Here is a link to same (but it has not been updated):

AVOID SSRIs (like Prozac); having used them many years ago with my veterinary colleague, we determined that the side effects can be dangerous in a dog whose anxiety is INCREASED by these drugs; there are Humans who cannot tolerate these drugs. It's not worth the risk.

Your dog might have some cognitive dysfunction, also; I can't see anything from here, a real CAAB will be able to do that, but I still urge you to go to a veterinary behaviorist.  "Last Fall" is a long time ago in terms of blood chemistry, so I suggest one be done but the veterinary behaviorist will know far better than I after evaluating the dog and listening to your history of her problem behaviors.  PLEASE try to find one, it can't hurt, it can only help.

Try the suggests regarding counter conditioning; patience is your best friend in this situation.  Your anxiety regarding her not eating (and I don't blame you ONE BIT given the obvious weight loss, that is very troubling to me) is going RIGHT to her around her food bowl.  Everyone will feel a great deal better after an evaluation by a veterinary behaviorist, including me!  So let's work on this.  Re-read the paragraph beginning with "Now:" in original answer.  By day four, if you REMOVE YOURSELF FROM HER FOOD BOWL while it is available to her (instead of hovering or adding something delicious), she SHOULD begin to eat, or at least nibble; if she has NOT, you use the method of the double bowls described.  Then you segue to "Nothing In Life Is Free" starting with the treat for "sit" and, after a few days when she is earning everything, use the treat as suggested in my answer.  Counter conditioning takes a lot of time and patience but I don't want this dog to drop weight while you are attempting it.  I think a veterinary behaviorist is a necessity, actually.

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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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