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Canine Behavior/My dog is suddenly skittish; sniffing everything


Earlier this morning, my Labrador Retriever/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix was playing outside and suddenly he started barking at the door.  It was odd because we do not like when he does that and have trained him to not bark there.  I walked to the door and immediately noticed that he was extremely jumpy and skittish.  He has always been a relaxed sort of dog except when around new people or when we come home, but this was definitely neither of those things.  It was something completely different.  I did not want to reinforce his barking or ignore this odd behavior so I went outside and sternly told him "no!" and then stayed outside with him to analyze his actions.  He kept darting around and sniffing everything as if he was trying to find something.  His mouth was also hanging open as if he was stressed.  I thought maybe some far off thunder might have caused it, but it was so quiet, I find it unlikely.  Once I realized how scared/stressed/skittish he was, I let him into the house which he pushed into with an abnormal amount of force.  Inside the house he continued the same things: sniffing everything/acting scared/etc and while darting everywhere, also stuck around "safe spots" frequently.  Afterwards, I noticed that he kept sniffing his butt repeatedly like he was trying to chase it, but with more spastic curiosity.  It reminded me that just the day before he had been taken to the vet and they stuck a stick in his butt, but it was pretty late for him to suddenly start obsessing over something that happened yesterday.  I tried to calm him down, managed to get him to lay down, and he let me pet him.  Petting him kept him still and if I stopped petting, he would immediately leave and go back to his sniffing.  Even while being pet, his mouth was open, breathing erratic, and pulse was pulsing quickly.  I forgot to say that throughout this time, he barely responded to commands.  It was as if the commands were barely reaching him.  As if they were being muffled.  Now night is approaching and I am worried because he has not stopped this panicked state.  Is there anything I can do?  Do you have any idea what might have caused this?  How long do you think he will last in this state?  Thank you!

Thank you for your question. It's good that you realized that he was not just behaving out of boredom or attention seeking, but was actually showing signs of anxiety/stress/fear.

My first thought as I was reading your question was that something spooked him - maybe a critter (possum, skunk, raccoon) scittered through or near the yard and startled him. But then you indicated that he had a rectal exam (I'm guessing stool sample collected if they stuck a stick into his rectum as opposed to a thermometer) the day before. I am not a vet and have no formal veterinary training, so this is just an educated guess and you would need to speak to his vet directly - but it's possible that the probe they used scratched his rectum and it suddenly hurt. Perhaps he pooped while he was outside and the process of pooping caused him pain if there is a small laceration in his rectum and this has scared him.

You're absolutely right that his behavior screams of fear - the rapid heart beat, open mouth panting, inability to settle, inability to register commands that he knows well, seeking safe spaces - are all neon sign signals of fear. It is definitely not a normal state of being. If this were my dog and he were not settled within an hour I'd definitely be concerned. If he settles by bedtime, I'd pay attention for the next few days to see if there's a repeat. If he's not, I'd be at the emergency vet tomorrow having him checked out.

If not from the exam yesterday, it's possible he poked himself somewhere on brush or that something bit him. I had a client a while back (in CA) who had a medical emergency where the dog let out a scream and then suddenly began convulsing and then went rigid. They didn't know what had happened to her and it wasn't until another dog came in the next day and the vet happened to look inside that dogs mouth that they saw evidence of a bug bite or sting and determined that both dogs had had a violent reaction to some kind of poisonous insect. Both dogs were fine in the end. I share this story to illustrate that sometimes we have to go looking for the much less obvious to find answers for sudden very strange behavior.

In the mean time, I encourage you to offer quiet comfort and reassurance. Write down the chronology of events from the first bark and keep track so that if you have to take him in to the vet, you will have the history of this episode at hand for the doctor. They will appreciate having all the information easily available.

Also - as an aside to this, since it's not part of your actual question - I try to never tell my dogs a stern "No" for communicating with me. Often it is alert barking to neighbor's coming or going and is irrelevant to our lives. But even then, I always thank my dogs for telling me and then tell them something like, "Enough now." If they're barking in the yard, I'll go see what's up to let them know that I hear them and respect their communication and then I tell them go come back inside. If they bark at the front door, we'll all go look so they can see there's nobody out there. Dogs communicate with us with the only tools they have and if we take those tools away from them, then they stop telling us when something is not right. So even when it's been a 'busy' day and I'm irritated by yet another round of barking, I try to avoid scolding them and instead just redirect them to another activity. And I try to remind myself that I'm grateful my dogs feel safe enough with me to tell me that something is worrying them enough to speak up about it.

Anyway, Please do keep an eye on him. I agree, this is definitely not normal behavior and something has frightened him. The question now is: was it something in the yard or something in/on his body that has scared him. His continued attention to his rear end, just a day after an exam of that area suggests it may have to do with that. You didn't indicate if there was a reason for that exam - if it was just a routine exam or if they were looking for something specific, but I would definitely want to let them know of this episode even if it seems resolved by morning.

Also, just to be safe, take a close look at his rear end a few times in the next several hours. If you see blood take him immediately to the nearest emergency vet. Check his poop (even with a flashlight) to see if there's bright red in it (that's fresh blood), or if he seems to have trouble going or a refusal to poop at a normal time. These would all be flags for me that something physical is going on and he needs immediate care.

Good luck. Please do followup with me if you figure out what was causing this sudden fear episode.

Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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