Canine Behavior/New anxiety
We have 2 dogs, both weighing about 15-18lbs. Our 9yr old is a terrier and our other dog is 3yrs old. We have had them both since they were puppies. The 9yr old is the dominant alpha dog. They like and tolerate each other, but have never been buddy-buddy. They are crate trained and easily go in their own individual crates when we leave the house. They are wire crates located just a couple of feet from each other. Our 3yr old has only known life with the 9yr old. She has never had any behavioral issues or showed signs of anxiety. My daughter has recently moved out and took her dog with her (the 3yr old). She has her same crate. Since that time, her dog is having a real hard time when my daughter leaves her house and she doesn't want to go in her crate. She will not go in willingly, even when there is a good treat inside. She puts her arms out in protest and it's hard to get her in. She starts to pant and then whines like crazy nonstop when she's in there. It's now to the point that she doesn't want to even go in the room where her crate is, even if it is to eat. It got worse yesterday, when my daughter left for an hour and came back to the dog having a scraped chin from trying to chew and push her way out of the wire crate.
We are thinking that maybe this new behavior is because the other dog is not there to keep her company, but we're not sure. It is not an option for the second dog to also stay with my daughter. We would really appreciate some input as to how to help her as this behavior after a couple of weeks is not getting any better. Thank you.
Thank you for your question. It sounds like your daughter's dog is experiencing a pretty severe stress response to the recent life changes - moving to a new home, not having some of her people around and not having her doggie pal to help her know it's safe when the people aren't home.
For the time being I would stop using the crate altogether. She is clearly very stressed by it and panicking just in the presence of the crate, as well as when forced to be in it. Continuing to require her to spend time in there (at all, but especially when left unattended) will only serve to escalate her panic and stress.
It might be helpful to use a baby gate and block her into the kitchen or a play pen set up in the living room rather than a crate. Sometimes just changing the confinement can help. Even possibly confining her to the bedroom where she can lay on her person's bed as being close to the smells of her person can be extremely comforting to a panicked dog.
But, this will not be enough to completely resolve the issue. You didn't indicate how long ago your daughter moved out, so I don't know if this has been an issue for a few days or a few months. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be to help her feel safe when alone.
Some options to consider: if your daughter is still local, perhaps the dog can hang out at your house with your dog during the day - keep a crate for her in the usual spot in case you have to go out while the dog is there. But having the company and familiarity can really help her dog feel safe again. And the visits will help her to understand that your dog and you are not out of her life altogether.
Has she tried a ThunderShirt yet? It's an anxiety wrap that many dogs find to be quite soothing. But, note that your daughter needs to have the dog wear the shirt with some regularity at times that are neutral and happy, not just when she's about to leave. The shirt provides a comforting effect by creating a subtle, constant external pressure on the dog. But, if it only ever gets put on a few minutes before she's left unattended, the context will "poison" the shirt as the shirt will become a cue that she will be confined and alone. By having her wear it at least as often during meals, play, love, cuddles, outings, etc. we avoid causing it to become a poisoned cue, and we bolster the comforting effect by associating the shirt with good things. While the shirt is not meant to be worn 24/7, it can be worn for several hours at a time without causing the dog harm, so long as she's not chewing at the shirt.
NOTE: Some dogs do not like the shirt and will shut down behaviorally. This means that they stop engaging with the world while the shirt is on. This is not the goal because it's actually increasing the dog's stress. You can tell if she's shutting down with the shirt on because she will be very hesitant to move, won't take food, won't play and is just not her normal self. Some dogs will calm down significantly and go from jumpy/hyper to very relaxed, but they are still fully engaged and will take treats, follow commands, engage in play - that's a good response. But the disengagement and refusal of food or play or even resistance to walking are signs that the shirt is not right for your dog. For about 85% of dogs who wear the shirt, we see a good result, so it's definitely worth trying, and it may prove to be a good adjunct to some of the other changes such as the type and location of confinement.
Through a Dog's Ear music CD is filled with classical music that has been chosen and designed specifically for its proven effect to reduce heart rate and blood pressure when dogs listen to it. This can help calm a panicky dog. Again, play it at other times and not upon departure, otherwise we risk the music being poisoned as it becomes a cue that Mama is leaving and that panic will outweigh the positive benefits of the music.
Dog Appeasing pheromone such as Comfort Zone is a synthetic version of the pheromone that nursing mama dogs produce and has been shown to calm and soothe many dogs. It comes in a diffuser, collar and spray. I would set up her confinement near an outlet and plug the diffuser in there as this may also help to reduce some of her anxiety.
And, of course, a trip to the vet is an important part of this process. We need to make sure there's nothing physically wrong with her that is coincidentally occurring with this move as many medical conditions can cause behavior changes, including increased anxiety. Also, talking to the vet about the anxiety she's experiencing would be useful. The vet may be willing to prescribe some anti anxiety medication to help take the edge off her panic until she gets used to being alone at your daughter's house. The key here is to make sure the vet does NOT prescribe Acepromazine (Ace). This is a sedative and chemical paralytic. Some vets prescribe it for anxiety, but we have learned in the last couple decades that this drug is not appropriate for anxiety. It quiets the body, but does not quiet the mind at all, and anxious animals become far more anxious while under the effects of this drug. It is not appropriate for anxiety.
Medications that would be appropriate include options like diazapam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) as short-term, fast acting meds that can help her through a few hours of acute stress. Other meds are longer lasting and meant to be taken daily, rather than just when your daughter is going out. These include Trazadone, Clomicalm and Prozac. The vet will either be familiar with these meds and be able to help your daughter decide which medication is most appropriate, or they will refer to a vet behaviorist who specializes in these issues.
NOTE: Valium and Xanax sometimes have a paradoxical effect (hyper active or panic attack) and so it's necessary to be present the first time or two that the medication is taken so you/your daughter can monitor the dog for any unpleasant side effects. The long term meds take 4-5 weeks to build up to a therapeutic dose and so sometimes the shorter term meds are prescribed in conjunction for the first few weeks until the other meds have taken effect.
I also encourage your daughter to seek out the assistance of a trainer or behavior specialist with a lot of experience in separation anxiety and separation distress as the meds are not the fix in themselves, but rather an adjunct to helping the dog learn better coping skills. They reduce the anxiety enough that the dog is capable of learning new coping skills. And so they should not be prescribed without having a trainer or behavior specialist in place to work through a behavior plan to help the dog become more confident when left alone.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Medicine