Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Canine Anxiety

We have had Bruno now for six months (YAY! Half a year with a stable happy home :)) and have been working on his anxiety issues. When he goes out for walks, he wears a backpack and a gentle-leader and we bring treats mostly to distract him from people in the elevator who stare at him. He doesn't bark at anyone unless they stare at him- usually smiling, or make a sudden movement or noise. We try to preempt this by placing him in the corner close to us, sitting, and focus him on our faces, so he doesn't get scared.

While walking, his backpack helps him focus on his job- and we have trained him to walk closely by our side and sit whenever we stop walking. He usually doesn't have any trouble on this part of the walk- even though he used to jump and bark whenever someone ran by or children shouted. The gentle leader really helps get his attention quickly because it raises his muzzle towards our faces.

However, while we feel that this helps Bruno feel calmer on his walk and definitely scares our neighbors less, we still feel like walks and new experiences make him super nervous and anxious and that anxiety is always ready to bubble up from under the surface if someone startles him.

(Bruno at ACC-Manhattan)
When we brought him to Petco to have his portrait taken, he did not enjoy being kept on-leash in a small enclosed area with us ordering him around for a half hour. He actually broke out in hives on the backs of his ears and elbows and his eyes began running with tears as he barked incessantly. My mother suggested that this was high-blood pressure caused by stress, and I agree. I've started to notice he tears-up whenever he is in a new situation. Even when we walk him a few blocks away from his usual route, he gets very anxious and begins tearing up, whining, fidgeting, tugging and acting up. Unfortunately- he also scratches his ears until they bleed- something we think is tied to the anxiety.

Children of a certain age scare him with their spontaneous nature and someday I want him to be comfortable around our own kids. (Luckily babies don't scare him at all- he even licked a girl's bare foot in a stroller in the elevator once.) Usually he doesn't mind when we leave him in the kitchen during the day- he doesn't seem to whine or have separation anxiety. I think he feels comfortable there because it is dark and quiet and no one bothers him. His fear of sleeping alone has really improved and now we can kick him out of bed at night without him peeing on the floor out of fear.

I'm sure if he was left out in a large area, he would be very destructive when left alone- but having the kitchen to himself really seems to be the answer. He is comfortable with strangers after the second time he meets them (one time he barked at a friend every time he saw him for a whole weekend- one time even peeing himself out of fear- but the next weekend when he saw him, he wasn't scared at all.)

The only thing we need to fix is how Bruno experiences new things. want to be able to sooth him and help him enjoy new experiences and places and people. Today he got upset when a security guard outside out building clicked his pen a few times. Bruno barked at him, and proceeded to bark at everyone on the way inside. In other words- something sets off his anxiety and he can't stop.

Since we saw the hives, tears and bleeding ears, we have been thinking about bringing him to the vet to have him put on anxiety medication. We have used non-medical techniques to manage his anxiety and keep him calm and happy and for the most park they have worked- but we don't know how to help this. Apparently, they are meat flavored versions of human anti-depressants. I know if I felt the way he does about the world- I would never want to leave the house, and I don't want him to live like this. With children, you can explain loud noises and scary people- but dogs can't really learn and understand that these things won't hurt them- especially if they have hurt them in the past.

Does anyone know about this or have any suggestions?


  1. Poor adorable Bruno! Though we dealt with a slew of issues with Boss, none of them included such severe anxiety issues, I can only imagaine how it must break your hearts to see him so upset. We were encouraged to give Boss some sort of pill (I can't remember now) to help curb his aggression towards strangers, we never ended up exploring that avenue because the aggression was more than we could handle and I did not like the idea of HAVING to drug him daily for him to be civil. In Bruno's case however, I could see him benefiting immensely from medication. Hopefully, you find a solution that works for the both of you!

  2. Hi Y'all,

    Before going the drug route, try to find a reliable vet who also practices holistic medicine. There are a number of herbal treatments that may help. If they don't, you'll still have the drug route to take.

    Research your holistic vet carefully.

    My Humans know of 2 excellent ones. Unfortunately one is in Florida and the other Georgia.

    I stopped to thank y'all for visitin' and follow you back.

    Y'all come back now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  3. We don't know anything about it, but I think Bailey and Mesa had a discussion about it at one point (their blog: http://dogisgodinreverse.com/). That photo of Bruno in the backpack looks almost identical to one I had of Miss M wearing the backpack. He looks so proud!

  4. When you go to the vet, have them discuss allergies. The symptoms you're describing - tearing eyes, hives, scratching at ears all sound like allergic reaction symptoms. I'm not sure if it would help, but it can't hurt to talk about it.

    As far as anxiety, I totally understand where you're coming from. I struggle with this with Nyxie and I find that if I'm calm and assertive no matter the scenario, Nyxie responds so well. Good luck - it sounds like you're working well with him!


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