Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is Your Dog Anxious? Mine is (Part 1)

NOTE: this post is part one of a three-part series about anxiety issues we've faced with desmond.

desmond has been an anxious & nervous dog from the day we brought him home--and even before that, according to his foster mom and the rest of the shelter staff. separation anxiety is definitely among these issues, but that's not what this post is about (another one will be, don't worry).

i'm talking about the kind of somewhat-random bouts of anxiety brought on by any number of circumstances/situations/events. some of them are mysteries...

riding in the car, but not getting into the car
when we say, "wanna go for a ride?" he gets happy and jumps right into the car. it's not until we're moving that his anxiety gears up. this used to happen only on local streets (stop & go) and anytime the blinker was used, but it's now at a point where he is crazed from the minute the car starts moving until the minute it stops. he used to just lie down and go to sleep once we got onto a highway, but now that doesn't change anything. this insanity is both extremely vocal and quite physical. desmond does not get carsick, and he can give or take an open window. he mostly seems to want to climb into the front with us, so this could be an extension of the separation anxiety, but he's fine being without us in other environments.

we also don't think it's a negative association, because we have taken him so many places in the car, it would be almost impossible for him to guess where we're going. in fact, the only place we do go on a regular basis is the dog park; so he should be happy instead of anxious, if anything.

which leads me to this:

getting ready to go for a walk
every morning, after we cuddle on the couch for a few minutes while i drink my coffee, i ask desmond, "wanna go for a walk?" and he leaps down and runs over to the door. at that point, i still need to gather outerwear, his treats, his leash, his easywalk harness. while all of this is going on, he is sitting and waiting and shaking and whining and grinding his teeth (in fact, all of the bouts of anxiety i'm talking about in this post involve whining, shaking, and teeth grinding). once i let him out into the yard, he's totally fine. i don't think this is related to needing to relieve himself, because he often goes outside and just starts running around looking for the neighbor's cat--he doesn't always go potty immediately. so, is this just over-excitement about going for a walk? is it the combination of the invitation to the walk and then the delay of the walk? i want him to be excited about going for a walk, but i don't want him to nearly give himself a heart attack.

not that it matters much, because on the walk he will experience more anxiety whenever he's...

noticing another dog. or person. or cat. or squirrel. or rolling garbage can.
absolutely positively some of this is related to his leash reactivity, but his responses to any of these moving stimuli are often just like his anxious responses; however, these include massive amounts of pulling/lunging toward the moving object.

he'd be a good candidate for this job:

maybe next fall...

 not that the object always has to be moving, either. see exhibit A:

yup. that's a dog made of mufflers and pipes (at a gas station). desmond had quite a reaction to it.

in addition to these situations, desmond also experiences anxiety when:
  • we're getting ready to leave or one of us is getting ready to leave (even if he's coming with us, which might be apparent due to all of his things being packed up)
  • we're cleaning the house and/or putting things away and/or setting things up (like before having company)
  • he wakes up in the middle of the night
  • we're just relaxing on the couch, seemingly for no reason (perhaps he heard something? smelled something? sensed something?)
  • we're putting up christmas decorations (just figured this one out!)

we have tried various methods to help him that run the gamut from ignoring him to comforting him to counter-conditioning him to getting him lots of exercise. we have also spent $$$$ on various calming drops & treats & collars & D.A.P. diffusers, etc. although some of these things worked to bring his separation anxiety down to a level that does not involve destroying our home and the belongings inside of it (woo hoo! more on this in a future post!), they have no effect on his bouts of exacerbated anxiety.

desmond's grown out of a few behaviors and quirks already, so we really wanted to wait until he turned 2 to take his anxiety issues to the V-E-T.

recently, we wound up having to go to the vet for some skin irritation problems, and we figured we might as well discuss the anxiety. we're concerned about his teeth and what their future holds if he continues to grind them on a daily basis.

our vet, thankfully, is like us and wants to avoid medication whenever possible. she sent us home with Composure soft chews.

image from the Vetri-Science site

hopefully, these will bring about some positive change for the poor guy. for now, we try them and see. more on that soon!

i know we're not alone here. what kinds of anxiety experiences have you had with a pup?

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