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I have had my 5 year old shih-tzu since she was a puppy. She has always been a pretty skittish dog - it started with thunder and lightning, but then she started associating other things with thunder and lightning like camera flashes, flickering lights, etc. For the past week, however, she has been scared of literally EVERYTHING, constantly in panic mode. She won't even go outside or go for a walk which she usually loves.

This all started when I took her in a Dunkin Donuts drive thru last week (which she usually loves). While we were waiting in line, a car with a loud engine drove by and scared her. Ever since then she has been a mess.

I talked to my vet about her anxiety and she just started anxiety meds (Buspirone) 5mg/2x a day. But I am just so worried about her. There must be SOMETHING I can do to help her stop being so scared....can anyone help?
 

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You need a veterinary behaviorist consultation, along with the meds. Ask your vet for a referral. In the meantime, do not try to expose her to what triggers her fear. This concept does not work for dogs and will only increase her anxiety and fearfulness.
 

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I'd keep her inside for at least 4 to 7 days as quiet and calm as possible, and give the medicine a chance to work and the fear hormones a chance to dissipate. Once she has calmed down and stopped panicking at every little thing start to slowly expose her to new things but do it in a positive manner and go at her speed. Arm yourself with very tasty, high value, bits of treats, and go out in the backyard and slowly feed them to her while she explores, gently play with her if she seems interested. Once she learns that the backyard is a great place to be then move out to the front yard, but stay in your doorway if you have to...

I do agree that since the fear is so bad a behaviorist is likely to be your best bet, what I suggested should help BUT the behaviorist will be a greater help. I recommend starting here International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) They list behaviorist that use positive reinforcement methods.

What's likely happening is that she got scared so bad that the fear hormones flooded her body and she went on heightened alert. Now everything's scaring her and the hormones are not leaving her body and just making it worse, sort of like a vicious cycle.
 
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Insecurity in dogs can be worked on slowly through counter conditioning and confidence-building games with clicker training. Whether your dog is barking, cowering, growling, or running away due to fear, they are all pretty much worked on the same way. Here is a great video dealing with barking in particular, but the methods used to counter condition the chihuahua in the video are the same things you would do for a dog who is fearful.


Games like 101 things to do with a box (and any object you can think of), and games where your dog gets a lot of rewards for trying new things are great at building confidence because they teach the dog that new experiences are fun.

 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks everyone for the great feedback and resources. I am currently looking into behaviorists.

As for keeping her inside and calm....that's just the problem. Even inside, with me home, she is terrified of every small noise. A car door closing, my dad snoring, it's just crazy. I actually just bought her some toys thinking they would be a good distraction. She usually loves plush squeak toys but she had very little interest in that, so then I tried a rawhide chew (which I NEVER give her but was desperate). This worked for about 4 minutes and now she is back to pacing and shaking and on very high alert.

:(
 

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You can use a variation of this game ("Listen to that!") for sound triggers, too, to make them less fearful of things they hear. :) Instead of marking visual triggers, mark auditory triggers. If you have control over them, start with them quiet in another room, and slowly work up.

Another way to deal with sounds you can't control (and ones you can) is to have a "treat party" right after the sound happens (or if it's a long sound, during it). Treat parties = lots and lots of treats.
 
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