Helping a Fearful Dog
Q: “Our 9-month-old Lagotto Italian Water Dog was grazed by a fast-moving car as we were on a sidewalk a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the vet technician at the emergency room was not gentle with him traumatizing him even more.
Champ wasn’t seriously injured but is now frightened by the sound of cars even when they are not close to him. Not only do car horns scare him but also the sound of motors. He used to be curious about noises but now is frightened by all noises even those he’s heard since birth. When he wakes from a nap he is frightened when I am not in the immediate area. He barks or wails and cannot seem to be comforted.
Do you have any suggestions about how to help our now fearful dog overcome this anxiety? We would rather not medicate him.” L.S., Cyberspace
A: I am so very sorry for Champ, who was clearly traumatized. Having said that, at about the same dog many dogs go through a “fear period,” which certified applied animal behaviorists Dr. Patricia McConnell calls “Juvenile Onset Shyness.” So, if the same incident happened to Champ say a year from now, he might have bounced back pretty fast.
I suggest you make walks as fun as possible. At first stay away from streets or fast-moving cars – take Champ where he is comfortable. As you walk Champ, either stop every few minutes to play with a toy or take treats with you for the walk, whatever motivates him more. Once he’s totally on board with this, gradually take him to places that are noisier and with more vehicles whizzing by. Same as before, distracting with amazing treats, like little hot dog pieces or cheese or something very motivating, which with your breed could be toy as well. At first only a minute of exposure, quit while it’s going well, and gradually spend more time with more noise.
If you go with treats, I emphasize small pea-sized pieces – we don’t want an overweight dog when all of this is over.
Simultaneously, in the house, find a YouTube video of car horns honking, the Indy 500 race or people celebrating Happy New Year, whatever it is that’s noisy. Meanwhile, have someone else in a far of place in the house, at a distance from the speakers, play with Champ. At first, play the sounds at a very low level (remember dogs hear far better than we can) and very gradually, assuming Champ appears unconcerned, pump up the volume. If Champ acts even anxious, you’ve gone too far too fast.
The question you didn’t ask that I receive most often about anxious dogs: “Can I use CBD (cannabidiol, is a non-psycho-active chemical compound from the Cannabid sativa plant)
to help?” And I don’t know the answer. Maybe. But, thus far, there’s not been nearly enough research. Not all CBD products are the same so do ask your veterinarian. Sadly, due to antiquated laws regarding CBD, depending on the state you happen to live in – veterinary professionals may not be able to answer.
There are several nutritional supplements that are proven to lower anxiety. Two I can suggest are:
Zylkene, a nutraceutical capsule (or you can pull the capsule apart and sprinkle the powder inside on moist food). Zylkene contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient with calming properties. Zylkene is available online and via Amazon.com; though very safe, it’s best to consult your veterinarian before giving to your dog.
Calming Care is a probiotic from Purina ProPlan Veterinary Diets; simply sprinkle on the dog’s food. The stomach and the brain are indeed connected. A six-week supply of supplements contains a strain of beneficial bacteria known as BL999 that has shown to help keep dogs calm during stressful situations. While available at Chewy.com and elsewhere online; ask your veterinarian before purchasing.
If after 10 days to two weeks of beginning to take these steps you don’t note a gradual improvement and definitely if you dog worsens, I suggest you contact a veterinary behaviorist (www.dacvb.org).
I do want to address that technician who apparently had little canine bedside manner. Not sure what happened, but that is not acceptable. I realize that being an emergency clinic, you’re not likely to go back there anytime soon. Fear Free veterinary professionals and Fear Free practices came about as a certification in the first places to remove fear, anxiety and stress of veterinary visits, not to create it. Learn more at www.fearfreehappyhomes.com.