dog days

IMG_1002Often, as a mom, I feel like I spend my time tending to the squeakiest wheel. The past couple weeks, that wheel has been our dog, Olive. Olive is a beloved, slightly crazy, very sweet border collie mix that we adopted some six years ago after some family friends found her as a skinny puppy in the Arkansas deer woods. She has always been a little skittish. She’s occasionally gotten out, because she loves to run. But that was usually not a problem so long as we had a nice, securely fenced yard with no weaknesses for her to exploit. She’s shocked us by being the most gentle of our pups with the girls, and though she still hates Tinycat, we had been making some progress in allowing them to both have run of the house together.¬†

Happy as a dog in mud.

Happy as a dog in mud.

That is until the BB Gun Incident. One day a few weeks ago, I thought I heard fireworks. I peeked out the window and instead saw two middle-aged men in one of the back yards that abuts ours, shooting some sort of firearms. They looked like rifles with scopes, but sounded more like BB or pellet guns. And Olive was flipping the flip out. I’m talking, mouth bloody, paws scraped, pawing and clawing at our chain link fence, trying to get out. She wasn’t hit, but clearly completely out of her mind with fear at the sounds. I got her inside, called the cops (shooting anything, even BB guns is illegal in the city), and the shots stopped like an hour later. I haven’t heard any since.

I’m furious that this happened, first because my kids could have been in the yard– we’re close enough that I clearly saw the men and described them in detail to the police– they could have been hit. Olive and Bessie could have been hit. Heck, even our property could have been hit and damaged. And that’s not to say there hasn’t been damage, because I think they broke Olive– something in her brain is broken now.

While our dogs used to love being outside, to the point that this long, frozen, icy winter saw them moping and whining that they couldn’t hang out in the yard, Olive is now sent into total panic when in the yard. All she wants to do is get out, to the point of hurting herself in the process. At first we thought she would just get over it, and we just needed to secure the fence. We replaced a long section of chain link with wood fencing and even put down concrete pavers to keep her from digging. This just led her to dig in other areas and to rip up other sections of chain link. After she did this a couple of days ago, scraping up her snout, mouth, and legs in the process, I knew we had to do something else.

We made an appointment with our vet, and in the meantime, I got her a Thunder Shirt. The squeezing hug of the tight shirt is supposed to help anxiety, and I do think it’s helped calm her down and ease some of her obsessive behavior, but she still clearly suffers from extreme anxiety. We saw the vet today– a new vet actually, as it turns out our old vet, a Santa-type man who always wore socks with Birkenstocks, has retired and the practice has been taken over by a new husband-and-wife team. The new vet seems kind and competent, listened to our concerns, put up with Etta “assisting” with all of his work, and recommended a combination of anti-anxiety medication and behavioral therapy for Olive. He gave us the number for a behaviorist, who I will call soon, and a bottle of pills. I hope that the medicine helps in the shorter run and that long-term, the behaviorist can help us deal with her anxiety so she doesn’t have to stay medicated.

Olive in her Thunder Shirt

Olive in her Thunder Shirt

Currently, in her Thunder Shirt, Olive is outside lying in the shade, something she used to love to do. I hope we can now begin helping her love it again.

Have you ever dealt with pet anxiety like this? Any tips?

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11 thoughts on “dog days

  1. Thx for sharing your story! We adopted a lab over a year ago who had a very traumatic early life living in a mud pit with 15 others dogs. Completely unsocialized and he would go nuts when anyone would walk into the room, especially men. We could not get a leash in him to save his life! We took him to a behavioralist and he is a new dog. This guy was able to give us some good tips (like providing our dog a safe place for him to be anchored to (sounds crazy but literally a hook in our family room with his leash attached) for about 15-20 mins each day. Each of us would go up to him and pet him and make him feel calm. I do know that the behaviorist really didn’t want us to feel sorry for him or baby him, which was and still is hard for me. Boosting the dogs confidence too with some kind of agility training was also recommended. This way the dog feels more confident when he feels threatened or nervous. Sorry go on and on! Good luck! :) She’s lucky to have you and your family!

  2. I always thought I was weird when I would wrap my passed dog in a blanket during a thunderstorm, but I guess it really did work like a thunder vest! Good job.

  3. Poor baby! I’m glad I read this because I would’ve never known about the Thunder Shirt! Great advice.

  4. Have you looked into clicker training at all? I’ve used it for rabbits and dogs before. I’ve never used it specifically for anxiety-related issues (mostly just obedience training and teaching appropriate behavior/manners), but I have heard of people using it for anxiety related issues (both in dogs and rabbits).

    I like the above person’s comment about agility training too. It’s a great outlet for high-energy critters and can give them something positive to focus their physical and mental energy on.

  5. Wow, Olive is so lucky to be part of your family. That breed is a little bit neurotic (I have a friend who is a Veterinarian and she has a border collie who is quite neurotic!) I think going to a professional is the best possible thing to do. Good job and good luck.

  6. Poor Olive! She seems really sweet and I really hope the Vet’s suggestions work.
    I have two dogs with my fiance and our older dog Maggie has some anxiety, but not to the extent that Olive does (injuring herself). We adopted Maggie from the Toronto Humane Society. When the Humane Society found her she was skin and bones (literally) and was eating out of a garage can. She had a choke collar on but no identification tags, so they assumed that someone abandoned her because no one ever came to claim her; even though she is one of the sweetest and gentlest dogs I’ve met. However, since she was abandoned, she has separation anxiety. Whenever we leave the house, and she’s left by herself (even with our dog Lola as company), she gets into any food/ treats that she can and has occasionally damaged window frames/ screens. We have to hide all the food up high or in locked cupboards. She has gotten up on our kitchen counter and eaten loaves of bread or cookies in jars, etc. She has knocked down shelves in our laundry room to eat through bags of dog treats. And on a couple of occasions, when we have been gone for long periods of time, she has damaged screens and window frames on opened windows when attempting to get out. Then when we come home, she hides (because she is sorry for the mess) and cries for at least 5 minutes before we can get her to calm down. We have set up video cameras on cabinets in order to try and understand what goes on when we are absent but the only things we can do are hide food, keep windows closed, and hope that there are no loud noises (thurder/ lighting, fireworks, etc.) that will scare her and set her off.
    Good luck with Olive; I hope things turn out okay. Keep us posted.


    I know Sarah Wilson “personally” (I’ve been a member of her dog forum for years) and she’s a genuinely great person and incredibly good with situations like this. I’m sure the behaviorist will be helpful, but if you can’t get in to see him or her for a while, Sarah does “sessions” via Skype or phone to help folks out with issues. (Just to be clear, I’m suggesting her because she’s been hugely helpful with my dog and other dogs I know, no advertising or anything!)

  8. I did some asking around with professional dog trainer friends, here’s the general idea of what they said:

    1. Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s “The Dog Who Loved Too Much” has a chapter on gun phobia in dogs, it might be helpful and can be gotten from the library.
    2. Direct quote from another professional trainer friend:
    “They should take her out on leash only and work her basics while feeding her by hand (if she’ll take food). All good things come in the yard. Chicken, steak, breakfast, dinner. It will take time and the meds will make it possible. Until the meds start to take effect though, they should leash walk her elsewhere… give her a break. Repeatedly forcing her into a panic is not going to help her get to calm. And in the interim, lots and lots of sits and other basics away from the yard.”
    3. I think the idea is to give her a chance to calm down while the meds kick in (a week or two) and then gradually reintroduce her to the yard with lots of positive things (food, playing ball, whatever she likes). You don’t want her off leash or alone out there so she’s just reenforcing the pattern of getting scared and trying to escape. She’s going to need a more gradual reintroduction than leaving her alone out there and having her break out.

    It’s work, but it seems like this could add to your plan of structure + Thundershirt etc.

      • Happy to! I know how hard it can be to find and pay for a behaviorist. If this isn’t working, let me know and I’ll get back with my people and try to get you more info. :) They’re always happy to help folks out.

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