golden retriever

PTSD is Treatable

Question:
We have a golden retriever that was given to us when he was 1 1/2 years old. In his previous life, he was taken to two different classes where he was subjected to fear and pain through a shock collar. Ever since we have had him (15 months), he has terrible nightmares where he screams at the top of his lungs in fear. They occur 3-8 times a month. Otherwise he is a great dog and very happy during his waking hours. Is there anything we can do to eliminate “the night demons” from giving him nightmares?

Dr. Nichol:
I’m really sorry that your excellent dog was treated so badly. Force and intimidation have no place in humane treatment or in current learning theory. These methods are unnecessary and badly outdated.

Inappropriate behaviors can be frustrating. Punishment is the treatment of choice for some people because it requires no assessment of underlying causes and it works fast. But it often goes wrong. While a dog can learn quickly what not to do there is nothing about punishment that tells him what he should be doing instead. Worse still, repeatedly inflicting pain can result in learned helplessness. An otherwise intelligent creature makes no attempts at defense or escape and simply takes it.

Your retriever’s night terrors may be a direct result of his severe punishments. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an illness of humans that can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. Dogs are also known to suffer its unrelenting effects.

A recent placebo controlled study found that an oral medication called prazosin, historically used to treat high blood pressure in several species, can block the effects of adrenalin in people with PTSD. When prazosin is taken at bedtime it can significantly reduce nightmares. Before starting your dog on any medication an accurate diagnosis will be an essential first step.

There’s more to modern behavior medicine than science; inflicting emotional or physical pain on an animal is just not good for the soul. We need kindness and consistency to enable real improvement in ourselves and in man’s and woman’s best friends.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.