Who had to Change? Everybody

Third in a series

I felt bad for Raymond, assaulted through no fault of his own, but it was Brandi the big hound who spent nearly every waking moment on the edge of hysteria. She watched Raymond with one eye, anticipating that this kindly Dr. Jekyll’s might transform into the murderous Mr. Hyde at any moment. But there was more going on in that confused canine cabeza.

Anxiety is an unfounded worry about what might lurk around the next corner. Beyond Brandi’s angst regarding Raymond’s purported evil intent, she freaked-out at doorways. Normal household noises like the furnace triggered her to jump and bark. She hated going near the car, let alone getting in. Visitors scared the poop out of her, quite literally. She was snappish at doggy daycare. Brandi suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

This suffering dog’s fear center, her amygdala, was on alert, ready to signal her adrenal glands to release a torrent of adrenalin whenever Raymond stood. Her prefrontal cortex, the thinking, decision-making part of her brain got flooded. In those moments of overwhelm it was impossible for her to choose her how best to respond. She defaulted to explosive aggression – every time. Brandi desperately needed to feel better. Her brain needed to function normally.

Part of our oath, on graduation from veterinary school, dedicates us to “the relief of animal suffering.” We also want the disorders we treat to improve. Brandi had to be able to relax in order to learn healthier behavior. I prescribed sertraline, a safe antianxiety medication with a very low risk of side effects.

Having Brandi drag a leash whenever she was inside made it possible for her people to teach her what to do instead of chasing, barking, and ankle biting. I advised Raymond to quietly announce his intention to stand. Wearing a treat bag on her waist, Sally held out a snack and called Brandi as she tugged gently on the leash, rewarding her quietly when she came. Compliance with another simple command like Sit, Down, or even a trick, would be reinforced with another tidbit. Meanwhile Raymond quietly moved about the house.

Notice that nobody scolded the wigged-out Brandi? Punishing fear would trigger more of it. Instead, Sally and Raymond set their dog up for success.

Next week: How long would this go on?


For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (drjeffnichol.com). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.