My dog may need a shrink!
April 27, 2009 5:32 AM   Subscribe

Our dog is suddenly afraid of something and won't leave our side...

Recently--maybe for 3 months now--our dog will go through periods of time when she seems to be totally afraid and won't leave our side. She even scratched on our door in the middle of the night one night, which she's never ever done before, so we would open the door for her.

She is 9 years old, a lab/retriever mix. She hasn't had any sudden things happen to her that might have scared her. She is a house dog and only goes outside in our fenced yard. She is treated like one of the family and we show her affection daily.

Any ideas why she's suddenly so freaked out?
posted by Mrs. Smith to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you taken her to the vet? There could be something physically wrong. 9 is on the old side for a retriever. Maybe she's losing her hearing and/or eyesight.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:37 AM on April 27, 2009

Could she be hearing something new that is bothering her? My older Pomeranian sometimes will react oddly to noises that I can't hear (by barking at "nothing" or sticking close to me), but he's been doing this for as long as I've had him. Is there something new in your dog's home environment that could be making an annoying (to her) whining noise?

Take a look in her ears - maybe there's a build-up of gunk that is affecting her hearing.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:53 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: hauntings that we know about...although we recently picked up my Grandmother's cremated remains and they're residing in our living room. That shouldn't bother her, though; we had my grandfather's remains for about 8-9 months before we could bury him.

The vet is next on our list...thought we'd ask here first...much less expensive. :o)
posted by Mrs. Smith at 5:55 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, I should mention...she does get freaked out by wind...especially when it slams a door shut. That is probably part of the issue, but not all of it, as the windows/doors aren't always open when she reacts like this.
posted by Mrs. Smith at 5:56 AM on April 27, 2009

My older dog started acting really funny this winter. She'd get up in the middle of the night, barking, run down the stairs, run up and down the halls, etc. We could barely get her back to sleep some nights.

As it turns out, we had rats in the basement. A neighbor had been feeding cats on her porch, and within a few weeks we had a neighborhood rat problem. I would have never known if I didn't see the rat tracks in the snow. Anyway, the rats are gone now, and my dog sleeps like a baby.

So there's that possibility.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:17 AM on April 27, 2009

I hesitate to mention this because it is such an ugly thought ... but if you have teenagers, you may consider the possibility that a family member is doing something negative to her that is changing her behavior patterns. Apologies for that comment, but our culture/youtube/etc has brought about some really nasty stuff in teens these days.
posted by Dave. at 7:12 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: @Dave -- I do have teens, but they are very loving and gentle with her. She clings to them, as well. :o) No problem, but thanks for the sensitive way you mentioned your concern.
posted by Mrs. Smith at 7:17 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, I made a vet appointment after your answers and a search that showed me this:

Why is my old dog so clingy?

My 12 y.o. female golden ret/yellow lab mix is suddenly following my husband or I around right underfoot constantly for no apparent reason. She would be right up in our face if she could; we feel bad because we have to keep telling "go lay down". This is very much not her personality, at least most of her life. She started doing it once in a while (every 3-4 mos) about 2 years ago. At that time she would pant a lot while doing it - so I took her to the vet & we tested her for diabetes or whatever, and tests showed no malady. It almost seems like she is getting older and is suddenly worried about something and wants us to know and needs us to do something about it. She has never been real "clingy" but that is a great word to describe this recent behavior. Any thoughts or advice on this?

This change in behavior is not uncommon in older animals. The causes may be many and a good physical examination and laboratory testing are imperative to rule out problems that may require treatment or surgery. Many dogs who exhibit this type of behavior have lost some of their critical senses such as eyesight or hearing. As pack animals, any physical change like this creates vulnerability and the desire to stay closer to their pack members for protection. Changes in vision due to glaucoma or cataracts may be treated with medication and/or surgery. Other vision changes are irreversible as are hearing changes. Older dogs tend to adapt very well to these losses as long as their home environment stays relatively stable. Another reason for this type of behavior is the development of Cognitive Dysfunction, similar to Alzheimer's in people. These animals start to lose some of their training and undergo sometimes dramatic behavior changes. Some dogs will walk up to a wall or behind a door or furniture and just stand there as if they cannot find a way out. They will tend to sleep more and deeper, vocalize more, and sometimes interact less with the family. The good news is that there are special diets and medications that can help many of these dogs, especially in the early stages. Of course, your veterinarian would need to make the diagnosis before starting treatment or changing the diet. You are already on the right track in seeing your veterinarian. As things can change quickly in dogs this age, we recommend lab testing and physical examinations at least every 6 months. You may want to see a veterinary ophthalmologist to get a very good eye examination. Finally, speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of Cognitive Dysfunction and the treatments involved.

I don't really think she has doggy dementia, but it's probably a good idea to get her checked out. Thanks for all the advice!
posted by Mrs. Smith at 8:30 AM on April 27, 2009

You should also ask your vet to check her thyroid levels. Hypothyroidism is very common, frequently undiagnosed, and causes all kinds of behavioral changes in dogs.
posted by HotToddy at 9:05 AM on April 27, 2009

Have her thyroid function checked.
Here's a link that mentions fearful behavior and hypothyroidism.

She could also be having little epileptic seizures and freaking out about it. My dog has both conditions He started shaking, slinking around and acting very clingy during wind storms, fireworks and the sound of the garbage truck several years ago. About a year and a half ago he had this episode where his legs kept giving out from under him, he'd try to walk and it looked like he was drunk. I rushed him to the vet, he was fine by the time we got there but when I described his symptoms the doc said that he probably had a little epileptic seizure. He also asked about clingy, fearful behavior and said that that it often part of the same condition. Even if the seizure doesn't manifest he may feel one coming on and it confuses and scares him.
This sounds really scary but, at least for my dog, it's not that big of a deal. He gets a thyroid pill twice a day, which thinks it's a treat, I stick the tiny little pill in a blob of peanut butter on my finger. The pills are like $50 for a 3 month supply, so not too expensive.
I've got some pills for the siezures if they get worse but he's only had 2 in a year and a half and never anything bad enough for the pills.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2009

Do you have hardwood floors? If so, is there any chance you dog is having problems navigating them?

We adopted a terrier mix several months ago, and noticed a gradual onset of nervousness and clingy behavior well after he'd starting settling in. We finally realized that, as he was getting more comfortable in his new home, he was running around more, rather than just walking timidly as he did at first. All this running around, though, was causing him to slip on the floors... which eventually freaked him out enough that he started whimpering, hiding, etc. We got several inexpensive throw rugs to put down for him to walk along, and he's been right as rain ever since.
posted by scody at 11:20 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: @scody - no hardwood floors.
@kuujjuarapik - no mice/rats or other vermin.
@HotToddy @BoscosMom - will ask the vet about this...thanks!
@Super Squirrel - will also have the vet check her eyes & ears...thanks!

Dr. Appt. in one hr. I'll update with the results. Thanks everyone!
posted by Mrs. Smith at 11:25 AM on April 27, 2009

Oh, I should mention...she does get freaked out by wind...especially when it slams a door shut.

I think this shows that it's basically thunderstorm phobia.

I'd guess your house is resonating at low frequencies that are triggering your dog's instinctive fear of thunderstorms.

An open fireplace flue can sometimes make a whole house resonate like a gigantic jug someone is blowing across the mouth of.

Dogs can very readily learn this fear by being around other dogs who have it; could that have happened around three months ago?
posted by jamjam at 11:53 AM on April 27, 2009

Best answer: Another (more benign) thought about teens: Teens tend to be around the house a lot less than they were when they were younger. Your house may be a little more empty and a little more lonely. With less company, she may be more clingy to those that are around.
posted by rtimmel at 12:04 PM on April 27, 2009

My sweet dog Louise was a nervous sort of dog and as she got older her fear of thunder expanded to fear of loud mufflers driving by and then to the barely audible tap tap noise if the windows weren't latched shut tight. I would wake up to find her at my bedside staring at me until I got up and latched the window. Maybe there is something subtle your dog is hearing.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:48 PM on April 27, 2009

Any update on the pup?
posted by barnone at 8:51 PM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry I forgot to post an update. We did take our dog to the vet that day and he thought it was simple separation anxiety. The teens are much more mobile now so their comings and goings are erratic, not like before.

He put her on an anti-anxiety med and it does the trick ... most of the time. She still gets clingy sometimes, but it's usually when we're not all home together and often when the teens are at school or at a friend's house.

We have one going to college in just over a year, so we'll see....

Thanks for all your input!
posted by Mrs. Smith at 6:27 PM on May 27, 2009

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