Blind shih-tzu separation anxiety
June 27, 2008 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Semi-blind shih-tzu rescue won't stop barking at night. Any ideas before we give up?

My wife and I took in a Shih-Tzu from a shelter that had turned up stray. He had mange and we're currently treating him for fleas and some nasty skin infections from scratching the mange/fleas. He has glaucoma in one eye and doesn't see well out of the other either, he can literally walk right past you and not see you if you stay still.

The first two nights we had him he was great, slept all through the night downstairs -- our bedroom is upstairs. Last night was his first day on meds and he was feeling better and he showed it by keeping us up literally all night. He barked three hours downstairs, then two hours in a crate, then we slept in same room as him but since he can't see us (see above note about being blind) every 30 minutes or so he gets whiny and we have alert him to our presence and let him know it's ok. I slept around 1.5 hours last night and am pretty beat.

Bringing the dog into bed with us is not an option. Not only am I generally opposed to sleeping alongside a dog he has some nasty skin in spots, remnants of mange, and is pretty loud with his incessantly scratching and licking of himself. Our bed is also high up and if he decides to jump off he'll have to get us to help him back up - yeah I know I can get stairs, it's not going to happen.

Toys? He has no interest and can't even see them. We'll try a long walk tonight but one side of me doesn't really think he's ready for it (he's underweight, he also had tapeworm).

Any suggestions?
posted by wolfkult to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We occasionally use a citrus spray collar when we want our "crazy" dog to zone out a bit, if she's wound up. When the collar detects a bark it shoots out a blast of citrus-based spray which the dog finds annoying, even though it's harmless.

Our pup never goes on a junket of barking-for-barking's sake, it's usually in response to stimuli, so I don't know if this solution would work for you.
posted by maxwelton at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2008

anti-anxiety meds from your vet? it worked for my friend's dog.
posted by buka at 10:27 AM on June 27, 2008

i, too, would suggest puppy prozac or some other kind of vet-recommended medication that will either calm him down or knock him out.

play a radio in the room where you keep him. quiet, classical music. or, talk radio (for up-all-night talk radio, check into coast-to-coast a.m. and see if there's a local station that carries it)

i'd definitely encourage the crating -- appealing to the denning instict is supposed to help them calm down.

...also, you might consider a little white noise for you in your bedroom. turn a radio on to static (or whatever) -- not only may it muffle the barking, it may/should also "distract" you from the barking and help you get to sleep.

have you tried wearing ear plugs?

keep in mind, this likely won't be an ongoing thing. he's traumatized. once he becomes more comfortable, and comes to trust you, i bet things quiet down nicely. good luck!!
posted by CitizenD at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2008

I have the biggest and best earplugs there are (33dB) and can hear him unless we put the crate in the laundry room. I just feel like I'm torturing him when he's crated -- he barked, scratched, and banged for 2 hours. Maybe I should just do it and not worry about him, I'm sure he was in a crate at the shelter for a while...

We left the TV on, it seems to have no effect.
posted by wolfkult at 11:09 AM on June 27, 2008

Turn on a light in the room he sleeps in. (other than your bedroom). Perhaps he is a cat-napper and when he wakes in the middle of the night is confused. If he must sleep in your bedroom try a night light. ( I see you tried the TV, but hey anything is worth trying once).
posted by Gungho at 11:13 AM on June 27, 2008

peanut butter kong. only at night, only in his crate.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:39 AM on June 27, 2008

Good on you for rescuing a 'fixer upper'! A mangy blind dog is practically a death sentence in most animal shelters. I can't imagine all the crap he's been through from stray to shelter to your home.

How long have you had him? From your question, it doesn't sound like long. It probably feels really good to be away from the intensely stressful environment of the animal shelter. That relief combined with all the good food and affection probably gave him a few nights of exhausted sleep, but now he's starting to look around at his immediate situation.

He's probably feeling anxious and disoriented. He really likes you, his savior, but you could desert him at any time - it's happened to him before! He's got a nasty skin infection, which he doesn't feel good about. Further, he's blind and in a brand new environment, so he can't move around easily on his own.

Crate training him will definitely be of benefit here. Just like with a starving homeless person, you can't just throw a suit on them. The dog needs his body and soul to be nurtured with quiet, space, love, and patience first.

Put his crate somewhere in a high traffic area, like in the living room or kitchen. For the next several days, let him acclimate to the crate. Use lots and lots of high-value treat given ONLY in the crate. Take him out of the crate every now and then for playtime or just to keep you company in the kitchen when you are cooking and talking to him. Let him get used to you, your voice, your smells, the apparent size and shape of things in the house, the noises in the house, the food he is now eating, etc. Let him just "get that" first so you eliminate one set of stimuli. THAT is goal one. Goal two can't start until goal one is completed.

Always give a treat for every good thing he does but save the REALLY good treats for the crate. Do not use the crate for punishment. The crate is a safe wonderful haven of safely and treats, and happiness. The exception to this rule is if the dog becomes very stressed and snaps at you or another dog. In this case do NOT yell at the dog. Do NOT say anything to the dog. Immediately and without anger take the dog to his crate for some space. That is what he needs. You can return to the crate with a treat in hand to put in with him. The idea here to to give the dog a time out of a stressful situation to calm down which it will do, but to be consistent with the crate training you must return and give him the yummy crate treat. This isn't a reward and he knows it. The crate treat is never a reward. It's just something that always happens in the crate. Don't give praise with the crate treat. Just crack the door open and throw it in. This keeps everything consistent. Once he has calmed down in say 20 minutes or so, open the door to the crate and ignore him. Don't give him attention if he is excited to get out of the crate or you will be teaching him that the crate is a place he should be excited to get out of. You are also reinforcing separation anxiety when you do this. Just ignore him until he is out and settled a bit and then when he comes to you settled, give affection.

I let my dogs have a bit of a free time before bed at around 7-8 or so after dinner and a walk. I then crate them at least 30 minutes before I go to bed. They usually fall asleep in the crate before I go to bed which is nice because they don't whine in the crate.

Focus on decompression and familiarity of environment first while meeting the simple needs of food, sleep, and daily exercise. THEN we can see the true dog and we will know what he needs. That's what dog rescuers do and that's what make us so valuable to these beautiful, wonderful souls.
posted by Seppaku at 1:38 PM on June 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well hold on here--the first two nights he was not on meds and he slept fine, last night he was on them and he barked. What meds are these? Could they be making him agitated? This would be the first thing I look at.
posted by HotToddy at 2:43 PM on June 27, 2008

Second Seppaku's great comment.
I would follow this as well by emphasizing that you should give this little creature a chance. And having had anxiety ridden, rescued, small breeds as well, I have found keeping a radio tuned to a mellow talk station (NPR / CBC) overnight can work for some individuals.
Good luck, and stick-it-out, you will be glad that you did!
posted by strangelove at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2008

May I add that you should stay away from canine anxiety/depression medication. The issues you are describing are relatively easy behavior issues which can be corrected by following Seppaku and similar advice.
posted by strangelove at 3:54 PM on June 27, 2008

If you've only had him a few days and he's on medication, I would guess that he'll probably give up the barking on his own once he settles in. I took my dog to the vet once to get sedatives for an airplane flight, and she cautioned me that for some dogs, the sedatives actually cause worse behavior because the dog is in a strange place and it feels like it can't respond to stimuli correctly.

My dog tends to bark in response to stimuli, like maxwelton's, and I also had good luck with an anti-bark collar. However, I don't think a collar would be the best idea here. When my dog is just barking to intimidate one of her nemeses (ie, any white dog, particularly westies), the collar works fine as a reminder to her to be polite; however, if she's barking because she's actually scared or upset, the collar just makes things worse.

So, I'd say give it while, and in the meantime, try not to give him attention when he barks in the night; otherwise, you may end up rewarding and reinforcing the bad behavior.
posted by clarahamster at 5:41 PM on June 27, 2008

crate training and a radio will help, also aromatherapy does wonders for nervous dogs use natural essential oils Some of these oils include lavender, marjoram, green mandarin, petitgrain, neroli, rose, valerian, spikenarde, vanilla, sweet orange, vetiver and ylang ylang. Also was there a storm the third night? I have found some dogs get worked up about storms and strangely enough wiping their coat with a dryer sheet calms them, I don't know if its the scent or maybe it cuts down on the magnetic electricity. I don't really know why it works but it does.

kudos for taking in a shelter dog
posted by meeshell at 5:47 PM on June 27, 2008

Seppaku's advice is great. One of the things I really like about crate training in cases like this is that it removes a lot of options for the dog. When dogs are anxious or bored, they'll experiment with different ways to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, most of those options (chewing, barking, pacing, digging) not only fail to relieve their anxiety, but are very annoying to humans. Many dogs will relax when their decision-making privileges are taken away and their owners take charge. There really isn't much to do in a crate besides sleep or chew on a toy.

If you can manage, things will go much more smoothly if you put the crate in your bedroom at night. If he barks, don't say anything! Just thump on the crate to startle him. He'll get the picture quickly enough: "When I bark, I hear a thump, and then nothing else happens." Yelling at him or squirting him with water might backfire by making him more anxious and even more prone to barking.

The most important part of crate training to solve barking problems is when you decide to let him out of the crate. Dogs learn by trial and error. If you let him out of the crate while he's been barking, he'll think (quite reasonably) that barking is what earned him his freedom. Don't let him out of his crate until he's been quiet for at least two minutes. He'll quickly learn that being quiet is the best way to get out of the crate.

As for toys, well, sadly, many rescue dogs don't know how to play with toys. The best way to get him started is to buy a few of the interactive food toys on the market, like the Buster Cube or the Kong. A quick and dirty toy to begin with is an empty water bottle (with cap and ring removed) filled halfway with dry dog food. He'll have to bat it with his paws to get the food out. Don't leave him unattended with it: some dogs will try to chew the bottle open at first, and you don't want him to eat any plastic. The gold standard toy for dogs who don't play yet is a piece of rabbit skin or real sheepskin, which you can buy at an arts and crafts store. Anything that he wants to rip apart can quickly be turned into a tug toy.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 6:47 PM on June 27, 2008

Yelling at him or squirting him with water might backfire by making him more anxious and even more prone to barking.

I just wanted to second this -- yelling at my dog or spraying her with water just escalated things. (And with the spray bottle, she just learned to run behind the couch and bark!)
posted by clarahamster at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2008

What is this, fourth now on Seppaku's great comment?

In other news, it's not a good idea to introduce oils into the environment when the dog has known skin problems. Also, a lot of shih-tzu have a little trouble breathing so, that's another reason why essential oils in the atmosphere could be an irritant.

In addition to shelter shock, it's also possible this guy is just miserable. If you've had poison ivy, you know the tail end itches the worst.

He's got a lot going on so if you can keep him safely crated until he settles into the routine and gets to feeling better, things should be fine. How far can the crate be from your bedroom???
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:42 PM on June 27, 2008

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