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Managing Pepper’s Anxiety

Pepper became a member of our tight-knit family last December. Dan and I were laying in bed watching re-runs of Good Eats (who else misses that show??) and Payton was splayed out on the floor eating a bully stick when I received a Facebook notification from a friend I haven’t talked to in quite some time. I was curious and immediately opened the notification to find a few pictures of a VERY skinny dachshund.

The post went on to say she was found outside behind a garage, was being temporarily fostered and ultimately needed a furever home. I was heartbroken that someone would abandon their pet outside, let alone in December, and decided to start talking to Dan about what it would mean to add another dog to our house; two babies to care for and love definitely warrants a serious discussion. But, when I looked down at Payton (fat and happy as ever) splayed out on the ground munching on a superfluous treat, I knew we had to take the dog.

Eventually, Dan agreed and we made plans to pick her up later that week.  The moment I saw little Pepper I fell in love; she was skinny, wide-eyed and genuinely happy to be around, but the car ride back to our apartment was a little perilous. Turns out, Pepper is petrified of the car (and people and noises and shadows and fireworks and rain and thunder–among other things).

During the first couple of weeks with Pepper, we made several trips to the vet to get her squared away–girlfriend’s teeth were in BAD shape. A couple months later, she had gained 4 pounds, had clean teeth and was starting to trust us more, yet her anxiety was so bad she spent at least 2 hours a day shaking and panting at something. It was no way for her to live and it wasn’t getting better. Granted, the poor thing has been through quite a bit and I’m certain her fears were, and still are, very warranted, but while she works through them, Dan and I decided it was necessary to take steps to minimize her nerves.

After a lengthy discussion with the vet and a lot of article-reading, here are the steps we decided to take to manage her anxiety:

  1. She takes fluoxetine. With the vet behind us, and after trying several over-the-counter remedies to no avail, we decided to try giving her a small dose of fluoxetine (puppy Prozac). The first few days/weeks were a little rough, but we eventually found a good balance by giving her a puppy prozac every-other-day. Note: I do not recommend trying this unless a dog’s anxiety is serious. Side effects we experienced included loss of appetite and increased anxiety while her body adjusted to the medicine. As someone who has anxiety and had to physically adjust to meds, herself, it’s not fun even when you CAN understand why your body feels weird.
  2. We invested in a thundershirt. I was a bit skeptical but after reading and hearing great things about thundershirts, we gave it a try and it WORKS. When Pepper gets shaky, we put her thundershirt on and the fabric gives her a tight hug. The thundershirt works well for both thunderstorms, regular rain and fireworks.
  3. We use calming pheromones. When Dan and I know there is a storm coming, we plug-in a dispenser that releases calming pheromones.  It’s located by the closet door, which we keep open during scary situations because that’s where Pepper likes to hide.
  4. We stash extra blankets everywhere. Dachshunds, by nature, like to burrow and prefer to be covered up when they relax or sleep. We keep fleece blankets EVERYWHERE in our apartment to make sure there is a comfortable cover-up nearby. Pro Tip: Target and Ikea both offer seasonal fleece blankets for $7-$10; we always scoop up a couple new ones because they are always well used.
  5. We keep the closet cracked open at night. As I mentioned above, Pepper likes to hide in dark, enclosed spaces so we keep the closet cracked open and make sure to close the bathroom door when we know it’s going to storm. Once you come home to your panting dog trapped in the bathtub a couple times, you learn.
  6. We let her work it out.  Of course we comfort Pepper when she’s scared, but only to a point. We want her to know there really isn’t anything to be afraid of and, therefore, try and act as normal as we possibly can while she’s panicked.

 

I’m not saying these are the perfect ways to manage a dog’s anxiety, but this is what works for us and, most importantly, for Pepper. By figuring out what works best for her, we’ve started to see monumental changes in her confidence and overall demeanor; she’s happy, playful and has a lot of personality — Pepper will let you know if she’s not satisfied with your scratching. I’m looking forward to seeing her grow and come into her own over the next few months and will be sure to keep you updated!

Have any of you dealt with an anxious dog? What are some of the steps you’ve taken to make it easier for both you and your pet? We’d love to know!

  • My pup, Chewie, has social anxiety. He’s not afraid of storms or fireworks or loud noises (although walking past the garbage truck is a bit harrowing) but where he really struggles is dealing with strangers. We saw a dog behaviorist after Chewie had a scary incident at the vet. He also takes fluoxetine and he’s like a different dog in public, now! He’s still a bit too protective of our apartment but at least now he’ll let strangers occasionally pet him at the dog park. It’s so difficult to try and explain to people, though, that he doesn’t really want them to interact with him. The behaviorist suggested making sure that he gets a lot of treats in stressful situations and if a stranger gives him the treat, even better! The goal is to make him associate scary things with good things so that the scary things become less scary.

    • Thanks for sharing about Chewie and I am so glad fluoxetine seems to be working for him, too! Hope you are well!

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