Jerry Seinfeld Scares My Dog…

It is been an interesting couple of weeks with Oscar. As I’ve mentioned prior he tends to have some anxiety. There have been incidents of destructive behavior, taking things that smell like me or my husband and not necessarily destroying them, but definitely playing with them. Early on when he was a little bit younger things would get destroyed. But now it’s mostly that he needs them near him or moves them.

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I have been working with a pet behaviorist talking about what could be triggering the anxiety. Some dogs just have separation anxiety more than others. Most grow out of it when they get out of puppyhood, but some carry it forward like Oscar does. It has always been pretty manageable, we puppy proof the house before we leave and make sure he is nice and exercised and tired. But we had a strange turn of events just recently.

It never seems to fail that when my husband and I plan some sort of vacation, or weekend away, something with one of the animals distracts us from the joy and excitement. My husband’s birthday is coming up and we planned to take Oscar on a weekend away to the West Coast of Florida for kayaking, swimming and sunsets over the water. About a week ago we were playing with him in the living room as we always do, and the TV was on as it usually is when I am preparing dinner watching Seinfeld reruns. I love Seinfeld reruns.

Suddenly Oscar noticed the television. Now, he has always had a fear of people, strangers and friends alike. He apparently looked up, saw Jerry Seinfeld, and realized it was a person on the television. And apparently Jerry scares the shit out of him. He ran from the room like he was being threatened and would not come back while the TV was on. Beyond this being a social commentary on the evils of television, there are times where my husband and I want him next to us on the couch while we watch a movie. This was the strangest behavior he has ever acquired. It really began to freak us out because if he’s scared to death in his home environment where he’s been raised since a puppy, then we certainly can’t take him out in public with other people around!

It was completely bizarre. There have been months and years at this point of him lying on the couch with us while we watch TV. Now we cannot even get him to walk into the living room, the main part of the house, while the television is on. If we can coax him onto the couch which lasts about two minutes, he faces away from the TV and will not look at it. It is actually kind of funny, but not really. Then he jumps down, sometimes over the back of the couch like he is being chased and hides in the kitchen.

Talking with the pet behaviorist, she asked very in-depth questions about his behavior. She suggested not pushing him to address his fears, but slowly integrating him in the environments that freak him out. There is a lot of awareness that goes into dealing with a dog with anxiety. You cannot raise your voice or get frustrated with him because he will not come into the living room, that just makes it worse. You cannot coddle him and reinforce the behavior either by appeasing or trying to soothe him. It can be very confusing. After discussing his past and present behavior quite extensively, she told me a few things that were a little bit surprising. She said that he seems to be an extreme case which was my worst fear, and that we might have to put him on anxiety medication to open his mind to change. Taking the medication for anxiety would not be a long-term thing, but just long enough to modify his behavior without his anxiety getting in the way of his learning. Apparently we only have a small window of time before he is too old for it to really work well, when he reaches complete adulthood at two years old.

As you regular readers know about me, I have a real issue putting any chemicals into my animals that are not completely necessary. The whole medication thing really freaks me out and I would personally rather not go that route. I’m sure you also know that I am a diehard researcher. So I started to research dog behavior. I went to my public library and got a bunch of books, and I did a lot of research on the Internet. The ASPCA website was a gold mine as far as pet behavior techniques that I may be able to use to train him to get past his fear, of the television especially. They did not mention TV specifically but they talked about loud noises, thunder etc. I adapted.

So I bought some grain free treats for him because I was low, and I got his favorite ball toy. We started to play in front of the television. At first I started with the TV off, and would throw the ball deliberately right in front of the TV. He would look anxiously at the TV before he would go and get it, and I could see his eyes dart to the screen, but he was basically fine if the TV was off. And then I would reward him with a treat. We did this for a while until he did not look at the screen too much anymore. Then I tried it with the TV on but the sound off. It worked okay but he would get freaked out and look at it and you could see it in his face that there was true anxiety there. But we continued with this game until he got more accustomed to it, and he seemed to be ignoring the television pretty regularly. Then I turned the sound on low, and continued the games. Throwing the ball or sitting in front of the TV and making him come to get the ball from me, and rewarding him with a small treat. The toy and the treat distracted him from the fear of the television and it really did work. We made great strides in about three days.

I checked in with the pet behaviorist and she was astounded that he made such good progress in such a short amount of time. She also mentioned that there were two other things that I could try to avoid the medication. Burning lavender oil in a diffuser in the house is very good for calming pets. I happen to already have a bottle of lavender essential oil and a diffuser so I did that immediately. I’m not going to say this is life-changing, I didn’t really notice any difference in his anxiety burning the lavender oil but maybe it did have some effect that I would not really notice. But the other goldmine that she turned me onto was dog appeasing pheromone. It is basically pheromone released by nursing mother dogs which help make puppies feel safe and secure.

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I ordered the brand that she recommended, Adaptil, and I got it in a few days. As soon as I opened the package that came in the mail, Oscar was following me around totally interested. A dog’s nose is thousands of times more sensitive than our own and he definitely smelled it through the packaging. It was so obvious that whatever was in this package he totally loved, I couldn’t wait to use it. You spray it on a collar or a bandanna and wait 15 minutes for the alcohol carrier to evaporate. Then  put it on his neck and watch him go.

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At first he was a little freaked out to have anything around his neck inside the house. I don’t put his collar on him while he is at home. Only when we go for a walk or go outside. So it was a little strange for him to have something around his neck and he definitely tried to bite it and pull it. But then he calmed right down and I noticed a total change in his behavior. He seemed much more calm, and our game of ball and treats in front of the TV was much different. It seems to me that within a week of working with him, the lavender oil and the pheromone, he is no longer afraid of the television, at least not like he was by any stretch. He has his moments but it is not NEARLY as extreme as it was.

It has only been a few days since we got the pheromone, but I am so excited about the results! I am hoping that this can help him let me take him out in public because that has been a huge issue for us. I would love to take my dog to dinner and around populated neighborhoods, stores and so on, but it has always been more anxiety for me then even for him and that is saying a lot! So as far as we are concerned about our weekend away, it is still on! If this works then we will not be trying the medication, and working with him daily to ease his anxiety. It is very exciting. This has been a huge issue for us, so if we can fix this life will be good.

I will keep you all posted on his progress.

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~ by Michelle Sammartino-Zeto on June 13, 2014.

2 Responses to “Jerry Seinfeld Scares My Dog…”

  1. Did this help? I ask, but my Golden used to sit with us in the den while we watched television, then suddenly one day he ran from the room any time the set was turned on. It took months, but one night the speaker of the theater system would not work. we finally found out there was a short in one of the speakers sending out a sound that only the dog could hear. It must have been horrible for him, but we couldn’t hear it. As soon as the short was repaired, he was back, and hasn’t left our side since. The moral of this story is sometimes it is not a behavior or neurotic issue. it can be something we just can’t hear.

    • For Oscar it was a behavioral issue because this type of incident was not isolated. He had a constant fear of people in person and on the TV. His fear was debilitating to the point of flight and overpowering shaking. It was affecting his quality of life. We put him on prozac for 8 months and worked with him constantly exposing him to any situation that may help show him everything was ok. He is now off of prozac and MUCH better in every way. So yes it did help!

      Also on the TV speaker note, it was literally a brand new tv at the time and we considered that it may be a buzz or something. We even muted it but he was still having none of it.

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