ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: We got our Jackson at the SPCA in Houston at age 12 weeks. When we were walking him a UPS truck scared him. Since then, he has never been the same. One time he was trying to get inside and out of nowhere a lightning bolt happened. Then our neighbor’s dog snapped at my Jackson. Now he won’t go to the dog park. He won’t eat on our patio. He only feels safe in his crate. He hides under my futon. Since I saw your PTSD video on YouTube I now understand that well-meaning people that want me to implement “dog training” skills must be disregarded. I have tried it all. It only makes him worse. He poops literally out of fear. It’s so sad. I am going to take his cues and move forward gently. If he only likes to go potty outside and runs back inside to his crate we will accept this. He does not bark; he is very sweet and loving.
Dr. Nichol: Jackson is a very lucky dog to have landed in your home. Guests can make it easier for him to relax when they drop by to swap jokes. Anti-anxiety medication can also reduce Jackson’s heebie-jeebies but patience and kindness will be the best treatment.
Jackson is a little guy; all humans and most other dogs are huge by comparison, causing him to panic easily. Rather than anybody trying to touch him, no one should ever reach for, approach, lean over, or stare at Jackson. Visitors should completely ignore him. If they want to help they can silently lie on the floor with treats nearby. Reaching with a snack or coaxing should not be allowed. All interactions must be by Jackson’s choice. If he feels brave enough to come close and investigate he must still be ignored.
A hands-off structure is hard for people, but Jackson’s need for safety trumps the overwhelming urge of visiting dog lovers to help. Guests who won’t ignore should not be in the same room with him. Improvement for good is likely for Jackson but it will take a long time. Slow and steady wins the race.
Dr. Jeff Nichol provides pet behavior consultations in-person and virtually by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.