Dogcharmer: LouLou

PTSD can cause your pooch to shut down.

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LouLou — Courtesy Christie Knoff

Dear Tom,

LouLou, an 18-month-old (or so) foxhound came to us in late October 2018. I am uncertain of her background, but she is a gentle, playful girl who is comfortable with people and other dogs most of the time. However, she can totally shut down unexpectedly at times, shaking and hiding under the bed for hours. At times it’s easy to tell what set her off, like a loud noise, but oftentimes I can’t discern what is triggering her apathy. How can I read her better? Thank you!

 

Christie, Marley, and LouLou

 

Dear Christie,

Thank you for being one of the “Good Guys” by adopting LouLou. As to her “shutting down,” your clear observation of LouLou’s response to a loud noise kind of rules out something physiological that just started acting up. Lots of dogs have problems with loud noises. There have been plenty of great potential police and Army dogs that washed out because they couldn’t acclimate to the sound of gunfire. But it’s those times when LouLou “shuts down” with no loud noise or apparent cause that gets me thinking … PTSD.

Regardless of what you may have been told, you have no real knowledge of what she experienced the first year and a half of her life, and never will. Bearing in mind that her hearing is so far superior to yours, it may not have to be a loud noise, but rather a type of noise that you don’t notice or hear, but brings to mind a past trauma for LouLou. Or it could be a smell of the whiff on an air current that relates to a past trauma.

So the question that really needs to be answered is what to do when she shuts down. The goal is to comfort, and redirect her focus and attention without rewarding the fear response. So instead of soothing and fawning all over her with an attitude of “You poor thing!” comfort and support her with an “upbeat attitude.” Pet and love her with an attitude of, “I get it LouLou, you’ve got some bad memories, so we’re gonna turn that around by doing some fun stuff!” Then do your best to manipulate her into one of her favorite activities, using treats, people food if need be. The treats must be earned, not given to her while she’s “shut down” under the bed. Put a leash on her and take a fun walk to a place she likes, earning treats for cooperating when she sits on command. Or play ball, or hide the treat, which she has to find, thus earning that bone she can lick the peanut butter out of.

Whatever you do, your endeavor is to redirect her attitude from feeling scared and sorry for herself to doing something upbeat and rewarding. You could also think about a noise desensitization protocol. Have her lie down on a favorite spot and play a recording of the type of sound that frightens her, siren, explosion, guns, whatever. Play it softly enough that she can handle it without leaving, and give her special treats as she lies there, ears cocked, but not running away. Very, very slowly, with success building on success, increase the volume, being generous with the special treats.

Good luck, and give her a kiss for me.

 

The Dogcharmer

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