My Dog’s Private Hell

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Chopper was an 8-month old, owner surrender to a kill shelter in South Central, Los Angeles.  An hour before he was to be euthanized, my strong and courageous sister (Ellen @deityanimalrescue) raced through the mean streets of Los Angeles to save this boys life.

A few hours later, Ellen arrived at my Hollywood apartment with Chopper, who looked like he’d been through a war.  He was covered in mange, his face was full of scabs with a smell that would clear a room.  He had very little hair and you could see and feel every bone in his body.  He wasn’t in the greatest shape, but his spirit and energy were like none other that I’ve experienced in my years with dogs.  This guy was different.  He was special.  I could feel it.

Chopper had been rescued and was now living in his forever home and he knew it.  Over the next month with the proper care, medicine, exercise and TLC, Chopper began to flourish.  For exercise, we would take long walks around the neighborhood.  On leash, he was learning how to heel and didn’t seem to fear anything.  He held his tail high and walked with confidence.  Over the next 4-5 months, Chopper continued to get better and showed signs of a happy, healthy and confident dog.  Walks were definitely his favorite.  However, that would abruptly change!

It was a typical day, as Chopper and I got ready for our morning walk. “Hey boy, wanna go for a walk?” Wag-wag, smile-smile, on with the harness and out the front door we went. After exploring the bushes and patch of grass outside of our building, we started our walk through the neighborhood like usual.  We left our property and while approaching the building directly next to ours, I felt something on the back of my leg.  As I looked behind me, I noticed it was Chopper jumping on me.  “What is it boy?”  I thought to myself.  “You’ve never done this before.”  Did something scare you?”  I couldn’t understand.  Then, Chopper turned around and with force, dragged me back to our front door.  Upon entering, he was shaking and wanted nothing more than to be at home.  I couldn’t figure out what spooked him because I didn’t see or hear anything and therefore, had no explanation for what just happened.  I took him out a few more times that day but never attempted to leave our area again.

The next morning, I had forgotten about what happened the day before and began our usual routine just like normal.  “Hey boy, wanna go for a walk?”  Wag-wag, smile-smile, on with the harness and out the front door we went. Chopper inspected the property as usual and then we started our walk through the neighborhood.  As we were approaching the next building, at the same spot and at the same time, I felt something on the back of my leg.  “OMG,” I thought to myself.”  “What is going on here?”  “What is it boy?”  “Why don’t you want to walk?”  “What are you afraid of?”  Once again and with force, Chopper pulled me back home.

The same thing happened the next day and the next and the next. It happened every day!

Chopper was about 13 months at this time and I had him for nearly 5 of those months.  Every day was the same and over time I tried every thing possible.  I analyzed everything about the first time this behavior occured and to this day, I still have no explanation.  It was just a typical day in Los Angeles.

During this initial period, I took Chopper to see the vet in hopes that he could magically cure him.  Well, I was wrong!  After explaining to the Dr. about how awesome Chopper has been and that one day he just changed and no longer wants to walk, blah, blah, blah…  In less then a minutes time the Dr. said, “sounds like depression and anxiety.”  He prescribed him doggie Prozac and said, “give him 1 per day and call me if you need anything.  Have a good day!”  He walked out and closed the door behind him.  I filled the script, took off and when I got home I noticed the doggie Prozac was the exact same thing as my human Prozac.  Hell no, was I giving my dog real human Prozac!  That wasn’t the answer.  It wasn’t the answer for me and I feared giving it to my dog.  I left the Dr. with my head hung low and feeling a bit deflated. Most importantly, the real question still lied unanswered.  What in the hell is going on with my dog?

Months and Months went by and Chopper still didn’t show any signs of improvement.  He didn’t want to leave the front of our property and he fought me every inch of the way while insisting on heading back towards home.  Interestingly enough, I started taking him to the dog park where he had zero problems and showed no signs of anxiety.  He was basically the king of the dog park if that even makes sense. Hiking has become a huge part of our daily routine as well. Again, he shows no real signs of anxiety or fear while hiking.  Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Unfortunately, as soon as the leash goes on and we head out for a walk in the neighborhood, all those fears return.

A few more months went by and I couldn’t take it anymore.  Not being able to take your dog on normal walks was killing me.  I felt horrible, guilty, sad and all those feelings and emotions that come to you when you can’t ask your beloved pet what’s wrong.  I could see sadness in his face now. It was a painful pill to swallow.  Something was up with this little guy and I needed to help him.  

I did some research and eventually was referred to an “Animal Behaviorist.”  I met with the Dr. and she and I agreed that she would work with Chopper.  After a few days, she diagnosed him with, “The Fear of Loud Noises.”  Chopper spent the next 7 days living with the Dr. while receiving one-on-one therapy and training.  Yes, I love my dog and he deserves only the best!  😉

Chopper returned after 7 days and absolutely nothing had changed. Same thing!  No different.  What now? The Fear of Loud Noises?  What does that mean? There weren’t any loud noises the first time this happened, or the second.  But, she was right.  Chopper gets scared out of his mind from loud noises.  Fireworks, loud cars and motorcycles and any noise that resembles a gun shot or a popping noise.  He panics, runs for cover, turns into a different dog, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  “The Fear of Loud Noises.” But, what to do?

Over 5 1/2 years have passed since adopting Chopper and nothing has changed.  Other than his anxiety, he is a brilliant, curious, adventurous, obedient, loving and loyal dog. Long ago, I made peace with trying to fix him.  It’s impossible to fix every thing but we’re always working on new techniques.  He is still king of the park and the wild frontier and to be honest, I don’t blame him for fearing the concrete jungle.  It’s a scary place out there!

Does your dog suffer from anxiety? If anybody has any advice, comments or similar stories they would like to share, please feel free to post a response.  

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