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Sudden Panic Attacks

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I'm posting this for a friend who doesn't use the internet. She's had several Greyhounds over the years, and now has Casper. Here's her intro:



Casper is 3 1/2 years, adopted 4 months ago. He was very shy in the beginning, but easy going now. High energy with extremely fast reflexes. Very attached to me, not interested in other people. Happy eater, great communicator. He likes to be hugged, but he shoes adverse behavior if you want to confine him to clip nails or brush teeth. He will then try to defend himself by bolting. We are working on this with praise and positive reinforcement and making progress.
And these are descriptions of two recent events where Casper went into panic mode:
  1. incident: With Casper at a friend's house. Their dog and Casper some friendly interaction, but no real play. Hanging out for about an hour, dogs lying around in the backyard. Then we start barbecue and Casper suddenly jumps up, runs back and forth the fence, trying desperately to escape, panting, I cannot get him to relax and bring him into the car. There he desperately wants to get inside, he stays there and seems okay after half an hour.
  2. incident: Thursday, at home, in the evening. Casper absolutely normal. I put a beef roast in the pan, my husband in kitchen with me, Casper as well. He suddenly runs away, runs between backyard door and front door back and forth several times, heavily panting. Thought he had to go potty, and let him out. He ran to the fence contemplating to jump, just caught him before that. Took him in again, where he continued to prance, run, pant crazily, like a nervous brake down. We took him for a walk, where he marched on very good, but started the same weird behavior again when we brought him inside. Tried to put him in the dark bedroom to calm down, didn’t work, standing at door panting hard. So I took him into the car, where he calmed down.
So I wonder what this behavior is and what triggers it. In both cases searing meat was at present (we do not often eat meat, but sometime chicken and he is fine with cooking chicken stove top or in the oven). Is there something like an overload of the olfactory sense? Then, if he has an anxiety attic (maybe similar to thunder-phobia?) what can I do to snap him out of that? Any ideas?
I'll pass along any advice.
Edited by christinepi
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I can relate to the smell of meat. One day I cooked some ground goat meat from the farmers market. All the dog we had at the time went into a manic mode, as if something primal in them was triggered by the smell. It was bizarre.


Does he have any known vision problems?


Were there any flies buzzing around? That caused panic in one if mine.


Freshy (Droopys Fresh), NoAh the podenco orito, Rita the podenco maneta, Howie the portuguese podengo maneto
Angels:  Lila, the podenco, Mr X aka Denali, Lulu the podenco andaluz, Hada the podenco maneta, Georgie Girl (UMR Cordella),  Charlie the iggy,  Mazy (CBR Crazy Girl), Potato, my mystery ibizan girl, Allen (M's Pretty Boy), Percy (Fast But True), Mikey (Doray's Patuti), Pudge le mutt, Tessa the iggy, Possum (Apostle), Gracie (Dusty Lady), Harold (Slatex Harold), "Cousin" Simon our step-iggy, Little Dude the iggy ,Bandit (Bb Blue Jay), Niña the galgo, Wally (Allen Hogg), Thane (Pog Mo Thoine), Oliver (JJ Special Agent), Comet, & Rosie our original mutt.

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It could be he associates the smell of beef with something that makes him anxious. If this is the case, you should be able to use the same desensitization techniques you would use for other fears. The first step is to find out if this is really what is setting him off. Have some DAP on hand or Rescue Remedy or something stronger like xanax. You also have the car solution. Watch his behavior very carefully to see what exactly is setting off his anxiety - this is the trigger you need to address.


One thing you did learn is to NOT let him outside loose in this state. You barely caught him before he jumped the fence, then he would have been gone. My own spooky girl also has a flight or flight (run before anything else) reaction when she gets anxious. She would NEVER come to anyone in that state, so I make sure to never put her in a situation where that could happen.

Chris - Mom to: Felicity (DeLand), and Andi (Braska Pandora)

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Angels: Libby (Everlast), Dorie (Dog Gone Holly), Dude (TNJ VooDoo), Copper (Kid's Copper), Cash (GSI Payncash), Toni (LPH Cry Baby), Whiskey (KT's Phys Ed), Atom, Lilly

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News from my friend:


New this evening: My husband started a fire in the wood stove. Something
went wrong and we had some (not a huge amount) smoke in the living room.
That agin triggered an anxiety attack. I took him for a walk and by the
time we were back the smoke was hardly noticeable (for me that is). We
treated him now very matter-of-factly so not to reinforce his fear. Also
trying to distract him with food. That seams to work slowly, he began to
calm down for a while. Then, unfortunately, we had more smoke from the
fireplace, that immediately made things worse again. He is panting like
crazy and restless, and shaking.

I tried Rescue Remedy at the second incident, but that did not show an

I think we have identified the culprit: smoke or odor of something burning
(was also at present during the barbecue and when I browned the roast).
Now I need to learn how to get him out of that stage back to normal (and
how to tell my husband to not make fires anymore).

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Guest Giselle

Yikes, this reminds me of this new study:



Scent is a VERY powerful mediator of memories, especially strongly negative ones. In my experience, I've found that a lot of dogs are naturally fearful of smoke (probably some kind of natural adaptation), but it sounds like her pup may have encountered a particularly bad experience with smoke. In her case, I'd treat it the same way I'd treat any other fear of anxiety: Lots of classical counter-conditioning, using alternate behaviors to keep the dog's focus on you. Does she need step-by-step instructions?

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Here's her response:



I read the article, very interesting (used to be in plant genetics, and we have found similar effects there).
I am familiar with typical counter-conditioning through my work with horses. Now in this case, I will have to figure out how to generate just a little smoke, then more, etc., because that seems kind of tricky to control. Let me talk to my husband if we can use the wood stove for that. The point is, we cannot remove the stimulus in a quick manner, because if the smoke is in the house, it is there, even if you open all windows and doors (which we can't in that situation because Casper would bolt). To remove the stimulus I have to bring the dog outdoors. So I would also teach him that we leave the house if we are afraid. This might bring him in trouble in other situations (I would love the dog to think it is safe in the house and we run inside if we are scared…).
Am I making things more complicated than needed?
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Guest Giselle

Can they light a fire outside? Because it's difficult to maintain a constant intensity of smoke levels, I would recommend lighting a small contained fire outside (safely, of course) and walking towards it. This is probably the easiest way to manipulate the intensity of the trigger. As mentioned, I would also recommend teaching an alternate behavior and using that to keep the dog's focus on her while they inch closer and closer to the trigger. Automatic Sit's are a great alternate behavior, as long as her dog can sit comfortably:



If not, I also like to use the Touch/Target game:



The idea is that if she can keep the dog's focus on her through fun, interactive games, she can more rapidly approach the trigger than if she were doing pure classical counter-conditioning (i.e. shoving treats into the dog's mouth and hoping that it'll eventually make a positive association). If the outdoor fire is impossible, they can still use their indoor wood stove, but the scent of the smoke is inevitably more concentrated in the house, which could make counter-conditioning a bit harder. It's not impossible, but she'd probably have to work harder to keep the dog's focus on her once they enter the house. By "working harder", I just mean working faster, rewarding smaller behaviors, practicing more until the dog establishes a connection between the smoke smell and good outcomes. I, too, would do all of this on-leash and would keep sessions between 5-10 minutes each. Hope that helps her! And this is really only true if the dog's problem is a phobia of smoke. If not, we'd have to do some more digging to see what the problem is.

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Prefacing this to say that it might sound stupid, but if smell is the issue, and you don't want actual smoke, maybe you could try balsam incense or a balsam candle. That way you can instantly extinguish it but you do still get the smell of a "fire/fireplace". I know use them in the winter when I want to smell a fireplace smell.


Maybe the poor guy was in or near a fire.


I know you can find the incense at Vermont Country Store and/or eBay.

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Here's a response from my friend:



I like the outside fire idea and also the incense that was suggested in the other post, I will try both. Thank you, great ideas.
We don't have an alternate behavior in place yet, so that part would come later, first we will try to confirm Casper's smoke sensitivity.
At this point I am not sure if fire-phobia is the only reason for his behavior. There might be still the connection with food. In some ways it seams to me that we prepare dinner in the evening, and start the wood stove, kind of round the same time. So instead of dealing with one trigger, it might as well be that he is in a state of brain arousal due to the cooking activity (he loves food!!!) and that in this context the smoke pushes him over the edge. So this would go towards a sensory overload, rather than an anxiety.
To help figure this out, we will all cook/have dinner first, then sit down and read, and then, when everything is calm, start the fire. I'll keep you posted.
Thanks for all input and help, I greatly appreciate it!
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Barbie is smoke-phobic and siren-phobic. One or the other triggers statue mode. Both together triggers flight mode. We had an incident a few years ago now where there was a fire across from the place we go for off leash romps. The fire engine came with sirens blazing. She went into a panic and ran around the oval looking for our car (all my dogs are taught car = safe space). Unfortunately she did a bad job of finding which car was mine and started jumping up at someone elses, was a different colour and completely different shape.


Fortunately her nails were nice and short so she didn't scratch it and I was able to collar her very quickly.


I am pretty certain she wouldn't go into a mad running panic now but I don't let her off leash if I can smell smoke.

Edited by jetska
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