Mental Disorders in Dogs
Many people that don’t have dogs might argue that mental disorders in dogs don’t exist. However, for those that have dogs in their life will argue this. Dogs, like humans, can suffer similar mental disorders. They just might not always be as transparent as a human asking for help.
How do you know if your dog suffers from mental disorders? Well, they exhibit certain behavioral aspects at certain times. For example, if you leave them home alone, they might chew up your couch. Maybe, they decide to go to the bathroom all over the house instead. Certain behaviors are indicators of mental disorders in dogs. But first, let’s look at what kinds of disorders they might have.
One of the Mental Disorders in Dogs is Anxiety.
Dogs suffer anxiety more than any other animal I’ve ever had. Sure, cats can get this too, but they’re not as apparent as dogs. Anxiety in dogs comes in many forms. One of the most common is Separation Anxiety. This is when you leave your dog at home alone and they suffer from the separation. Many dogs actually don’t like to be alone. They are pack animals at heart and thrive best when others are around.
The problem is, we can’t always take our dogs with us when we leave. So, how do you handle the separation anxiety? How do you even know your dog is suffering from this?
How can you Tell they have Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is usually pretty easy to know if your dog is suffering from this when you leave. Generally, dogs will lash out by chewing things. Not because they want to upset you. They simply chew on things when they’re anxious and it helps to calm them down. I had a dog that ate carpet and drywall. Every time I left her for extended periods of time, I would come home to a new hole in my wall.
Extended periods of time would be longer than a typical work day. Normally, I would have a dog sitter at my house if I had to leave overnight. However, it wasn’t me, and my dog was still anxious that I left. There were only a few occasions that I had to do this, and each time was different. A hole in the wall, here. Missing pieces of carpet in the middle of my living room.
What Did I Do to Help Her?
In order to help my dog from her separation anxiety, I kennel trained her. Some might think this was wrong, but it was her safe place. I didn’t go and leave her in the kennel by the way, overnight. My dog sitter would still let her out throughout the day and night. But, I noticed that once she was crate trained, she was no longer anxious when I had to leave. She would go to her kennel, wait for me to shut the door, and she would go right to sleep.
I actually noticed that anytime she started to feel anxious after this, she would go right to her kennel. Simply because she knew, it was her safe place and she couldn’t be harmed in there. When I knew I was leaving for an overnight trip, I would actually put things in her kennel that smelled like me. Usually a sweater that I hadn’t washed yet. This would also calm her down.
Since animals love the smell of us, they feel safer when they have that smell next to them. Sometimes, a blanket that you haven’t washed, or a sweater will help. Sounds that she could hear also helped her. So, I always instructed my house sitter to leave the TV on for her.
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Another of the Mental Disorders in Dogs in Phobia’s and Fears.
Dogs have fears and phobias just like we do. Some dogs fear large sticks. Or, they might fear fireworks. In fact, many dogs fear fireworks and can have major issues once fireworks start to go off.
Atlas actually fears wasps now. She was stung by a hive last year, I don’t know how many times. But her face swelled up like a balloon. After that day, when she sees a wasp near her, she goes the opposite direction.
When dogs suffer from a traumatizing event, they develop a fear or a phobia like we do as humans. Some dogs, that may have suffered with previous owners, will exhibit fears at different times. I’ve seen some dogs that fear large sticks and will lash out at anyone holding one. They may have been beaten with a stick by their previous owner. So, now they view that big stick as a weapon to harm them. Even if you intended to simply play with them, they won’t know that. Yet.
How To Handle Fears and Phobias.
Many dogs, as mentioned that have come from different homes will most likely have a fear that they show down the road. When a dog shows this, it’s best to stop whatever it is you’re doing and calmly comfort them. In the event it’s a stick, you throw the stick far away and show that your hands are empty to your dog. Then, in a calming manner, you call their name and say, “It’s okay”.
Try to comfort them and pet them. Let them know that you’re not going to hurt them. Showing that your hands are empty will help them to understand you meant no harm. Dogs are similar to us. They want to see that you’re not there to hurt them.
Fear of Fireworks may be a Little More Difficult.
I’ve seen some dogs that run under beds and shiver uncontrollably. My previous dog, Annie, was extremely afraid of fireworks. The loud bangs hurt their ears more often than not, and dogs are afraid of them. At times, she would run under the bed, or cower in a corner. When I would go and try to find her, she would be shivering all over.
During nights of celebration, because I knew she would be afraid, I would actually play a movie very loud. More loud than usual. I would also close all the windows and doors to try to muffle the sound as much as possible. I would then move her kennel to where I was sitting in the living room, right next to me as well.
Once the fireworks hit the first time I did this, she was fine. She could barely hear them going off. She still went to her kennel beside me, and I simply left the door open. After about 20 mins, she realized that she was okay and came out to sit next to me on the couch. I forgot to mention that I had treats next to me, so that when she came to sit beside me, I gave her some. I also comforted and praised her as well.
She didn’t seem to mind fireworks as much after this, but I still never left her home alone during any kind of firework celebrations.
Third Disorder in Dogs is Depression.
Yes, dogs get depressed. However, depression in dogs is not like depression in humans. First off, dogs can’t commit suicide. Nor can they express that they’re feeling down. When dogs get depressed, they actually are very tired and often don’t want to eat.
I’ve seen dog depression a couple of times in my years of having dogs. In these couple of instances, there wasn’t much I could do for one dog, unfortunately. Here’s our story:
When I lived in Hawaii, I had a dog named Caine. He was a mix dog with several breeds. One day at the beach, there was a puppy that was running around looking scared and very hungry. She was very thin like she hadn’t eaten in quite some time. I ended up giving her all the food that I had brought to the beach that day. She decided to adopt me after that.
I looked for her owners for about a month, but to no avail. I had assumed she was ditched, so decided to keep her. Caine and her became best friends in no time. She was a very, very smart dog. She could open doors, and cupboards. This was the unfortunate part, because she got into my aluminum pans in the cupboard.
She Passed After a Year.
Aluminum and dogs don’t mix. I had no idea that she had gotten into the pans until about a week later. She was showing signs of lethargy and sickness for a few days. Under the impression that she had dehydration, since her symptoms were exactly the same as one of my cats that came down with dehydration, I made sure she drank and ate. Even though she didn’t want to.
The night I came home to find blood in her stool, I knew something else was wrong. I called the vet and only the ER ones were open. In Hawaii, the ER vets were astronomical in price. And, I was very, very broke. So, I made the appt for the morning to bring her in and see what was wrong.
She passed that night. I woke up to find her in her favorite chair. Caine was sitting beside her, nosing her and whimpering. When I went to move him, he growled at me. I understood he was upset. Still needing to take care of her, I buried her in my backyard.
The Depression Hit Caine Hard.
After Sarah passed, Caine wasn’t the same. He became very aggressive in nature. Anytime someone would come over and walk towards where she passed, he would run after them and try to bite them. Even trying to comfort him didn’t work. I tried treats, comfort, soft praise. But, nothing.
He continued to lash out at people after her passing. I knew he was suffering from depression, but I didn’t know enough back then on how to handle this. So, I found him a new home. I thought that being somewhere different from Sarah would help him.
Unfortunately, I heard that he had lashed out there as well. I thought it was just where Sarah had passed, but no. He ended up biting a child, and they had to put him down after that.
A very tragic end to that story. But, it shows that dogs can get depression, as much as we do. They simply will show it differently.
Not Every Dog is the Same.
Now, not all dogs are like Caine. First off, I didn’t know enough about mental disorders in dogs to help him. I was very young, and simply had no idea how to handle this. Most dogs, when depressed, don’t get aggressive. But some do. My other dogs after this, when depressed, usually want to sleep. A lot.
When a dog is depressed and they won’t eat, don’t discipline that behavior and don’t try to force them. Find something instead that your dog loves. Whether it’s a favorite toy, or place in the house. Try to get them to show interest in these areas instead. When they do, praise them a lot!
Compassion and understanding, will also help them. I believe in Caines situation, with what I’ve learned over the years, that had I blocked off Sarah’s special place, that would have helped. I could have blocked that area until he had time to mourn.
Then, once he started showing signs of being out of depression, praised him for that. Lots of love, petting and comforting would have helped him. Don’t give up on them. It still hurts me to this day that I gave up on him back when I was 18.
Another Disorder in Dogs is PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects dogs and humans both. Any traumatizing event can cause a dog to get PTSD. Remember the stick? Or Sarah’s death? The stick triggered the PTSD in the dog. Sarah passing on her favorite chair triggered Caine to suffer anyone going near her spot.
In the past, I’ve mentioned that dogs are similar in mentality to a child. A child around the age of two. If you are a jerk, and you hit your child over and over with an object, then that child is going to develop PTSD towards that item. Or, towards anger, period.
Dogs will develop PTSD in traumatizing situations as well. Any major event causing extreme stress, or pain can cause this to develop. The dog, after this event, will associate anything related to that event and, later, it will trigger it. It’s hard to pinpoint any one trigger, because they can be so vast.
Watching and Learning from your Dog.
In order to know if your dog has PTSD, you simply need to observe them when something triggers it. For example, a lot of dogs hate their nails being cut. So many people cut dogs nails too short, and they suffer from the pain emensely. It would be the same as someone cutting down into the pink part of your nail bed. Ouch!
So, dogs will later associate nail trimmers with pain. I’ve seen some whine, whimper, and even run when nail trimmers are brought out. Or, if you even try to grab their paw.
Once you know the triggers of their PTSD, you can begin to help them through it. One thing I’ve learned, is you never force a dog into a situation they’re afraid of. First, by doing this, you’re teaching the dog that you’re not there in their best interest. You’re putting them in danger, and this is not the way to establish trust.
A Dog has to Trust You.
I’m going to use nail trimmers in this example, because most of my dogs are afraid of nail trimmers. And this isn’t because I’ve ever cut too close. In fact, I haven’t ever cut the wick of the dogs nail. It reminds me of a slow and painful torture to be honest. When in doubt, I simply trim a very small amount off the tip. Mainly when it comes to black nails because they’re the hardest.
With dogs that are afraid of nail trimmers, they show fear immediately. Instead of grabbing their paw when the trimmers are in my hand, I let my dogs sniff the trimmers. Then, I praise them for their bravery. Let’s face it, if someone cut into your nail with some clippers, you’d be afraid of them, too. If you have the balls to hold the torture object, good for you! You deserve some serious praise!
Dogs are no different. I’ll do this until they no longer show fear towards the clippers. If this takes six months, so be it. They have to show they’re no longer afraid of that object first. Then, I can move forward with the next steps. Holding their paw while I have the trimmers.
Lots and Lots of Praise!
Once they’ve overcome a portion of their fear, then you can move on to the next steps. As I mentioned, I’ll hold their paw with the trimmers next to me. They’ve already shown they’re not afraid of the trimmers anymore. And yes, this has taken me six months in the past to get to this point. That’s okay. I want my babies to know that I’m not going to hurt them.
Then, once the paw comes into play, they’re back to being scared. Again, praise, praise, praise. Treats will usually come into play somewhere in here as well. It might take another six months to get past this part as well.
Does this mean you don’t trim their claws for a year? No. You still have to take care of this. In some instances, wherever you take them, they might hurt them again and set you back to the beginning. So, I advise you to find a place that actually cares about the dog!
With Atlas, she will now let me trim her claws. Yes, it’s taken a very, very, very long time. And that’s okay. She knows that it’s not torture now when I trim her claws. She’s still slightly hesitant and I’m very patient. So, I soothe her, give her treats and a serious amount of praise when we’re done. She’s almost two years old. That’s how long it’s taken me.
All it took for her, was probably one time! And two years of patience to help her through it.
Final Words on Mental Disorders in Dogs.
Hopefully you now understand more about the seriousness of mental disorders in dogs. Just because they can’t talk in a language we understand, doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t hurt. The opposite is true. They have feelings and they can get hurt. This is often why I refer to my dogs as my babies. They’re just like them when they were two years old. Misunderstanding things, getting into things, getting hurt during play time or on accident.
When it comes to depression, or anxiety or PTSD, I’m very, very patient. I help them to overcome these fears and phobias and show them that they can trust me. I’m not here to hurt them. It doesn’t matter how big or small the fear is, it’s serious because it traumatizes them.
If your dog is afraid of fireworks, try what I did with Annie. Help them to know that it’s okay and you’re there for them. Whatever you do, don’t leave them at home alone to suffer. It would be like a fear of the dark. Someone leaves you alone in a dark room to fend for yourself. You would be traumatized after that, I guarantee.
Last, but not least, have patience with them. Help them through whatever is causing them distress. Figure out the stressor first, and work on overcoming that stress. But don’t force them into the situation. Try to overcome it with time and with love.
What does your dog suffer from mentally? How have you been able to comfort them? Are you still struggling with mental disorders in your dogs today? Share your story so we can help!
10 thoughts on “Mental Disorders in Dogs”
Our dog Khola suffers from separation anxiety disorder and she comes with us everywhere to it seems she has to be next to us all the time. Unless she is going to sleep or she had an accident with the bathroom and we put her in there and in about two hours we take her to the bathroom outside to teach her. But, we noticed that she has real bad separation anxiety disorder and needs to learn how to be calm. She wants to jump all over us, we do not let her we tell her “no” then “sit down” she will listen. Other than this she is hyper and she knows not to chew on anything and still training her to use the bathroom; We take treats outside and when she uses them we praise her with bacon bits and tell her to sit.
Great breakdown of dog disorders that some may pass up because they don’t talk.
Matthew & Deloris,
It almost sounds as if Khola might benefit from a tighter fitting sweater or shirt too. Have you tried putting in comforting clothing to see if that helps? Some dogs, Actually do really well with clothing that’s meant to feel as if their owner is nearby, even if she’s with you. What I’ve done in the past, is buy tighter clothing that’s easily zipped up, or buttoned on to allow for easy on and off, but then I sleep with the clothing to get my scent on it. I usually do this for a couple of nights before I think it’s good to go. Sleeping with it right next to you will help, not just on the blanket or on the foot of the bed.
As far as the accidents go, has she always been with you? If not, then I imagine that she was punished for not going to the bathroom outside, and so has anxiety when it comes to going. It’s rather unfortunate when people punish a young pup or dog for not going outside. Puppies don’t know any better yet, so punishing them when they don’t understand why they’re punished has harmful repercussions on the dog as they get older. In those cases with dogs that simply don’t know any better, I’m very careful to not allow myself to feel upset when they accidentally go inside. By having an elevated heart rate, even if you’re talking calmly, will still trigger their anxiety because they can tell we’re upset.
So far, it sounds like you’re doing everything you can, so keep doing it! Glad she’s in a good home!
Mental disorders exist in dogs. I had a dog that had celular brain damage. I rescued him when he was a puppy and he was in terrible shape, he had parvo, and was exposed to distemper which had killed most of his siblings and his mother. He was so infested with worms that it took me a month and a half to get him completely dewormed, and he had seriously high fevers. I literally fought for his life (and his only surviving brother’s), but he, Apollo, was worse of. I saved them both, Milo and Apollo, they made it. Milo grew into a sociable and friendly dog but when Apollo was 10 or 11 months old I started noticing behavorial problems. I took him to many vets and also a dog trainer, but no one was any the wiser. The dog trainer was rubbish, he uses his one proven method on every dog and it works on many, but it obviously didn’t work on Apollo. It never occurred to him that there might be another issue, and he just blamed me for the whole thing. After a long time one vet finally found out what was wrong with him. He said that the high fevers he had when he was a puppy had caused celular brain damage in him and if he were human he would need to go to an institution, but he was a dog and there were no dog psychologists in my area at that time. So, I did what I could for him. I separated him from my other dogs, gave him a large area to run around, took him for separate walks (so I always had to do the same walk twice, first with Apollo and after that with the other dogs) I lost count of the people who told me to put him down, giving me their unasked “well meant” advice, even one vet told me to kill him. I always refused. Despite Apollo’s issues, he was happy, and he loved me. He lived with me for 10 years, and it wasn’t always easy. I couldn’t train him, because I would have to retrain him over and over again, he couldn’t remember what he learned the next day. I couldn’t travel because I couldn’t leave him with no one – Apollo trusted only me and no one else. I sometimes complained how limited my life was but if I could turn back time I would take him in again in a heartbeat. Apollo taught me a lot about myself and I am grateful that he was in my life.
I remember you mentioning Milo and Apollo in another article, probably a few actually. I would’ve been the same as you now in my present years with him. My dog Annie that passed last year actually reminds me a lot of Apollo actually. Training even the more simple of commands took years, not days or months like Atlas. But I persisted. I always trained her the same command until she got it down, even when it took 2 years for that one command. She was a very difficult dog to say the least, but I loved her and I rescued her, so she was mine. She was never allowed around any other dogs either, except puppies. She was fine with puppies for some reason, but older dogs, she would attempt to fight them no matter what. So, I was never able to really take her anywhere with me once she reached the age of 2. Prior to that, she was fine with dogs, just hard to teach anything to. It took her 2 years to learn “Potty outside.” Gawd! It was really, really hard to have a dog that just couldn’t learn, and I admit, there were a lot of times that I would want to just give up, but I didn’t. I never forgave myself after Caine, and it still haunts me.
Now, I don’t even think of it as even an option. Once I commit to a dog, they’re mine, good with the bad. But I’ve learned patience over the years, and how to actually communicate with my dogs. Once you understand their language, it’s much easier. But, I was young with Caine and naive.
People don’t always understand the connections we make with dogs. They often will down play it to sound better for themselves to understand. I believe that’s what happened with your friends and family that didn’t understand why you would take on such a huge responsibility with a dog that suffered from not getting proper vet care. It wasn’t his fault that he was ill, and of course, brain damage happened because of it. And while you had to change your routine for him, it’s the same for our children that need special attention as well. You don’t hear people say, “Put them down.” Because that’s just not right, on so many levels. Apollo never lashed out at you, he simply couldn’t learn because of his impairments, and he just didn’t like other dogs. It happens and it’s part of life. But, by being there with him and giving him the best life, he was ultimately happy.
I don’t know if I could ever forgive myself, and I’m sure you as well, if a dog that was still healthy and capable of living his life was put down early. As I said, I haven’t forgiven what happened with Caine, but at the same time, this was 28 years ago. I’m sure I’ll continue to regret my decisions for the rest of my life, but that’s the choice that I made, so I have to live with it. All I can do now is be the best dog mom I know.
Thanks for sharing your story Christine.
Thank you for this information. This will be so helpful for me as I am looking to get a dog. I have learnt a lot from your articles. I did not dogs had separation anxiety and now this was going to stress me. But your article has been there to help me be able to understand the whole dog behavior.
Don’t be stressed about getting a dog. They’re the best companions a person can have, especially since they can go anywhere with you. Cats are harder to take around everywhere, but dogs? They go everywhere with me. Honestly, if I didn’t have them with me at home all day, I would go crazy. They keep me company throughout the day, so it’s not lonely working from home.
As far as the stress factors with the dog you decide to get, choose one that will fit your lifestyle. Meaning, if you’re a very, very active person, than look at Jack Russells. If you’re a laid back person that likes to be at home, than the American Bullies are perfect. But each breed of dog has different characteristics naturally in their genes. So, look for one that will best suit the kind of life you live as well as your space.
Hope this helps!
I am not surprised that dogs can also have mental disorders, but I am amazed at how many of them there are.
My daughter’s dog suffers from seperation anxiety whenever she brings him over for me to take care of whenever they are out of town. He looks so sad each time and goes around with a droopy face until the minute they return and it is amazing to see the transformation.
Another one of his phobias is being locked in a room. Unfortunately, he does get himself frequently into this situation as he is very nosey and likes to open doors and wander into variour rooms. Although he can get in, he finds it difficult to get out and he creates a mess if you don’t quickly come to his rescue! Other than that – he is fearless!
Thanks for the information as we will be sure to watch carefully for any signs.
My Mother In Law just had this happen to her dog when they had to bring him over to her daughters while construction is being done on their house. I recommended to her that she brings items over that smell like her and my Dad so that the dog still smells them, even while gone. Dogs scent tells them everything, so often, when they go to new smells, it can cause anxiety. Hopefully, today works for her. I said to bring over a blanket or sweater she hasn’t washed in a while. It helps them to stay calm.
As for the door situation, not much to be done about that I’m afraid. Often, dogs don’t really like to be confined unless it’s in an area that they’re used to, like a kennel if they’ve been crate trained. Other than that though, he most likely won’t like being locked in the rooms.
Hope the blanket helps though the next time they leave town!
Thanks for stopping by!
It will definitely be sad to know your dog has a mental disorder, at a point you might feel helpless but never give up on them, they just need extra love and patience. I like this article a lot because people who are new to owning dogs might be very lost in this situation.
I have owned a dog before and I know the do get separation anxiety just that then I did not know there was a term for it. I had a friend who had a dog who was depressed and it took weeks for the dog to get back to normal, she spent extra time with her dog always and was really patient with the dog and I think it really helped. Thank you Katrina for this really helpful article, keep up the good work.
I’m glad that your friends dog got better after the depression. Some dogs are just depressed over a life event that we don’t know about, and they often can be depressed for a very long time. It’s hard with dogs because we can’t always ask them what’s wrong, or how can I help. We simply have to watch their body language and determine their needs that way. Unfortunately, not all dog parents do this. They often dismiss their dogs internal problems and just continue on with life as usual. That can cause issues long term with the dog, unfortunately.
I’m glad you stopped by and enjoyed this one. Thanks!