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USA Dog Behavior Blog

Can Dogs Get Depressed?

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© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Dog owners sometimes notice their dog appears sad or listless and wonder if dogs can get depressed in the same way that humans get depressed.

The short answer to this question is “yes”. Dogs can get depressed in ways that are similar to human depression. While dogs appear to share many of the same symptoms with humans, we can’t know exactly what’s going on with them because we can’t ask them. It is frequently diagnosed by exclusion. In other words, all other possible reasons for the behavior are excluded until the only plausible explanation is canine depression.

The symptoms of dog depression are similar to human depression. All of these symptoms would need to be chronic or protracted for a diagnosis of depression.

  • Withdrawn
  • Change in eating habits (i.e., more or less food consumption)
  • Change in sleeping habits (i.e., more, less or erratic sleep)
  • Inactive
  • Loss of interest in things normally enjoyed

Causes for canine depression can include, but are not limited to, any of the following.

  • Change of residence
  • Change of owner’s schedule (e.g., new work shift for owner)
  • Addition or elimination of a human in the residence
  • Addition or elimination of an animal (e.g., dog, cat, etc.) in the residence

Sometimes the loss of a dog or an owner in a household (the most frequent cause of canine depression) may appear to cause a dog to be depressed, but in actuality it is caused by the dog reacting to the grief of the human survivors and/or the lack of attention the dog is receiving since the loss.

Dogs can get a little down sometimes just like people do. Normally, they bounce back after a short period. However, when the symptoms persist for an extended period there is something else going on. A complete check with your veterinarian may be a good first step since many physical ailments can masquerade as depression. After a veterinarian check, your next step is to consult with an independently certified dog behavior consultant, behavior specialist or animal behaviorist.

A dog behavior consultant will assess the dog to ensure the issue is actually depression and then work with the owner to implement behavior modification and environmental changes. If the depression is significant enough, a behaviorist may work with your veterinarian to include behavioral medication as part of the overall treatment plan. The goal of most of the medications is to raise serotonin levels. Serotonin is the same neurotransmitter that is found in humans and plays a role in human depression too. 

The most common medications prescribed are SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. Not surprisingly, these are some of the same medications used to treat human depression. There are some older tricyclic antidepressants such as Clomicalm and amitriptyline that are sometimes used but they generally are not as effective as the newer SSRI medications.

If you feel your dog may suffer from depression, seek help. Intervening early can make resolution much easier. Human depression can sometimes take years to fully resolve. If dog depression is treated early enough, it normally resolves in a much shorter time depending on the severity.

Why Your Dog Likes Some People and Not Others

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© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

You’ve noticed that your dog appears to like some people more than others. Even if your dog sometimes shows aggressive tendencies toward people, he or she might not be bothered with certain people. Why is this?

I’ve found there are four different ways that people interact with unfamiliar dogs. And how people relate to dogs that don’t know them makes all the difference in the world to dogs.

The Cynophobic (pronounced sign-oh-phobic) Person is the unfortunate human who is phobic of dogs. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. Granted, there are definitely some dogs where we need to use caution, but most dogs are pretty darn nice to be around.

Dogs are uncomfortable around Cynohpobic Persons because Cynophobic Persons stare at dogs too much, make awkward movements and appear stiff – all of these make dogs wary of the human. Most Cynophobic Persons try to avoid any contact or closeness to dogs and experience the following panic attack symptoms when they get too close:

  • Sense of terror
  • Racing heart
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Tingling in the hands and fingers
  • Feeling sweaty
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of control

The Indifferent Dog Person is the individual who couldn’t care less about dogs. He or she has never had one and doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. Doesn’t really hate ‘em, but doesn’t really love ‘em either.  These people, surprisingly, get along well with just about every dog they meet because they don’t threaten or annoy dogs. They simply don’t want to connect with dogs and, ironically, most dogs prefer that kind of interaction when people first meet them.

The Dog Lover Person is someone who absolutely loves dogs and wants to be around them as much as possible. They have several dogs of their own and frequently are involved in some kind of animal volunteer work.

But some Dog Lover Persons cannot understand why some dogs don’t really like them that much when they first meet them. The reason is, unlike the Indifferent Dog Person, they go overboard with attention when they first meet dogs. Their voice gets loud and high pitched, they move directly into the dog’s face and they start petting the dog on the top of the head – most dogs don’t like any of these things when first meeting a new human.

The problem gets compounded because the Dog Lover Person perceives that the dog is not responding to this attention so he or she escalates all of these annoying behaviors which only makes things worse. Many people in the pet industry, including some vet staffs and veterinarians, have difficulty meeting and interacting with some dogs precisely for this reason.

The Dog Knower Person truly loves dogs, but also understands them. Not only do Dog Knower Persons understand at least the basics of dog body language, but they also grasp the subtleties of meeting dogs that don’t know them. They know the five basic rules of initially greeting all dogs:

  • Don’t look
  • Don’t touch
  • Don’t talk
  • Don’t approach
  • Have a soft body

The Dog Knower Person knows that correctly greeting dogs is no mystery; it’s a discipline of entering their world in a way they respond to, not in a way that humans prefer.

Upcoming Classes and Seminars with Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA

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July 10, 2018, Dog-to-Dog Aggression Group Class, Dallas, Texas

Sponsored by Park Cities Pet Sitter, Dallas, Texas.

This one-hour group class is limited to a small enrollment and occurs once per week for four consecutive weeks.

Does your dog (or a dog you work with) appear overly aroused, fearful, frustrated or even aggressive to unfamiliar dogs when out on a walk, at the vet’s office, etc.? You’ve tried correcting the dog but this doesn’t seem to help. This behavior is commonly referred to as dog reactivity and is more common than most people realize.   In this hands-on group class taught once per week over four weeks, Scott Sheaffer will lead you through the following sessions to provide you techniques to manage this kind of behavior and ways to improve it. 

Session 1: Review of Dog-Dog Reactivity, Equipment/Tools, Management, Safety
Session 2: Foundational Skills
Session 3: Behavior Modification Protocol 1 Classroom and Demonstration
Session 4: Behavior Modification Protocol 2 Classroom and Demonstration

Please note this class does NOT address intra-household aggression or aggression between two or more dogs living in the same home.


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August 3, 2018, Dog-to-Dog Aggression Seminar, Keller, Texas (near Fort Worth, Texas)

Sponsored by Lucky Dog Training Center, Keller, Texas.

Does your dog (or a dog you work with) appear overly aroused, fearful, frustrated or even aggressive to unfamiliar dogs when out on a walk, at the vet’s office, etc.? You’ve tried correcting the dog but this doesn’t seem to help. This behavior is commonly referred to as dog reactivity and is more common than most people realize. In this 4-hour classroom course, Scott Sheaffer will lead you through the following topics to provide you techniques to manage this kind of behavior and ways to improve it:

  • Overview of Dog Reactivity
  • Behavior Basics, Why is my dog doing this?
  • Tools that Help us with Treatment
  • Management and Safety
  • Necessary Skills for Dog and Handler
  • Improving the Behavior

Please note this class does NOT address intra-household aggression or aggression between two or more dogs living in the same home.

Just about everyone who has a pet dog will benefit from this material. Additionally, anyone who works with dogs such as rescue organizations, groomers, veterinarian practice employees and dog trainers will benefit as well.


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August 12, 2018, What is your dog trying to tell you? Understanding how dogs communicate with humans and dogs, Dallas, Texas

Sponsored by Park Cities Pet Sitter, Dallas, Texas.

Our dogs are constantly attempting to communicate with us. Their body language and vocalizations tell us a lot about what they're thinking and make their behaviors easier to predict than most people realize. If we don't know what they are trying to tell us, we can misunderstand their intentions and that can interfere with the relationship we have with our dogs. In a multi-dog home, it's important that we also know what our dogs are saying to each other so we can keep peace and harmony. 

In this 3-hour seminar, Scott Sheaffer will provide information on:

  • How to know when your dog is conflicted about things
  • Detecting stress and anxiety in your dog
  • Behaviors that let you know your dog is trying to get away from conflict
  • Ways your dog is letting you know that he or she needs attention
  • Body language that your dog uses to let you know he or she feels friendly and playful
  • Ways that humans can let dogs know that we are no threat to them
  • Avoiding dog bites by seeing the early warning signs
  • Special precautions for young children interacting with dogs

Just about everyone who has a pet dog will benefit from this material. Additionally, anyone who works with dogs such as rescue organizations, groomers, veterinarian practice employees and dog trainers will benefit as well.


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November 4, 2018, Separation Anxiety in Dogs - Assessment, Types and Treatment, Dallas, Texas

Sponsored by Park Cities Pet Sitter, Dallas, Texas.

Does your dog (or a dog you work with) become overly anxious as you prepare to leave? You’ve noticed that the dog’s stress appears to continue the entire time you are gone and can include destructive behaviors. Owners frequently feel like they are hostages in their own homes because they’re afraid to leave the dog alone.

Separation anxiety is a common behavior issue affecting 15% of all dogs and is even more common in rescue dogs. Unfortunately, many popularized techniques used to address separation anxiety in dogs actually make things worse. But with the right approach, these dogs can be helped.

In this 4-hour classroom course, Scott Sheaffer will lead you through the following topics to provide techniques to manage and address separation anxiety:

  • What are the different types of canine separation anxiety and how are they determined?        
  • Realistic prognosis expectations and timeframes
  • Management
  • Treatment options and techniques
  • Role of medication in treating separation anxiety

Just about everyone who has a pet dog will benefit from this material. Additionally, anyone who works with dogs such as rescue organizations, groomers, veterinarian practice employees and dog trainers will benefit as well.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Semi-Private Behavior Sessions with Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA

© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Do some of the following sound like your dog?

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  1. The moment you start to walk, he or she scans the neighborhood and acts overly aroused, anxious and stressed.
  2. When your dog sees another dog, he or she immediately fixates on that dog. While your dog knows basic obedience cues fairly well (e.g., sit, down, stay, come), he or she appears out of control and virtually ignores you around other dogs.
  3. As you approach another dog, your dog increasingly starts one or all of the following behaviors: stiff or hard body, pulling toward the other dog, whining, barking, growling, lunging, etc. These behaviors get decidedly worse as you get closer to the other dog.
  4. You no longer enjoy your walks because you are afraid of what your dog is going to do when he or she sees another dog; your dog’s behaviors are embarrassing.
  5. It is a riddle to you that your dog appears to do satisfactorily in dog parks and at doggy day care but not when he or she sees other dogs while walking on leash.
  6. You’ve tried numerous tools (e.g., choke collars, prong collars, etc.) and even consulted with dog trainers but the behaviors appear to be getting worse over time.

If the above sounds like your dog, he or she is most likely suffering from what is known as one of the following: dog reactivity, dog-dog aggression, dog fear aggression. As a certified canine behavior specialist, it’s the most common behavior issue I see in dogs.

We offer semi-private group behavior sessions to address this issue.

Please note this class does NOT address intra-household aggression or aggression between two or more dogs living in the same home.

  1. A maximum of 6 attendees in each group class.
  2. There are 4 separate one-hour sessions for each class:
    a.    Sessions are typically scheduled once per week
    b.    Session 1: Review of Dog-Dog Reactivity, Equipment/Tools, Management, Safety
    c.    Session 2: Foundational Skills
    d.    Session 3: Behavior Modification Protocol 1 Classroom and Demonstration
    e.    Session 4: Behavior Modification Protocol 2 Classroom and Demonstration
  3. Fee is for one attendee only (i.e., no additional family members, friends etc.). If necessary, someone can attend in place of a student if he or she is not able to attend a particular session.
  4. No dogs are to be brought to the first session. One dog will be selected during the first session from one student that will be used for demonstration purposes in future sessions (i.e., sessions 2 – 4). While all human attendees will attend all sessions, only this dog will attend sessions 2 – 4.
  5. If more detailed behavior intervention is needed, a private class can be scheduled (at standard private session rates) outside of the group class.
  6. Please note this class does NOT address intra-household aggression or aggression between two or more dogs living in the same home.

Who shouldn’t take this class?

Owners with dogs that have any type of human fear or human aggression are NOT eligible to take this class; a private session will need to be scheduled instead (at standard private session rates). If a dog shows any signs of human fear or human aggression during class, the dog will be removed from class for safety purposes.

If your dog is presenting with intra-household aggression or aggression between two or more dogs living in your home, you need to schedule a private session (at standard private session rates) since this class does NOT address this issue.


Enrollment and Questions

For more information or to enroll, click here.

How to Have a Successful Outing at the Dog Park

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© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Some dog behaviorists, behavior consultants and behavior specialists will not take their personal dogs to dog parks – ever. I am not one of those people. If you use some common sense and follow the guidelines below, you and your dog can both have a fun and stimulating time at the dog park.

If you notice dog fights and/or screaming owners at any time while you are at the dog park, leave and come back another day.  Your dog will be a little disappointed, but this is better than exposing him or her to that kind of environment.

Abide by the rules of the dog park. These rules are normally posted by the entrance and include things such as keeping an eye on your dog the entire time and picking up after your dog.

If your dog appears to be overwhelmed by how the other dogs are playing with him or her, take your dog home. He or she is not having a good time for whatever reason on that particular day.

Take your dog off his or her leash before entering the dog park and don’t carry any food or treats with you into the dog park. Also, remove anything other than a flat collar from your dog before entering (e.g., head collar, prong collar, choke collar, etc.)

Unaltered dogs (i.e., unspayed and unneutered) should not be taken to a dog park. The other dogs in the park find unaltered dogs extremely interesting because of the smells they emit. This frequently results in scuffles and other problems. Unaltered females in heat can really get things interesting and dangerous.

Don’t take very young puppies to a dog park. Take them to puppy group training classes instead.

Don’t take infants or young children to a dog park. I once saw someone with an infant in a baby carriage at a dog park. What?!

If your dog is dog or human aggressive, please don’t take him or her to a dog park. Dog parks are absolutely not the place to “socialize” aggressive or fearful dogs. Taking these dogs to a dog park is like taking someone who is afraid of water and throwing him or her in the deep end of an Olympic pool. It can make things worse. See a dog behavior consultant instead.

When dog fights erupt, do not stick your hand in the middle of things in an attempt to break up the fight. Your chances of getting bitten are extremely high and it will almost always be a very bad bite especially if you’re on the “big dog” side of the park.

Know when to take your dog to the dog park. I highly recommend not introducing your dog (or you) to dog parks at peak times. Take your dog the first few times during normal work hours or when the weather is not the greatest so the traffic levels at the dog park will be low.

Not every dog loves dog parks. Just like some people don’t love big parties, some behaviorally healthy dogs don’t love dog parks. You can tell if your dog doesn’t love dog parks by observing that he or she avoids other dogs by staying almost exclusively by the fence or with the owners.

Leave your smartphone in your car. Focus on your dog instead of Facebook and text messages! The latest electronic crazes will come and go, but you're creating lifetime memories with your dog.