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Doc Sara
Doc Sara, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 952
Experience:  I am a dog and cat veterinarian with a lifetime of experience in our family veterinary hospital.
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11yo male jackrussell has a nervous breakdown if a fly is in

Customer Question

11yo male jackrussell has a nervous breakdown if a fly is in the house. hides in the shower. runs around looking for a safe place until he is knows that it has been removed. Shakes and won't settle for quite a while after it has been removed. What is the best way to handle this problem. Nothing else worries him etc thunder ,fireworks, loud noises ,sirens. Does sing/cry when the phone is not answered.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Veterinary
Expert:  Doc Sara replied 1 year ago.

Hi there, I'm Dr. Sara. I'm a licensed veterinarian who works exclusively with dogs and cats. I'm sorry to hear that Digby has been so scared of flies! I know it seems crazy, but I've been in your exact situation with my own dog, Toby.

Toby was about 5 years old when we moved to a new area of the country where we have these big ugly bugs called "stink bugs" that make a loud buzzing noise when they fly. My dog who had never had any kind of anxiety issue before in his life would come completely unglued when he saw one. At first we didn't know what was triggering his anxiety, so my tactics revolved around increasing his off-property exercise by getting longer and more frequent walks. I also spent 10-15 minutes three to four times a day brushing him up on his obedience training. These two things put down the foundation for which all behavioral issues can be addressed. The increase in exercise off of your property helps give him a break from being "stuck" at home all day long and helps take his mind off of any stressors in the home. The basic obedience work is going to come in handy during the next phase, which is counterconditioning Digby to the flies. With Toby, I also frequently rewarded him with attention and treats when he was laying quietly relaxed in his bed - this is to help reinforce that he gets good things when he's calm. I also started my dog on a daily dose of fluoxetine because his anxiety was so terrible initially. You could certainly discuss this with your veterinarian if Digby's anxiety level is high.

Teaching Toby not to be afraid of the stink bugs was easy for us because he was very food motivated. You'll want to find some type of treat that Digby just LOVES for this next step. Once you've got a good basis for his basic commands like sit, down, come, and any other tricks you'd like to teach him, you can start using them as distractors from the anxiety trigger (in this case the fly). At the earliest sign of him noticing a fly (or even before HE notices the fly, if you can), get out those really good treats and start rewarding him just for noticing the fly and not having a fit. You can progress to asking him to do his obedience routine for his treats if he's calm enough. This helps not only take his mind off the fly but also shows him that when the fly is around, he gets really good treats. Keep in mind that this is best going to be accomplished if you get to him before he becomes very anxious. Once he gets really worked up, it's almost impossible to get them out of that frame of mind. Here is a great reference with a bit more info on counterconditioning:

Read that link over and let me know what other questions I can answer for you :)

~Dr. Sara


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