The Dog with PTSD

The author with her dog Tonto

The author with her dog Tonto

Tonto came into our lives in January 2013. He was nine months old and accompanied by his brother Ridley. The foster mom asked me which one I wanted. Two sets of big eyes and wagging tails tugged at my heart. I felt like King Solomon. How could I judge which dog belonged to me?

Of Labrador and German shepherd parents, the two dogs looked and acted differently. Tonto was more Lab. He was golden coated with a German shepherd tail and coarse hair. And he was shy. “Good,” I thought, “he won’t be obnoxious with guests.” His brother was a smaller version of Rin Tin Tin, my childhood obsession. And he was friendly, too friendly, and a little hyper.

I stood to the side and watched them check out the yard, deposit their “gifts,” and chase each other. Then Tonto came to me with a wagging tail. “He chose you,” the foster mom said. How could I possibly turn down such blind adoration? While we were signing the papers, Ridley nuzzled his way into my hand, and I had a brief moment of indecision. But the die was cast, and the foster mother drove off with Ridley in his crate.

Like most marriages, the honeymoon was brief. Tonto and I bonded quickly, but the story was different with my husband Tom. A pattern soon developed. In the morning Tonto was friendly with Tom…until he got dressed. Then Tonto would back up and bark at him. We discovered that our new dog was afraid of men’s shoes. Tonto would not even approach me if I put on a pair of hard-soled wingtips. Maybe it was the clumping way I tottered in Tom’s shoes.

We came to the conclusion that Tonto had been kicked or severely punished for chewing shoes, and our campaign for behavior change began. I suggested that Tom stay in his pajamas during the day, but surprise,  that idea was vetoed. The trainer said to put a pair of Tom’s shoes in the family room and fill them with treats, but Tonto wouldn’t then venture out of the kitchen. I tried spraying him with water when he barked. That worked some, but where was the water bottle most of the time? Our older minds could hardly keep track of car keys let alone a sprayer. The trainer suggested Prozac. Was it for me or the dog?

We’ve had Tonto for a few months now, and the barking-at-shoes dilemma has not been solved. Friends at the dog park have many recommendations, and we’re trying them all–except the one to give Tonto back to the rescue home. The soulful eyes, the silky ears, and the bounding-because I’m glad-to-see-you behavior overrides any repercussions from the trauma Tonto experienced before he came into our home.  Tom frequently goes barefoot, and I’m constantly misplacing the spray bottle. We decided that PTSD really means “Present Tonto Seems Divine.”

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About Patti Albaugh

I grew up in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1965. I have a Bachelor's Degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. I am an Emeritus Professor at Otterbein University. In addition to writing creative nonfiction and fiction, I like genealogy, gardening, travel and Mah Jjong. I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, with my dog Tonto. I am the proud parent of children Justin and Amy and granddaughters Katherine and Zoe.
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14 Responses to The Dog with PTSD

  1. Carol Navin says:

    Enjoyed! Our dogs do have a way of claiming our households.

  2. He doesn’t bark a lot. Just when Tom wears hard soled shoes! Sorry to hear about the cat. End of life issues are difficult, pet or otherwise! You are setting a good example for how your daughter should take of you…down the road!

  3. Margaret’s War…takes place during the Vietnam War. I’ll keep you posted!

  4. Bill Muto says:

    King Solomon-I was thinking Sophie’s Choice, but that’s the way my mind works, I can’t help it.

  5. Barbara Zientek says:

    I hope Tonto gets over his dislike for mens’ shoes. It must be difficult when you have males visiting. Of course you could start the ritual of all men removing their shoes when the enter and Tonto is around.

  6. I suggest you start clicker training and hand feeding all your dog’s food (if you feed kibble).

    There are several dog clicker training videos on YouTube, one with a little dog who goes nuts, barking his head off at the washing machine. His dog parent, a young woman slowly shifted the dog’s behavior from fear barking to acceptance. She broke down each exposure into short 3 minute sessions. 1. Looking at the washer (not turned on). while asking her dog to sit then she clicked and gave a treat.

    Each step in training she moved herself and her dog closer in physical distance to the object of fear. I think that if you didn’t put the shoes on, just moved the a shoe or fear trigger a little closer, while the dog is out of the family room. Then get your dog’s favorite food, calmly enter the room, click and feed, that soon your dog would shift to calmer behavior. First seeing, then moving closer to the shoe, then hearing the sound the shoe makes without you wearing it. Finally, watching you put on the offending shoes.

  7. Hi Patti, here is that video of clicker training a noise fearful dog. I believe this trainer really knows dogs and how to gently, yet firmly interrupt distress barking. This comment may go into your spam due to the video link, so I will post the video on my blog today.

    Many of us rescue or adopt dogs who have had less than ideal homes. I wish you the best in helping your dog calmly accept LOUD sounding shoes. “Dog training – How to train your dog not to bark” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp_l9C1yT1g

  8. I tried clicker training and Tonto freaks out with the noise. Maybe I didn’t give it enough time?

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