Mitzie’s behaviour points to depression.
Only after I came home did I get the eureka moment. Westie Mitzie’s odd behaviours, obviously as a result of huge changes to her life, were consistant with depression.
They have had the little four-year-old dog for only six days. They are still getting to know her and she has a lot of adjusting to do.
There isn’t much known about her past, but when they picked her up she had seemed bright, confident and happy. She was also very dirty and in bad need of grooming. Her yellow-stained feet suggested that she was constantly caged or kenneled and having to stand in her own urine. After being groomed, she then had a thorough vet check, her first injection and was micro-chipped.
They took her for a walk.
So far, so good. Hindsight as ever being wonderful, perhaps this was all just too much too soon.
Her behaviour then changed, literally overnight. The first night she had slept through the night but the second night she cried when left.
The next day she refused to go out for a walk.
By the fifth night she howled and cried for ages.
Mitzie paces the perimeter of the room she’s in. Round and round and round, always in an anti-clockwise direction. My guess is that she had been caged in a small area for hours on end if not all the time and was driven mad with boredom. Much like a confined zoo or circus animal she would circle.
It’s like she is literally trying to ‘unwind’. The more she does it, the more she will do it. I suggest they interrupt by gently calling her, rewarding for coming (fortunately she loves her food) and then doing something else with her briefly. This is hard because a symptom of depression is that she’s lethargic and lacking in interest, but at least she still will take food.
Mitzie’s body language from the moment I entered was really unusual. She stood still a lot, she moved slowly, tail and head down. She back away. The door of the room was open and she could have run away had she so wished. The only things she did with any purpose was to circle the room. I described her manner as distant, careful and worried. When they put their hand out over her head to touch her she shrank back. If her chest was tickled she stood still but showed no sign of either liking it or wanting to avoid it.
She has had a few accidents indoors, unsurprising if not having had the opportunity to get out of her living area for quite a long time. I also read that one sign of depression in dogs may be lacking the drive to try to go out.
The one thing that does get a reaction apart from meals, is being left – most particularly when the gentleman leaves the room.
I have a theory about depression happening when life suddenly becomes good, based on my own childhood. I was very unhappy at a boarding school and a few days after I went to a much nicer place, thinking I was in heaven, I suddenly developed a psychiatric problem that today would have been diagnosed as depression. It was like, as soon as I could relax and worry no longer and my defenses were down, the black devil was free to ride in.
Little Mitzie has really landed on her feet. She lives with a very kind and caring couple in a peaceful environment. The change in her life being so sudden and enormous, this is all to do with her adjusting. Meanwhile, she should be allowed to make her own choices and have a predictable routine. Pressure in terms of trying to get her to react and giving too much attention should be relaxed. Picking her up to get her to go out or to her bed should be avoided where possible as this takes away her choice – she will be able to walk because she is still motivated by food. Going out on walks just isn’t important at the moment.
Here is a quote from a friend of mine who works for Hounds First Sighthound Rescue (the breed is irrelevant of course):
“On the first day it’s like they are running on adrenaline and then seem to crash. We give them their own space such as a crate, covered in a blanket, and let them do things in their own time. Obviously if dogs are in urgent medical need we get them to the vet but everything else is left for a good week to two weeks until they start to unwind. We always say that they are either very good or at the other end of the scale shut down for 2-3 weeks, then you get all the unwanted behaviours appear, then after that they start to adjust and this can take months or even years”.
One thing is certain. If receiving love has anything to do with the speed of her rehabilitation, then Mitzie should throw off her depression before too long.