Retired racers, PTSD and depression

Mr Goodstuff In the beginning of January, our family took in a foster child. This boy is a 3-year-old retired racing greyhound. His behavior over the last 6 weeks has reminded me of my own journey of healing and teaches us about the biologic nature of psychological symptoms. There is no doubt that this poor boy suffers from PTSD. Furthermore, the PTSD has caused depression and has prevented him from being able to enjoy his life.

As part of a conscious program to teach empathy and caretaking to the children, we’ve fostered many dogs over the last 4 years. Although each dog had a sad story to tell, none came with the combination of symptoms Mr. Goodstuff suffered. I have never seen a dog as fearful and yet as placid as this animal. In some dogs, fear might be associated with aggressiveness and self defense. Although Mr. Goodstuff is fearful, he lacks completely the ability to defend himself. He even runs from our dachshund who is an eighth his size. I think this shows that anxiety can manifest differently in beings with different temperaments. Since the greyhound is not by nature aggressive, he does not become defensively aggressive when anxious.

Most striking of all was that with all this anxiety, Mr. Goodstuff could not tolerate being alone. He followed us around the house and if he could not see one of us, he immediately began to howl. If we left him alone, he became so distressed that he had diarrhea in his crate. I believe this represents the dog version of Stockholm Syndrome. It is clear that even though humans are the source of his distress, he feels compelled still to seek us out to calm his fears. It is good that we are loving and affectionate, otherwise he would be seeking to have his anxiety relieved by a tormentor. Sound familiar?

I also have never before seen a dog with clinical depression. When he first arrived, Mr. Goodstuff was unable to experience any pleasure. Although he anxiously sought to be near us, he never wagged his tail and showed a complete absence of play behavior. Although being around us made him feel less anxious, we were not a source of pleasure for him. Looking back, it is apparent that his anxiety depleted him of all pleasure and caused his depression. I have seen this picture in humans many times. The fact that dogs experience the same shows us how biologic these symptoms are. They are not related to a psychology that is uniquely human.

All social beings that form attachments are subject to developing PTSD and depression when abused by another who is the object of the attachment. The job of foster mom here is not mine, I am more the foster grandmother. My 14-year-old daughter is the dog whisperer of the family. I am pleased to report that her treatment program has produced much improvement in the symptoms of anxiety and depression. He has gained about 10 pounds and no longer looks emaciated. Seven days ago there was a hint of a wag in his tail. Over the last 3 days he has started to play. He also tolerates being alone and does not mess on the floor when left.

What kind of therapy helped Mr. Goodstuff? He has had a good healthy diet and vitamins. He has been showered constantly with love and affection, and just as important, he has been walked several miles a day.

I write about Mr. Goodstuff for two reasons. First, to encourage you to adopt a retired racer. Mr. Goodstuff is a great dog. Even though he is large, he is no trouble and is very unobtrusive. It is easy to forget he’s here. If you suffer from PTSD yourself, helping rehabilitate, or taking in permanently, a retired racer might be therapeutic for you. You also need companionship, affection and exercise. You can get all of these from a greyhound.

The second reason I write about PTSD and depression in dogs is to demonstrate the inter-related nature of these conditions. Treat one and the other will also respond. Both respond very well to exercise.

Those of us who have suffered at the hands of an aggressor can uniquely empathize with the plight of other beings who have had similar experiences. It is therapeutic for us to put that empathy to action and do good for another, even if that other is not a human.

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33 Comments on "Retired racers, PTSD and depression"

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Telepathy doesn’t seem far fetched to me. That and premonitions. I think brains, human and animal, are a lot more capable than we yet know. If we don’t have telepathy, then we have incredibly sensitive subconsciouses.

People and animals alike know things they logically can’t know. It’s more politically correct to call it intuition, instinct or a hunch. Fine. I admit that I don’t know how people and animals know what we “can’t” know. I just accept it. It’s goofy to pretend something away just because we don’t understand it. What is, is.


I had a border collie once who was a jump-up-on-you “greeter” and I taught him to come to me and SIT when I came home. He was so happy to see me that he would JUMP UP AND DOWN IN A SITTING POSITION but never up on me.

My Border Collie, now, “Boss Dog” comes and sits up before me (his own trick he made up) and I also taught him to “show me your teeth” (this is COUNTER instinctive for a subordinate dog to show teeth to a “superior” so it was difficult to teach him to do this because instinctively he didnt want to do it.) He now does it really well and has this “toothy grin” for attention. I never use a leash on him as he “heels” 110% and is 110% obedient.

He doesn’t know it yet but he is getting two goats on Wednesday which he will think are his VERY OWN! Actually they are milk goats so my son C can have milk (he is intoleratnt of cows milk, and I am now developing lactose intolerance) so Boss will be really happy that he can herd goats again and not just the cows once in a while. He loves the demos for the kids at schools.

I am with Liane on this one, DOGS have depression, a sense of fairness and though many breeds have “types” of dispositions which have been bred into them over many many generations for use for various purposes, they also have anxieties and fears. Boss is terrified of storms and gunfire and thunder, I would try to calm him and he got worse, I heard from a dog trainer to SCOLD them instead of trying to “pacify” them for their fear and guess what, IT WORKED! He actually calmed down as I was telling him it was “not okay” to be afraid. He is much less afraid of thunder now.

“That’ll do” is the universal sheep dog command for “that’s enough” or “stop it” and it means, depending on when you use it, “Okay the goats are where they belong, stop herding” or it means “stop barking” or “stop acting afraid of teh thunder” and so I found a new “trick” for myself.

A very timid dog that is afraid might have to be handled differently, but for Boss, who is very subservient but not timid (if that makes any sense) it worked for him. With the collies, we GROWL at them too, to scold them, or in rare instances of definance, to BITE them on the ear. (like their mother would when she was weaning them.)

Rune, I also think there are “frequences” of brain electrical activity that animals and who knows maybe some humans can “pick up on” (Intuition?) I know the Bantu people of South Africa and the Bushmen of South Africa seem to have more intuition than a telegraph and can send and receive messages across vast plains “instantly.” I have observed this myself multiple times. Their eye sight and sense of direction is much much more acute than Europeans’ and ones who have also grown up in the bush as well, so it isn’t “training” but some form of “intuition” that we either have lost or don’t pay attention to.

The Bushmen call it a “tapping” in the chest when they are “getting a long distance message” from someone and will sit down and “listen” until the message is “tapped out” and ALWAYS their message when we would get back to camp was correct. It might be something as simple as “don’t worry about meat for supper, we already killed an antelope” or something more complex like “we don’t have to hurry back to camp the boat won’t come tomorrow to pick up the animals we have caught” Sure enough, the boat never showed up, and at the time we “got themessage” the owner of the boat didn’t even know he wouldn’t be coming and he was over 100 miles away. SPOOKY! But I believe! I have SEEN!

Last year when I went to put my old horse down, my son and I drove down to the pasture where she was with some feed, just like always, trying to make sure she didn’t “pick up” on anything being different, but as I approached her, she RAN from me. She had never run from me in the 20+ yrs I had had her, SHE KNEW! I’m not sure if she smelled something different from the stress sweat I was doing, or “heard” the waves of my brain and my grief, but SHE KNEW! It made it harder for me too, but it had to be done and humanely done.

That is also why I will never take a cow/steer to the butcher and leave them there, I stay with them because I don’t want them to be afraid. The cattle that go to slaughter are not “pets” so I am not emotionally attached to them, and they seem to find comfort in my presence as they go into the chute, like they are just going to get a vaccine (which they have done before and know what to expect.) I also stay to make sure the butcher’s herdsmen don’t use electric prods on my stock either. But even the old oxen walked in without fear or anxiety. They are living creatures and I think they deserve at least a pain free and anxiety free death if we can give it to them. I hope I am as fortunate when I die as the animals I raise and love are.

Liane, I think the rehabilitation of animals is a great way to give your children a chance to practice their empathy! Good for you!!! And good for the dogs too!

“Do you think you can teach children empathy? Or just teach children how to respond to their empathy, providing they have it?”

Yep, I do. Not only that, but I think you can shut down a child’s empathy too. It’s a scary power.

Both of my children are very empathetic, my son particularly so. They’re also easily influenced by roll models and peers. I monitor what’s going on very closely. No bullies, mean girls or phony mentors allowed. I don’t care whose knickers get twisted in a knot. I think bad company and bad role models are dangerous.

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