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Pets: Changing unwanted behavior in dog

These reader questions about dog behavior were answered by veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz in St. Louis, an editor (with Dr. John Ciribassi and myself) of “Decoding Your Dog,” authored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. In the book, common behavior problems are explained with techniques to avoid problems, and there’s advice from experts on how to change unwanted behaviors using science-based methods.

Q: Buddy, is a 2-year-old adopted Chihuahua, and he quickly became our buddy. However, he’s not everyone’s buddy because now he howls at anyone who comes into the house and doesn’t stop until they leave. We try to distract him with toys and treats, but that doesn’t help. Do you have any ideas? – A.W, Cyberspace

A: “It’s not unusual for dogs to take some time to show their real personality after being adopted,” says Horwitz. “For whatever reason, it seems your dog is fearful.”

Horwitz continues, “Teach Buddy to be calm and relaxed behind a closed door, and begin to teach her when only you (and/or family members) are home before you try this when company visits.”

Certainly, it’s fine to stuff cookies or low fat/low salt peanut butter or low fat cream cheese into Kong toys, or pour kibble into food puzzles or food dispensing toys to keep him occupied behind that closed door.

“Ultimately you’ll want to desensitize and countercondition Buddy to visitors, and you can do that,” Horwitz says. It’s best to find a dog trainer using positive reinforcement techniques or a veterinary behaviorist to meet your dog in person to assess the situation, and to show you what to do.


Q: We rescued a little 3½-year old Jack Russell Terrier. She’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dog. When walking her, she gets aggressive with any dog that gets anywhere near us. My husband is getting frustrated and getting to the point of getting rid of her. She is a troubled little girl. Can you provide any help? – S.S., St. Catharines, Ont.

A: “Some dogs are more reactive than others, and terriers are right up there, sometimes bordering on dramatic,” says Horwitz. “The technique (your dog is using) works; the dog gets aggressive, barking and all those antics – and you walk away, the other dog walks away. So, your dog does it again and again.”

Horwitz continues, “What you should do for now is to simply stay away from other dogs, so your dog doesn’t continue to practice this behavior.”

Horwitz suggests that a dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques or a veterinary behaviorist is necessary to observe exactly what’s going on, and then show you how you can help to lower your dog’s level of reactivity, and demonstrate the right timing to do so.

As frustrating as this problem is, please don’t give up your dog. Sent back to the shelter – even if adopted out again – this pup’s chances might not be so good.


Q: Until two weeks ago, our Chihuahua/Terrier-mix rode in our car with no problem. She gets excited when we ask to if she wants to go “bye bye,” but she pants as soon as she gets into the car, climbs on our shoulders and yawns a lot. I’ve tried to take her only for short rides to the park – but that hasn’t worked. We don’t drive any long distances with her because we don’t want to upset her. Do you have any advice? – H.A., Las Vegas

A: Begin by changing her immediate association with the car, offer cookies for merely jumping into the car – but go nowhere; don’t even start the engine.

Once you can do that with no sign of stress, go down the block, make the ride so incredibly short that your dog won’t get upset. Return home, and then offer her a meal. The idea is to associate car rides with something she likes – her food.

Some tools you can use to potentially lessen anxiety include an Adaptil collar, which emits a copy of a calming pheromone, and/or Anxitane, which is L-Theanine, a calming nutritional supplement.

However, it’s possible that your pup is suffering from motion sickness. If that’s the case, behavior modification won’t do much good alone until she feels better. Ask your veterinarian about Cerenia, an anti-nausea drug.

Some dogs feel more comfortable being confined in a carrier or a in a safety seat behind a seat belt.

If all goes go well, the short rides will gradually become longer.

email: Petworld@steve