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Ask The Behaviorist
Dogs: Dr. Karen Pryor answering questions
Please be aware that the following suggestions are
general advice and are not intended to be a
substitute for taking your pet to a veterinarian.
Posted February 12, 1998 | previous set


Question:

Murphy is a 6-year-old, purebred yellow lab. (spayed) & hyper, can never sit still very long. 70lbs. I would like to know the dosage of Prozac you would use for aggression? She is very aggressive to other dogs, whether she is in her own yard or out for a walk. She has never bit another dog or anyone, but continually barks until you get her away from the situation. This makes it very difficult for our 7 and 9 year old to take her for a walk.

Barb Fritsch
Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada
fritsch@island.net



Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your six and a half year old lab is very aggressive to other dogs, and you wonder how much Prozac to give her. I am not sure Prozac would help in the slightest. This is learned behavior. The dog has never been properly socialized with other dogs, so it is afraid of them, and threatens them. It has learned that other dogs go away or are taken away when it is aggressive, so for the dog, aggression and barking "work." I'm not at all surprised that your seven and nine year olds can't take the dog for a walk; I'm a little surprised that you would consider letting them try, under the circumstances.

I would recommend an obedience class, for a start, with one of the adults in the family doing the class work. If that is too time-consuming, there is, in fact, a quick fix for this kind of behavior: it's a head halter for dogs, not a muzzle but a halter like those we use on cows and horses, called the "Gentle Leader." The leash attaches underneath the animal's jaw. It can still open its mouth and pant and eat and even bark; but when the dog pulls forward, all a person has to do is hold onto the leash, and the dog's own actions will pull its head down and bring the dog to a halt.

The dog quickly learns that lunging forward at another dog will result in being turned away so that it can't see the dog. In fact the dog can't pull on the leash at all, without losing sight of where it's going; so without any training or effort, a dog in a Gentle Leader quickly teaches itself to keep the leash slack. Children will have a MUCH easier time walking the dog, and if it lunges toward another dog, they'll be able to turn it away with ease. I have seen the Gentle Leader work "miracles" with all kinds of big dogs, even confirmed pullers and barkers like yours.

Initially the dog may paw at the new thing on its face, and struggle and leap about, just as it did with the leash and collar when it was a little puppy. But dogs soon get used to it, and learn to like having it put on, since it means they are going for a walk. The Gentle Leader is available in various colors and sizes from the Dog and Cat Book Catalog, 1-800-776-2665, or on the Web, www.dogandcatbooks.com. (And no, I don't have any commercial interest in the product, I just think it's the best thing out there for your kind of problem.)



Question:

I have a 13 month old Staffordshire Bull Terrier who loves to dig. How can I deter this behavior?

Aaron Williams
Beaufort, SC
pumpkin@islc.net



Response from Dr. Pryor:

A 13-month-old Bull Terrier, a lively, intelligent breed, should not be turned out in the yard alone for long periods of time. Like a teenaged human, he will find something to do to relieve his boredom. Maybe you should be glad he's settled on digging; I know of one retriever who learned to pass the lonely hours by eating rocks. Digging is great fun, and natural to dogs: in the wild, most canids dig dens. Instead of trying punitive measures to stop the dog from digging, give him more to do. Take him with you when you go places, keep him with you when you are indoors, make sure he gets two nice walks a day. Enroll him in a puppy day care playgroup or an agility class, or join a flyball team. He needs something to occupy his mind. When he must be in the yard, be with him; play ball or something, and call him back to you if he finds one of his holes and starts to dig. It's one drawback of pet dogs; they are not furniture, to be stuck out back when not needed. They are family members (junior members, to be sure) who need company, supervision, and a job to do, even it it's just chasing balls.



Question:

We share our house with a wonderful 4 yr. old Golden Retriever. During his life we have stayed in contact with most of his brothers and sisters. They all are warm, trusting family members.

Recently one of the brothers we don't know was in a stressful situation and bit (and released) a child causing 4 stitches. The family had just moved and children were running throughout the house.

The owners elected to put the dog to sleep but the breeder interceded and now has the dog. The family indicated that the dog was always "skittish" and didn't trust men. They indicate that the dog was not abused and we (and our vet) can find no physical symptoms of abuse.

Questions - Can dogs of the same litter have significantly different personalities? I am not talking about minor personality but more major differences. In our opinion, the previous owner was primarily responsible for this but please explain other possibilities.

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Pryor:

You have a wonderful Golden, and you know several of his littermates, and they are wonderful too. But the breeder took one of the litter back (what a good, responsible breeder!) after it bit a child. Can dogs in the same litter have different personalities? Of course they can! A litter of puppies is not a bunch of identical clones; they all come with their own little personalities built in, just like brothers and sisters in a human family. The events that occur as a puppy grows up may strengthen or modify its natural tendencies. A dog that is innately a bit nervous could become more nervous in some environments and less in others. So the previous owners could have been "responsible" in that their household and way of behaving toward the dog was not good for this particular animal. I can't tell you, from this distance, whether the dog will continue to be unreliable, and perhaps really should be euthanized, or whether in another situation the dog might be just fine. In a household with people who are interested in obedience, agility, flyball, or some other confidence-building dog sport, the dog might be perfect. Time and the breeder will tell.



Question:

My mother has a 9-month-old puppy, half dachshund and half Chihuahua. This dog has what I call a submissive wetting problem. When it sees us it wets, if you give it a command it wets, when it comes to our house or any other person's house it wets there. If you go to touch it it wets. What, if anything, can be done to modify or eliminate this condition? She has become an unwelcome visitor in our house.

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Pryor:

Submissive urination is a big nuisance, I agree. It is not unusual in young dogs and small dogs; after all, huge humans are pretty overpowering, and this dog is both. Is it possible that your mother inadvertently reinforces the piddling by picking the dog up and reassuring it? I'd find an alternative to that: noncommittally wiping up after it, while cuddling it at other times, for more grownup behavior such as coming when called, and allowing itself to be petted by others. I'd strongly recommend clicker training for this dog: a system of positive reinforcement that doesn't involve stern commands or physical control of the dog. It could quickly learn a repertoire of more suitable behavior to offer than the submissive display. Meanwhile, when the dog comes to your house, you could put it in a crate, or put it in diapers: petstores sell them for dogs in heat or ask your mother to leave the dog home.



Question:

HELP! My 2-1/2-year-old cocker spaniel goes nuts when the phone rings. He starts out whining, then he begins to bark—louder and louder. If I can't answer the phone on the first ring, I don't even bother because I can't hear the caller. He sounds like he's being tortured! He exhibits the same behavior when I listen to the messages on my answering machine. What can I do to curb this behavior?

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your dog has learned to make such a racket when the phone rings that you don't even bother to answer it, past the first ring, any more! Boy, has he got YOU trained? You are not ALLOWED to talk to that machine, or listen to it, when you could be paying attention to him! This in my opinion calls for a little negative reinforcement: not punishment, which is attention of a sort, but a consequence that he can remove by being quiet. Here's how. Set things up by arranging to have several messages on the answering machine. Put a leash on the dog and let him drag it around the house; that way you can get hold of him easily without having to grab him by the collar (I betcha he's already skilled at ducking out of reach.) Step on the leash. Start the answering machine. The minute he starts yelling, pick up the leash, pick up the dog without scolding him or talking to him at all, and shut him in a closet.

When he is quiet, let him out. Repeat.

If the phone rings, say "Just a minute" into the phone, and do the same thing: Put the dog AWAY. Then enjoy your phone call. Meanwhile, and here's the other half of the coin, prepare some tasty small treats and keep them in a bowl by the phone. If, at any point, he actually IS quiet when the machine starts, say "Good!" and give him a treat. Quiet pays off. Noise=banishment. Stay calm. He'll figure it out, and you will have learned something, too. Not to let the dog train you!



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