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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 9, 1998 | previous set | next set


I have a 2 year old shepherd mix. We got him from a shelter when he was 8 weeks old. When he was 7 months old he began to show his aggressive side. It gradually became more and more frequent. We put him through extensive training but it hasn't seemed to help much. He still will bite everyone that comes near him. He has never shown an aggressive side to me and a couple of other people. I just am not quite sure what to do now. I don't want to put him to sleep because I really love him but I can't have an aggressive dog around. I saw the TV show on Tuesday night and I saw the dog that was put on Prozac. Is this an option for Rusty? If not do you have any other suggestions for me? Your help and advice is greatly appreciated. Thank You!!!!!

Susan Hunter
Los Angeles, CA

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your shepherd mix, Rusty, has been biting people since he was seven months old, and now he is two. But he is nice to you and one or two other people. And you really love him and don't want to put him to sleep.

This is a sad quandary, and not uncommon. Rusty sounds like what is sometimes called a fear-biter: a dog that is so shy and uneasy around strangers that he bites unprovoked. Sometimes people think the dog must have been mistreated once, or owners excuse it on the grounds that people rush at him, but really, the dog is overly afraid. The problem usually lies in the dog's genes. A very skilled trainer can make such a dog reasonably reliable most of the time (but never truly safe), and you could try drugging the dog, but the dog will never be completely reliable no matter what, if the problem is inbred.

So, you live with a dog you have to keep shut away from others; a dog that is always or often in a state of unreasonable fear and terror very uncomfortable state for the dog. And what if the dog gets out when you are not around? What if it bites a child? What if you are sued? You obviously have a warm heart and a loving home. My feeling is, put poor Rusty out of his fears forever, and give your time and money and care and good home to one of the many splendid, happy, healthy, normal dogs that get put to sleep every year just because no one has a home for them. A rescue greyhound, or another dog from the shelter, but one which was not born to bite.


I have a golden lab. He's about two and turning into a fine loyal and faithful dog. He craves attention to a degree that is very annoying. He wants to be petted all the time and when I tell him no he acts like a whipped dog. I get up to do something he's right back at it. This isn't a temporary trait, it's constant. Will he outgrow it? I want to get him cut, will that make a difference?

William Oldfield
Jackson, MI

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your young Labrador or Golden pesters you for petting and attention every time you move. You don't like to tell him NO because he cringes. You are thinking of getting him neutered, and wonder if that will help. Getting him neutered is an excellent idea anyway; he will be the same dog except that he will not be so likely to go out and get run over. But the begging for petting is owner-trained behavior. When a behavior like this becomes very persistent it is usually because the owner reinforces it in an unpredictable way: that is, sometimes you pet him, and sometimes you don't. He can't tell when, so if he doesn't get petted at first, he tries harder and harder, hoping to prod you into petting.
  1. Find some other things to do together. A young dog like this needs activities. Take walks, or join a tracking club or agility competition group.
  2. Discipline yourself. Stop petting him. When he does something you want him to, when he comes when called, or gets in the car, or lies down when told, say GOOD! and pet him. The rest of the time, turn your back or move away if he tries to be petted. Teach him that you never pet him unless you say GOOD! first, and he will learn to listen, and pray for that word, instead of pawing you and so on.
  3. Give him a mat to lie on, and show him that when he lies on the mat until you say GOOD he'll get petted. Start by getting him standing on the mat for five seconds with you right nearby. Work just for a minute or two, twice a day, making the job a little tougher each time, until you can get him lying on the mat for 30 seconds with you sitting across the room. Then work up to a minute. Then ten. Before you know it, "Go lie down" will be a promise that you'll pet him when he is "finished" lying down, which will be when you call him.
  4. If you don't like to see him act horrified when you say NO, close your eyes.


I have noticed our adopted Pug (four years old) has some feline habits. She likes to sit on the back of the couch, plays with a toy mouse, and is very unresponsive to some commands, like come, sit, etc. She seems to act a lot like a cat with a "conscience" quite often.

I know she was raised with a cat for four years. Do dogs take on personalities of other species? Is this learned behavior? I'm not familiar with other pugs, so maybe they are all a little reluctant to obey and have a mind of their own.

Thanks for any information you have available on my rather independent Daisy the Dog.

Mary Ann Morris
Springfield, IL

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your adopted Pug acts like a cat. Plays with toys, sits on the back of the couch, and doesn't obey commands. She was raised with a cat. Is this catching?

Most pugs are lively and independent. This is part of their charm. Daisy didn't catch it from the cat, she came with a mind of her own. Pugs don't take orders, but they respond very well to positive reinforcement and clicker training. Visit the Web site,; in the "memos" section there's an amusing story from trainer Gail Fisher about a Pug named Maggie, which will make you feel pleased with your delightful Daisy.


My dog, a mix of Poodle and Cocker Spaniel, was mauled by a black dog in November of 1996. Now she doesn't trust other dogs that are black, not even little puppies. What can my parents and I do to help Buttercup trust black colored puppies again? Is there anything we can do?

Angela Roquemore
Flagstaff, AZ

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your cockapoo (cocker/poodle mix) was attacked by a black dog, and now she is afraid of black dogs, even puppies. What to do?

Find her some brown friends. Seriously, while one can see the dog's point of view, does it matter particularly? Does this inconvenience you much? If it does, be sure you don't reinforce the fear behavior by cuddling and reassuring the dog every time a black dog passes by. Just be very matter of fact and ignore the situation. Meanwhile, your dog comes from two very playful breeds. It would be a kindness to find some friendly dog or dogs she could play with, once a week or so, or to join a dog class and make some friends for her. That would help her be more confident with all dogs.


What do you do when your dog starts acting like it is going to throw up, but doesn't until a few hours? Our dog swallows it down so it takes a long time for her to throw up. We would rather she just got it over with!

(name witheld by request)

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your dog acts as if it's going to throw up, and then sometimes it doesn't and sometimes it does.

Your dog needs to see the vet. Maybe it has worms. Stomach worms can make a dog gag and retch. Whether it actually throws up or not depends on whether it's eaten recently. The worms are bad for the dog, and easily fixed with medication.


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