These reader questions about dog behavior were answered by veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz in St. Louis, MO, 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 also there’s advice from experts on how to change unwanted behaviors using science-based methods.
Q: Until two weeks ago, our Chihuahua/Terrier 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, NV
A: Horwitz says to 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 signs of stress, go somewhere, make it only a drive 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.
However, it’s also possible that your pup is suffering from motion sickness. If that’s the case, behavior modification won’t do much good. If lots of lick lipping is going on with that yawning, and/or your dog throws up, she is likely nauseous. Ask your veterinarian about Cerenia, an anti-nausea drug.
Horwitz says some dogs feel more comfortable being confined in a carrier or a in a safety seat behind a seat belt.
If all does go well, the very short rides will very gradually become longer.
Q: Buddy, is a 2-yer 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 they leave. We try to distract him with toys and treats,, 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 and 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 counter-condition Buddy to visitors, and you can do that,” Horwitz says. Its 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: My Australian Shepherd lies on her stomach to have her belly rubbed, then shortly after she takes a rear leg and starts to hit herself in the head just before her left ear. Is this a nervous tick, or is she trying to tell me something? C.?, Cyberspace
A: When dogs’ bellies are rubbed, it’s not unusual for one leg to move back and forth, over and over, as a kind of reflex response. “But this seems more intense and vigorous,” says Horwitz. “It would be interesting to offer much shorter belly rubs, and see if she asks for more. Maybe this is this is like how it’s okay to tickle someone for a few seconds, but not for many minutes – it’s no longer fun. “
Clearly, you don’t think this is normal. If you have a smart phone videotape the behavior and email it your veterinarian.
Q: We rescued a little 3 ½-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. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada
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 form other dogs, so your dog doesn’t continue to practice this behavior.”
Horwitz suggest 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.
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.
©Steve Dale Pet World, LLC; Tribune Content Agency
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