Pawsibilities NY

Month: May 2014

Why Is Doing Nothing, So Difficult?

“Don’t worry, dogs love me!”  …Have you heard this before?  It really gets on my nerves when people say things like this.  First, to be completely candid, in my experience the people who say this are always the most clueless about dog behavior and body language, and second, because no one loves everyone, dogs included!

If your dog is fearful of people coming into your home, or new people on the street, some outsiders looking in might see this as abnormal dog behavior, but let’s face it; it’s not.  Especially today with how many people are rescuing dogs, which is wonderful, but it is simply unfair to expect these dogs will be friendly with everyone in all situations.  If you adopted your dog as adult, as I did, you really can’t be sure of what socialization she received, if any.  New people, places and things could be difficult, and when a nervous dog is faced with a know-it-all stranger, the situation can simply be too much.

As a dog trainer, I find myself telling the owners of these dogs that the best thing is to encourage guests to ignore the dog while they come in.  What I find is that people often think ignoring the dog means not to touch it, or maybe not to talk to it, but then the person still stares intensely at the dog, which can also set off a shy dog.  I find, trying to get people to do nothing, is much harder than trying to teach a dog to do something!  I have to say that it is harder to get people to follow this rule, than to teach an old dog a new trick!

If you are a guest going into someone else’s home, whether you have dogs, have had dogs your entire life, or feel that all dogs love you; if the home owner requests you ignore his dog, then please listen.  No one is going to tell you to ignore a perfectly friendly, happy and confident dog; the owner is asking you to do this for a reason and it is usually the well being of the dog, and you!  Do not walk into someone’s home and believe you will be the magic person who changes his dog’s behavior.  If it happens that the dog does love you and begs for your attention, then I am sure the owner will take note of this and give you new instructions.

If you are the owner of a dog who you think this could help, here are some pointers:

  1. Before a guest comes into your home, explain to them that your dog is nervous and in training.  I find it is best to tell your guests they can help with the training if they can follow a few quick rules: Take a brief moment to again explain this is for your guests’ safety and the well being of your dog.  Let your guests know that by complying they are really helping your training, and hard work, so thank them for cooperating, before you even enter your home.
    • Please do not touch my dog at all.
    • Please do not stare at, or talk to my dog.
    • If my dog comes up to you and begs for attention, by slipping her head under your hand, or nestling up next to you, you may begin to show her attention, but please completely ignore her until then.
  2. Do not allow them to come into your home until they acknowledge and verbally say that they agree to these rules.
  3. If for any reason there is a person who simply cannot follow the rules, a child for example, but you feel the situation could be safe for that child to enter your home; then either meet outside with your dog and go for a walk, and then have everyone enter your home together, or better yet, keep your dog behind a baby gate or on leash to ensure no one gets hurt.

If you are a person who truly feels he “gets” dogs, and a lot of dogs really like you; then you are truly the perfect person to help your friends’ dogs overcome this fear, but you must do so on the dog owner’s terms.  A dog who is fearful of guests will overcome this fear much more quickly if strangers don’t keep walking into her home and trying to be her best friend!  Let the dog come to you, and certainly don’t take offense to a dog who keeps her distance.  Remember dogs form their opinions based on bad experience, or no experience.  Perhaps you are a man with a beard and the dog was never socialized to men with beards; this is clearly nothing personal, so rather than getting upset, try to show the dog that men with beards aren’t threatening, or imposing on the dog’s space, but instead are completely calm and play hard to get.  All I can ask is that you give this a try; if you have a friend whose dog barks at you at a lot, and you have been asked to just ignore him, next time, try it!  Playing hard to get works with romance, and dogs too!  Make doing nothing easy, by just listening to the dog owner and leaving the dog alone.  I think you will find that even more dogs love you with this approach!

Should You Try Medication for Your Dog?

If you have a dog who is reactive, aggressive, anxious or fearful and you have met with a vet, trainer, or both, regarding this, then the matter of medication may have come up.  There are a lot of different medications out there today, similar to what humans take for these issues.  So how do you decide if it is worth trying one of these medications for your dog?

I have come up with 5 questions that I find are helpful to my clients while they are deciding whether or not to try medication for you their dogs:

1. Has your dog been cleared medically of any, and all, possible health concerns associated with these behavioral issues?  And is he healthy enough to take medication?

There are some health conditions that can cause behavior problems.  Hypothyroidism is one for example, but the best thing to do when you notice behavior changes in your dog is to bring him to the vet.  Don’t just let your vet do his normal check-up, but instead explain the behaviors you have seen, with as much detail as possible.  When did the behavior change, has it worsened, and are there other symptoms you are noticing such as loss of appetite or irregular bowel movements?

2. Are you working with a trainer who understands, and is certified in dog behavior, and are you committed to your training and behavior modification program?

Medication will not cure a behavior issue on it’s own especially if your dog has gotten the chance to practice and rehearse this behavior, even if it was started by anxiety, once you cure the anxiety, the issue may still be a habit for your dog.  The example I find is most easy to understand is that people can sometimes start biting their nails because they are nervous, but then after a while, they will bite their nails even when they are not nervous, simply out of habit.  Changing habits is hard!  You will need to be prepared to work to change your dog’s habits each and everyday he is on the medication, other wise it is really pointless.  It will also be important to be working with a trainer who works with science based methods, and is certified to handle behavior modification.  The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) is a great organization that certifies animal behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses and even birds.  If you are considering starting you dog on medication perhaps consider reaching out to one of the trainers in your area, you can search on their site.  (

3. Do you have support from a veterinarian who can prescribe behavioral meds?

You will of course want the support of a veterinarian.  Putting your dog on medication is not a small matter, and while it is sometimes necessary, it is vital to be sure you are checking your dog’s blood work regularly and making sure the medication is not adversely affecting his health.

4. Does the behavioral issue affect your life everyday, at least once?

Is the issue so bad that you see it everyday?  If it is lunging and barking at other dogs, does it happen on every walk?  Do you find you don’t want to walk your dog because of this?  If it is anxiety, does your dog deal with this anxiety daily?  Is he stressed when you leave, and you have to leave him 5 days a week to face this stress?  If this is the situation you are facing, then medication could really help both you and your dog to feel better.  If you are facing this problem every single day, then give your dog and yourself some relief!  Think about how quickly many people take a Xanax before getting on a plane, and barely even think twice about it.  If we can offer our dogs, and ourselves, some relief, then why not at least give it a try?

5. Have you received complaints from neighbors, your building, or other threats to your place of residence, due to your dog’s behavior?

If you are at risk of being evicted, or even fined for a noise complaint, than it is really a no brainer.  There is simply no reason not to give medication a try if it is going to make your living situation more pleasant and less at risk.  Especially if you have answered “yes” to questions 1 through 3, then you are set up well to give medication a try.

Just like people who truly need them, these medications really work.  Dogs are complex, highly intelligent creatures, and because of this they can also be highly sensitive.  Some dogs have complicated pasts, and we don’t even always know the extent, if we rescued the dog later in life.  Behavioral medications such as Prozac, Clomicalm, and Anipryl have all been proven to be affective in dogs when paired with a behavior modification program.  If you have been living with a dog who suffers from behavioral issues and you have felt like medication is not necessary, but you answered “yes” to at least 4 out of the 5 questions, then I hope you will reconsider.  There is no reason to feel badly, or responsible, a lot of dogs, and people need medication, if it will help improve your quality of life, it is well worth a try!  Please contact a certified trainer in your area if you need help with this.