No Quick Fixes

a medium-sized whit and tan dog chases a bird
Photo from Honest Kitchen

When dealing with a dog behavior issues, the options usually include training, often including some sort of equipment or tools; and, for some problems,  medication.

No matter which combination you choose, thought, there’s also time. There are no quick fixes. A single consultation with a dog trainer is not going to transform your dog.

I have recently talked with dog owners dealing with significant issues: Severe anxiety in one case and high prey drive in two other cases. All of the humans are deeply committed to their relationships with their dogs and willing to work toward a solution.

Though I don’t love the idea of medicating a dog to address a behavior issue, in the case of severe anxiety, I think that might be needed. If a dog is so anxious and quick to respond to whatever is triggering her anxiety, the right medication might be able to take the edge off of that anxiety and get the dog into a state where training is possible. I suggested that this person talk with her dog’s vet about options.

Tools or equipment for controlling a dog or getting her attention won’t help if the dog is not able to focus on anything but the trigger. And aversive equipment like a slip collar (or worse, a shock collar) would simply make things worse by adding a painful negative association to the already terrifying trigger.

I do not think that medication alone is a solution; the dog can learn new ways to respond to a trigger. The medication is a crutch to help get her there, allow her to focus on training. Depending on the dog, the trigger, and the level of anxiety, it’s possible that the dog won’t need the medication after training.

Prey drive is a tougher issue. I’m not aware of any medications that would help here. I think this is a question of a lot of behavior modification work, along with lifelong management of the dog’s environment to avoid letting the dog chase and catch a prey animal.

In these two cases, I suggested that the humans find trainers with experience dealing with high prey-drive dogs and who use tools and training approaches that they, the owners, are comfortable using on their dogs.

The training process can take a long time — weeks to months — and you’re never going to eradicate the dog’s prey drive. You might get to a point where the dog behaves in a way that you can live with, but you’ll always need to be aware of the triggers, whether it’s squirrels, cats, cars, or (worst case) “anything that moves” and be prepared to manage the dog’s response.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for these dog owners who each really want to do the right thing for their dog — and who are investing time, effort, and significant money in working on significant problems. They are all examples of the best of the dog-human relationship.


The (Not-So) Mean Girl at the Dog Park

Cali and Ronen play tug with a very small stick
Cali and Ronen play tug with a very small stick

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Cali’s unfortunate experience with a mean girl at the park. The mean girl has been back, and I think she really was just having an off day. An off couple of weeks, maybe.

Not long after she bullied Cali, I saw her go after a sweet older gentleman, a Labrador, who was lying down and minding his own business. A toy that Ms. Meanie wanted bounced too close; he must have moved to get it, and she was on him in a flash. Her dad reacted quickly and took her out of the park. Someone who was there commented that she’d done the same thing to a different dog earlier that week.

At this point, I was gunning for this dog. They’d better not bring her back to this park, I fumed.

Well, the dog came back. We had just arrived at the park when I saw them come in. My first instinct was to leash up the girls and leave. On the way out, I wandered over to a friend to chat for a moment. I said I didn’t feel comfortable with that dog there, and we talked about the best way to handle the Situation as we watched the mean girl.

She was playing energetically with Ronen, a sweet, goofy, year-old big male Labrador. Her hackles were up, and she was being very assertive, but not aggressive or even inappropriate. She played with a few other dogs, while I kept Jana and Cali close and on leash. She’s young, assertive, and high-energy, but she definitely wasn’t showing aggression or even bad manners. I finally decided to be a grown-up and actually talk to the mom.

She apologized for the Cali incident, and we talked about the other incidents and what to do about resource guarding. She said that they had signed the dog up for training  classes (hooray!), and they had exposed her to lots of other dogs for supervised play. They were working hard on a solid recall. The dog had been grumpy / reactive several times over a period of a couple of weeks, the mom said, but hadn’t had issues before or since. It sounds to me as if they are doing everything right, and they really care. I wish more dog parents were as concerned.

I’m still wary of this dog, but Cali seems to have completely let the incident go. She’s always thrilled to be at the park, happily plays with or alongside other dogs, and shows no fear of this or any other dog.

I need to learn from her: No grudges. Cali might well pick up on my anxiety about this dog, and I can create a problem where, at the moment, none exists. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could learn to move on as effortlessly as our dogs do?