CHICAGO, IL. -- These reader questions were answered by experts attending the Veterinary Behavior Symposium July 19, preceding the 150th Annual Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, held in Chicago. Members of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the American College of Veterinary Behavior hold this forum annually to present new research and clinical information about animal behavior.
Q: I rescued a terrier from being euthanized. She is so smart and loving. However, I've only had her for two days and it's obvious that she's aggressive toward other dogs. How do I correct this issue? -- E.S., Cyberspace
Meanwhile, Shaw, of Lafayette, IN, does offer some advice. "Don't allow the dog to practice this behavior, which means staying away from other dogs," she says.
Try this: Take some highly valued treats, such as bits of cut up chicken, which you use only for this exercise. Teach your pup the cue, "watch me" indoors without distractions. Whenever your dog glances to you, offer the chicken and repeat, "watch me."
Once your dog can do this without fail indoors, try taking the "watch word" outside. At first, walk far enough from other dogs so that your dog isn't bothered. As she pays attention to you and not other canines on the street you can gradually get closer to others with four legs.
"It's terrific you saved this dog," says Shaw, "But you may need to adjust your expectations for what this dog is capable of. In reality, this behavior is what may have sent the dog to the shelter in the first place."
Help is available from veterinarians who are board certified in animal behavior (veterinary behaviorists, http://www.dacvb.org), veterinarians with a special interest in behavior (members of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, http://www.avsabonline.org) or certified dog behavior consultants (International Association Animal Behavior Consultants, http://www.iaabc.org).
Q: Two years ago, we put our beautiful Shelties to sleep. I thought we couldn't go through that again with another dog, but then realized that we couldn't live without a dog. We purchased another Sheltie. She barks and pulls on the leash, then jumps to meet other dogs on the street. Once they're together, she's very happy. We tried the spray collar (which sprays citronella), and shock (collar) but they didn't work. Nothing seems to calm her. She wouldn't bite another dog; she just wants to play, but other owners and their dogs don't know that. What can you suggest? -- B.E., Seminole, FL
A: Our dogs are constantly communicating with us. Consider that your dog is "saying" she'd really enjoy the company of a canine companion.
Of course, if you have difficulty controlling one dog, how will you handle two? Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA, says you are approaching all this as most dog owners tend to, and that is using punishment.
"It's much more effective and humane to use positive reinforcement," he says. "Besides, by shocking a dog you're really not offering information for how you do want the dog to act."
Reward your dog for not pulling on the leash and for silence. Set her up for success by, at first, keeping away from those other dogs. Stay far enough away that she won't be pulling and barking; then offer lots of praise and treats. Gradually get closer to other dogs, over a course of weeks. You may require a dog trainer to assist you.
Dodman says to consider fitting your dog with a head halter (such as a Gentle Leader) or a body harness to provide better control.
Meanwhile, if you're unable to bring another dog into her life, be sure to allow her to socialize at dog parks. The lunging on the leash can't be an issue if she's off leash (at the park).
Q: We love your column, and now need your help. We've had miniature Dachshunds for over 30 years. In October, 2009, we bought littermates. From the very start, they began to pull grass from the yard, and our flowers, too. Of course, this made us sick. They still have the same habit. We've tried everything. Any advice? -- D.E., Glen Allen, VA
A: "The short answer is one word:supervision," says Chicago-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi. Either keep the dogs on a leash or otherwise occupied with a game when they're in the yard.
Dachshunds are born to dig, and they've been entrenched in this behavior since they've been on the planet, so in all honesty this behavior isn't changing tomorrow. Perhaps, you can go with the flow. Consider creating their own place in the yard to dig. By hiding toys filled with treats in a sand pit, you'd no doubt effectively create a Dachshund digging den. Otherwise, it's back to that magic word: supervision.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)