Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a 3-year-old, loving, affectionate, purebred Shetland sheepdog. Several weeks ago he was violently attacked by a much larger, bad-tempered dog in our neighborhood and, although he was not physically injured, he has had an increasing number of behavioral problems since.
He has been excellently housetrained since he was a puppy, but about a week after the attack he urinated in the house at least four times in one day. We crated him for the rest of the day and overnight and, luckily, it has not happened again. He's also always been an infrequent barker, but now he barks at everything and sometimes even at nothing. He never bit before, but now he snaps at us when we touch him in the wrong way or accidentally step on him.
I don't think he wants to hurt us -- I think he's just scared. He's constantly underfoot and always wants to be near us, sitting on our feet or in our laps. He's always been nervous around strangers, but now is downright fearful. He'll let people approach him and pet him, but as soon as they step away from him or start to leave he goes crazy and starts barking and snarling and leaping toward them. He also snarls and leaps at all dogs we pass while walking.
How can we stop him from being constantly fearful and overly aggressive and get him to be sociable with other people and dogs again?
Your letter describes in dramatic detail how a dog can become psychologically derailed after a traumatic experience. Your dog is suffering from classic post-traumatic shock/stress disorder. Consult with your veterinarian and get an anxiety-relieving psychotropic drug like Valium or Xanax prescribed, or even Prozac. Then, after your dog has been on the medication for two to three weeks, start taking him out and about on the leash so he becomes desensitized and loses his fear around other dogs and unfamiliar people. Praise him verbally and offer him treats for remaining calm and in the "sit" position, so that he learns self-control and recognizes that you are in control as "top dog."
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have an 11-year-old Australian terrier. He was a healthy, well-adjusted dog when we got him from our daughter in 1999, when she could no longer care for him.
The problem is that, in 2001, we bought a new refrigerator and it makes "odd" noises -- one when there is a flow of refrigerant, and then a clicking sound when the defrost cycle begins and ends. When this happens, the dog drops his tail almost between his hind legs and runs to another room. This we can handle, but when he really panics he'll climb onto the back of our couch where my wife is sitting and paw at her hair as if he's trying to sit on her head! The worst part is at night, when he'll leap onto the bed and paw at my wife -- it's impossible to sleep when this is going on.
He's a healthy dog and has a good appetite (though fussy). Any suggestions?
J.S., Hazlet, N.J.
There are two solutions for your poor dog's fridge phobia.
The obvious but expensive one is to purchase a different refrigerator. The other is to make a tape recording of the noise that upsets your dog and play it repeatedly while you pet your dog, offer him treats and keep him in a confined space so he can't run away. This is called "flooding," or total immersion therapy, and is effective in most instances in helping dogs (and humans) become desensitized to a stimulus that triggers a conditioned phobic reaction. Tape recordings of thunderstorms played back repeatedly often work wonders in curing dogs of "thunderphobia."
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a cat whose X-rays indicated hip arthritis and a disk "etrusion" (I can't read what the vet wrote) -- a condition that made her just sit in a chair or slip around when she walked. The vet prescribed sea cucumber and told me improvement would occur in three to six weeks. During the third week she started to move around, and shortly after that she began to jump and run. It is truly a miracle!
I just wanted to share this with your readers.
The benefits of sea cucumber for your arthritic cat are duly noted. (The main ingredient is chondroitin, which helps alleviate arthritic conditions and can also be obtained from the cartilage of livestock slaughtered for human consumption.)
Long used in Chinese medicine to treat a variety of human ailments, various parts and extracts of this animal (it is not a plant) are being marketed in the West for humans and animals as a nutraceutical or medico-nutritional supplement.
Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
(c) 2004, United Feature Syndicate Inc.