Dear Dr. Fox:

I’m writing to you about my mother’s 5-year-old Shih Tzu, Molly. She is very attached to the both of us.

My mother bought her from a pet store as soon as she was able to be away from her mother. I have been with them both, on and off, over the past five years. Both of us spoil Molly.

But since December, when I moved back, she has become very aggressive. When I stayed at my mom’s, Molly slept with me in the guest room on the bed. When my mother would come into the guest room to take her out for her first walk of the day, Molly would go berserk and start barking and growling at my mother. She would even go so far as to try to bite my mother.

I would have to either get up and take her out myself or pick her up and put her down on the floor. Once on the floor, my mother could take her out for the walk.

If Molly slept with my mother in my mother’s house and I happened to wake up first and went to get her for a walk, she would do the same barking and growling at me.

I think she is either protecting the person who’s sleeping or is possibly bipolar. I know it sounds funny, but who knows nowadays? Maybe she needs mood stabilizers?

Lately, Molly has not been eating her moist food, which my mother has been giving her every morning for years. My mother has resorted to spoon-feeding her. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

K.H., Naples, Fla.

DF: A bipolar dog that is being spoon-fed — I’ve heard everything!

You and your mother have a problem child. But the monster is not entirely of your own overindulgent and permissive making, because Molly is a responding and triggering player in this crazy triad of confused signals and conditioned reactions and expectations.

First, take her to the vet for a full physical exam. Dogs with a malfunctioning thyroid gland or a physical problem causing pain can become unpredictably aggressive or emotionally unstable.

Molly’s more predictable, situation-associated, possibly territorial aggression might be cognitive in origin, and calls for behavior modification and remotivation. This means changing how you and your mother react.

Practice consistent tough love, consulting with a canine behavior specialist who can help you and your mother turn Molly into a gentle lamb, or at least a happier and better adjusted pet. Prozac might be the last resort.

debarking a dog

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have three schnauzers. They have about half an acre on which to run and play.

One is a rescued giant schnauzer that barks so loud when she is outside that I can let her out only to relieve herself, then bring her right back in. We also have a male giant schnauzer and a miniature schnauzer.

I was an obedience instructor, and I’ve had two other professionals work with the problem dog. I have used every type of anti-bark collar I can find. They might work for a couple of days, but then she barks through them all. The citronella collar worked for almost two weeks, but is no longer effective.

This dog and her brother were abandoned in an outside run with no food or water until they were rescued. I believe this plays a big part in her barking behavior, but how can I reprogram her?

I do not believe in debarking a dog, but I just don’t know what to do to stop her from barking so much.

J.H., Swansea, Ill.

DF: As an experienced canine obedience instructor, you have known other dogs such as this and found remedies, but this giant schnauzer is your nemesis!

I agree, she might have a post-traumatic stress disorder issue playing a role in her obsessive barking, considering her trauma history.

Is she barking out of fear, anxiety or excitement? Can she be remotivated or distracted with a loud squeaky toy to catch? Is she afraid to be outside without you being there with her?

Figure out her motivation, and work with it.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate