DEAR DR. FOX: We have an 18-month-old German shepherd/Lab/Akita mix who we adopted from the Humane Society at 5 months old. She is very smart, and I have trained her in good manners and many tricks at our house. My main problem is that she acts aggressive and hostile when she cannot get to another dog when on a leash.
She is fine at the dog park and has playdates with a neighbor's dog. However, when she is on the leash and sees another dog within 40 to 50 feet, she becomes almost unmanageable. She growls, snarls, lunges and acts like she wants to kill the other dog. Once the other person lets me come over and after sniffing the other dog, my dog is fine and we can walk together.
I have used the clicker for training and used lots of treats on walks, but she ignores me when she sees another dog. I am at my wit's end and do not know how to stop this behavior. Can you help me? -- S.Z.-D., St. Louis
DEAR S.Z.-D.: Your letter is important for many dog owners to understand why their pets behave as yours does when on the leash and being approached by another dog.
First, understand that a dog who is leashed feels restrained and, therefore, vulnerable. Excitement and pulling on the leash means you pull and jerk her collar, which acts as an inciting, if confusing, signal to her. So stay calm, because your emotional reactions are transmitted to your dog through the leash. Try fitting her with a harness around her chest, either alone or coupled with an over-the-muzzle halter, similar to those used to effectively and painlessly control horses.
Be patient and keep the faith -- she is still young and excitable, and she will calm down in a few months when she matures, around 2 1/2 to 3 years old. Never scold or yell. Just stand very still and let her pull and do whatever while you have your feet firmly planted. On walks, teach her to sit and stay with intermittent rewards of treats. Give her those commands when you see a dog coming. She may eventually make the connection and be still, but right now her brain is lacking in self-control/internal inhibition, which she will hopefully acquire with maturity.
DEAR DR. FOX: We read your column in the Fargo, N.D., Forum. Recently, you requested feedback on pet improvement after changing pet food.
Our cat is a female American shorthair, 11 years old, spayed and indoor-only. Her original food was Hills Science Diet Active Longevity. She was overweight at 14 pounds. For about a year, she had a cyst on her cheek that was the size of a large grape, which we had drained by the vet. It did not seem to bother her. She had bowel troubles from time to time, a dirty rear end and anal gland problems. She would chew at her fur a lot.
About five months ago, we switched her to Wellness Indoor Health Dry Food and Wellness Indulgence Poultry Packets (wet food). She quickly took to the new diet. As of now, the bowel and rear end problems have cleared up. She has lost 2 pounds. She is much more lively, alert and active. The cyst has shrunk considerably and seems to be drying up. She leaves her fur alone also.
Thanks so much for the information. -- E. & C.V., Torrance, Calif.
Dear E. & C.V.: Thanks for confirming the benefits that can come when one focuses not simply on the symptoms when an animal has health issues, but on what the animal is being fed. Some ingredients in many popular and widely advertised brands, especially corn and other genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), may be putting our animals at risk -- even foods sold by the vet. All pet and human foods should be labeled to indicate if they contain GMOs. It's best to buy USDA organically certified produce and cook from scratch using known ingredients. For an in-depth review of what goes into many pet foods, and for home-prepared recipes for dogs and cats, see the new paperback edition of the book that I co-authored with two other veterinarians, "Not Fit for a Dog."
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