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.
However, since December, when I moved back to Florida from my hometown of New York City, 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.
However, 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 she has not been eating her moist food that my mother has been giving her every morning for years. My mother has resorted to spoon-feeding her -- sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.
Any help with these two matters would be greatly appreciated. -- K.H., Naples, Fla.
DEAR K.H.: A bipolar dog who 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, I would have her taken 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 stable.
Molly's more predictable, situation-associated, possibly territorial aggression may be cognitive in origin, and calls for behavior modification and remotivation. This means changing how you and your mother react. I would advise you to 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 canine companion.
Prozac may be the last resort.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have three schnauzers who have about half an acre of land on which to run and play. One is a rescued female giant schnauzer who 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 purchased and used every type of anti-bark collar I can find. They may 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.
DEAR J.H.: As an experienced canine obedience instructor, you have known other dogs like this and found remedies, but this giant schnauzer is your nemesis! I agree, she may 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.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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