DEAR DR. FOX: I read your advice regarding the rescued 3-year-old German shepherd with a traumatic prior life. I’m dealing with some issues also related to a prior owner, although we inherited those issues at only 8 weeks old.
Our Rottweiler mix is very loyal and friendly to our immediate and extended family, and has no real health issues. But there have been times when she sees someone she doesn’t know and goes berserk, and in some cases it’s caused her to bite. She cannot be trusted with other dogs and sometimes with other people.
Sometimes she’ll be with other dogs in an open play area, and when they run from her, instead of playing, she’ll run them down and start a fight. Or if another dog nearby is feisty (such as many small terriers), she’ll retaliate. Occasionally she’s overly protective of her area, and won’t let another dog pass without her “body checking” them.
We have also had incidents where she has growled or bitten a person who is too close, thinking she’s being protective. So we’ve resorted to keeping her carefully under control and not letting her socialize -- very frustrating, but necessary.
She’s only 5, is big and a great athlete and companion, but a handful! Giving her away isn’t an option. -- P.M., Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR P.M.: From my early research into dog brain and behavior development, I would say your dog’s behavioral issue is more likely to be genetic than associated with some environmental/experiential trauma. I say this because you first got the dog at the early age of 8 weeks, which is in the middle of the socialization period.
This is not so much a nature-versus-nurture argument, but rather an illustration of how an innate predisposition to certain behavior becomes self-reinforcing if not nipped in the bud at an early age.
I doubt very much that your dog has PTSD, since she was adopted during the best age for developing a close bond with humans, and I am sure you never abused her. However, one of my research studies showed that there is a sensitive period around that age at which pups will learn to avoid human contact if it is associated with discomfort rather than reward. This is why I have advised avoiding stress and any kind of physical or psychological trauma to pups at this age in particular, especially long-distance transportation and ear cropping (the latter of which should be prohibited).
I have visited with experienced Rottweiler rescue people, and have seen dogs like yours: difficult to train not to be protective, and often aggressive when restrained. Your task will be a combination of changing the dog’s cognitive processing, and of altering her virtually automatic aggressive response -- whether defensive or offensive -- in certain situations.
This is worth trying, provided you can accomplish the first step: having your dog sit and stay on command, at all times and in all situations. Until that time, you need to treat your dog responsibly as a potentially dangerous animal, while giving her all the love and security she needs, along with consistent daily training sessions to develop internal inhibition/self-control.
Feeding her more turkey meat -- rich in tryptophan, a precursor of brain serotonin -- to see if that changes her disposition, is worth a try, along with tryptophan supplements or another precursor of serotonin, L-theanine. This can be found in PetzLife’s dog-calming natural herbal product. A trial prescription of Prozac to elevate brain serotonin may be worth discussing with your veterinarian.
PET FOOD AND PRODUCTS SALES UP
Research firm Euromonitor found that sales of pet foods expanded at three times the pace of packaged human foods last year. Americans spent nearly $70 billion on pet products in 2017, up from $55.7 billion in 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association. -- CNBC, Feb. 23
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