Q: We’ve had our 5-year-old Great Dane since he was a puppy. I took him through puppy class, obedience call, agility class, private instruction and to my office daily. At age 3, he began to get protective of me, lunging and growling at other people. He stopped going to the office. Now, he’s gotten worse, even lunging at a neighbor who put a hand over the fence, and he once jumped on a passer-by. I’m very concerned and fear I may have to euthanize this dog. Any advice? – D.M., Cyberspace
A: Please don’t give up hope, says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes, of Fort Worth, Texas.
Based on your description, you’ve done everything right: early socialization (assuming experiences were positive from the dog’s perspective), lots of training (assuming no punishment-based training was involved), and even extending that socialization by taking your dog to the office – an experience that should have been good for you as well as your dog.
“Odds are, your dog has fear-based aggression,” says Tynes, a contributor to “Decoding Your Dog,” by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and myself, due out in January. “There may actually be a genetic predisposition to explain the behavior. In other words, you’ve likely done nothing wrong.”
Tynes adds, “Meanwhile, the dog began to lunge at other people, who, of course, backed off, and that reinforced the dog. Also, you may be inadvertently reinforcing by offering cues to the dog, expecting the worst and tightening up on that leash as someone approaches.”
The good news is, your dog has only lunged and not bitten anyone.
“Certainly, this is serious, particularly with such a large dog,” says Tynes.
She suggests consulting a veterinary behaviorist (find one at www.dacvb.org), who may prescribe an anti-anxiety drug and can offer a specific behavior modification plan.
Q: My Maltese constantly barks at other dogs in the park. Since he has no fear of other dogs, I worry that another dog will bite his head off. Mickey also constantly barks when he sees anyone walk by the house. My neighbors are complaining. What should I do? – V.N., St. Petersburg, Fla.
A: It’s a good bet that your dog is hardly fearless, but instead, is afraid of other dogs. Think about this: Mickey barks and then the approaching dog goes away. The strategy works. Mickey barks at whatever is outside the window. Again, the person or dog appears to respond by going away.
Certified dog behavior consultant Jean Donaldson, founder of the Academy for Dog Trainers in San Francisco, says the problem might be as simple as your dog’s feeling constrained on a leash.
“Having a trusted doggy friend might be the first step to help,” she adds. Still, you need a competent professional (dog trainer or certified behavior consultant) to determine exactly what’s going on.
As for barking at the window, restrict Mickey to another part of the house or pull down the shades. However, that solution is only a Band-Aid.
“Offer more interesting things for Mickey to do in the house by enriching his environment,” says Donaldson. “Offer treats in toys (food- or treat-dispensing toys) or genius toys that keep dogs’ brains occupied, such as Nina Ottosson toys.”
For more information, visit www.nina-ottosson.com or specialty pet stores.
Q: My 12-year-old cat developed a hump on his nose. It doesn’t hurt him. He also has runny eyes and reddish-brown stuff comes out. I can’t afford a veterinarian, so I hope you can help. – E.S., Woodbury, Minn.
A: It’s impossible to discern what the problem is without actually seeing the “hump” or growth on your cat’s nose.
Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a Chicago veterinarian, suggests that – assuming your cat wasn’t stung by an insect – he could have cancer. A diagnosis is dependent on many factors, most obviously the kind of cancer that might be involved.
The runny eyes may not be related to the hump, and it could be an indication of a feline upper respiratory infection.
Rubin volunteers at Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty Society, where low-cost veterinary care is offered, and many communities have similar clinics.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com.