Q: Our 7-year-old Miniature Pinscher/Rat Terrier mix is a total high-energy dog. We have very low windows so he can see the bird feeder. He barks like crazy at the birds and other critters. We have an invisible fence, and he’s usually good about staying in the yard. But he’s killed at least six creatures, including bunnies, birds and squirrels. What can I do? – B.F., Woodbury, Minn.
A: First, readjust your expectations, suggests veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Moffat, of Mesa, Ariz. “You have a terrier, who without supervision or being given another alternative activity is simply playing out what he was bred for eons to do.”
If you like, you might teach your pet an alternative behavior. For example, one idea is to create a digging pit – a place where your dog can dig away, and even discover a treasure of treats stuffed inside Kongs and other toys. Some dogs might be convinced that digging for those items is even more fun than chasing little critters. However, all dogs already entrenched in the habit of chasing down small animals may not be convinced.
As for that barking – again your dog is only being a terrier. You could keep him in another part of house, behind baby gates, perhaps. Or you’ll be forced to somehow relocated the bird feeder.
“As frustrating as it is for you to listen to that barking,” says Moffat, “it’s equally as frustrating for your dog, who can’t get to the birds.”
As for the invisible fence, Moffat is truly worried that you say your dog is “usually good about staying in the yard.” The implication is that he sometimes isn’t and goes beyond the boundary of the fence. Therefore, he may run into traffic or wander off and get lost.
“Invisible fencing isn’t desirable for many reasons,” she notes.
Q: I rescued a terrier from being euthanized. She is so smart and loving. However, I’ve only had her for two days and it’s obvious that she’s aggressive toward other dogs. How do I correct this issue? – E.S., Cyberspace
A: “That’s a whole lot to answer via a newspaper column,” begins veterinary technologist Julie Shaw, who has a specialty in animal behavior. “What you need is qualified help to observe exactly what’s going on.”
Meanwhile, Shaw, of Lafayette, Ind., does offer some advice. “Don’t allow the dog to practice this behavior, which means staying away from other dogs,” she says.
Try this: Take some highly valued treats, such as bits of cut-up chicken, which you use only for this exercise. Teach your pup the cue, “watch me” indoors without distractions. Whenever your dog glances to you, offer the chicken and repeat, “watch me.”
Once your dog can do this without fail indoors, try taking the “watch word” outside. At first, walk far enough from other dogs so that your dog isn’t bothered. As she pays attention to you and not other canines on the street you can gradually get closer to others with four legs.
“It’s terrific you saved this dog,” says Shaw, “But you may need to adjust your expectations for what this dog is capable of. In reality, this behavior is what may have sent the dog to the shelter in the first place.”
Help is available from veterinarians who are board certified in animal behavior (veterinary behaviorists, www.dacvb.org), veterinarians with a special interest in behavior (members of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, www.avsabonline.org) or certified dog behavior consultants (International Association Animal Behavior Consultants, www.iaabc.org).
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. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, city and state.