ASK DR. CHIP - AUGUST EDITION

Want to be featured in next month’s newsletter? Email our very own Dr. Chip at info@petsplusus.com and make sure you reference ‘Ask Dr. Chip’ in the subject line.

*Please note, that this is page is not intended to address pet emergencies, but rather general pet questions. If your pet is currently experiencing symptoms of an illness or has had an accident, please visit your regular veterinary practice if open, or your nearest veterinary emergency clinic for assistance. 

About Dr. Chip

Dr. Chip Coombs is Pets Plus Us’ Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), and has practiced veterinary medicine since 1976, initially in the United Kingdom, then in Western Canada and, finally, in Toronto, where he owned a multi-veterinarian practice for 33 years.


Question:

Hello Dr.,

We have a pure bred GSD and have an issue with him not being friendly to all children, mostly young boys. He is aggressive towards them but little girls not so much. If the kids are I’d say 10yrs old and above he doesn’t seem to have an issue. We have socialized him with all kinds of people and dogs but over the winter he didn’t see much of anyone and then this behaviour started. Now we are afraid to walk him by parks or kids playing and embarrassed when we walk by because he will lunge. Any help is appreciated! Thanks in advance.

– Jason

Answer:

Hi Jason,

Knowing how old your dog is and whether or not he is neutered and how he socializes with all other dogs would help narrow the scope of what I can offer you. The problem with discussing aggression or any other behavioural issue is that usually there is no quick fix and each patient is different in what the trigger factors might be. Usually to rectify or control situations like this can take a number of hours of discussion between owner and veterinarian/ certified behaviourist over many weeks.

It could be something small, eg. once upon a time ( unbeknownst to you ) a little boy threw something at your dog, or the pitch of the screams of laughter as kids play is frightening, or the fact that they don't move slowly doing anything and being cool calm and quiet is very difficult for many children. I can make the following general suggestions: 

  1. If he is not neutered, have him neutered.
  2. Ensure he is wearing a secure, comfortable muzzle to ensure no one is hurt while he is being retrained and reconditioned.
  3. Discuss with your veterinarian the behavioural reconditioning technique called Successive Approximation. In a nutshell, it involves walking him initially at a distance far enough away from playing children that he is neutral, ie. no emotional response. He can see and hear them, but they are so far away he doesn't care. He gets rewarded and praised. One then starts to walk a little closer to the source of the "noise" and the children playing. When he starts to react, even mildly, that is his threshold distance. Keep walking him just outside that threshold and reward his neutral response. You want him just within his calm zone. Then, slowly start walking him a little closer to the kids and distract him with treats and praise if he continues to ignore them. Over the following days and weeks, successively move him a little closer on his walks past ( not directly towards ) the children. If he starts to react, move him further away and spend more time in this "zone". If you are able to spend the time, most dogs can be reconditioned to realize that the children are not a threat and his lunging behaviour should resolve. NEVER remove the muzzle, for if he were to nip or bite anyone, you can appreciate what may follow.

There are other techniques and suggestions that can be used at the same time, but I would have to know more to safely recommend them. I would strongly suggest you discuss this issue with your veterinarian who can either offer you appropriate advice or refer you to a certified behaviourist.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

Dr. Chip


Question:

Dear Dr. Chip,

We welcomed a sweet medium-sized, 1 year old rescue dog into our lives 5 months ago. He's great with other dogs and with us. When it's just my husband and I, our dog has a wonderful playful and loving personality. But if anyone besides us is in the house, he is extremely nervous and alert. There's no one besides us who he enjoys being around.

The problem is two fold - he often barks and growls if he sees someone approaching the house. And he will run away and cower if anyone besides us tries to pet him. We've tried advising guests to avoid eye contact, get down low, and speak in a quiet voice. We've tried introducing guests in different locations. He's still afraid.

What can we do? Is there hope that he will improve over time?

Thanks!

K

Answer:

Hi K,

As is often the case with rescue dogs, one never knows their true background and what their experiences were when they were younger and impressionable. Some dogs are genetically programmed to be fearful and if this behavioural response is reinforced by their environment, it will usually exacerbate the problem. In some cases, the fear is so genetically and environmentally engrained, that it cannot be overcome.

However, that is not the approach you should take. The fact that he loves other dogs and loves and trusts you would lead me to believe that you can recondition some of this fearfulness. The tactics you mentioned are all helpful. I would suggest going one step further and suggest that when your guests arrive that they completely ignore him; no eye contact, no voice contact, turn away as soon as is practical and ignore him for a minimum of 30 minutes. The theory is that they are less threatening to him under these conditions and any threat will reinforce the behaviour. After about 30 minutes, have them toss him a treat with no fanfare and go back to ignoring him. Carry this on for the entire visit.

It might also be helpful to minimize the fanfare when people arrive and when they leave. When they arrive, have them wait in their car ( text you ) and then one of you take him for a brief walk ( few minutes ). When he returns, your guests are already in the house, settled and talking quietly. Then revert to the ignoring routine. When they are to leave, take him for a walk while they actually leave. His barking and growling is partly fear, but it might also be becoming territorial.

The challenge with guests is that they are not permanent and so he is not exposed to them long enough to develop the trust. If ANY of your friends or family have been able to make some inroads with him, then I would get them to visit as frequently as possible. Once they have developed enough trust that they are not at risk of being hurt. Get THEM to feed him, get THEM to take him for walks, play catch or whatever. If that is successful, then find a new friend and start the same routine. The idea is that his "pack" will slowly start to increase and the more members that are in it, hopefully, the less fearful he will remain. It is a LOT of work, but without doing something, I suspect the issue will not resolve on its own.

Good luck!

Dr. Chip


Question:

Hi Dr Chip,

My 10 year old Shih Tzu has developed small lumps over his body which are benign according to our vet. They are causing him a lot of itching. I use natural skin soothing shampoo, have added a bit of fish oil to his diet, and use a silver based natural spray which calms it temporarily. He has Addison’s disease and is on Percorten. What else can I do to help him with the itching? An antihistamine? Which one? What dosage? I hate to see him so uncomfortable.

Thank you for your help.

Janice

Answer:

Hi Janice,

It would be unusual for the lumps themselves to be causing the itchiness, as opposed to him being itchy from, say allergies, and having the lumps at the same time. However, your veterinarian can advise you of this better. Presumably, if it were the lumps, there has been a discussion about removing them.

Having Addison's Disease is no fun, in that it requires regular, routine injections of Percorten. Many dogs that suffer from Addison's also require a small dose of glucocorticoids  (steroids ) in addition to the Percorten. However, only your veterinarian would know if this is necessary. If we assume that it the itchiness is unrelated to the lumps, then there are a number of approaches that could be used to help control it. Firstly, one needs to determine what is causing the itching. Are there skin parasites, skin allergies or food allergies behind it? The cause determines the treatment. Certainly omega fatty acids ( fish oils ) can be very helpful, but you need to determine a reliable source and dosage from your veterinarian. In atopic dermatitis, antihistamines ( hydroxyzin, for example ) may be helpful. Even a small dose of every other day steroid may do the trick. There are numerous other drugs available, but before one can look at any drug treatment, the cause has to be determined. I would strongly suggest that you revisit the itchiness with your veterinarian, who knows your dog and his various conditions, to work out a plan to get it under control.

Cheers,

Chip