Brandy is a 2 year old papillon who has always been quite scared of the world. He was purchased by his owner from a petshop and she reports that as a puppy he was a bit anxious of strange people coming into the house, and of dogs that were bigger than him in the park. Brandy is only 2 kg; this meant nearly every dog was bigger than him!
Brandy is very attached to his owner and follows her around the house wherever she goes. He sleeps on her bed and is always lying on her lap when she is sitting down. He doesn’t like being apart from her and sometimes vocalises when she is away from the house. When Brandy goes out to the park and his owner lets him off the lead he tends to run up to other dogs and barks quite reactively at them. His owner is not always able to call him back to her, and sometimes she has to go and carry him away. At home Brandy is a hyper-alert dog who barks at every sound he hears but also gets scared of loud noises and will run away and hide under furniture. Brandy’s owner has not done much dog training with Brandy.
When Brandy came in to see Dr Kriszty Kelly for his annual health check and vaccination, his owner discussed she was getting quite concerned about Brandy’s behaviour as he appeared to be getting worse. Dr Kriszty advised that Brandy could come back for a behavioural consultation, where more time would be spent to discuss Brandy’s issues.
Brandy came back for his behavioural consultation the following week. After listening to his owners’ concerns, Dr Kriszty diagnosed a number of behavioural problems. Brandy sounded like he was quite an anxious dog which had been apparent from right back when he was a puppy. Behavioural conditions often get worse with age and this certainly appeared to be the case with Brandy. Brandy also sounded like he had a mild case of separation anxiety and he was having issues with dealing with other dogs in the park.
Dr Kriszty explained that unfortunately there is no ‘magic’ pill to fix behavioural problems and that they all require behavioural modification training techniques. This requires the owner to be diligent in working with their dog. There are medications that we sometimes use to help with the retraining techniques and these would often be used in the case of very anxious dogs. Because Brandy is a very anxious dog, Dr Kriszty advised he should be started on an anti-depressant medication, after having a full screening blood test to ensure there were no underlying disease processes going on in his body. At the same time, Brandy’s owner would be sent home with a number of different training techniques to work on.
Dr Kriszty explained that the main reason small dogs bark and act aggressively in the park to other dogs is because they are scared. She told Brandy’s owner that she needed to change Brandy’s opinion of other dogs from being something to be worried about to other dogs being the hallmarks of GOOD things happening (ie. treats!) She explained to Brandy’s owner how to play the ‘Look At That’ game where Brandy is rewarded for looking at other dogs. This game, when played correctly, will reduce the anxiety in the dog and it can be used with anything the dog is worried about.
Dr Kriszty also discussed methods to deal with the mild separation anxiety. This included teaching Brandy to lie calmly on his bed while his owner was in another room and distraction methods like food filled Kong toys to eat when his owner was out. She discussed using crate training (a safe den area for the dog) to give Brandy somewhere to go and hide when he felt worried by events or noises in the house. Brandy also needed much more general obedience training as he needed to learn to come back when he was called.
When Brandy’s owner came back for a recheck after two months, she reported Brandy’s behaviour had improved. She was taking food with her when she walked Brandy at the park, and now when Brandy saw other dogs he would look at his owner for a treat. In the house, Brandy’s owner had bought a wire crate that she covered over with a towel, and she had given Brandy lots of rewards for going in the crate. Brandy likes his new crate and quite often would go in it when he was worried about something. Brandy’s owner was concentrating on rewarding ‘calm’ behaviour around the house, and she felt that the medication had caused some improvement in his overall anxiety level. Brandy’s behaviour problems are always going to be an ongoing project but she felt the techniques being used were really helping him feel better, be happier and more confident in himself.