Your Dog Behavior Questions for 'Love Has No Age Limit' Co-Author, Patricia McConnell


Certified applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell answers selected reader questions this week. McConnell has written some of my favorite books about dogs, including “The Other End of the Leash” and “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend.” Her most recent effort (with Karen London) is “Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming An Adopted Dog Into Your Home”

Q: We recently adopted the most precious little dog, some sort of terrier mix. But she was obviously abused because the poor thing is shy of strangers who want to pet her. Any advice? — B.H., Orlando, Fla.

A: “Good for you and congratulations on your new family member,” says McConnell. “Lots of dogs from a variety of backgrounds are afraid of strangers. This doesn’t necessarily mean the dog was abused; more likely, it means the dog wasn’t appropriately socialized.”

Get some really tasty treats, and when strangers come to the house, their job will be to ignore the dog — except to toss treats in her direction. Over time, they can just drop the treats near where they’re sitting, so your dog comes closer. Still, they shouldn’t force themselves on the pup, but wait until they’re approached.

“Soon, take the treats outside on walks, and ask people to offer your dog some,” says McConnell. “It’s best if people can squat down to the dog’s level, which isn’t as intimidating as standing over the dog.”

McConnell adds, “Be patient and don’t push too hard. It may take a year for your dog to come out of her shell.”

Your dog will be pleased to get all these treats, but do remove some of her kibble, so you’re not writing me in six months about a very overweight pooch.

Q: We adopted Ricky, our 1-½-year-old Beagle, six months ago from a college laboratory. We love him to death but he follows me everywhere; he’s very needy. He cries when I go to work and has huge separation anxiety.

Also, he’s very stubborn. When we go for walks, he sits down wherever he wants, even in the middle of the road. I use treats to bribe him, but he manipulates me to give him a treat by sitting down on purpose. He’s too smart, isn’t he? — A.M., Buffalo, NY

A: “It’s great that you adopted this lucky little dog,” says McConnell, of Madison, Wis. “Beagles are smart, and were bred to work independently of people; their partner may be their nose. Ricky is training you faster than you’re training him. So, don’t wait until he sits to offer treats; do that all along the walk. In fact, replace dinner with tasty training treats, even if you use pieces of real meat.”

As for the separation anxiety, McConnell says to begin by teaching your dog some independence, and that life might go on even if you’re not in the room. Toss kibble all around the room. While Ricky is searching for the goodies, walk out of the room for just a few seconds. Do this as often as you like (note: you may now be offering Ricky a smaller dinner), and over time, stay out of the room for longer periods of time. The idea is for you to return before Ricky cries or comes to find you.

“Similarly, you may want to leave her a chew treat and then leave the house, but at first for literally just seconds,” McConnell suggests. “This may seem tedious; the progression is very gradual at first, and then happens more quickly.”

Also speak with your veterinarian or a qualified dog trainer about additional tools, including an Anxiety Wrap (a fabric the dog wears which provides comfort by fitting comfortably yet snugly); D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone, an analog of an appeasing or calming pheromone which comes as a collar,so the dog always has it near, and is also available as a plug in diffuser); and Chinese or homeopathic methods. For serious separation anxiety issues, an anti-anxiety medication is often suggested. McConnell authored a booklet about helping dogs with separation distress called “I’ll Be Home Soon.”

Q: I have two male Yorkshire Terriers, father and son. In the past, they’ve gotten into arguments and scrapped, but we were able to break them up fairly easily. Now, the fights are more frequent and serious. Both dogs were injured in the last go-around. I’m afraid one of them may be seriously injured or killed. Any advice? — E.P., Cyberspace.

A: “The problem between a father and son, an intact dog among the two, and the fact that they’re both terriers — yes, this is potentially very serious,” says McConnell. “Your first job is to keep both dogs safe — and that means separating them. The second job is to bring in a qualified dog trainer (who uses positive methods, and understands operant and classical conditioning), or a veterinary behaviorist. You really do need someone to personally assess what’s going on.”

The expert will likely ask you to consider neutering the dog who’s still intact. While lowering rocketing testosterone may help, you’re no doubt now dealing with an entrenched behavior, which a professional can help you to manage.

By the way, October is the American Humane Association’s Adopt A Dog Month.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services