Help for a nervous dog
Three weeks after I had to put down my border collie, Scoop, I took in another rescue border collie, a 7-month-old female given to me by a university student.
Where Scoop was bold and almost fearless, Bixie is timid and overly cautious.
Having been overcrated in her past life, Bix is a bit of a loner, too, hanging in my backyard or in a downstairs bedroom when I’m home instead of near me, as did Scoop.
Bix urinates upon greeting me when I return home, and lunges at or tries to nip some of my friends when they visit. Some say that’s typical of border collie behavior, but Scoop, who was hyperactive, didn’t act like that..
Seeking advice, I attended at Prairielands Feeds in Savoy a free pet behavior seminar last month led by Dr. Sally Foote, a Tuscola-based veterinarian who specializes in pet behavior therapy.
I picked up some good tips.
One was to speak to Bix in a high, chirpy voice rather than a low, slow one. My speaking voice tends to be low-pitched and slow. Now I bring it up a few notches and sometimes giggle, laugh or fake-laugh when I talk to Bix. That seems to pick up her mood as well as my own.
Another tip: Don’t yell at a nervous, anxious dog. I had whenever Bix lunged or barked at friends or strangers because I feared she would bite them, be declared a vicious dog and be taken away from me.
Now when she starts to display that behavior I talk to her in a calm voice, bring her closer to me, and tell her to sit or lie down. I try to have treats with me to reward he.
Foote said you should not force treats on a nervous dog. Instead "rain" treats toward them. I tell my friends who are afraid of Bix to do that .
Foote advised us to identify and then remove or hide the triggers that cause our dogs' fear and anxiety. If the triggers can’t be removed, give your pet an area where he or she is away from the triggers, such as loud noises.
One of the most important things for a nervous dog is structure: Try to greet, walk and feed your dog at the same times each day.
"The big thing that keeps dogs happy is they know what to expect," Foote said.
At the seminar, the vet also discussed dog appeasing pheromone products designed to help reduce destructive behavior, excessive barking and whimpering, and inappropriate soiling of the house.
The pheromone, which mimics the pheromone around a nursing dog’s nipples, comes in a diffuser that can be plugged into an electrical outlet. It also comes in a collar or in a spray.
Harriet Weatherford, a former interim Humane Society director who fosters dogs, many of them troubled, recommended the D.A.P. for Bix.
So I bought one last week plugged into an outlet in the bedroom where Bix spends a lot of time. Canines smell the pheromone but we humans can’t.
I can’t tell whether it has made a difference, but Bix seems to be happier of late. It’s probably due to all the other things I’m doing, too.
Foote said nervous or anxious dogs should be checked by a veterinarian to determine whether a medical condition is causing the problem. She also recommended a few books, among them "How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves" by Sophia Yin and "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell.
Foote said the best dog trainer on television is Victoria Stilwell; her show, "It’s Me or the Dog," airs on Animal Planet. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to shower Bix with love, as well as treats, and give her time to get over her fears and anxieties. She's improved a lot already since I first brought her home in mid-June.
As one dog owner told me at the Urbana dog park, let the "tincture of time" do its work.