Rehabilitating Problem Dogs

It should be apparent by now that prevention is your best defense against abnormal behavior in your dog. And that prevention includes early socialization, training and compat-

ible environment. However, despite your efforts to prevent abnormal behavior, it may occur. In many instances, you will be able to rehabilitate your dog. In others, the problem may be too much for you and you will want to seek professional advice. A word about professional advice: so far, there are no objective tests that allow for a differential diagnosis of the dog's neuroses. Each case must be evaluated on an individual basis. It isn't possible to reach the dog by psychoanalysis. The best that can be done is to review the problem and try to work out a rehabilitation program that fits the case.

Professional dog trainers, handlers and some veterinarians are expert in handling and rehabilitating problem dogs. They can take a problem dog to their kennel and work wonders with him. They can work their magic because they take the dog out of the environment or away from the stimuli that cause his abnormal behavior. In other words, they provide the escape factor. But when the' dog returns home to the same environment and stimuli, he may regress. Therefore, you will have a better chance of rehabilitating your dog if the work is done at home.

There have been cases where dogs have regressed when brought home from a kennel. For example, a childless couple with a small Scottish Terrier lived next door to a family with four children. The dog was confined to a yard and the house. Every day, as the children went past the yard on their way to school, one or more of them teased the Scotty by rubbing a stick along the fence. This infuriated the dog and he snarled, barked and raced along the fence. One day he got out and nipped one of the children. Later, he became suspicious of all people and the owners became worried that he would bite someone again. They tried various methods to discourage the dog and they scolded the children. The children still teased the dog and the dog still tried to get at the children. Finally, in desperation, the owners sent the dog off to be rehabilitated. At the trainer's kennel, the Scotty quieted down and became very docile. There were no children at the kennel and the dog had no problem. But when he came back to the yard and the children, he started all over again.

Eventually a do-it-yourself rehabilitation program was worked out and the problem resolved. This is what the owners did: they supplied the children with candy for themselves and with dog candy for the dog. Instead of rubbing a stick and watching the Scotty run amok, the children tossed him dog candy while they munched on theirs. It took several sessions before the Scotty calmed down and realized that the children were not going to get him stirred up. But he soon stopped his tantrums and learned to sit up for his candy.

We do not mean to disparage the work of the trainers and handlers. What we are saying is that you—and we said this before—are the expert on your dog. You should do the rehabilitating, under the supervision of an expert if you wish. By all means, seek professional help. The trainers and handlers know a great deal about dogs and can offer practical help. But they can't change the dog's environment; you can. In the final analysis, your degree of success in rehabilitating your dog depends on your removing the offending factors and offering him a means of escape.

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