The Training Studio
Brandi is a Pomeranian mix. She’s about 3; I’ve had her almost 2 years. Brandi was adopted from Operation Kindness. I liked the look of her, liked her behavior; she was very quiet. Things were fine for a while. I ended up having to travel for a couple months. I was gone during week and home on weekends. It was about that time some of her traits that appeared to be aggressive in nature started to appear. If someone tried to come into house, she’d growl and bark and on occasion try to nip. She tried to bite two people and actually bit one other. I was very uncertain about what to do. Aside from myself and Terri, who pet sits when I travel, and Terri’s dog Zoey, she was not friendly to anyone else, so I was concerned. I guess at that point I decided there really may be an issue, I had had her about 4-5 months.
We started with fluoxetine, but she became more aggressive. Some of the side effects cropped up within a week or so. She was not eating and turning her nose up at treats she normally loved. I thought, “This is not my dog; this isn’t working.” She was just growling at everything. Even before medication, when we had been out for a walk, if we ran across another dog, she would go absolutely ballistic. It was almost as if she was so afraid, she went into attack mode. I’ve since learned that she felt she was being confined and that ramped up her fearfulness. And it got worse when she was on fluoxetine. We swapped that with generic of Paxil (Paroxetine).
I grew up with dogs and had one or more most of my adult life. I’d heard of dogs that were fearful of fireworks, and one of my dogs would hide when it stormed. I’ve never seen a dog that ever acted aggressive. It’s a new experience. God knows what Brandi’s background was; then the fact that she had been shuttling back and forth between households; who knows what she had experienced. I knew couldn’t change the past, so we had to focus on her future.
She’s such a sweet animal most of the time. She’ll spend time in my lap cuddled up; she wants to be petted. She loves to go on walks,
and if no one interferes, it’s usually very peaceful. And she reacts totally differently at the dog park. She’s fine. It’s very strange.
Everyone I talked to thought it was due to fear. Terri’s friend Lauren is a client of Dr. Florsheim’s. The biggest thing that convinced me to contact Dr. Florsheim was Lauren describing how responsive she was. Phone calls were returned and emails were responded to promptly.
Dr. Florsheim thought Brandi’s behavior was fear-based and said she wanted to continue to medicate her at least for a while. We increased the dosage slightly. She gave me all kinds of paperwork and material to start doing some training, and I set up a session to work with Cathy.
Our first session with Cathy involved making sure Brandi was responding to me when I prompted her: When she would start to get focused on things that stressed her, I would give her the “quick” command and reward her with a treat for looking to me. We worked on that for a couple sessions, then introduced a stuffed dog to see how she’d react. The small stuffed dog was easier; the big stuffed dog took a little more adjustment. By that time, once she started nearing her threshold, I could cue her and get her to respond to me.
Our next step is to put Brandi through a Relaxed Rover course. It’s just a matter of timing with my travel.
Cathy also did a session with both dogs at the studio. I wanted her to see what happens when they are together. Zoey is almost the catalyst: We could tell there were times something would set Zoey off and then Brandi would get aggravated. Zoey will feel like she is being ignored and will start barking. Brandi’s reaction seems to be protecting her; she thinks Zoey’s barking means the person is a threat, and she will get between them. If someone is in the yard (pool service or yard service) she will get between that person and Zoey.
One of the things we tried to do that didn’t necessarily work is to have Cathy come
out to the house. Right now, when I let someone in the front door, I have to put
Brandi in her kennel. We wanted to see if Cathy can help with introduce her to
people coming into the house. However, she greeted Cathy calmly; she knows
from The Training Studio that Cathy isn’t a threat. We are working on trying the
same technique but having a couple of trainers act as the strangers coming into
We’ve also been using an Adaptil collar for a while, and she wears a thundershirt
during walks. I used to take her out and she would be riled up from the minute we
walk out the door. Now she enjoys walks. I will keep her under threshold; I will steer
her away: If I see someone else, I’m liable to turn around before she sees them.
Before, I was almost afraid every time of what Brandi would do. She’d tried to bite two people; she bit one; now at least I know how to approach it. I know I need to ease her into any situation, even when my initial thought is that I don’t think this person will trigger her fearful behavior. Now I will crate her when someone new comes in the house, and I can bring her out after a while.
Compared to where we started from, Brandi is a lot calmer and happier. And I’ve learned to not let situations escalate. I can see in her body language when she is getting uncomfortable: Her ears go back and her tail goes down. I can see her body tense up when she’s not happy. I’ve just had to be more observant.
My dogs always been my children; they are well taken care of. I want the best for them and will do what it takes to find it. I would definitely recommend that someone who has a pet with behavior issues should go talk to Dr. Florsheim and Cathy, and see what they have to offer.