A Bully Bull Terrier, an Anxious Shelter Dog, and a Neurotic Yorkie
Season 2 | Episode 17 | Bikini, Fella and Winston
Cesar is called in to stop the bullying antics of Bull Terrier Bikini, who tries to attack any dog bigger than her and has an irrational fear of having her nails trimmed. Then Cesar helps Cindy and Sidney deal with their shelter dog Fella's extreme separation anxiety. Later, Cesar delves into the psyche of Winston, a Yorkie, whose laundry list of neuroses includes attacking plants and his fellow pack member and Yorkie Oliver.
Believe it or not, I find rehabilitating an aggressive dog much easier than working with fixated or obsessive dogs. Before I came to the United States, I couldn’t even imagine a dog with an obsession! Wild dogs, like the ones I grew up with on my family’s farm in Mexico, never obsessed over everything – the pack would have never allowed it! But in my years working here, I’ve learned that dog obsession is a side effect of an unbalanced life.
The Cussions’ two Yorkies developed obsessive behavior over the vacuum cleaner and a bush in front of their house. The dogs were anxious-aggressive and were obsessing over things they believed they could dominate and take advantage of.
For many obsessive dogs, the actual object doesn’t matter – it tends to be whatever happens to be there at that moment. They learn that they can drain pent-up energy on this “thing,” using it as a way to numb themselves, just like a human would use drugs, alcohol, food, or gambling. The object is just the outlet. We needed to figure out exactly what was causing this frustrated behavior.
I spent a lot of time, including two follow-up visits, working with Cindy Steiner and her daughter Sydney, trying to help their adorable terrier mix, Fella, overcome his separation anxiety. I’ve had many clients who have dogs that seem to be stable in almost every situation, except when the owner leaves the house.
Separation anxiety seems to be an epidemic among the dogs of busy, working people, and that’s not at all surprising. It is normal for a dog or pack-oriented animal to feel anxious or panicky when left alone. They are not programmed to be by themselves. Only rarely is a natural dog pack ever separated.
But since most people must leave the house to work or run an errand, the best way to ease our dogs into this very unnatural situation is to make it as natural as possible for them. We can accomplish this is if we send them into a resting mode before leaving the house. First thing in the morning, wear your dog out with the most vigorous exercise possible. It’s a win-win situation for us too because most of us could use a lot more exercise! And feed your dog after you exercise him, so he feels like he’s earned his reward.
After an ideal morning like that, it will make sense to a dog to rest when you leave. If this becomes their everyday routine, the anxiety will begin to taper off because a lot of that nervous energy will have been spent by the time you leave the house.
During this season of Dog Whisperer, I’ve dealt with two cases where an exceptionally “well-trained” dog has had serious psychological issues: Hootie, the agility dog, and now Bikini, the prize-winning bull terrier. In over 20 years of working with troubled dogs, I’ve found that to be the rule rather than the exception.
Remember, dog training focuses on getting the dog to respond to human commands. Dog psychology is really training humans to understand how dogs function, communicate, and fulfill their lives without human-created techniques.
A well-trained dog in the sense of traditional dog training doesn’t necessarily make for a balanced dog, any more than a Harvard degree makes for a balanced human being. You can teach almost any dog to sit, come, stay, or heel because most dogs are easily conditioned to respond to commands with positive reinforcement. True understanding of dog psychology results in your dog staying next to you on a walk, even as you pass by another dog, someone riding a bike, or a noisy garbage truck.
Humans believe training a dog to respond to words will allow them to communicate with animals. But animals only care about fulfillment. They don’t train each other, they fulfill each other’s needs. If a dog is 100% fulfilled, you may not even need verbal commands to communicate. That’s when the relationship between humans and dogs reach it’s highest level – when you’re using that elusive, magical “sixth sense.” Isn’t that what we all strive for?