By Cesar Millan
Nine hour plane flights are great for looking through more of your email questions and writing some answers, so here we go.
Post Attack Trauma
Nancy A., California: Two days ago as my boyfriend was with our English bulldog Django, a pit bull came and attacked both of them. Django was left with a swollen face and a deep abrasion and my boyfriend was left with a fractured finger and bites on his hand trying to save our puppy. Django is acting his old self and is recovering great but I am concerned as to what signs to look out for so he does not become aggressive or scared of dogs.
Nancy: I’m glad you asked what signs to look out for to keep Django from becoming aggressive or scared, because the first place to look is at you and your boyfriend. I hear this story all the time: Someone’s dog is attacked or gets into a fight, and then their biggest fear is that it will happen again.
And how do humans deal with this fear? By obsessing on it. Suddenly, every encounter with a strange dog becomes a potential fight, and we tense up and become fearful and anxious ourselves. That energy goes right down the leash and into your dog, and reinforces the wrong idea: “Strange dog makes me nervous, be alert to danger.”
Note that you said that Django is acting his old self. Of course he is. To him, that fight was over the second the other dog stopped biting; done, a thing of the past. And that’s great. Although it was naturally a very traumatic event, you and your boyfriend need to let it go as well. Ideally, you should enlist some friends or neighbors with dogs and organize a pack walk. This will keep Django socialized, and help the both of you realize that you don’t need to be fearful just because he’s around other dogs.
Wendy D., Pennsylvania: Hello Cesar I have a Chihuahua. I was having depression problems so I went out and got a dog just to get me out of bed. The dog did help but then I took a turn for the worse. My brother moved me in with them to help me get better. Well, Zeus my dog does not like anyone but me and my son. So when my sister-in-law’s nicest kids came over Zeus went after them and I will not have that from him but I am having trouble with him and other people. I really need your help.
Wendy: Pets can be wonderful therapy for things like depression, and trained mental health dogs are becoming more and more common. That said, however, by adopting Zeus to treat your depression, you have put an unfair burden on him. It is not natural for dogs to nurture unstable or weak energy unless they have been trained for it, so you brought Zeus into a situation without a strong pack leader. This may have helped you — but now it’s your turn to help him.
Your entire household, including you, your son, brother and sister-in-law, must step into the roles of pack leader, with the entire family taking part. You need to establish rules, boundaries, and limitations for Zeus, as well as a very regular routine for him and you. He also needs lots of exercise to reduce his excess energy, and you should be the one walking him, for at least half an hour twice a day. Not only will this be good for Zeus, but it will be good for you — some studies have shown that physical activity does help with reducing depression.
Of course, I don’t need some studies to prove that. When I went through depression and a suicide attempt three years ago, I learned two things firsthand. One: My pack abandoned me after I abandoned myself; they did not want to associate with me because of my energy. Two: My pack helped me come back, and lots of exercise together was a huge part of that process.
As it is, Zeus is aware of your mental state and that is what he is reacting to. He has clearly bonded with you and your son, and steps into the role of protector when your sister-in-law’s kids come around. By taking advantage of calm, strong energy from everyone in the house, you’ll help Zeus find his place in the pack and reduce his need to protect you when “outsiders” (in his mind) are there.
Jesmane S., California: My dog Charlie has always had anxiety problems. She has awful separation anxiety and she doesn’t get along with other dogs — especially little ones. Although she’s calmed down after turning one, I think that anxiety has picked a new target. We have to try and wake up my brother to go to school and other things. But he’s like a log so you have to shake him. Charlie now bites and scratches us when we try to wake him up. This is especially dangerous for my grandma, who has diabetes, because if she gets bitten she won’t heal. What should we do?
Jesmane: Imagine how this looks to Charlie. Every morning, somebody in the family goes in and “attacks” your brother while he’s asleep. You don’t mention it, but I’m sure that the shaking comes with a lot of calling out his name loudly and other excited energy. Charlie is just trying to protect him.
The first thing to do, for now, is make your brother’s room off-limits to Charlie while you’re waking him up. The simplest way is to not let Charlie in and close the door, although she may complain about this, in which case someone needs to be outside the door to correct and redirect her if she tries to bark, scratch or whine. If necessary, someone else in the household should take her for a walk during the wake-up process.
If Charlie currently sleeps in your brother’s room, then you need to establish a new place for her for now. Sharing the room just establishes it as Charlie’s den, and so will make her even more defensive when the morning starts with a lot of excited energy. You should consider crate training Charlie as well, since this will help with this problem and the separation anxiety by creating her own place for her to go.
Stay calm and thank you for your questions.