Fear Biting

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Karon Brandt

“The Dog Who Loved Too Much” is a fantastic reference book for anyone who owns a dog. All credit goes to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist who works with problem animals. This is one example of his thoroughly-explained treatment programs for many common animal behavior problems. The following is a summary of treatment offered for fear of people and fear-related aggression.

 Fear Biting

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Dogs that are frightened of people may show avoidance behavior when young. This may subsequently develop into fear-related aggression, which is directed primarily toward strangers (especially men and children). These dogs often have a checkered history of ownership and/or socialization problems and may have had known unpleasant encounters. This type of aggression is magnified when there is no possibility of escape – for example, when the dog is on a lead, chained, or in a confined space.

Treatment

  1. Make sure the dog gets plenty of exercise – 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day.
  2. Feed the dog a sensible diet (not a performance ration).
  3. Start a program of regular training (with positive reinforcement only). A dog halter can be invaluable.
  4. Begin desensitization (exposing the dog to the least threatening to more threatening situations while under control) and counterconditioning.
  5. Avoid reinforcing the dog’s fear with your own anxiety.
  6. Pharmacotherapy with drugs such as propranol (Inderal), fluoxetine (Prozac), or buspirone(Buspar) may be helpful.

Of course, that’s only a summary. Dr. Dodman works with a very maladjusted dog in the chapter and gets him “80% improved”. The owners felt they could handle the dog after months of work, but always with the fear of the unknown, and with continuous medication. Of course, he and other behaviorists always warn that “treatment is never over.”

My personal feelings are: With 12- to 18-million unwanted animals being put down every year, one has to wonder if it’s worth the risk of “saving” a dog like this when so many other potentially fine animals are euthanized. The over-zealous animal lovers will fight to the end over an animal, but at what cost?

Karon Brandt is a One By One Animal Rescue Organization volunteer. One By One is located outside of Kutztown, PA, and is run by volunteers. This is a non-profit, no-kill organization. One By One place dogs through direct referrals, after screening, or after a placement and assessment in a foster home.

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