Amy Marder, V.M.D.
We found “Peggy” at the Center for Animal Care and Control in Brooklyn. An outgoing three month old, Peggy loved to play. She learned commands so easily that her trainers predicted she’d be an obedience class star. As soon as she was vaccinated, dewormed and spayed, we placed her up for adoption.
Peggy was quickly adopted by a woman, who, after only one month, gave her to a man who lived in her building. Unfortunately, the man was legally blind and could not handle a puppy. Two months later, he returned Peggy to us, noting how friendly she was. Peggy was now an energetic six month old. The following week we performed a second behavioral evaluation. It showed that Peggy was afraid of big burly men and people who approached her too quickly.
Soon after this, Peggy started to limp. Since she loved to romp with the other shelter dogs, we assumed she had injured herself playing. X-rays showed a fractured fibula, and Peggy was placed in a soft cast while the bone healed. Her exercise had to be restricted, so we transferred her to a foster home. Unfortunately, that lasted only one week. Peggy didn’t handle confinement well, destroying a bathroom and barking nonstop when crated. On the bright side, she had stopped limping, and two weeks later we again made her available for adoption.
Now eight months old, Peggy was both prettier and more energetic. To show her off, we took her to a “Take Your Dog to Work” event at the Loew’s Hotel in Manhattan. She behaved beautifully, making friends with every person and dog she met. But one week later, Peggy’s old fears turned into aggression. When men or people wearing hats approached her cage, she backed up and barked furiously. When volunteers walked her, she lunged at some approaching men. We did another behavioral evaluation. With women she was still a gem, but when approached by men, she turned into a monster.
Pooches Behaving Badly
The behavior change that Peggy experienced is not unusual. Afraid of burly men when younger, she started to show “protective aggression” around nine months of age. Because she did not trust certain humans, she barked, lunged and snapped to keep them away. This type of aggression usually does not appear until a dog reaches the latter part of the first year. Regardless of the cause, we couldn’t adopt her out this way.
We brought Peggy to the Behavior Department office to see if living in a cage was causing the behavior. She became protective in our office and wouldn’t let men enter. To try to change her attitude, we asked men to feed her treats. She took the treats readily from anyone, but with men, as soon as she was finished, she barked, lunged and snapped. Not good!
Our next approach was to combine drug therapy with longer exposure to men. We started Peggy on Paxil®, the human antidepressant, fit her with a comfortable muzzle and had her spend days in offices occupied by men. She took treats from them and just hung out. They were instructed not to pet her unless she solicited petting. In every case, we were able to safely remove the muzzle after one day. When Peggy encountered these men outside their offices, she recognized them and was friendly. She had also started to be less fearful of men whom she didn’t know.
Now it was time to find the right home for Peggy. The father of Meghan Rogers, a staff member who had become extremely attached to the shelter dog but could not adopt her, found Peggy a home in Massachusetts with a woman named Louise. Louise, a single, mature adult, lives close to a large park where dogs are allowed to play off leash. Peggy loves dogs, so this was ideal. Meghan drove Peggy to Louise’s home and reluctantly gave her up. Three months later, Peggy is no longer on Paxil, and things could not be better for dog and owner. Peggy gets to play in the park frequently, and she and Louise are about to begin their first obedience class.