Virtually every day we see a new adorable dog or cat video going viral. Cute pet antics are among the Internet's greatest guilty pleasures. We also regularly see studies showing how beneficial having a pet can be. Having a dog, for example, can benefit our blood pressure, our mood, and our immune system. Dogs can inspire us to exercise and help expand our social circles. They are always happy to see us. The list goes on.
Those of us who love animals and have pets want to do right by them. We adopt them from a shelter or rescue organization, we give them a comfy bed and lots of cuddles, we give them toys. We excuse some of their behavior because, well, they've had a tough life, they may have been abused or abandoned. We want to spoil them, because, after all, they are soooo cute.
For many dog guardians, our relationships with our dogs can be a taste of heaven. Except when the cuties start having surprising behavior that isn't so cute. Dogs are known to be stress reducers; however, for many people, their dog's behavior can be a huge source of stress.
When dogs turn aggressive, many owners don't know where to turn. They often live on eggshells keeping their dogs from the target -- either other animals or people. Sadly, some dog owners who are overwhelmed with behavior issues relinquish their dogs to shelters.
Although behavior problems are not at the top of the list for pet relinquishment ("moving" tops the list, followed by "landlord not allowing pet"), there are still a significant amount of dogs turned into shelters whose owners can't handle them. Every year approximately 5 to 7 million animals enter shelters, and approximately 3 to 4 million are put to death.
As a health care practitioner, I cherish the wonderful relationships I have with my patients and their families. I often have been honored to assist in their process to bring a pet into the family. Because they know I am involved with animal rescue, I am often the first one they talk to regarding behavior issues.
As an animal shelter and rescue group volunteer, I have learned a lot over the years. Being involved with hundreds of adoptions and rescues, I have experienced the most heartwarming situations, usually in the form of successful adoptions. I have also experienced the heartbreak of dogs being abandoned or abused.
I am not an expert by any means. I learn so much every day. I have made virtually every mistake a dog owner could make when I adopted dogs many years ago. I am still always course correcting. It was my mistakes and the need to learn how to correct them for my own dogs, as well as seeing animals abandoned for correctable behavior problems, that stirred my interest in understanding the relationships between dogs and people.
Some of the most common behavior concerns I encounter are:
My dog doesn't like other dogs.
My dog got into a fight at the dog park, and now I'm afraid to expose him to dogs again.
My dog gets aggressive on the leash and/or pulls on the leash.
My dog goes nuts when she sees __________ (my boyfriend, the mailman, a skateboard, someone in uniform, etc.).
Many times I run into dog owners when walking my dogs (who are dog friendly) and the owners apologetically state, "He's friendly, but since he was bit once by another dog, he has been afraid to go near other dogs." As I dig deeper, I find that it's the owner who is more afraid.
The list goes on.
Dog behavior assessment and rehabilitation is definitely not my expertise, but I find the field incredibly fascinating and the applications lifesaving (to the dog) and life-enhancing (to the dog's family). I love to uncover solutions provided by the experts.
In Los Angeles, we have access to an incredible dog rehabilitation expert, Brandon Fouche. (And thanks to the Internet, Brandon's work is reaching the global audience.) I have known about Brandon and his work for many years, usually in the context of "send the dog to Brandon's" being said so often in regards to what to do with dogs who had aggression issues. Many of my friends and associates involved with animal rescue had reported dramatic improvement in their dogs' behavior after working with Brandon.
I have read many books on dog psychology and have watched my share of television shows dealing with the subject, but when I started listening to Brandon's weekly radio show, a lot of the missing pieces started coming together. I also had an opportunity to work with Brandon as he helped me with a dog that I was fostering who needed help with socialization.
I recently met up with Brandon at his dog rehabilitation center, and he shared his insights regarding how to have healthy relationships with our canine companions. Some of Brandon's responses to my questions may surprise you. At first they surprised me, but they made so much sense. When I implemented them with my own dogs and dogs I was helping to get adopted, I saw the results, often very quickly.
Hope you enjoy the video. In addition to my interview with Brandon, you will see what happens when I encounter a pack of "severely aggressive" dogs.
If you have questions for Brandon regarding dog behavior, please leave them in the comments below. He may be able to address your concern in future blogs.
I'd also love to hear about your experiences finding help for challenging issues with your canine companions.
For more information visit BrandonFouche.com.
To listen to the current as well as archived "The Fouche Way" radio show episodes, visit latalkradio.com/Fouche.php
Also check out Canine Hope for Improvement Program (C.H.I.P.) the non-profit founded by Brandon Fouche. C.H.I.P. is dedicated to the concept of a no kill philosophy by educating people how to better understand their dogs.
For more by Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald, click here.
For more on stress, click here.
For more on pet health, click here.