When Good Dogs Go Bad

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What do you do when your beloved pet begins to exhibit antisocial and unacceptable behavior?  One of my clients is experiencing this now.  Her wonderful, sweet Labrador rescue has become increasingly agitated by life in the city and has, in recent weeks, begun lunging at people

If you’ve read the excerpt I posted from UNLEASHED, then you’ve already met Lilly.  She’s the yellow Lab with a love of the tennis ball and leash aggression–the one who attacked Cujo in the park.  Shortly after that incident, Lilly was injured by a dog whom she’d been barking at for months.  She needed stitches and after much debate and heartache, her owner and I determined that Lilly could no longer handle the dog run.  I had been defending Lilly, and trying to avert any possible altercations over the preceding months.  Having a rescue myself, I know how hard it is for a dog who has been abused to feel safe and confident.  But unlike my  experience with Cinder, Lilly didn’t improve even with all of the love, attention and exercise she was getting.  She required constant supervision when she’d walked with her Pink Ladies group, and I mentioned to her owner that I thought Lilly seemed to be getting more antisocial.  If she was just with her friends, she was a doll.  If a dog looked at her cross-eyed, she went nuts.

Since Lilly’s dog run departure, I’ve been doing an individual walk for her and then letting her spend a little social time with Feather, a golden retriever from her old group.  She gets a brief outing with me, and then a few brief outings with her owner during the day.

Unfortunately, a dog with such anxiety needs much more exercise.  But what do you do when you live in a city and can’t trust a dog around others?  As the months have worn on, I’ve noticed Lilly growing increasingly agitated, hair raised at even the slightest odd sound, aggressive toward almost every dog she encounters.  At home, she’s sweet and wonderful with her people, but she seems much more needy than she used to be.  A few weeks ago, when I was taking her home, she lunged at a man on the street and if I hadn’t reacted, she would have bitten him on the arm.  I was shocked as I would never have thought Lilly would hurt a person.  And this guy had no obvious signs that were “off” about him.  He wasn’t wearing a funny hat, or acting in a threatening manner.  In short, I have no idea what set her off.

Since that incident, Lilly has had a few more close calls.  She now wears a muzzle with her owner and is seeing a behaviorist veterinarian to see what can be done.  My client is obviously devastated as none of the options are wonderful.  Putting the dog down was actually suggested by the doctor, but thankfully my client would never entertain that idea.  So now the question becomes what else can be done?  Drug her with some sort of puppy Prozac?  Give her up to someone who has room in the country to let her run and be a dog?  Or do nothing, keep her here in the city, and live with a dog who is obviously in distress?  Finding a solution that’s the best for Lilly is the overriding concern.  I think Lilly’s owner is going to try the medication and see if this will ease Lilly’s anxiety some without turning her into a zombie.  If that doesn’t work, then she’ll have to explore the other options.  If anyone has experienced something similar, or has suggestions for helping Lilly, please let me know.  She’s a wonderful dog and I want her story to have a happy ending.

Lilly waiting for the ball

Lilly waiting for the ball

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