Does your dog or cat have a split personality?
We are all familiar with the story about the man who was normal during the day and a monster at night. Some of you may have a dog or cat that seems to have a hidden button that gets switched on and your pet who has been calm and loving suddenly becomes a snarling monster!
I have had up-close experience with this phenomenon. I adopted an adorable black Pekingese puppy we named Tedi. He was wonderful, playful, loving and never showed an aggressive moment. Then, when he was about 5 months old, he threw up on the kitchen floor. That’s something dogs do. I got some paper towels and went to clean up the mess.
When I got close to it, Tedi went ballistic — started growling, snarling, guarding his mess. I knew if I touched it, he would have attacked me! What in the world was that about?
Then he began to guard strange items — a candy wrapper that was dropped on the floor, a pencil he found on the floor, a treat that he decided not to eat at the moment — and he would not let anyone get near him while it was in his “sphere.” And of course, he was a food guarder. Fortunately, he ate quickly so thatwas not a big problem as long as we kept all the pets separate during feeding time.
Tedi’s aggressiveness escalated to attacking me and my two other dogs, peace-loving Japanese Chins who would let anyone take food directly out of their mouths. Obviously, this could not go on. We were afraid of this tiny little dog — and that is no way to live.
So I consulted with a Richmond area dog behavior specialist, Jemi Hodge.
She agreed that regular training classes would be of no value in this situation. At her suggestion, Tedi went to boot camp with Jemi for a week. When he returned home he had improved, but I learned from the trainer that he is what is called a “resource guarder.”
A dog who is a resource guarder acts pretty much as you would expect – when he thinks something is his, he will guard it to the death! So part of the training was to train us, the parents, how to recognize and avoid his triggers.
Here are two tips from the dog training expert we put into practice right away:
- Do not give treats unless you know it is one he will eat right away.
- If you drop something on the floor and the dog grabs it, do NOT try to take it away immediately. Instead, try to distract him in non-threatening ways until you can safely pick it up and remove it.
We implemented these. Of course, we already fed everyone separately so there were no battles at dinner time.
But Tedi was a smart little guy. After we felt it was safe to remove the item from him and let him back in the room, he would zoom to the spot and frantically search for the item … his treasure!
A Real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Tedi also had a low tolerance for physical attention. When you first pay attention and pet him, he’s fine and enjoys it. But pet him for too long (and you never knew when that would be) and he turns into Dr. Jekyll — he gets a glassy, dark look in his eyes, becomes perfectly still and then turns on the person giving the attention.
When Tedi’s in the house, I always warn visitors that you can give him a little attention, but then ignore him. He is so adorable and it is hard to resist petting him, but that is the healthiest policy for all of us.
And if he is asleep — do not touch him as he will come up off the floor ready to kill. It is hard to look at him with his darling face and funny little body and believe that this sweet, irresistible dog would turn into Cujo in a heartbeat!!
Back to Boot Camp
He did go to the trainer’s for a month of boot camp and returned home much improved. But for us, the last straw was when he attacked one my Japanese Chins and pinned her to the floor by the neck. I was able to separate them, but not without getting my toes all bloody. Thankfully, she wasn’t injured, but she was understandably traumatized. That was that.
We really had tried everything we knew to do, but the risk of injury was too high and other alternatives had to be considered. Fortunately the trainer had several dogs that could be classified as misfits and she graciously offered to take Tedi into her home. That worked perfectly since she could continue to work with him on a daily basis.
We jokingly call Tedi our “time-share” dog because he still comes to visit us periodically during the year and usually is a perfect gentleman. It is easy to avoid “incidences” on a short term basis. I am forever indebted to the trainer for her large heart and willingness to give him a home.
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you had a dog or cat with a split personality?
If so, I strongly urge you to contact Jemi Hodge, owner of K9 Consultants to arrange a consultation.
After all, no one should be afraid of the dog they live with!
Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.