A Dog must be a Dog


Fourth in a series
Set her Up for Safety
Ruby, our Doberman patient who was no longer impaled by an elm stick and having finished relieving herself outside, endured yet another thorough exam. Her vitals were normal, her heart rate and rhythm strong, her abdomen only slightly tender. After our long night I remember Amos, barely awake by this time, muttering, “Holy smoke, doc, this dog might actually make it.” Hoping to bolster his confidence I replied with my most nonchalant delivery, “Don’t be ridiculous, Amos, of course she will.” We would maintain generous doses of antibiotics and keep this girl moving but, of course, there were no guarantees.

Shortly after I called Charley with a status report she arrived with coffee and breakfast burritos. I explained that we weren’t out of the woods. Then she bent to snuggle her good dog. Ruby’s immediate wiggle and tail wag gave my confidence a welcome boost.

This imperturbable dog went home a few days later sporting an impressive chest bandage. Charley, her equally composed person, kept the offending branch as a souvenir. After a closely supervised 6 week recovery period it was clear that Ruby was ready for the next locomotive challenger.

Some might consider correcting a dog for going near the fence or for racing another train. But the behavior that nearly killed Ruby would never respond to punishment. Quick movement, coupled with a whole lot of noise, can be an irresistible trigger for innate predatory chasing. Ruby was being who she was genetically programmed to be – a dog.

Avoidance was the only legitimate solution. Rather than raking downed tree branches next to the tracks I encouraged Charley to erect another fence, this one about 20 feet farther away. With greater distance from the stimulus, there would be less arousal for Ruby. She still got amped-up when a train thundered past but her motivation to catapult herself with wild abandon was diminished. She lived a peaceful life. There were no trophies on the mantle for races won against speeding locomotives but that grotty elm projectile remains there to this day.
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet behavioral or physical questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.