Luna’s life with Hope and Brian began with great promise. They weren’t ready to start a human family but they loved pets. They’re socially conscious people who wanted to make a difference so off they went to the local shelter in search of a canine companion. That’s where a 6 month old Papillion-looking waif stole their hearts.
Luna seemed perfect until she started reacting to well-meaning dog lovers who approached or reached to pet her, causing her to tremble, growl, and dribble urine. Hope and Brian believed that exposure to more people would help bring out her best so they took her everywhere and invited folks of all descriptions to introduce themselves. Luna got even worse. People she’d already met couldn’t walk past her without her running at them, snarling with bared teeth. Clearly, they needed help.
A “boot camp” seemed like it would be a straight-forward fix but after Luna’s return from two weeks of, well Hope and Brian were never told what, their little girl’s aggression had advanced even further. By the time this threesome arrived in my consulting office they were a pretty sad little family.
Hereditary influences on behavior are a current hot bed of research but so are environmental factors. The brain is a “plastic” organ, meaning that its microscopic anatomy and its genetic programing can change in response to life events. Proper socialization of puppies makes a huge difference.
Before moving on to how Luna’s life ultimately improved I’ll share some well-researched facts. During their first 3 months puppy brains are primed and ready to learn that the great majority of people and other dogs are actually safe. This is the ideal time to expose them to as many kind and gentle people of different ages, sizes, and races as possible. Canine toddlers also have a better shot at becoming well-adjusted adults if they interact with other dogs of varying ages, not to mention other species they may encounter again.
Casual feline acquaintances are healthy for puppies too. Cats who regard dogs with bemused facial expressions are best because they don’t run and trigger chasing behavior. Tune in next week for another installment.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.