Bite the Food, Not the Person

man with a wrench

Fourth in a series

By calling Brandi and rewarding her with a treat Sally was able to preempt this big hound’s fear-driven assaults on Raymond. Her good man could now walk around the house without igniting a barrage of canine invective and hostility. Our patient had become somewhat more manageable but her people were getting tired of constant constable duty.

Could this relationship improve? Would Brandi and Raymond someday share a father – daughter dance? There was better living through chemistry: the antianxiety medication was helping. So I advised Raymond to “jackpot” Brandi by tossing a handful of treats prior to standing, hoping she’d wildly chase the scattered snacks instead of Raymond. Sadly, this adaptation of current learning theory consistently collapsed. Brandi barked and chased Raymond and, only after he left the room or sat back down did she enjoy winning the dog treat lottery. I had tried a giant leap when a baby step would have been more prudent.

We recalculated. I had Raymond take the leash and wear the treat bag. He called his dog, gave her a treat, stood and walked while handing her one tiny snack after another. This worked pretty well. When Brandi heard her name she happily trotted to the big guy, ready to earn more food as he led her around the house. Of course, there was a fly in this ointment.

With her anxiety diminished Brandi was now learning like an A student but when Raymond headed for the door to fetch a wrench from the garage, take out the trash, or leave for work the wheels fell off. Exiting the house was a high crime, triggering a spate of barking, chasing, and raised hair over Brandi’s shoulders and rump.

When the neural circuits in the brain rehearse a ramp-up in agitation the synapses get stronger. Unhealthy reactions escalate even faster. Sally and Raymond needed to ignore what they did not want because any response from a leader would validate and reinforce a problem they were trying desperately to extinguish.

Next week: Controlling a behavior by ignoring? Really?


For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom ( Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.