Challenge Your Knowledge of Canine Behavior


First in a series

Multiple choice: Dogs adopted as adults, who are aggressive toward the man in the home: (a) Were previously mistreated by a male (b) Are jealous, wanting the woman all to themselves (c) Are frightened by the macho, but gentle dude who guzzles battery acid instead of coffee in the morning (d) Are trying to be dominant (e) Have an Oedipus complex.

In my veterinary behavior practice I see a wide variety of disorders; the most common are manifested by aggression. Some dogs declare war on strangers, family members, cats, other dogs, hot air balloons, even TV animals. The targets of these hostile acts aren’t happy but neither are the perpetrators. Everybody wants the problem solved at least 10 minutes ago.

Sally and Raymond brought their 3 year old hound, Brandi, to me because she was chasing Raymond around the house while barking, growling, and snapping at his ankles. Brandi delighted in snuggling with Sally but she seemed to hate Raymond’s guts. None of the training methods they had tried made any difference. They were flummoxed and upset. They loved Brandi but they all needed relief, especially Raymond.

Knee-jerk remedies for aggression include yelling, dominating, hitting, surrender to a shelter, or even euthanasia. These quick and dirty methods fail because only the growling and snapping are addressed. Like withholding water from someone who drinks and urinates excessively, the symptoms may diminish while the patient worsens. It breaks my heart when well-meaning attempts to help actually cause harm.

Most humans, much like our dogs, carry the capacity for empathy. We can understand the struggles of another person by walking a mile in their shoes. If we shift our thinking, and learn what makes a different species tick, we can apply that kindness to them as well.

Whatever the symptom: lameness, coughing, vomiting, or unhealthy behavior, there is no substitute for a diagnosis. My job for Brandi started with figuring out why she reacted to Raymond. Only then could I set about helping her and her people. Oh, the answer to the quiz is (c).

Next week: What was wrong with Raymond?


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.