Patient repetition of Rewards for Courage

Question:
My mom is a young widow. And very lonely. She mentioned she wanted a cocker. So I surprised her with one for Christmas. She loves him dearly, but he is a submissive urinator. He is 10 months old and despite obedience classes and behavior modification he isn’t getting better. My vet suggested, as a last resort, Clomicalm to see if we took the nervous edge off Presley he may break the habit of submission.

Dr. Nichol:
I feel bad for dogs like Presley. He becomes so overwhelmed that the neurologic mechanisms regulating his bladder get completely derailed. While anyone can be pushed to extreme fear some dogs are genetically programmed to react submissively and almost automatically dribble urine. It would be great if obedience training or simple encouragement could instill confidence.

Presley isn’t happy when he wets himself; he understands instinctively that it’s abnormal. His fear could diminish with appropriate behavior modification but he’ll never be cured. So while medication may not be essential to his aspirations of wearing big boy pants it should not be considered a last resort. I am a believer in implementing every legitimate tool to improve well-being.

Your mom can help Presley relax by not allowing anyone to scare the little guy. No one should approach, reach for, lean over, or stare at the kid. Since our dogs regard any attention as validation of their behavior of the moment, if Presley gets excited enough that he might dribble he must be completely ignored until he is calm. Coaxing and soothing tones would actually reinforce his misery. Only a relaxed emotional state should earn attention.

The Clomicalm your veterinarian suggested is a good antianxiety medication, but a different drug from the same class (TCA), called imipramine (CQ), may work better. In addition to reducing anxiety it enhances neurologic control of urine flow. Any pharmacy can dispense imipramine on a veterinarian’s prescription.

Finally, visitors who want to help Presley must absolutely follow the plan. They can shift his mindset from trepidation to enjoyment by absently dropping bits of food so he can approach and get rewarded for his courage. Patience and quiet repetition will be crucial to improvement. There is no quick fix.

Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). He cares for the medical needs of pets at the Petroglyph Animal Hospital in Albuquerque (898-8874). Question? Post it on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Mail to 4000 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuq, NM 87109. Unpublished questions may not be answered individually.