Q. My rescue dog was obviously abused as a puppy. She’s afraid of men, cowers whenever she meets new dogs and even hides when she sees a cat or a child. If I raise my voice, she’ll pee on the floor. Whenever she goes to the veterinarian, she’ll snap, but I’m sure that’s because she’s scared of the muzzle. Unfortunately our vet isn’t very sensitive to this, and insists on using a muzzle. Can I bring her to you, instead?
After that fetching description, I can offer you only one option to using the muzzle, and it involves a very strong sedative. “Chemical restraint,” as we call it, is the only alternative to muzzling a dog that’s trying her darnedest to keep us away through the use of her teeth.
That said, what you’ve described is not necessarily a dog that’s been abused, but more likely a dog that’s fear-aggressive. “She was abused as a puppy” is perhaps the most common explanation owners use for dogs who react by cowering, biting, urinating and defecating when they’re in scary situations. But the truth is typically far less sinister.
These pups were not likely physically abused, just deprived of opportunities for the right kind of contact during the critical socialization period (between 6 and 12 weeks) –– which is abuse, of course, just not the kind most people believe could lead to serious fear aggression.
Puppies at that age require lots of contact with new people, different situations, other dogs, cats, cars, children, etc. The more puppies are exposed to these novel but normal scenarios the more capable they’ll be of confronting them, and the more easy-going they’ll be, even when enduring the oddest and most noxious of experiences — like going to the vet.
Luckily, there is help. Find yourself a certified dog trainer or board-certified veterinary behaviorist to help you work through her fears.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice in South Miami and blogs at www.dolittler.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Dolittler, Tropical Life, The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.