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My Pet World: Stubborn, Aggressive Terriers

By Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services on

SAN DIEGO -- Veterinarians attending the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior symposium answered a sampling of my readers' questions. The groups met in early August in conjunction with the American Veterinary Medical Association's annual convention.

Q: Hoosier is a very active Terrier, and stubborn. Last weekend, my grandchildren visited. I asked my 12-year-old granddaughter to put Hoosier in his cage when we were going out. Hoosier was sleeping in the corner of the couch. I didn't see what happened, but Hoosier bit my granddaughter on her mouth. She only had a scratch.

My daughter has now put a restriction on the children coming over to visit. My choice is to muzzle or she won't allow the children to visit. Of course, I would do anything for the kids. My daughter says muzzling is good because Hoosier will associate the muzzle with the fun he has with the kids, and because then the dog can't bite. My suggestion was not to have the kids direct the dog to do anything, and I will always be there and be responsible. To muzzle or not to muzzle, that is the question. -- P. F., Batavia, IL

A: "A stubborn dog is usually an anxious dog," says Dr. Valli Parthasarathy, president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. "If this dog has expressed aggression previously, getting professional hands-on help is a very good idea. If this behavior is new, and surprising -- see your veterinarian; there may be a medical explanation."

Parthasarathy, whose practice is in Portland, Ore., adds, "The muzzle might do exactly as your daughter describes, whenever the muzzle goes on -- it means a fun play session with the children. The problem is that you probably shouldn't keep on the muzzle on for much longer than 10 minutes at a time. It makes sense that you suggest the kids won't ask the dog to do anything. But what if they do when you're not looking?"

Instead, perhaps a workable compromise is in order. For now, muzzle and when you can't do that, Hoosier should be in a crate or room behind a closed door. Then hire a qualified dog behavior consultant or trainer to work with Hoosier and your family.


By the way, that old adage about letting sleeping dogs lie is a good one.


Q: I have one of those pesky Terriers who I guess wasn't all that well socialized. She is very aggressive to other dogs in the building, and outside, except a few dogs she knows. She is sometimes aggressive to people. I have to tell you, I've been to three trainers and one behaviorist and the best advice I can get is "get a shock collar" and "get a muzzle." I don't want to do either. This morning in the elevator she leapt after a woman and growled. Fortunately, nothing happened. I'm not going to get rid of her; I just want to know what to do." -- D. F., via email

A: "I love that your dog is so important to you, and that you are seeking help," says Dr. Karen Sueda, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.


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