Behavior changes in German Shepherd
Q: About a month ago our shepherd started changing for no apparent reason. At first she refused to go outside . If we tried to be stern and insist by going toward her, she would snarl a little. It was torture just to get her to go out. Now she is doing just the opposite. She doesn't want to come inside. We have a very large cage for her in our garage where she stays when we go out somewhere. We don't lock it or anything, she just likes to be in there. So, when we are ready to come in, if she happens to be in the garage, she will go in the cage and not come out. We have spent a lot of money having her professionally trained (obedience training) and she was fine for the first two years. We try to get her to come out of the cage, or off the deck or off the porch to come into the house, and she refuses. Once again if we get too agressive about it, she will snarl and growl briefly. I dont know if she would actually bite either one of us, but I don't feel comfortable taking it far enough to find out. Other than this strange behavior, she seems ok. She still plays, she eats a little irregularly perhaps, but she eats. I hope you can help us with some information. I appreciate anything you can tell us. Barbara & George A: Barbara and George- I don't think it is possible to help much with the behavior change as it relates to not wanting to go outside or come inside. This sort of change can occur with physical problems (sight problems especially can lead to odd behavior changes related to going out or staying in) and a good physical exam is always a good idea when behaviors change. If nothing is found then it may take careful review of the history of the problem to figure out what the causes might be. Your vet may be able to refer you to a behavioral expert in your area if you are fortunate enough to live near one. Aggression problems are best dealt with by a behaviorist, too. There is the potential to mis-evaluate the cause or mis-judge appropriate treatment techniques and make the situation worse. While I am sure this occasionally happens even with the help of a specialist it is less likely than if you try to deal with the problem on your own or with the help of a someone whose training in the field is suspect. A small step that might help is insisting that your dog work a little for each meal and for attention such as going for walks. Making her sit or perform other small tasks prior to putting her food bowl down or before attaching the leash for walks may help reinforce your position as "the boss". That isn't likely to bring about major change but it may give you a foundation to build on with the behaviorist's help. Wish I could help more. Mike Richards, DVM
Behavioral Changes in older dog
Q: Dr. Mike, I have a 13 year old Beagle/Spaniel mix. She has been very healthy throughout her life with only one bladder infection. Recently my family and I have started noticing some changes. I was married about 1 1/2 yrs. ago and took Mitsy to live with me and my husband (she got along with him and loved him from day one and vise versa). We lived 5 minutes away from where Mitsy and I used to live with my parents and brother. During the day, when my husband and I work, I would take her over my parents' house before work so she could be in a familiar environment with people she knew (she was always used to being with my mom because she never worked outside of the home). My husband or I would pick her up after work and bring her back to our townhouse. This worked out very well. About a year later (this past October), my husband and I bought a house in the same area and still close to my parents. My brother would pick her up to take her to my parents' house or I would go home at lunch to take her over there. She was always cooperative. Lately, when my mom goes to pick her up to take her, she runs away from her or tries to bite her when my mom tries to pick her up. No one in my family has ever abused her. She is adored by everyone. She also has been acting strangely when at our home. She looks at the television a lot like she hears something unusual. She also seems to get scared when she hears any higher pitched beeping sound (like the smoke alarm beeping to warn us batteries need changed; or sometimes even the microwave beeping). She also seems scared sometimes for no apparent reason. Sometimes she doesn't seem like she wants to be in the house. Also at night, when we turn the lights off and are lying in bed going to sleep, she scratches at her dog bed (like she's playing with something to bury it), she trots around the room, and she pants heavily (she does this when she's scared - like a thunderstorm, or when she really has to go to the bathroom). There haven't been any thunderstorms lately and we let her outside to go to the bathroom, but she still pants and can't relax and go to sleep. Last night she even jumped up on the bed, pushed her way in-between us and sat there looking at the bedroom door panting. I thought that maybe she's starting to lose her vision and doesn't like the dark. So I put a night-light on. She jumped off of the bed and started panting and scratching at her dog bed. She used to just lay down on the floor, on her bed, or occasionally at the bottom of our bed and go to sleep. Now it seems like she wants to be on the bed with us a lot more and then last night right in-between us which she never does. About two weeks ago, my family, including myself and my husband, went away for the weekend and left Mitsy in my parents house. A friend of my brother's, who Mitsy has known all of her life and stayed with a few other times when we went away, would come over and let her out, spend some time with her, etc. It seems like after we came back is when she started getting worse. I have absolutely no idea what could be wrong. I plan to take her to her vet to check her vision, sight, and overall health, but it really seems to me to be more of a behavioral/mental problem. Any advice or opionions you could give would be very appreciated. Thank you. A: C- I am sorry for the delay in replying to your question. The best thing to do is to have an exam done to rule out diseases that may be contributing the behavior seen, as well as visual problems, which you mention. If there is not a readily apparent physical cause for this behavior you may want to consider asking your vet about l-deprenyl, a medication recently marketed to help with behavioral changes related to senility. Mike Richards, DVM
Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...