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Published December 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Incident changed good dog

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a male Grand Champion Shetland sheepdog. I recently went on a trip and left him with a friend

By: Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a male Grand Champion Shetland sheepdog. I recently went on a trip and left him with a friend. She was walking my dog when another dog came over without a leash. She asked the owner of the other dog to put it on leash, but he didn’t. My dog got overly fearful and squirmed his way out of the collar and ran away. He was gone for about two weeks. We finally trapped him almost 10 miles from where he started, in another township.

When I got him back, he was covered with ticks. I took him to the vet, and they shaved him. In this condition, you could see on his skin that he had bruises. This happened in July 2009.

Ever since, he has been a changed dog. I’ve taken him to classes, but he’s afraid of people coming up to pet him. He makes it look as if I’ve hit him. When I take him to shows, I can barely get him to stand still. He used to be just fine at shows and would let anyone show him. What can I do to get him back to his more trusting self? – C.A.S., Norfolk, Va.

Dear C.A.S.: Your poor dog is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As with humans suffering this affliction, treatment includes the judicious use of anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium and Xanax, and either total immersion/intense exposure to the fear-invoking stimuli or gradual repeated exposure of increasing duration and intensity. Verbal praise and treats for staying calm help dogs dissociate from conditioned fear to positive expectation when, for instance, they are trained to sit and stay still while people walk by or while they are watching children playing in a park or playground. Keeping your dog in a harness while on the leash may provide more comfort and better security than a collar. A few drops of lavender oil on a bandanna around his neck may also be calming, and the dog-appeasement pheromone (DAP) may be worth a try.

Remember, he is sensitive to your reactions. Ignore his cowering, and don’t tense up or try to force him to be friendly, which should come with time and patience. PTSD is the modern name for shell shock, and certainly after air raids during World War II, some dogs in the United Kingdom would develop a psychotic “fly snapping” behavior.


Dear Dr. Fox: I have a 2-year-old male longhair tabby cat (mix of Persian and Himalayan). I adopted him from a group of 26 kittens found in a barn in a town near here.

He would always sleep with me at night. I would never let him go outside unless I was with him. But we recently moved, and I am now letting him go outside whenever he wants. Since then, he doesn’t sleep with me anymore. When he’s hungry, he’ll knead and knock on my bedroom door, but he won’t go any further. How can I get him to sleep with me again? – J.C., St. Charles, Mo.

Dear J.C.: Regrettably, you have given your cat a second taste of life outdoors, and he likes being outdoors at night to prowl, hunt and check out his territory for other cats and potentially dangerous wild animals. Coyotes and occasionally red foxes will make a meal out of free-roaming house cats (and small dogs) in many areas, especially in California.

Try treating your cat as you would a dog, having him always under your supervision. Try walking him with a harness and a leash, allowing him to explore for about 30 minutes every evening. Play with him indoors, and give him a light meal before you turn in. Then keep him in your bedroom with the door closed, and set out his snacks and the litter box at the foot of your bed. He may yowl and pace for a few nights, but a little catnip might calm him down.

I understand why many cat owners feel that it is cruel not to let their cats go outdoors and follow their instincts, especially at night. But it is unnatural for cats to go off and roam the neighborhood or the woods because they are a domesticated species and do not ecologically belong in such places. This is not to deny the fact that some cats have the wits to survive and avoid trouble, even getting lost, but many cats unfortunately do not. I find it quite telling that our feral cat Mr. Twain, whom we rescued from probably his fourth or fifth Minnesota winter (clearly a rare feline with amazing survival skills), has never made one meow to solicit going outdoors!


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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