Danville Express

Living - July 27, 2007

The Pet Vet says... Dog owner afraid to take 'talker' to restaurants

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. We have a 2-year-old Brittany that we have had since he was about 7 weeks old. He's the most vocal dog I've ever owned and in most cases, it isn't a problem. He "talks" when he wants to go out to the bathroom, he "talks" when he wants his dinner. The "talking" is a problem when I take him with me to run errands, such as to Home Depot. He screeches when he's in the store. He's very easy to train to do things - not so easy to train NOT to do things. I've tried telling him NO, BAD DOG, lightly grabbing him on the neck and sternly telling him QUIET, SSSH - none of those things works. We'd love to be able to take him to restaurants that have outdoor dining, but I'm afraid he'd create such a fuss, we'd have to put our food in a doggy bag and leave.

A. It sounds as if your dog is getting mixed messages. It's OK for him to "talk" when he wants you to let him out or feed him, but it's not OK to "talk" when he wants your attention in Home Depot? I'm sure he's smart, but I doubt he'll ever be able to understand the difference! So if you want to stop it, you can train him not to "talk," but it will have to happen at home first.

Remember that for a dog, any attention is good attention. So your attempts to shush the dog by telling him "no," etc. are probably actually reinforcing the talking. Try rewarding him when he is not vocalizing and ignoring him when he is. You can get him to not vocalize by teaching him this sequence: sit, praise, down, praise. It's very difficult for dogs to vocalize in the down position. Repeat if necessary (if he starts "talking"). You should have him repeat this sequence before being let out, before being fed, or before getting treats. If he vocalizes to get your attention at home, simply leave the room or take him out of the room. Providing a favorite chew toy may help him amuse himself without your attention.

If you believe the behavior is motivated more by anxiety than by attention-seeking, talk to your veterinarian about prescribing anti-anxiety medication. It sounds as if he is a smart dog and can probably be trained with some time and effort on your part. Sometimes these dogs respond very well to clicker training.

Q. My dog has had problems periodically where his back end is concave and his tale is lowered. When this situation happens to him, he goes through a period of being lethargic, but continues eating and having regular bowel movements. He basically wants to lie down and does groan a little, but within two or three days he's back to his normal playful self. This has happened approximately five times in the last four years. And this weekend was one of those times.

A. It sounds as if your dog may be suffering from an arthritic condition. Arthritis of the hips or of the spine (called spondylosis) is common in dogs. Your veterinarian can diagnose the problem by taking X-rays. For arthritis, prescription anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed that can make your dog much more comfortable when he is suffering from one of these episodes.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org. Her column runs every other week.


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