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Calm anxious dog, then train him

Try to distract a dog that has pent-up

Try to distract a dog that has pent-up excitement or stress. Photo Credit: Fotolia

Q I have one 10-year-old and one 13-year-old Boston terrier and a 2-year-old cat. My 10-year-old, Billy, is a handful. He is the busiest dog I have ever met. He licks constantly and cries and complains all the time. I love him to bits, but his behavior is very stressful and is a lot to manage. Neither the other dog nor the cat shows any of these stress behaviors.

Billy has ruined furniture because the second you leave him he will lick it until it’s soaking wet. He gets into these panic zones where he just goes at it until you physically have to stop him. He also has issues when people come over. When the doorbell rings, he goes nuts. He is only 26 pounds, but he’s all muscle and bulldozes and jumps on everyone.

My vet suggested a natural supplement to calm him down, but it didn’t help. He also has night terrors and screams in his sleep. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Jennifer St. Pierre,

Notre Dame de l’Ile Perrot, Quebec, Canada

A It sounds like Billy needs two things: something stronger for anxiety and a little training.

It’s often difficult to train dogs who suffer from anxiety until they are treated for it. So, ask your veterinarian about other treatments to reduce Billy’s anxiety. With stressed dogs, one thing might not work; you may have to implement a combination of things, from anxiety medications or natural remedies, like plug-in or spray pheromones, which mimic a nursing mother dog to body wraps, which provide physical pressure that can calm some dogs. Once his mind calms, then you can train him.

Billy’s alerts to the doorbell need to stop once you head to the door. Tell Billy, “thank you,” and then ask him to “sit.” Give him a treat. He needs to know you can handle what’s on the other side of the door and don’t need his help.

Ask a friend to stand outside the door and ring the bell, so you can train him inside the house. Put a leash on Billy and after he sits, open the door. If he lifts his hind end as you do it, close the door and ask him to sit again. Repeat this training over and over again every day for at least a month. But wait until you find the right combination of medicine or natural therapies to control the obsessive licking. Once his anxiety is reduced, the training will be easier to do.

Q Our Katie is a 5-year-old Lab mix. She’s always been obedient and will lick you to death if you let her. Now suddenly, when little kids come over, she gets super excited and starts humping them. Why now, after all this time, is she doing this? I thought only male dogs hump. Any ideas on how to stop her?

Anthony Meule,

Valley Stream

A The truth is, both male and female dogs hump, and for many reasons. If dogs aren’t fixed, it’s a behavior tied to mating. But if Katie is fixed then she could be humping because it simply feels good, she’s super excited or stressed, or has a health problem, like a urinary infection.

If there’s no health problem, then the clues point to the excitement (or stress, depending on how she’s interpreting her encounter with the kids). There is no general harm in the behavior, but most people don’t want a dog humping their legs, which can become a compulsive behavior for a dog if allowed to continue. You can curb this behavior through distraction and training.

If possible, give Katie a quick walk before the kids come over. This reduces pent-up energy. Then, distract her when the kids come over. Get her attention by shaking a can of coins or clapping your hands and telling her to “leave it” when she tries to hump anyone. Show her a toy or high-value treat — something yummy she doesn’t normally get, like a chew treat or a piece of hot dog. She should come over to you for the treat, which will help distract her during the initial excitement around the kids’ arrival. If she acts too wild, put her on a leash for these encounters until you get her trained.

If the kids are super-excited when they first arrive, it’s OK to ask them to be a little quieter until Katie has time to adjust and settle down.

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