6/27/2006 QB: Yes, dogs need shrinks, too!

QB: Yes, dogs need shrinks, too!

QB, putting on a happy face!                            Age 2-1/2 months


I first met QB when he was only 19 days old, and I brought him home at age eight weeks.  He was a lively little guy with a major case of separation anxiety that still troubles him; I can leave him at home in the bedroom and he’ll be happy, but if he sees me leave him (for example, if I tie him outside a store and go in) he gets very upset, and usually barks until he realizes it’s doing him no good.


QB first showed behavior problems at age 18 weeks, upon finishing puppy kindergarten.  He bit me and jumped on me nonstop, snapping at my shirttails, pant legs, and shoelaces, and deliberately (I’m certain of this) causing trouble, and though he has never destroyed anything of value, he had me convinced that he would surely tear the house apart.  Nothing I could do would stop QB’s constant attack on me. 


One has to be aware of my circumstances at the time to understand the full impact of his behavior on me.  It was March 2004 and my boyfriend, Joe, has passed away suddenly the previous August.  In October, my dog Tiger died.  I had lost the two people more important to me than anyone in the world.  I was making a meager attempt at full-time graduate study at Goddard College’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program.  And there I was with an out-of-control puppy monster.


I began a “program” with him: We took five walks a day, three for an hour and two fifteen-minute walks for “potty.”  We covered three and a half miles every day, rain or shine.  In between walks, he slept in his crate.  Gradually, I introduced playtime, increasing its duration from fifteen minutes to a half hour, then longer as he became better behaved.  At six months he had outgrown the puppy “fear stage” and I was able to spray him with water whenever he jumped on me and bit me, using the command, “Off!”


It worked.  QB’s behavior indoors improved ten-fold, and continues to improve.  He is now allowed run of the house and needs almost no supervision except companionship and interactive play.  He no longer jumps on me or bites me, though he jumps on other people whenever he thinks he can get away with it.  His outdoor behavior is what concerns me now.


I cannot walk QB without disturbing my neighbors.  No matter the time of day, he snarls and barks at everyone and everything, including pedestrians, children and babies, bicycles, cars, trucks, motorcycles, lawnmowers, newspapers, basketballs, trash, telephone poles, other dogs, and so on.  Children and adults alike are afraid of him, even if I reassure them (though I may not be certain myself) that he is “showing off.”  He is completely unmanageable, quite the contrast to his indoor personality.


I began taking him to Pooch Palace (www.thepoochpalace.com – click on “boarding” for a full description of the premises) for day care once a week.  Just because I don’t have a social life doesn’t mean he can’t have one!  He runs and plays all day with other dogs, and when the day is over, sometimes gets a brushing, bath, and blow-dry.  What a life!  He comes home tired and happy. 


But even Pooch Palace didn’t solve his behavior problems.  Over the past week he’s been hiding in his crate all day sulking, refusing to come out and play, until around 4pm, then wreaks havoc when we go outside.  It’s true that people, when depressed, frequently feel worse in the morning, and this is the way it seems to be with QB.


One may argue that dogs can’t get the doggie equivalent of human psychiatric illnesses, but why not?  Surely, dogs can have chemical imbalances in their brains just like humans can.  Mental illness is a physical illness; not unlike disorders of the liver or kidneys, brain disorders can manifest in any creature that has a brain.  I feel confident that I’m giving QB the best life I can give him, but physical problems can’t be solved by love alone.  It takes experienced veterinarians to treat the animal and restore him to health.


Pet behavior problems have a stigma attached, just like human psychiatric problems.  I am the guilty mother.  People think I abuse him, or don’t discipline him enough.  People think all sorts of things.  I wonder if this is anything close to what my parents experienced when I became ill–embarrassed, ashamed, guilty.


Yesterday, I telephoned the New England Veterinary Behavioral Specialists (www.petbehaviorproblems.com) and made an appointment for QB.  I want him to have the best care possible, especially now that he isn’t feeling well.  I’m sure that with the right help, he can recover and have a happy life again.  He’ll be on a six-month program, which will include a physical exam and behavior observation, diagnosis, and treatment. 


Check back at this site for updates on QB!