Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Zazu

Dealing with PTSD

Zazu —Kasha Ritter

Hi Tom,

Zazu is a 13-year-old shelter dog. She was on the side of the road

in Kentucky, with her puppies. She’s always been passive-aggressive and cautious. Two years ago she was attacked by a Great Pyrenees, who slowly approached her, sniffed her, then bit into her and shook her and almost killed her. Hence her present apprehension when any dog approaches her. She’s never bit anyone, but hackles go up and snarls ensue.

  1. What should I be doing when another dog approaches? Warn the owner, or just keep calm and have Zazu feed off my confidence in her?
  2. How can I help Zazu get over this fear? I’m afraid for her, which isn’t helping, I’m sure. But after seeing your dog go through that, it’s hard not to be concerned.
  3. If I pay more attention to the other dog and show Zazu that I trust the other dog, does that help or hurt the situation?
  4. What should I be doing that I am not? 🙂

Many thanks!

Kasha Ritter

Dear Kasha,

Thanks for being one of the good guys, saving a dog on the side of the road in Kentucky. Zazu got lucky! Until she met that Great Pyr. However, considering that about half of my business is problem dogs, with aggression being the No. 1 problem, I’ve seen enough to tell you that you can also look at it from the perspective that, considering the attack, Zazu got lucky. The size differential alone between a Great Pyr and Zazu could have easily resulted in death or permanent physical disability. As it is, she was traumatized, and is now more suspicious of any new dog, and frankly, I don’t blame her.

First: Ask every person on the other end of the leash you see, in no uncertain terms, “Is your dog friendly?” If the answer has any hesitancy or uncertainty whatsoever, pass. If the answer is, “Usually,” or “Most of the time,” or “I think so,” pass.

Second: Many people inadvertently make their dog anxious at the sight of another dog because they transfer their own anxiety to the dog through their voice, the leash, and their body language. There is no domestic animal that understands the body language and voice intonation of a human better than a dog. Say you’re standing in a park with Zazu on the leash, and she happens to be facing the opposite direction from you as a dog enters the park on a leash. You, in your worry about a possible confrontation, tighten the leash and say “Zazu” with mild anxiety in your face and voice. Zazu now turns around and connects your obvious displeasure and the tightened collar on her neck with the dog she sees for the first time.

Time to change! From now on I’d suggest you have treats with you whenever you go out with Zazu. I wouldn’t be averse to people-food treats, if the only time she got them was just before meeting new dogs. Now, the moment a new dog is seen, you start being very upbeat, praising Zazu as you give her treats, as if you’re approaching Z’s best friend. If the response to your question is, “Very friendly,” or “super-friendly,” let them meet. Keep the leash soft and talk happily to all. Keep the meeting short, because you want success to build on success. If she’s having a good time with her new acquaintance, leave the scene with her wanting more, rather than staying too long; the new friend might get too comfortable, even pushy, and start making Zazu uncomfortable.

As for you paying attention to one of the dogs, don’t. Let them work it out. Your attention in this situation is much more likely to add stress than to help. If Z is off-leash, be that happy, silly person giving treats, and step away when they actually meet. Let them work it out! (This is assuming the owner said, “Very friendly.”) If you bend down to pet Zazu and tell her, “It’s OK,” your concern will show and make her more nervous, and your close proximity will serve as support and likely make her more aggressive. Step away, and let her learn to get comfortable with friendly dogs. The more you have success build on success with these short meetings, the quicker she will get comfortable and be happier.

Best of luck,

The Dogcharmer

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