[From August 2012 Issue]
My miniature pincher, 11, has been with me every day for the past five years. I tried to take her to doggy daycare and she throws a panicky fit. She hyperventilates and claws to get me to pick her up and take her home. I feel tied to my home. Can you give me some advice?
I appreciate your concerns regarding your dog’s panic and also respect that you feel tied to your home. Please permit me a moment on my soapbox: While some dogs flourish in social arenas such as day care and dog parks, others are devastatingly overwhelmed. Contrary to popular propaganda that touts pack order — as opposed to scientifically accurate data — not all dogs appreciate other dogs’ company. It has to do with many factors, including selective breeding for different temperaments and early social experience.
Thrusting some sensitive, inexperienced and semi-solitary dogs into the mayhem of a kennel or dog park can be extremely difficult for them. Domestic dogs are not wolves, and after years of artificial selection for behavior, their social being has deviated from “wild type” canid behavior. We should be conservative using the behavior of North American wolves as a universal example of social behavior since their social behavior is not the norm for our dogs. Not to mention, much of the misinformation regarding social behavior in wolves is based on early ethological studies involving placing unfamiliar wolves in a kennel and recording behaviors as they sorted out an artificial social situation — not unlike wolf day care!
Getting to the practical heart of your matter: For pint-sized pups, everything in life is huge (sights, sounds, you name it!) and sensory overload can be overwhelming if the pooch isn’t properly prepared from a young age.
Due to miniature breeds’ stature, the general public tends to disregard fearful warning signs and disrespect their threats. Without human protection, diminutive dogs learn to up the ante and express discontent with extreme drama. Now they have our attention! This leads owners to pick up them up when the dog becomes distraught. As a consequence, they never learn proper coping skills and self control.
Since you adopted your dog when she was 6, her experiences and emotional responses were well established. She may not be experientially or emotionally equipped to handle your expectations. Given her age and strength of her reaction, I cannot condone putting her in a kennel or day care unless she has been gradually introduced to an environment tailored to suit her. You might be better off finding a sitter to visit your home or similar type of arrangement. I am getting long in the tooth and the thought of putting your girl in daycare feels akin to making me spend a weekend in a fraternity house. No thank you, please. Meals on Wheels will be just fine! I do love to exaggerate but hope I make my point. You can teach senior dogs some but not all new tricks. I’d devote my energy looking for caretaking to give you freedom and her peace of mind. Make it easy on yourself — for both of you!
Alice Moon-Fanelli, Ph.D., CAAB
Brooklyn Veterinary Hospital
New England Veterinary Center & Cancer Care