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Keystone Veterinary Behavior Services
Better Behavior is the Keystone to a Better Life With Your Pet
When Caprice's owner, Lorraine, first contacted the Dr. Bergman she and her dog were in dire straits. She had gotten the 5 year old female German Shepherd from a rescue group only 5 months earlier, but it felt like a lifetime. Since she was adopted, Caprice was diagnosed with a serious, but manageable eye condition, and worked up for a possible abdominal mass and areas of hairloss on her tail. But these physical problems paled in comparison to Caprice's behavior on walks.
In the house, Caprice was a perfect dog. She hardly ever barked, she was gentle and affectionate with Lorraine and her husband Mike, who had health problems of his own. She had no problems being left home alone and overall was fitting in wonderfully in her new home. Outside, however, Caprice was a different dog. On walks, Caprice was constantly on guard, scanning and sniffing for other dogs. At the sight of another dog, even 100 feet or more away, Caprice would take off running and barking. Several times Lorraine was injured when Caprice took off after another dog and she was pulled to the ground.
Lorraine tried different types of collars, including choke chains and prong collars for walks. She met with a trainer who suggested using a Gentle Leader and positive reinforcement training. Caprice improved a little, but remained hypervigilant and almost impossible for Lorraine to control on walks.
Even though many people would have given up on a dog like Caprice, especially after suffering through a broken finger and bruised ribs, Lorraine felt that Caprice was worth the effort because she was so sweet and gentle at home. So when her local veterinarian referred Caprice to Dr. Bergman, Lorraine immediately scheduled an appointment.
Caprice was diagnosed with Fear Based Aggression towards other dogs. Even though she is a large dog and a breed that is often thought of as "tough" or "aggressive," Caprice showed many fearful and anxious behaviors when she encountered other dogs. Since she was originally found as a stray, we will never know why she started to show this "shoot first, ask questions later" sort of aggression. Regardless of the origin of the aggression, we all felt that Caprice had the ability to change, if she could start to learn to trust Lorraine to keep safe and guide her through her encounters with other dogs.
Caprice's initial treatment involved management changes and behavior modification exercises. These helped Lorraine to gain a little more physical control over Caprice when on walks. In the house, Caprice began to be more responsive to Lorraine and Mike if she saw or heard other dogs outside but she still continued to react to dogs she saw on walks. Because of her highly reactive state, Caprice was started on an anti-anxiety medication. Just as when a psychiatrist prescribes medication for a person, Dr. Bergman sought to find a medication that would reduce Caprice's fears and anxieties without wiping out the good sides of her personality. Medication alone very rarely is able to significantly change a pet's behavior. What medication has done for Caprice is made it easier to focus on Lorraine when she encounters another dog. This has allowed Caprice to learn more through the behavior modification exercises. Caprice no longer feels the need to constantly scan for the presence of other dogs or react aggressively to dogs that are half a football field away. With the help of her trainer, who has been able to assist Lorraine in implementing the behavior modification exercises prescribed by Dr. Bergman, Lorraine and Caprice continue to make strides in improving Caprice's behavior.
Lorraine Speaks: My Wild Child
Caprice started out as a foster dog but was so sweet we decided to adopt. I was told she was other dog aggressive but did not realize how fearful and highly reactive she was when I first brought her home. After trying different collars and harnesses to control her and sustaining a few minor injuries from falls when she saw another dog, I enlisted the help of a professional trainer. My standard of using gentle methods was met and we made some progress. The falls continued. I turned Dr. Laurie Bergman and SHE MADE HOUSE CALLS! Car rides was another of Caprice's fears. Dr. Bergman helped me find the correct tools to control Caprice and eliminate falls. Through her guidance and work with our trainer, Caprice has accepted the presence of and walks with another dog. There will be more.
Before working with Dr. Bergman, I was beginning to feel I was failing with Caprice. Now I have more confidence in myself. We have never used a harsh or physical correction with her. It was very important to me not to over-stimulate her and have her obey out of fear. We will continue working with Dr. Bergman. She has been extremely kind and thoughtful in her approach to desensitize Caprice. Caprice and I look forward to continuing our progress with Dr. Bergman and overcoming her fears.
Lorraine L., Sellersville, PA