I have a ten-year-old and 13-year-old Boston terrier and a two-year-old cat. My ten-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 or cat show 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
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.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.