Q: I’m about to retire and live alone in a condo. I recently adopted a 2-year-old female miniature pinscher, Mitzi, from a humane society. I was told Mitzi had some “issues,” because she was abused. She is slowly acclimating to her new life but is scared of loud noises and quick movements. Most of all, she is very aggressive on the leash when we meet other walkers with their dogs. I had her in several obedience classes, and all she did was shake from fear of the bigger dogs and the chaotic barking. She wanted to attack the smaller dogs. The trainer suggested spraying her with water when she acts up, which I’ve done, but it hasn’t solved the problem entirely. I’m looking forward to spending many stress free years with my little girl.
A: First, put away the spray bottle. In the short term, the surprise spritz in your dog’s face stops barking intermittently. However, as a long-term solution on the path to “many stress-free years with my little girl,” it is not recommended by Dog Lady. You don’t want your dog to fear you ever. Your Mitzi should look up to you — figuratively. You want her to feel calm enough to obey you and not worry about the other dogs. Teach your dog “sit and stay” with a yummy treat dangling. This is an exercise in which you command your dog to focus on you while telling her to sit and be quiet. When she does what she’s told, you praise her effusively and give her the treat.
Your immediate need to take her to training is admirable, but the high-strung Mitzi doesn’t need any more chaotic barking and noses in her face. Walk her for bonding and socialization. She needs to get used to other dogs, loud noises, big trucks, whatever. And walk her for the exercise. Get to know Mitzi by training her. Buy her a bed so she has her cozy, safe place. Be serene around her — or try to be. The last thing any dog — or person — needs is a screamer with a spray bottle.