ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I have a 5-year-old female border terrier who is almost the perfect pet, except when I visit someone else’s home. Even if I let her empty out before we enter, the first thing she does is mark her spot. She also does this going to the veterinarian or to the groomer. I would like her to come with me when I play my weekly card games but cannot trust her.
Dr. Nichol: There’s a lot of pressure in trying to be the perfect guest: witty and socially adroit while charming the host sans
faux pas. Your almost perfect dog is a nervous wreck when away from home. The poor kid has sweaty paws as she absorbs human scrutiny at these wingdings, undoubtedly worried that her collar doesn’t match her leash. If you play your cards right, her confidence will emerge, putting the kibosh on your friends’ furtive tittering.
Set the tone with a few tummy breaths as the two of you make a tranquil entrance to the card room. Your subordinate will decipher your most subtle body language for behavioral cues as she follows your unflappable demeanor. She will adopt your composure and be your emotional mini me.
Avoidance of a dog’s anxiety triggers can also make a difference; it’s that sudden sense of being overwhelmed that can cause a good dog to get wiggy. As you sashay into a social setting, you can divert attention from your dog with a couple of clever rejoinders for your friends. Never allow anyone to reach for, lean over, approach, or stare at the kid. She needs to be ignored.
There are no guarantees. Being handed a mop just as you are about to bluff your way past a pair of deuces would be a real buzz kill. As a fail-safe, dog diapers will captivate your friends and provide evidence of your good dog’s social etiquette. You can deal her an even stronger hand by pretreating her with the safe prescription beta blocker propranolol prior to the game. Propranolol is the go-to for squeaky voiced public speakers, antsy dancers, and tongue-tied actors to reduce the heebie jeebies just before show time.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109.