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Try avoidance if your dog is hypervigilant

Dr. Jeff NicholALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: I have a Chihuahua who wants to attack everyone. In the car she goes crazy; she barks at everyone on the street. She doesn’t stop until we get home. At home, if we have guests and if they move or walk, she runs to them to scare them. She doesn’t bite, just pretends. She’s really sweet and never has bitten anyone. It’s just fear and protecting her territory.

Dr. Nichol: It’s hard for small dogs to feel safe because everybody else is bigger and capable of stealing their lunch money and squashing them like bugs. The little squirts with low-status personalities may retreat and hide when they perceive a threat. A dog like yours (larger than life) is prone to mount an aggressive display in her attempts to drive off a “scary monster.” She’s not as tough as she looks.

Visitors (aka brutal savages) seem less threatening when they’re sitting because they appear smaller and are not mobile. If those aliens stand they immediately become a clear and present danger. Your Chihuahua is hypervigilant for the duration. Her well-being is suffering.

Car travel is yet another intense challenge. Nobody enjoys peace as your pint-sized, reactive tyrant tries to break the window so she can chase off all those enormous creatures and vehicles whizzing past. Repetition worsens the stress. It’s surprising that so many strung-out little dogs actually reach old age. No need for a 401(k); they never retire.

Avoidance is best. Put your canine cruise missile in another room prior to the arrival of guests. In the absence of canine competitors she can focus on the innate survival task of extracting her sustenance from food-dispensing toys. She never needs to see the pillagers in the other room. In your car she can ride in a collapsible fabric crate. With the windows zipped mostly down the road raiders will be out of sight and, we hope, out of mind. Your girl can enjoy scrounging from food toys while hunkered in her bunker. If good things always happen, and scary things don’t, this kid may actually look forward to cozy car rides and hearing visitors elsewhere in her house.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.

 

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