The Problem Poodle And Overly-Silly Setter

Dr. Nick Dodman

Once in a while I get a case that is a really tough nut to crack. It might be a dog with high level aggression and uninhibited bite; it could be a dog that kills other dogs, or an extreme, pharmacologically unresponsive phobia of some sort. Uncontrollable excitement toward other dogs when on leash is not a problem I would typically put in this category, until recently that is.  

The two dogs in question are an Irish setter and a Standard Poodle.  They are both cookie cutter versions of each other so I will center my account on one of them, the Standard Poodle. This poodle is a neutered male and about 2 years old.  I did not believe the level of excitement the dogs was showing toward other dogs until I saw it for myself.  He would strain at the leash, screaming, spinning, jumping, twisting and turning in flat out hysteria and responded to nothing his owners said or did.

The odd thing was that off-leash this dog was as calm as a cucumber. He went to day care 3-5 days per week and there, inside or outside in spacious enclosure, was the perfect gentleman.   Put him on lead though and he forgot all his manners. 

I originally thought this would be an easy fix. I recommended increasing daily exercise, my low “oomph” diet (i.e. not a performance ration), clear communication (one word commands), and proper, firm control (I favor head halters, especially the Gentle Leader). I tried the Gentle Leader on him in the clinic, taking him outside to meet other dogs. It was hopeless; whoever was holding the end of the lead. So, backing off into what I know best, I suggested a “chill pill” – initially a human blood pressure control medication called clonidine to be given “as needed.”

During follow up conversations, to our surprise, clonidine, even at highish doses, did nothing.  We are currently trying other medications to try and get a handle on this dog’s explosive excitement and situational hyper reactivity. Apparently, he sometimes gets excited at other times when at home and his reaction is to displace his excitement as humping directed toward his owners.

Any advice from any of you would be appreciated but I am not so sure this is simply an issue of retraining. It’s as if this dog has “screw loose.” The owner of the other dog with this problem, the Irish Setter, is also trying the handle the same type of problem and is having no luck at all, even with our input. That owner, unlike the Standard Poodle owner, is an experienced trainer and dog show judge. He says he has never seen anything like it in all his years and he and I are both stumped. I am soldiering on with various options but if anyone out there has successfully managed this type of issue I would love to hear how you did it.

Nick Dodman

PS - Although I am having difficulties with these two cases, I usually have good success with behavior problem resolution. To find out more about my approach, for those in the area, consider attending one of my seminars. I’ve got one coming up in Walnut Creek CA  in May. See details on my website The PetDocs.Com under “Events.”

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