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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 11 November 2003 Issue



I am writing with a concern about my new adopted dog, Ruby. She is a yellow lab mix, 5 years old, in decent health after heartworm treatment.

She was in a pound and was picked up by a rescue shelter, and that is where we found her. She has been very sweet around our house since arriving on Saturday (October 4) and not at all aggressive. The first couple of days she was very, very attached to me and wouldn't leave my side. When I've taken her for a walk, however, she has growled and snapped at a couple of the kids down the street (one age 4, one age 9) as well as my own daughter (age 5) when we were visiting the neighbors. I was right next to Ruby when it happened each time and I could not identify any particular behavior on the part of the kids that might have made her feel threatened.

Is it just the newness of the situation for her? Is that stress making it hard for her to feel secure? Or am I totally off base? The mom of the neighborhood kids suggested I give Ruby back, which I am not inclined to do, given that the rest of the time she is just delightful and eager to please.

I came across your column online and I am guessing you get many, many requests for your time. I would be most grateful if you had any advice or if you might be able to refer me to another reputable resource person. Many, many thanks.

St. Louis, MO

Dear Nelie,

Hello and thank you for writing.  Congratulations on your adoption of Ruby!

So, let's see ... you have an approximately 5 year old female lab mix, adopted from a rescue group, who previously bailed her out of a dog pound.   She was suffering from heartworm and was treated for this.   You have had her three days and she's great with you, but snarled and snapped at your 5 year old child and two neighborhood children.

First of all, do not allow this newly adopted dog to have contact with children!  

Think about it: How would YOU feel if you were shuffled around from your home to a strange animal shelter, to some rescue group (where she may have been shuttled from one foster home to another....or placed in a kennel), to yet ANOTHER home.  And she's newly recovering from heartworm?  Give this gal a break, please! 

When was her last heartworm treatment? When was her last heartworm test?  Do you have the paperwork for these?  Heartworm treatment is severe and dangerous.  Do you realize that heartworm is actual live worms that burrowed in and out of her heart ... the dog is injected with a kind of poison, which slowly kills the heart worms over a long period of time.  This "cure" takes months to accomplish, sometimes with several injections of poison.  After the injections, the patient is kept still with no running, jumping or physical exertion.  Heartworm treatment can be very uncomfortable and may leave the heart in weak condition.  Dogs usually take months to fully recover from this.  They may feel weak, sore, painful, "out of sorts" or downright cranky.  (I know I would!!)  Combine this with all the emotional stress and exhaustion of entering yet another new home and you may have a dog who just needs a month or two to settle in.

Have you taken Ruby to a veterinarian yet?  When you do, have the vet run another heartworm test and do a COMPLETE examination, to make certain she is not in physical discomfort.  She may be older than 5 years, may still have heartworm, or be suffering from the effects of heartworm treatment.  Ruby doesn't need to be around any children right now.  After your vet gives Ruby a clean bill of health, give her a couple of weeks of rest and getting used to her new home.  Then, consider that a superior bonding experience for Ruby and you could be a basic dog training class taught by a kind and reputable, experienced dog trainer.  Ask around for the name of good trainer and sign both of you up for a class.  Ruby needs to learn to NEVER, EVER growl or snap at ANY child. But before you clamp down on this cranky dog, you MUST rule out the obvious possibilities of physical pain and/or emotional stress, which is most likely in this scenario.

Another possibility for Ruby's behavior is that she may simply not like children.  There are some dogs who do well without having to entertain or be around kids.  (This is O.K., it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with the dog....there are plenty of humans who feel the same way!)

Make a trip to the vet and get to the bottom of this ASAP!  It sounds as if Ruby may be stressed and physically uncomfortable right now.  Never, ever allow a dog that you do not know well around children.

Love and paw pats,
Jillouise Breslauer
Companion Animal Behavior Consultant
e-mail: [email protected]


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