The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

July 29, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Owners at fault for pet behavior issues

JOPLIN, Mo. — I'm going to preface this week's column by saying I care for my dog more than I have cared for anything else in a long time. Cami epitomizes "man's best friend" to me because of what we have been through, and I will continue to bend over backwards to make sure that the dog is provided for and has a good home.

To steal a phrase from my record-collecting friends, that dog is my jam of jams.

Still, I am at my absolute wit's end when it comes to her behavior. As smaller dogs tend to be, my dog is hyperactive and easily distracted. It's something I have come to accept, and it's up to me to have patience while I work with her.

But her problems go beyond that, as do my shortcomings in working with her. She is 3 years old, so we are past the puppy phase when discipline could be used to break her of a bad habit. I credit fixing her original issues to the training classes I participated in at my local PetSmart.

Over the past few months, I've had constant issues with her making messes with my clothes and finding spots throughout the apartment to use as a place to quickly relieve herself.

Lately, most of my mornings have been spent finding the damage done to my clothes, then playing a rousing game of "what's that smell and where is it coming from?" There have been times I've come out of the bedroom only to step in something warm. This hasn't always been a regular occurrence, but now it has become an issue.

After doing research, I found a lot of this is tied to anxiety  issues, which is to be expected. I'm gone long hours during the day, and she is left alone. When I come to the apartment and put the key in the door, I can hear her howling already. By the time I get to the kennel, she is in full Defcon 1 flip-out mode. I have to take her out for an immediate run and bathroom break or her tantrum continues.

When we make it outside, God forbid we see other people or another dog. If it's another dog, the high-pitched barking goes on and on. No amount of "sit" or "down" helps the situation.

I apologize profusely, and my neighbors treat it like it's no big deal. But to me, it is a big deal. It's a matter of respect not only for me, but the people I live near.

I realize that I am not blameless in this equation, but it's easy for me to take those shortcomings out on her. I yelled at her last week after I let her out of her kennel, and I was taking her tray out because she made a mess. In her excitement, that tray's mess got on my work shirt.

I've never felt as low as I did after I yelled at my dog for basically being a dog.

So, for now, I'm refocusing on being more patient with my dog and finding constructive ways to calm her down and get her back to the dog she once was.

I will be revisiting this subject in the coming months, because I have a feeling that I am not the only person that has these sort of problems. I want to contact local trainers to see if putting my dog through another training course could strengthen our time together and isolate the issues that I have in taking care of her. I want to look at my interactions with her and see if I am the source of her anxiety.

My goal is always to be the best dog owner I can be, because I believe that makes my dog happy. I have always practiced trial and error with my dog, but now I want to find out the correct way to do this. As always, I welcome your suggestions and guidance.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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