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Canine Behavior/Puppy Bonding + Human Anxiety



I have been the caregiver of a disabled young man for the past 11 years. Up until 8 months ago, he had enjoyed the companionship of a rough collie who acted as his assistance animal. She didn’t actually DO anything, but merely having her by his side had a calming effect on him and eased his anxiety in stressful situations.

My friend’s companion pet passed away last April, and he’s finally overcome his grief and decided to invite a new dog into his life. I have purchased a rough collie puppy as his Christmas gift. She will be joining our household at 8 weeks of age.

My question is a 2-parter:

Part One - My friend’s physical disabilities will limit his ability to care for the new puppy. I was the primary caregiver of his first collie, but she still remained “his” dog, since he had been her sole caregiver for the first 3 years before his illness fully manifested itself and he was forced to move in with my family. I am worried that the new puppy will bond with me over him because I will be responsible for the majority of her care.

What can we do to promote bonding between a puppy and a man confined to a bed/wheelchair? What are the most significant interactions between a dog and her owner?

Part Two - I have been educating myself on the physical/emotional needs of a young dog, and I have read about the importance of early socialization and also about a puppy’s fear stage periods. The new dog is enrolled in a puppy “Head Start” class that will begin when she is 10 weeks old (followed by puppy “FUNdamentals” at 13 weeks). Obviously, it is important that my friend attend these – and future – training sessions with his dog, but my husband and I will also be present (me by necessity, and my husband because who can resist a room full of puppies?).

The problem is that my friend has a severe social anxiety disorder. Most people would never guess it, as he has taught himself to act outwardly friendly and charismatic, but he is very uncomfortable in public places with people he does not know. My friend also reacts badly to loud, startling noises and variety of other random sounds. The human attendees of the class probably won’t recognize his nervousness, but will his puppy pick up on her owner’s fear and will it cause her to experience trauma that she would not otherwise? He is dedicated to doing everything “right” for his puppy, but I am concerned that his efforts may hurt her more than they help. Do you have any advice on the best way to handle this tricky situation?

Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

God bless you for your loving and sharing nature.  This young man appears to have a psychiatric condition of some sort (I recognize this, my own daughter suffered from this).  His social anxiety is a problem, both for the puppy and for him, as you are aware.  First: I would suggest you speak to his mental health professional or physician (you'll need to get a waiver in writing from him to avoid the horrendous HIPPA laws) regarding whether or not it is advisable for him to undergo those sort of "flooding" by being brought into an environment that evokes a response he has no control over.  In fact, putting him in such a situation continuously might very well create a negative reaction to the dog.  This needs to be thought out quite carefully.  Yes, he is a man and intelligent (autism, mental illness, etc. have no bearing on intelligence) and he can perhaps, having received sufficient cognitive therapy and medication over the years, control his own fear.  This could also be a wonderful manner in which to help HIM to  overcome his anxiety!  I simply don't know, his therapist/psychiatrist or physician should have a much better take on this.

As for the puppy: I know the puppy is presently house training and it will be awkward, but that puppy should be sleeping in bed with this young man every night.  "Christmas" puppies are never a good idea for many reasons, one of them being that a truly responsible breeder is going to try to avoid having puppies on the ground at this time of year.  The rough Collie (I've had two) is a wonderful companion but there are issues in temperament in this breed, as well, especially if from a puppy mill or amateur breeder.  Everything you are doing in terms of reading and learning and maintaining the puppy's socialization and positive reinforcement training is wonderful!  

One excellent point here is that this young man will ALSO be in a "room full of puppies" and this might expedite his losing his anxiety in that particular venue: the training venue.

This young man should also be feeding this puppy, three times daily.  Except for training purposes and house training "outings" done by you, all care and as much affection as possible should come from the young man himself, not you.  As the puppy acquires skills in following cues, the young man should be the one to reward the puppy as well as exercise the puppy's newly obtained skills.

I suggest you look around for a Therapy Dog group and reach out for help to them.  Because the puppy has not been temperament tested (and, even if s/he had, at that young age there's no guaranty of temperament), you are working with a blank slate.  If you are able to find a Therapy Dog group, I have absolutely NO doubt at all that someone will volunteer to help you make of this puppy an actual therapy dog.  You can Google in your geographical area, you can go to the AKC web site for the rough Collie and call around using numbers provided (for club secretary, for breeders, for rescue, etc.) as well as ask the trainer whose venue you will be working at.  This is THE method for you, an actual neophyte in the world of dog training, to teach this dog how to be the best companion for this young man and, as a benefit to you, you will obtain knowledge that you will most likely be using again because that appears to be how God works.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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