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Canine Behavior/Change in dog behavior


QUESTION: Hello Jill,

I may have written to you before about my dog's behavior but I'm not really sure.  She is a lab, shepard mix with maybe more ingredients but I'm not sure.  

Just some background...I got her when she was 6 mos old, a stray who was taken in by a family who lived in a very rural setting. They were placing her and about 6 other dogs with new owners.  She was, and still is very timid and acted as if she had suffered some abuse at some point.  She displayed a stand-offish behavior, not wanting to sit next to me or be in very close proximity for very long.  My attempts to sit beside her and pet her resulted in her getting up and moving to a new spot. Do you know why she does this?  Over the years this hasn't changed much, as she is now 12 yrs old.  Sometimes I may cry during movies or for other reasons, and she shows no sympathy at all like a Lab or some other breeds might.  I wasn't sure if this was typical of all dogs or just Labs.  And I didn't know if some dogs are trained to do this, as a 'service dog' may be.  

So, fast forwarding to today and the original reason I was writing you.  I have a recliner that is my favorite chair, and my dog usually lays on the floor nearby or on the couch next to the chair.  But recently she has been jumping in the chair when I get up, or choosing it to sleep in at night when I go to bed.  This has changed within the past week as she used to like sleeping in bed with me at night.  But she prefers the chair now.  Is it my smell she is attracted to?  Could it be a kind of insecurity thing?? I'm just wondering what may have triggered this sudden change?

Oh, and one more thing.  I have let her nails get really long, as I am afraid of trimming them myself, and I have been too busy during the day to make vet or grooming appts to have them do it.  I'm wondering if this is causing her much discomfort?  It looks like it would.  If they get long does the "quick" grow along with the nails, making them impossible to trim very short?  I hope not.  

Thanks in advance for your time.  I welcome your thoughts.  :)

ANSWER: Your first question regarding the dog getting up and moving away from you:  this is the result of self perceived (by the dog) low position in social hierarchy with (quite possibly) a very poor socialization toward Humans in a manner that the dog feels/thinks herself "worthy".  It is not a sign in any way that the dog is not loyal to you and does not feel very close affiliation (love) for and with you.  It's also not something you can easily fix at her age.

Your second question:  My present dog (haven't had just one for 20 years!) sits in any spot I vacate until I return, she then moves over.  This is also a sign of affiliation and trust.  Your dog has begun to feel most comfortable in your favorite chair whereas, in bed with you, she (given her soft temperament) may not feel "worthy".  I would let sleeping dogs lie (YES IT'S A BAD PUN lolol).

Your third question:  naughty, naughty, tsk tsk, don't make me come on over there, now!  Yes it does hurt the dog when nails are overgrown: yes, the task of taking nails that are seriously overgrown down to where they belong is called curettage...the quick DOES grow as the nail lengthens and a curettage needs to be done while the dog is (at least) tranquilized.  Given her age, your veterinarian must be extremely adept at medicating a dog.  Don't take her to a groomer for this.  Most dogs HATE having their nails cut for a very good reason: you must physically SUPPORT each toe by grasping the nail on both sides and holding it firm so that the clipper (when you remove the TIP) does not "jar" the dog's nail (which can hurt).  Most people don't clip their dog's nails properly.  Even this 7 pound Toy Poodle I have dislikes her nails being clipped because it is so difficult to get my fingers in place around such tiny toes.  Talk to your veterinarian.  It is possible, after s/he has examined the length of the nails, to do this in stages without medication. Some blood may result, even if it's done quite carefully and slowly.

Bless you for giving this dog a lifetime, loving home!

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QUESTION: Thanks so much for getting back to me so soon!  And I enjoyed your pun:  "Let sleeping dogs lie".  (hardy har har)  lol

No, you don't have to come over here. lol  I feel so bad for letting her nails get this long.  She is my baby and I take excellent care of her...well obviously all except for her nails, and that was because I was so afraid of causing her any pain.  :(   I will call the vet tomorrow and make an appt.  She does show some discomfort from time to time while walking.

Overall she is very healthy, but I have often wondered if she is depressed.  She sometimes will leave the room and go into the bedroom and lay by herself.  (I live alone).  Is there something I could do to raise her spirits?  I try to play with her as much as possible, and I give her as much affection as she will allow, which as I mentioned earlier sometimes she will move away from me. She doesn't play with toys very much, and I have tried all kinds of them.  I tell her all the time, I wish I knew what she was thinking. She will come to me with tail wagging, put her paw up on my leg, and with those big brown eyes staring into mine...and my heart just goes out to her because I never know what she wants.  I let her out all the time, and she is fed twice a day with treats in between.  So I don't know how to interpret this.  Can you give me some insight?  

Thanks again.  :)

Thumbs up for the vet appointment!  From now on, every six weeks or so, tips of nails can easily be removed WITHOUT PAIN by any groomer (NOT chain store groomer).  No quick should grow into a tip from a nail cut back professionally by a vet.

Your dog is who she is.  It's often difficult for us to accept "people" for who THEY ARE (yes I include all animals in the "people" category lol...ok, maybe not the Bengal Tiger.)  It's especially hard when we love them so much and want their happiness.  Your dog IS happy.  If she can make eye to eye contact, as you describe, she feels "safe" with you.  If she can leave the room and take a nap elsewhere away from you, she REALLY feels "safe" with you.  Seems to me there are hordes of children right here in the USA whose parents don't treat them as well as you treat your dog!  

At her age and with possible orthopedic issues oncoming, lots of strenuous exercise probably isn't a good thing.  But...mental exercise is different.  Kyra Sundance wrote a book called "101 Dog Tricks....." available on Amazon.  It's engaging cognition, dogs love it.

Also, you might want to study some body language:

Seems to me you're doing just fine and so is she.  Set aside your anxiety and enjoy her, unfortunately our furry friends don't last our lifetime :(

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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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