How to handle a dog with mood swings

By Kodichukwu Okonkwo, DVM | November 7th, 2017

I have had to deal with a lot of dogs especially the ones with mood swings. When I say mood swing I mean being very unpredictable in terms aggression or isolation. Some dogs are misinterpreted to be unpredictable by nature erroneously and left to suffer the consequence of their actions. I have seen dogs that were completely abandoned because the handlers cannot predict them. This mostly occurs when the owner of the dog and the handlers are different people.

Some dogs have been seriously maltreated as a puppy or even as adult that they start to defend themselves either by growling at any approach to him or running away out rightly in fear of being further maltreated.

From my experience there are cases were the handler tries to force the dogs to do certain things in terms of training by beating them instead of teaching them. Some of these maltreatments comes as the “trainer” gets impatient and begins to kick, flog, slap or drag the dog ruthlessly. These dogs eventually register these actions towards them in their minds and starts to develop counteractions which can sometimes be brutal dog bites to an unsuspecting victim.

Some of these dogs knows that their ‘maltreaters’ can be benevolent a times and feed them so they play nice just to get the meals and can act in a surprising way in situations that can mesmerize the handler.

I inherited a dog named Brass that went through this maltreatment but his own was not beating but he was always locked up in a room with closed windows all day for about 3 months. He slept with and sometimes on his poop. The owner just called and gave the dog to me out of pity. The dog was always running away from anyone and I understood why. The only time he comes close is when food is ready. I had other dogs and he will always run to them and ignore me until “food is ready”. He soon became my friend and stayed with me for close to 8 months.

Brass became very loud so I kept getting complaints from neighbors about his excessive barking. I needed to give him out but I knew about his mood swings and felt pity and tried to manage to teach him to stop barking. I was too busy to train him so I did the needful and gave him out. His new owner was a very nice lady who lost her beloved dog through car accident. Throughout his first week, Brass refused to go close to anyone in his new home. He growls at anyone who dares to come close and this time he paid little attention to food. I tried to visit and each time I come around he jumps into my car ready to go which makes the new owner very emotional.

I have just described two extremes of mood swings and in each case the dog is only suspicious of anyone especially those that try to approach them. I have handled thousands of dogs and I have become very familiar with this condition. So many times the actions of these dogs can be injurious to people even when you try to apply some “book” restraint techniques, so I tried to device other means to get these dogs to like me.

The easiest means I use to approach these dogs is through crowd effect. I try to ignore the dog and play with other dogs. 99% of the time, the dog will try to come to me to play like others and I will kind of play with him in isolation extensively. I don’t do anything on him until he willingly comes to me anytime I call on him. I also try not to use any of the “book” restraint techniques in other not to traumatize the dog further.

Another technique I use is to allow the dog stay close to me just like that without doing anything to him. When he makes body contact I try to touch him and if he growls, I wait again and try again. 70% of the time they start to realize that I mean no harm and will just be nice. Don’t ask me about the 30%.

If the dog was maltreated as a puppy or adult and you need to handle the dog. The first thing to do is to try not to raise your hands towards the dog either intentionally or by mistake, stop everyone from beating the dog even if he does anything wrong but use strong words rather with heavy intonation like STOP. Just don’t scare the dog with beating. He will gradually begin to see you as harmless and become better. Be warned that anytime you resume beating you may find it hard to revert things the second time.

Please it takes a very strong willed person to handle dogs with aggression in their mood swing so if you must do it yourself you need to be very courageous and at the same time be willing to be patient. Dogs are very observant animals and can tell when you are genuine and willing to help them. It might be harder if the dog is the pack leader in your place so great caution has to be taken to counter any attack.

Do you have other techniques please tell us at the comment section.



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    Kodichukwu Okonkwo, DVM

    Founder of Fairvet Animal Clinic Ltd since 2011, studied at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He is well experienced in small animal, large animal & poultry medicine, and also skilled at zoo medicine. He loves animals and builds both professional and personal relationship with pet owners in order to sustain a good interaction with pet and animal owners, coupled with His great skills in programming; he brought about which he personally built from scratch.

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