I got a call this week from a woman who has a four month-old puppy that is showing signs of anxiety and fearfulness around people. I was shocked to hear that a few people had told her that it might be too late to do anything about it. A four month-old puppy? Too late? Then she told me one of the people that had told her this was a vet. I almost dropped the phone with that piece of information.

She went on to tell me she also has another dog (a year and a half old Australian Cattle Dog, I believe) that is also fearful of people. She was not interested in my services for this dog because that’s “just the way the breed is” and there is no way to change it. Her vet currently has the dog on medication for it, but with no improvements.

As I was asking questions about the younger puppy she told me that his behavior must also be because of the breed – a Sheltie. Although it sounds to me like this poor woman has been getting some pretty uninformed advice, it still surprises me how quickly she put the blame on the breed and was basically giving up on having two happy, well-balanced dogs.

To me, any behavior problem is a cry for help from the dog. They are telling us that they are not happy or fulfilled in some way and it’s our job to try to help them. And yes, breed and a dog’s genetics can have an impact on how a dog develops but I think there is always room for improvement on any issue.

Never give up on a dog no matter how old, what breed or what tragic life he had before you adopted him. Instead, educate yourself and try to improve your dog’s quality of life – even a little. It’s always best to address problems early on, but you can certainly help any behavior issue – it just may mean a little more time and resources on your part, but they will pay you back ten-fold in love.

Certainly these two young dogs can lead much better lives if the owner just gets the right info and takes the time, without putting the blame on the breed or age of the dogs. I’ve seen retrievers who won’t fetch, Dobermans that refuse to guard and lots of old dogs learn new tricks.

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