Dr. Marty Becker
Q: My 7-year-old dog, Emory, has a bit of a drooling problem. My apartment building has a small dog area. I’ve been taking him there for potty breaks for years. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that as soon as we step foot in the park he starts drooling excessively. His drooling stops as soon as we leave. The strange part is that it only happens in this specific park—he’s fine inside, outside on walks, and other places. It seems to be an automatic behavioral response to this dog park, so I’m thinking it might be anxiety-related. Have you ever heard of this before?
A: Yes, I have. As a veterinarian my first thought is, like yours, that the drooling is a sign of anxiety. But for a more thorough response I called my daughter, Mikkel Becker, who, like me, is one of the team of pet-care experts on Vetstreet.com. Mikkel is Vetstreet’s pet-behavior expert, and we work great as a team.
Mikkel immediately agreed. “It’s likely a conditioned response,” she said, noting that it’s even possible your dog is drooling in anticipation if that’s where he always gets something good to eat. “But it’s more likely anxiety,” she said. “Either he had a bad experience in the park, or something scared him while he was there, such as a very loud noise nearby.”
We’re guessing you want your dog to be happy again in this park since it’s so convenient. It’s not advisable to take food into a dog park (it can trigger dog fights), so you’ll need to work with food on the outside and other rewards inside. Mikkel says not to feed your dog breakfast so he’s hungry, and to then take some of the yummiest, most-desirable treats to the park with you. Walk around the perimeter and treat and praise your dog. Do this for a few days and your dog should start enjoying the idea of being near this park.
Once you’re past that point, choose times when the park is empty so you can control the environment. Keep the sessions brief, playful, and fun. You should be able to turn your dog’s fear of the park into pleasure—assuming whatever the bad association was doesn’t happen again.
If you continue to have problems, you might consider consulting a behaviorist. Your veterinarian should be able to provide a referral.
ABOUT the Vet
Dr. Marty Becker is the author of the new book, Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual: Hundreds of Secrets, Surprises, and Solutions for Raising a Happy, Healthy Cat (Grand Central Life & Style). For 16 years, Dr. Becker has been the popular veterinary contributor to ABC-TV’s Good Morning America. Currently he is a member of Core Team Oz on The Dr. Oz Show and is the veterinary spokesman for Vetstreet.com. His last book, Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual, is now available in paperback.