For most of us, bringing home a new puppy is exciting. Everything’s new and yet to be learned. But adopting an older dog can be just as fulfilling. And there can be advantages to a more mature dog– fewer accidents, less chewing, and probably a better night’s sleep. But that doesn’t mean older dogs are without their challenges. They bring a history with them and sometimes bad habits. Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell says those things can be tamed. Her new guidebook, “Love Has No Age Limit” walks owners through the process of adopting, training and bonding with an older dog.


  • Patricia McConnell Adjunct associate professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and author.

Author Extra: Patricia McDonnell Answers Your Questions

Patricia McDonnell stayed after the show to answer a few more questions.####

Q: We had a pet cocker spaniel named Sassy that lost her vision late in her life. OUr neighbors threatened to call animal control to take her away and “put her out of her misery” if we didn’t put her down ourselves. After she accidentally walked off the porch, we started putting small stones around the border so that she could feel them with her feet and hear them fall off the edge which let her know she should back up and find the stairs which we used to spray with canned catnip for our cats but that probably also helped Sassy find where she could safely get down off of the porch. what are your tips for caring for a dog who has lost her vision? Is it ethical to consider euthanizing a pet simplly because of impaired vision?
– From Aubrey via Email

A: How tragic that someone would suggest putting down a dog just because she was blind! You are absolutely right that this disability does not
preclude her from having a wonderful life! (Just ask the American Foundation for the Blind). You’ve done exactly what you need to do…give her physical cues about her environment to help her manage. I would suggest being cautious about letting her outside without supervision though. Good luck, what a lucky girl!

Q: I have a 2 1/2 year-old mixed dog that I rescued after he was hit by a car. He seems to still lunge at cars driving by as well as chase anything that moves (bicycles, wagons, etc). What can I do about this? He seems to go into this place where he won’t respond to me at all.
– From Melissa via Email

A: Dogs would profit by using what’s called a “Calming Cap” when they are in the car. It is sold through Premier now, but was developed by trainer Trish King for this very purpose. Dogs can see through them but it damps down the details and makes dogs less reactive.

Q: My husband and I have a 5 year-old black lab we adopted two years ago. He loves to play with other dogs and gets along with them well when off-leash, but does what we call the “lunge barking” towards other dogs when he is on leash. It sounds like he is going to tear them apart! He didn’t do this when we first got them, but has been doing it for a little over a year. We have been working on diverting his attention and working on having him sit, but we have two questions: 1. Where does this behavior come from? and 2. Are there any other suggestions to help Brewster have better greattings with dogs on leash?
– Marci via Email

A: I had a dog who did exactly the same thing! It’s a common problem and has lots of good solutions. Most importantly, first teach Brewster to turn and look at you when you say “Watch.” Do this when there are no other distractions so he can’t lose. Gradually ask him to turn and look at you when he sees other dogs, only asking if the dog is far away, eventually asking when the dog is closer. I elaborate on this in The Feisty Fido…it has worked for thousands of dogs. Good luck!


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Many of us know the excitement that comes with bringing home a new pet. And for many of us dog lovers, there's nothing like bringing home a new puppy. But there's also great joy in adopting a dog who's a little more mature. Animal Behaviorist, Patricia McConnell, has published a new guide tailored to adopting an older dog. It's called "Love Has No Age Limit."

  • 11:07:35

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd Patricia McConnell is here in the studio with me. I know many, many people who have adopted older dogs, they adore them. And I'm sure many of you will have questions, comments. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Patricia McConnell is adjunct professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin Madison and a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and author. How wonderful to see you.

  • 11:08:32

    MS. PATRICIA MCCONNELLOh, it's always a joy to be here.

  • 11:08:33

    REHMThank you, thank you. Tell me why you decided it was important to write this book?

  • 11:08:41

    MCCONNELLWell, the co-author and I, Karen London, we wrote this book for two reasons. One is to encourage adoptions from rescues and shelters. I think we all know there's so many great dogs out there who, for no reasons of their own, they just need a family, they need a home. But we also wrote it to encourage or to facilitate and increase the number of successful adoptions because the truth of the matter is, is all adoptions aren't successful.

  • 11:09:12


  • 11:09:12

    MCCONNELLAll those years of being an Applied Behaviorist, both Karen and I have seen no small number of clients who adopted a dog from a shelter or a rescue and then came to us with some problems and concerns, so many of those problems relate to expectations and just really knowing what to do 'cause there's so many books out there about what to do with your puppy, you know.

  • 11:09:36

    REHMAnd, of course, far too many people who adopt older dogs don't know how to deal with them and take them back to shelters.

  • 11:09:49

    MCCONNELLThere's one study that actually found almost a third of the dogs in one area, just one area of the country, were actually returned again to the shelter and so that, that was the other reason we wrote this book is we want these new dogs to become best dogs and forever dogs and to stay in these new homes. And a lot of it is about expectations and knowing what to expect and knowing how to deal with that first month. And really, the book focuses on that first month because that seems to be the...

  • 11:10:21


  • 11:10:21

    MCCONNELL…particularly -- yeah, the critical time.

  • 11:10:23

    REHMTell me about Theo, the black and white dog on the cover.

  • 11:10:28

    MCCONNELLAh, Theo is our cover dog. Theo, first of all, we found Theo because I put out on my blog a request for people to send in pictures for possible covers of dogs that they had adopted as adolescents or older dogs. We had 580 photographs. It was a wonderful, wonderful challenge and problem because picking was hard, but Theo stole everybody's heart. He -- Theo is this noble and goofy and how he can be both noble and goofy at the same -- don't you agree?

  • 11:11:04

    REHMI do.

  • 11:11:04

    MCCONNELLHe's noble and goofy.

  • 11:11:05

    REHMI do. He's got these long, long ears. He's got the face of, let's see, almost a German Shepherd.

  • 11:11:17

    MCCONNELLSort of Shepherd, Border Collie, Great Dane...

  • 11:11:19


  • 11:11:20

    MCCONNELL...Labrador, I mean, who knows. He's this black and white gentleman with this tuxedo...

  • 11:11:24


  • 11:11:24

    MCCONNELL...and he was found running loose on the freeway in New Jersey...

  • 11:11:29


  • 11:11:29 seven, you know, adolescent, classic age for dog to be in a shelter. He was in the shelter quite a long time because his -- well, he was just sort of goofy and he was exuberant and full of himself and sort of hard to deal with. And Kimberly Wang, who lives in New York City, found him and there was just this -- this -- he made eye contact with her in a way that she just thought, you know, underneath this foolishness, this crazy dog, I think there's a great dog there.

  • 11:11:59

    MCCONNELLAnd now, oh, my goodness, he's a therapy dog, he does -- you know, she takes him to a whole variety of places to act as an animal therapist. He's a movie dog (laugh). He's...

  • 11:12:12

    REHMBut an awful lot of work had to go into that transition. Give us an idea of some of the basic problems that adult dogs come with?

  • 11:12:26

    MCCONNELLYou -- yeah, that's -- and that's such a good question because on the one hand, there's so many great dogs out there and some people think all dogs at shelters or rescues are deeply, deeply damaged and I don’t agree with that. I just have not seen that. I've seen great dogs. My dog, Lassie, that I named -- renamed Lassie because she was so amazingly perfect, she came -- she was in a shelter. But on the other -- so there's that misunderstanding that dogs from shelters are often damaged and that's not true.

  • 11:13:01

    MCCONNELLBut on the other hand, some people tend to believe that if you adopt an older dog, then you have no -- you know, they don't need to be trained because they're grown up, they don't need to be -- they don't really need anything. They're just going to come into your house and everything's going to be fine...

  • 11:13:13


  • 11:13:13

    MCCONNELL...for a few days.

  • 11:13:14


  • 11:13:15

    MCCONNELLShockingly, that doesn't always happen so well. So the two biggest and most, sort of, timely problems that we see people run into when they first adopt an adolescent or older dog is that, one, they assume that because they're not puppies, they don't need to be housetrained. Well, they don't need to be housetrained like puppies in that it's going to take you six months, however, just 'cause they were housetrained in one house doesn't mean they're housetrained in your house, so for at least three days, that's job one.

  • 11:13:47

    MCCONNELLI don't care if your dog is five years old and has never been known to pee in the house ever, your first job is to take that dog outside every 20 minutes, ask him to, you know, go pee, hurry up, whatever you say and then give him a food treat for doing it and watch him like a hawk as if he was a puppy. And you're usually done in three days, but that's often a mistake people make because they're grown up, they just sort of bring them and then don't watch them.

  • 11:14:12

    MCCONNELLThe other biggest problem that we've seen from all these years and that shelter and rescue people tell us that they run into is a kind of a buyer's remorse. It's sort of like the morning after (laugh). You get this dog who you fall in love with and you meet him and you come in and he's, like, so perfect and he's quiet, he never barks and then he gets his paws in the ground and he settles in and then it's, like, you know, like, your kids are at home instead of when they visit Aunt Pauley. The real dog starts to come out and there might be an issue or two.

  • 11:14:44

    MCCONNELLMaybe they do bark a little bit, maybe they need to learn to stop barking when you ask them or maybe they don't come when called or maybe they're, like, wild and crazy. Maybe they chase the cat or -- and so most of these older dogs, they still need some training, you know.

  • 11:15:00

    REHMOf course. And one thing that certainly, I would ask if I were to go to a shelter and I wonder if I'd get a straight answer, does this dog bite?

  • 11:15:16

    MCCONNELLThis is a very important question. You know, you know how much I love dogs. I'm a trained Animal Behaviorist. I have very strong feelings about teeth sunk into my arm. I'm not interested -- I don't want that happen. What if you have kids, you know? So there are a couple things, one, many of the shelters and some of the rescues do a really good job doing their best to try and evaluate the potential for aggression. Now, no matter how good they are, no one evaluation can predict an animal's behavior in a different context.

  • 11:15:52


  • 11:15:52

    MCCONNELLAnd so that's -- it's just a probability statement, that's all you can do, but -- so that's one thing is to ask them, you know, have -- has this dog been tested? Has somebody, I don't know, put really good food in a bowl and then, in a safe way, try to take it away? You know, just to see, is the dog a resource guarder, is the dog uncomfortable when you try and get burrs out of his tail or try to trim his nails? So that's one thing to do, see if there's been a good evaluation.

  • 11:16:21

    MCCONNELLThe other is to be cautious when you first get your dog. You know, you -- if you've adopted a dog, you've been thinking about this for weeks or months or maybe years. Your head is all into it, but the dog doesn't know. He hasn't been sitting there for weeks, going, okay, on Tuesday at 5:00, I'm going home with Diane, you know (laugh). All of a sudden, they find themselves in this new place.

  • 11:16:45


  • 11:16:45

    MCCONNELLSo you need to be really cautious about not overwhelming, not hugging, not scaring, you know, give them a chance to get comfortable so you don't get defensive aggression.

  • 11:16:55

    REHMDo you think, Patricia, that there are certain breeds that adapt more easily from the shelter to the home or is it catch as catch can?

  • 11:17:11

    MCCONNELLThat's -- that is a very good question and I don't think it's breeds, actually, but I think it's personality. And that's partly what you can see in evaluations is that there are certain types of dogs, just like there are personalities of people who are happy go lucky, who, like, whatever, you know, whatever, doesn't matter. They don’t wake up fussing and worrying, they're not anxious all the time, they're very sensitive dogs -- very sensitive and maybe they're shyer, more concerned.

  • 11:17:42

    MCCONNELLSo I think it more relates to personality, but your breed comment does have -- I mean, there is something there because I think if you look at breeds overall, there are more, whatever, happy go lucky Labradors then there are Border Collies, for example. You know, I have Border Collies.

  • 11:18:00


  • 11:18:00

    MCCONNELLYou know, I love them.

  • 11:18:00

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:18:01

    MCCONNELLBut they can be very sensitive (laugh).

  • 11:18:04

    REHMAnd difficult.

  • 11:18:05

    MCCONNELLAnd a little difficult.

  • 11:18:07


  • 11:18:07

    MCCONNELLI'm the first to say it. You know, so -- so yeah, there are -- you do want to think about how much time do you have to try and help it. Some of these dogs do need help. You know, they do, they need you to help them work through traumas they've had. Dogs, I believe, get -- can have PTSD, for example. Some dogs do come traumatized and other dogs come, like, hello, hello, hello.

  • 11:18:30

    REHMPatricia McConnell, she is an Animal Behaviorist. Her newest book is titled "Love Has No Age Limit-Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home."

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd we know there are many of you who are in the position of either having adopted or wanting to adopt an older dog, so we'll try to take just as many calls as we can. Let's open the phones now and go first to Eric in Delmar, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:20:29

    ERICGood morning, Diane, Patricia. How are you guys today?

  • 11:20:32

    REHMJust fine, thanks.

  • 11:20:35

    ERICWell, I have a little -- all right, we've been -- you know, me and my wife and my children have adopted quite a few dogs over our lifetime and some of them have been younger, some have been older. And the most recent dog we got about two years ago. He was running loose for about a year and then was put in a little cage at a little old lady's house and we adopted him. He was about two years old. He's a chocolate lab kind of mixture dog. We're not really sure what else he is. Absolutely sweet dog. We brought him home, he'd never been inside of a house before.

  • 11:21:08

    ERICWe kept him on a leash for the first three or four days inside the house, which seemed to really, really work good as far as training him. But after about a year, we noticed that me and my son were starting to have a problem with him. He would at night, only at nighttime, start to show some signs of aggression toward just me and my son. If he's laying down sleeping in a room or something and we walk into it, he jumps up.

  • 11:21:34

    ERICYou know, he gets real stiff and starts growling. And we're just -- we're really unsure what to do with it. He's never taken it too far, but, you know, my son's 14 and I really don't want Duke to end up biting him 'cause I hate to get rid of a dog for that. So I was wondering if Patricia would have any advice for that.

  • 11:21:51

    MCCONNELLAbsolutely. Let me be sure I am clear about the context. So he's up on the bed or the couch and you or your son approach and he stands up and postures and threatens you? Is that right?

  • 11:22:03

    ERICYes, yes.

  • 11:22:04


  • 11:22:04

    ERICHe would jump down off whatever it is and, you know, his tail gets real stiff, starts growling.

  • 11:22:09

    MCCONNELLOkay. Yeah, there is something you can do that's a nice positive thing to do. And so you and your son can both do that, is that basically you're going to teach him what you do want him to do. You're going to teach him to be polite. So rather than him getting defensive and like, you stay away from my bed, this is my bed or whatever his motivation is, you're going to teach him, if I enter the room and you're in the bed and you jump down, you get a piece of chicken. Hey, hey, hey.

  • 11:22:37

    MCCONNELLSo he thinks, like, I've trained my people, I'm so smart. You know what I trained them to do? If when they're walking in the room, I jump down off the bed and I sit and I look at them, ha ha, I can make them give me a piece of chicken. I'm so smart. So you're going to teach what you do want using positive reinforcement, not spoiling.

  • 11:22:56

    MCCONNELLAnd don't feel like, oh, no, we're giving him chicken for growling, all right? What I want you to do is have somebody he doesn't growl at do this first. So it's, like, I've got the game. I know the game. This is a good game. And then you're going to walk in, but don't go too close to the bed.

  • 11:23:14


  • 11:23:14

    MCCONNELLStay as far back as you can.

  • 11:23:15


  • 11:23:15

    MCCONNELLThrow chicken on the ground and then slowly get it on cue. So this is -- I've had hundreds of clients who've had this problem. I had a dog who did this to me, too. Totally got it turned around.

  • 11:23:26

    REHMWonderful. I sure hope that works, Eric. Good luck to you. To Greensboro, N.C. and to Wesley. Hi there, you're on the air.

  • 11:23:40

    WESLEYThank you, Diana (sic). Can you hear me?

  • 11:23:42

    REHMSure can. Go right ahead.

  • 11:23:45

    WESLEYOkay. I want to say one of the joys of retirement six months ago is getting to listen to you most every day.

  • 11:23:51

    REHMOh, that's great. Thank you.

  • 11:23:53

    WESLEYI adopted a six-year-old part lab about six and a half years ago with a -- from a woman who had Alzheimer's, had to go to assisted living. And I despaired training her for quite a while. She didn't know how to walk on a leash, for example. And until -- she was not food oriented and I wasn't sure how to train her until, of course, she fell in love and wanted to -- or recognized me as her food bringer and then wanted to please.

  • 11:24:23

    WESLEYBut here's my question, in fact. I didn't like her name, but I didn't know six years ago, with a six-year-old dog, that I could change it. But I'm thinking now that I could have. Her name is Poochie (unintelligible) and it still is.

  • 11:24:40

    MCCONNELLSo the question is, is can you change a dog's name?

  • 11:24:43

    WESLEYYeah, could I have changed her name?

  • 11:24:45

    MCCONNELLAbsolutely, and I'm so glad you asked that. We actually mention that because a lot of people are concerned that you can't do that. And you know what? It's trivial. It's easy. It's really -- it's the easiest training you're ever going to do in your life. Say -- let's say you want to name a dog Diane.

  • 11:25:03

    MCCONNELLWhy not, right?

  • 11:25:04

    REHMWhy not?

  • 11:25:04

    MCCONNELLAs long as it's a beautiful, well behaved dog and you say, Diane and then, smooch, dog turns its head, you do a variety of things. You can give it a treat, you can run away clapping, good girl. You can give it a belly rub. You basically teach it that if you make that noise that you've designated as a name, then it refers to that individual. And if they attend to you something good happens.

  • 11:25:32

    MCCONNELLAnd really if you think about it, what is a name -- and this is an interesting intellectual exercise in canine cognition compared to human cognition. What does a name mean, you know, what is a name? And what is a name to a person and what is a name to a dog? And so you -- you know what, a name is to us, is it's a label for a noun, right? I think for some dogs, initially, it's a word that means, pay attention, 'cause that's how we use, right? Diane.

  • 11:26:04

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:26:04

    MCCONNELLAnd that's how we use it with us mostly, too, functionally.

  • 11:26:07

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:26:07

    MCCONNELLRight. Somebody says, Tricia, I turn my head around. They're basically saying -- so that's what you're doing. Is you're saying, if I make this noise, and you pay attention to me something good happens. I think eventually, dogs begin to learn that it refers to them as an object, as an entity. I know when you have multiple dogs, it's very easy for them to learn that, you know, that's Lassie, that's Pip, that's Luke, that's Maxi. So yes, it's easy to do. Just pick a name you like. It takes about three weeks.

  • 11:26:40

    REHMWesley, tell me what name you are thinking about.

  • 11:26:47

    WESLEYI'm sorry?

  • 11:26:48

    REHMTell me what name you were thinking about for your dog.

  • 11:26:52

    WESLEYOh, I didn't really have a name picked out. I didn't know I had a choice.

  • 11:26:56

    MCCONNELLYou just didn't like Poochie, right (laugh) ?

  • 11:26:58

    REHMYeah, well, now you have a choice and I'm sure you'll come up with something brilliant. Good luck to you.

  • 11:27:07

    WESLEYOkay. Thank you very much.

  • 11:27:08

    REHMThank you. And now to John in Rochester, N.Y. You're on the air.

  • 11:27:15


  • 11:27:16


  • 11:27:17


  • 11:27:18


  • 11:27:19

    JOHNAbout the only joy of unemployment is getting to listen to you every day.

  • 11:27:23

    MCCONNELLWe're all going to have to quit our jobs, it's obvious.

  • 11:27:26

    REHMYeah, listen, John, I'm sorry you're unemployed. What kind of work are you looking for?

  • 11:27:33

    JOHNOh, I really don't want to get into it right now, if that's all right. It's a depressing subject, so.

  • 11:27:35

    REHMOkay. That's fine. Go right ahead.

  • 11:27:40

    JOHN(laugh) I wanted to ask Patricia kind of a downer topic, but it was a major problem here around Rochester a few years ago and may still be going on. I'm talking about the dog fighting rings and, you know, what kind of efforts there have been to rehabilitate these dogs that get confiscated from these rings. And, you know, I know a lot of them have major, major problems and are they -- is it possible to rehabilitate those kind of dogs and make them so they're not a threat to humans and to other dogs?

  • 11:28:16

    REHMBoy, I have certainly seen reports of some of the dogs that Michael Vick had used in his dog fighting.

  • 11:28:29

    MCCONNELLSome of those dogs -- you're absolutely right. Some of those dogs are placed in families and doing very well.

  • 11:28:34


  • 11:28:35

    MCCONNELLSome of those dogs are still at shelters. I know there's some dogs at Best Friends in Utah who will probably never leave Best Friends who are living good lives. I know some of the dogs were euthanized. And basically, that is a pretty good summary of my experience anyway and experience of other behaviorists around the country, which is it depends on the dog. It depends on what's happened to them and it depends on their genetics, which mediates how they respond to what's happened to them.

  • 11:29:07

    MCCONNELLSo, you know, I have seen some dogs just in Madison where there's a lot of dog fighting. By the way, I'm saddened -- I'm not surprised, but I'm saddened that after the Vick case, so many people said, finally people will realize what a big problem this is and maybe we can make some strides about it. I would like to say that strides have been made, but I don't know that they have. It's a huge, huge problem and it occurs all around the country. I know there are fights almost every night in Madison, Wis., which is not a city people would normally sort of think of, but it's...

  • 11:29:41

    REHMAnd do the police do anything about it?

  • 11:29:44

    MCCONNELLOh, they try. You know, they try, you know. I mean.

  • 11:29:47


  • 11:29:47

    MCCONNELLGosh, they really try. I mean, you know, they called me in on a couple of cases, but -- so some of these dogs, wonderful, wonderful pets. Some of them are great with people, but can never be trusted around another dog. So if you can manage that really carefully, it's okay. Some dogs truly, truly are just not safe.

  • 11:30:05

    REHMAnd here's an e-mail from Nancy in Syracuse, N.Y. She adopted a nine-year-old English Sheepdog recently and the dog seems to be afraid to go up the stairs in the house, so she, Nancy, has been sleeping in the living room...

  • 11:30:28


  • 11:30:28 be near him at night and she ends by saying he has not been motivated by treats.

  • 11:30:38

    MCCONNELLOkay. Oh, what a sweetheart she is.

  • 11:30:41

    REHMYeah, absolutely.

  • 11:30:43

    MCCONNELLThis is a common problem. Some of the things that scare dogs the most who have not had this experience are stairs, fans -- ceiling fans.

  • 11:30:53

    REHMFans, really.

  • 11:30:54

    MCCONNELLOh, ceiling fans are monsters in the sky.

  • 11:30:57

    REHMInteresting, yeah.

  • 11:30:58

    MCCONNELLSo the stair issue for her is that, first of all, oh, I want you to stop sleeping downstairs, honey, life is just too hard. (laugh) This is not good. One of the things about stairs is that for many dogs they're very -- if they're not carpeted, they're actually very difficult for dogs to get good footing on, they're slippery. So one of the things for her to think about is are they carpeted?

  • 11:31:21


  • 11:31:21

    MCCONNELLGet a carpet runner, but make sure it's not loose, that it really provides a good stable surface. That makes a tremendous difference. If the dog is truly not food motivated, and sometimes they really are -- they love food, but if they're scared by something, then they lose their appetite. So the question is, if the dog is happy and comfortable and you have a piece of real liver in your hand, does he want it? And then if he is, then he's food motivated.

  • 11:31:48

    REHMAnd it should be cooked liver, by the way.

  • 11:31:50

    MCCONNELLAbsolutely. Thank you, thank you.

  • 11:31:51

    REHMYeah, absolutely.

  • 11:31:52

    MCCONNELLIt absolutely should be cooked liver, in my opinion, or cooked chicken or, you know, beef or something extra wonderful. So if the dog really does love food in other contexts, then you can start conditioning it slowly. Throw food by the stairs, put food on the top stairs. I -- so that's -- you can gradually shape them sort of one stair at a time. I have to admit to you, and I know some people won't like this, but I'm going to just tell you straight, I had a Border Collie who as a puppy was terrified of the stairs. She wouldn't go up. And...

  • 11:32:26

    REHMEven as a puppy.

  • 11:32:28

    MCCONNELLAs a puppy. It was, like, I don't want her going up the stairs 'cause I don't want her to run up to pee until she's housetrained.

  • 11:32:33


  • 11:32:34

    MCCONNELLSo when she was housetrained and seven months old I went like, okay, fine. It's just we have to deal with this. And so I tried the conditioning, shaping step by step, here's food on the step. You get -- you know, I'll give you a click and a treat if you put your paw on the step. Just gradual shaping and we got, like, you know, oh, she'd put sort of one paw up on the step after a week and a half. And I know, I know, I know there are people who, like, well, you just keep going...

  • 11:33:00


  • 11:33:00

    MCCONNELL...for another three months.

  • 11:33:01


  • 11:33:01

    MCCONNELLAnd I wish I was that patient, but you know what? I'm just not. And so I basically said, honey, you're going to go up the stairs.

  • 11:33:10

    REHM(unintelligible) oh.

  • 11:33:12

    MCCONNELLWe're just going to go up the stairs. So I put on a little body harness and I attached that to her and I just sorta walked up the stairs...

  • 11:33:18


  • 11:33:18

    MCCONNELLAnd she sorta came with me and I went, good girl, good girl. And we went up and down three times and it was done.

  • 11:33:24

    REHMAnd it was over.

  • 11:33:25

    MCCONNELLAnd it was all over. So would I do that with all dogs and especially a new dog I just got? Absolutely not. But, you know, but -- so there's a variety of tools out there and you need to pick the best one.

  • 11:33:36

    REHMPatricia McConnell, her book is titled "Love Has No Age Limit-Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home." And of course, she's got a nine-year-old Sheepdog. And of course you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Sheepdog ain't no small pup.

  • 11:33:59

    MCCONNELLCan't pick that dog up.

  • 11:34:00

    REHMThat's right. I mean, Maxi, I could take in my arms and take up the stairs, but people have all kinds of problems. Let's go to Villamont, Va. Good morning, Kimberly.

  • 11:34:15

    KIMBERLYGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:34:17


  • 11:34:18

    KIMBERLYI have -- I don't have a current problem, but I had a problem with a dog that ended tragically and I thought if I relayed the story, I could find out where I went wrong and maybe it would be an object lesson for the listeners. I had two dogs that I'd raised as puppies of very strong instinctual guardian-type dogs, the Hungarian Kuvasz.

  • 11:34:46


  • 11:34:47

    KIMBERLYAnd both of them were socialized beautifully. Later, a breeder decided that she wanted the brother of this unneutered male rather than this particular dog and offered him to us as a 15-month-old kennel-raised dog. And he had never been socialized other than at dog shows and he never really adjusted as well as the other two dogs. In fact, one of the first things he did was run after a jogger and bite him.

  • 11:35:23

    KIMBERLYAnd despite the fact that we have had -- you know, took him to a lot of training sessions, he got his Canine Good Citizen, he qualified to be -- he qualified to be a therapy dog, he wound up being a lovely dog, he never really developed the sort of -- well, you wouldn't call it wood -- street smarts 'cause we lived in the country, but the woods smarts.

  • 11:35:50

    KIMBERLYHe didn't really know how to handle all the noises, he didn't really know how to keep himself safe from the other critters around and wound up -- even though he was very friendly and followed my husband everywhere around town with no further incidents, he wound up being frightened by the neighbor's fireworks on Christmas Eve, ran out onto the lake, fell through and drowned.

  • 11:36:15

    REHMOh, what a shame.

  • 11:36:17

    MCCONNELLOh, I'm so sorry.

  • 11:36:18

    KIMBERLYSo, I mean, we just never were able to quite get a handle on training him probably in part because my ex-husband didn't want to get him fixed, but also I think truly because he did have -- he didn't have the early training. What could we have done differently to have avoided these problems?

  • 11:36:41

    MCCONNELLOh, such a sad story. And aren't you sweet to bring this up in hopes that it can help other people. So towards that end, one is this obviously has nothing to do with you, but you are so right to bring up the issue of socialization, especially with certain types of dogs, especially dogs who've been bred to be wary of strangers.

  • 11:37:02

    MCCONNELLAnd there are breeds that have a higher predisposition, because they were bred to be guard dogs, who are more fearful of strange new things, who have a higher predisposition of being wary and potentially threatening or even aggressive to unfamiliar people, unfamiliar dogs, unfamiliar things. A lot of the guard dogs, Kuvasz, Pyrenees, Dogo Argentino, for example. So socialization is so very, very important.

  • 11:37:31

    REHMAbsolutely. Patricia McConnell, the book, "Love Has No Age Limit-Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home."

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd on that last caller, Patricia McConnell, you also wanted to introduce the idea of management.

  • 11:40:14

    MCCONNELLYes, that's right. And so, you know, when we get these dogs who weren't socialized or have serious problems, dogs from puppy mills, this is a very common problem. I mean, these dogs are truly damaged who've been raised in puppy mills with virtually no contact with people just about or all bad contact, is that training can only go so far, is so managing, you know. So, you know, if you get a dog who's 18 months old and really uncomfortable, part of making it work is constant vigilance and, you know, really managing things carefully and making sure they don't get out of their comfort zone.

  • 11:40:54

    REHMWhat about the whole question of diet? For example, we feed Maxie table food. He gets everything...

  • 11:41:06

    MCCONNELLGoof for you.

  • 11:41:06

    REHM...that we do in a good healthy mix, about which I've talked with the vet. One doesn't know what a dog has been fed at a shelter and maybe bringing that dog into your home, you're changing that diet, which could create problems.

  • 11:41:28

    MCCONNELLIt can. It can create physiological problems that you don't want to have to deal with...

  • 11:41:32


  • 11:41:32

    MCCONNELL... (laugh) in terms of cleanup.

  • 11:41:34


  • 11:41:34

    MCCONNELLAnd I have seen some interesting correlations between diet and behavior, so if at all possible, if you're adopting a dog, even if it's a puppy and actually is bring home some food the dog has been eating, bring home at least a week's worth. And then what you can start doing is gradually adding another food. And yay for you, by the way, for feeding other real food, unprocessed food to your dogs. Of course there's food you can't feed, chocolate, onions...

  • 11:42:06

    REHMRight, grapes.

  • 11:42:06

    MCCONNELL...raisons, grapes, et cetera.

  • 11:42:07

    REHMYou can't do that, yeah.

  • 11:42:09

    MCCONNELLSo there are foods absolutely to avoid, but I think it's my belief, as a behaviorist and a biologist, that it's very, very important for dogs to eat food that isn't always processed and a...

  • 11:42:19


  • 11:42:19

    MCCONNELL...variety of food, so Willie gets two different kinds of commercial food and they vary and he always gets a half a sardine and he always gets cooked vegetables and broccoli and green beans and...

  • 11:42:32

    REHMRight, right.

  • 11:42:32

    MCCONNELL...carrots and squash and -- yeah, and -- yeah, so...

  • 11:42:36

    REHMSweet potato.

  • 11:42:37

    MCCONNELLSweet potato, mmm.

  • 11:42:38

    REHMMaxie loves sweet potato.

  • 11:42:40

    MCCONNELLMe, too. Isn't it great...

  • 11:42:41


  • 11:42:41

    MCCONNELL...their good for us?

  • 11:42:42

    REHMDivine. All right. To, let's see, Tallahassee, Fla. Good morning, Michele.

  • 11:42:51

    MICHELEGood morning, Diane. I can't believe I'm speaking to you.

  • 11:42:54

    REHMOh, nice to talk with you.

  • 11:42:55

    MICHELEBig fan of -- thank you.

  • 11:42:57

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:42:59

    MICHELEI just in hearing so much from the previous callers, I'll just try to keep this short. I was just plain old lucky. I walked into Pet Smart on a weekend and there was this beautiful dog. Big Dog Rescue was doing a -- there was a lady there doing a foster and I saw this dog and they only had an hour left and I thought, why hasn't this dog been adopted?

  • 11:43:24

    MICHELEWell, she was 11 years old, that's why. And she previously was a show dog. And the more I talked to the foster, the more I found out I didn't know anything about the breed. I've always been a cat lover. I grew up with dogs, but never had my own dog. I always considered myself a cat person.

  • 11:43:45

    MICHELEWell, after talking to this person, finding out a little bit about this dog, she called the previous owner who landed into hard times and had to give up all her show dogs. And they said, well, she's never been around cats, but she does not have a high prey drive. And this breed is more cat-like in their behavior, so I did bring her home and it has been a wonderful match ever since.

  • 11:44:16

    MCCONNELLThere are -- I'm so glad you're telling this success, happy story because there are so many great dogs out there.

  • 11:44:23

    REHMBut I gather, Michele, there's a little bit of bad news there.

  • 11:44:28

    MCCONNELLOh, there's an issue?

  • 11:44:31

    MICHELEYeah, yeah, Diane. About nine months later, she started swelling and she was very, very thin. I mean, underweight. And I thought, well, maybe I'm feeding her too much, but yet, I wasn't giving her that much food. So I took her to my vet and sadly, we found out she had a spleen in her tumor. Unless we did exploratory surgery, you know, he felt that it was most likely cancer. Thank goodness for the internet because I did a lot of research and decided not to go ahead with the surgery. She only had about an estimated another month to live. This was in February. You know, she's laying here right now with me.

  • 11:45:13

    MCCONNELLOh, that's good.

  • 11:45:15

    MICHELEAnd so -- but as far as name change, that's one of the first things I did. You clearly can tell I don't know what I'm doing with dogs, but I did not like her name. It was Low, so I went with something phonetically similar and it was Rose.

  • 11:45:34

    MCCONNELLRose. That's a great name.

  • 11:45:36

    REHMThat's a lovely name and...

  • 11:45:38

    MCCONNELLGive Rose a big pat from both of us.

  • 11:45:41

    REHMI should say. I mean, the fact that she is still around is probably due to lots of good love and care on your part. Let's hope she's still around for a long time. Thanks for calling, Michele.

  • 11:46:00

    MCCONNELLAnd that brings up how many older dogs -- you know, it is a big problem is that an eight-year-old, a nine-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 12-year-old, people don't want the older dogs, but I'll tell you, there is a sweetness to these older dogs...

  • 11:46:13

    REHMYeah, absolutely.

  • 11:46:14

    MCCONNELL...that pays you back big time.

  • 11:46:16

    REHMHere's an e-mail from Susan who's in the -- let's see. She's in Middletown -- Miami University Middletown. She says, "I recently adopted a Wire Fox Terrier from a rescue group that had gotten the dog from a puppy mill closed by the state of Missouri for keeping over 800 dogs. Joey has been with us for six weeks and has bonded with me, but is afraid of my husband as well as anything new. My vet suggested we try her on Prozac. Do you think that this may help? You said the first month is crucial. What do you mean?"

  • 11:47:11

    MCCONNELLWell, first of all, the first month is crucial in that this is the dog's first introduction, right? And if they do have shyness or fearfulness, then it's a really important time, especially with these puppy mill dogs, who've just had no socialization to not try too hard, basically. And that's often the mistake we make, a well-motivated one. We reach towards them, we try to pet them, you know.

  • 11:47:40

    MCCONNELLIf somebody holds them and the other person pets them, we say it's okay, it's okay. And that often just confirms their fear. So some of these puppy mill dogs, even though it's counterintuitive and it's hard for some of us, sometimes the best thing is just leave them alone for a while.

  • 11:47:54

    REHMLeave them alone.

  • 11:47:55

    MCCONNELLAnd that's hard to do.

  • 11:47:57


  • 11:47:57

    MCCONNELLSo with the guys, often the dog is often more afraid of a man. And by the way, it's usually not because he's been abused by a man, but he's never met one or he hasn't been socialized and men are just inherently a little bit more intimidating to dogs. So husbands should be not trying to pet the dog, not even looking at the dog, but tossing treats like -- I was going say a flower girl, but don't say that because he won't like that (laugh). But just walk through the house sort of spewing treats onto the right and the left so the dog starts to associate him with treats and then let the dog come to him.

  • 11:48:31

    MCCONNELLBut, you know, these puppy mill dogs, sometimes they can take a year and sometimes the truth is, they'll bond to one person, they're never completely comfortable with somebody else and that's okay as long as we don't have different expectations.

  • 11:48:45

    REHMLet's go now to Providence, R.I. Good morning, Nicole.

  • 11:48:53

    NICOLEGood morning.

  • 11:48:53


  • 11:48:54

    NICOLEHow are you ladies today?

  • 11:48:54

    REHMGood, thanks.

  • 11:48:57

    NICOLESo glad that you took my call. I have a question. I adopted a Pit Bull-Presa Canario mix from a shelter in Providence in 2006. He was six and a half years old at the time and I didn't know when I adopted him, they didn't mention that he has some pretty severe aggression towards other dogs. Actually, towards all other animals except for my two cats, oddly enough, which he adores.

  • 11:49:21

    NICOLEAnd I was wondering -- since I've had him in 2006, I've tried on and off, when I could afford it, to seek the help of a professional trainer for this issue. And I've tried mostly positive reinforcement techniques and clicker training because I don't want to be forceful with him. And I've heard that other training methods can make aggression worse.

  • 11:49:43


  • 11:49:44

    NICOLESo he's about 10 years old now and I was wondering if there's any reasonable expectation that within the next few years of his life, that he might turn over a new leaf if I keep trying...

  • 11:49:56


  • 11:49:56 persuade him.

  • 11:49:57

    MCCONNELLSure. Good question. Is he going be a dog you can take to the dog park? No, no, no.

  • 11:50:03

    NICOLEAbsolutely not, no.

  • 11:50:04

    MCCONNELLYeah, he's not. And so in terms of treatment, can you keep making him better than he is now? Very probably. Very probably you can, but, you know, course, I don't know him, I don't know what you've done. I don't know how far he's gone, but it's very likely that you can continue using positive reinforcement to teach him what you do want him to do.

  • 11:50:28

    MCCONNELLHave you taught him -- have you taught him when he sees another dog that he should turn away from that dog and look at you? Maybe you back up, give him a treat. Have you done that kinda work?

  • 11:50:34

    NICOLEYeah, the only progress that he's made that I've really noticed is that he made progress, but only with one dog and it was only in one room where he could get about 10 feet away and he was visibly stressed, but I could get him to lay down, to sit and watch me and stuff like that. But beyond that one circumstance, his threshold is, like -- he doesn't have to see a dog outside, he can just hear tags and immediately (unintelligible).

  • 11:51:02

    MCCONNELLOoh, okay. You need -- you need -- I would back way up and then I would start asking him to look at you when he's sniffing just the smell of another dog. So get him so that -- and you avoid him seeing other dogs as much as you can. I know it's impossible. You might even want to consider a Calming Cap, which is something you can get through Premier now. A trainer behaviorist named Trish King actually developed them for dogs who were hyper-reactive in cars. You know, the dogs who like flip from window to window, chasing other cars inside a car or bark a lot, so that's where they started.

  • 11:51:38

    MCCONNELLBut basically, dogs can see through them, but it just sort of fuzzes everything out. The first ones looked like dogs wearing underwear on their heads (laugh) because they had these wild prints that looked like bad swimming suits that men wore in the '60s.

  • 11:51:51


  • 11:51:54

    MCCONNELLIt was quite amusing, but it tends -- with some dogs, it tends to dampen down their reactivity, so that's something you might want to consider, but I also -- you know, I had a -- my dog now, Willie, acted like your dog when he was a puppy. At eight weeks he acted like that. It was pathological. And I spent months. I'm writing a memoir right now about it. And basically, I spent months just teaching him to be able to turn away from the smell of another dog. So go way backwards and consider a calming cap.

  • 11:52:27

    REHMPatricia McConnell and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Patricia, I know you're hoping that this book is going to be in lots of animal shelters.

  • 11:52:41

    MCCONNELLThat's right. And we -- actually, one of the things I'm proudest about, about this book, is that we've basically donated a tremendous amount of the profit -- everybody involved, the co-author, Karen London, the printers, the typesetters, we've donated most of our profit such that this can be bought in bulk at very -- it's very, very inexpensive. It's basically at cost. And a lot of people around the country have been buying, like, 50 -- 25 or 50 and then donating them to your shelter.

  • 11:53:07


  • 11:53:07

    MCCONNELLYou know, we can't all adopt a dog, but we can all help in some way.

  • 11:53:10

    REHMAnd here's Lindy in Tacoma Park, Md. Good morning.

  • 11:53:15

    LINDYGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to touch on the issue of senior dogs. I've a volunteer, actually, at an animal shelter, Washington Animal Rescue League, which I know you know.

  • 11:53:23


  • 11:53:23

    LINDYAnd one of the deterrents for people adopting senior dogs is the near term costs they're likely to face because the dog's near the end of its life and that's when the vet bills tend to be higher. And so one of the things I wanted to recommend is that more people foster senior dogs because most shelters will actually cover all the vet bills and some of them will actually cover the food costs as well.

  • 11:53:43

    LINDYAnd so that gets the senior dog out of the shelter, making room for another dog to come in and also into a loving home where it'll be loved for the rest of its life, so it's sort of a win-win situation. And they are wonderful, often gentle, sweet, loving dogs. And so I hope that more people will consider fostering as well as, of course, adopting from shelters and that really helps the senior dogs move on.

  • 11:54:04

    REHMGreat point.

  • 11:54:05

    MCCONNELLOh, lovely. Thank you so much for contributing that.

  • 11:54:08

    REHMAnd we all do love that Washington Animal Rescue League. Thanks for calling. I want to read to you a lovely e-mail we've gotten from Larry in Arlington, Va., who says, "Five years ago, we were looking to adopt a dog. The Rescue Society asked us to consider a 10-year-old Setter. We were hesitant. Our 12-year-old had recently died, but we agreed and we received Chica, a calm, petite, English Setter.

  • 11:54:46

    REHMSoon thereafter, the Rescue society asked if the former owners, Paul and Dorothy, could call us. They live in Vermont. They were 90 years old. They had reluctantly given her up and wanted to know she was doing okay. We have spoken every few weeks with them. Last fall, we drove Chica up to Vermont with a reunion with Paul and Dorothy. It was a great joy for all of us. Chica has slowed a lot and sleeps most of the day, but we could not ask for a more loving dog. I hope others will consider adopting a senior dog. Both they and the dogs will be better for it." Isn't that just beautiful?

  • 11:55:47

    MCCONNELLI'm getting all wussy over here (laugh).

  • 11:55:49

    REHMI know it. Isn't that something?

  • 11:55:51

    MCCONNELLOh, that's so sweet. And, you know, that oxytocin that we feel right now, that's good for us. Take two adopted dogs and call your doctor in the morning because oxytocin is good for us. It boosts your immune system. That warm fuzzy we get, that's part of why we love dogs so much, but here it is something that we love that's even good for us. How great is that?

  • 11:56:16

    REHMAnd they need us. They really do.

  • 11:56:20

    MCCONNELLOh, there are so many dogs that are completely dependent on us. And there are a lot of great dogs out there. There really are. So any way we can help. If you can't adopt, foster. If you can't foster, donate. Lots of ways to help.

  • 11:56:34

    REHMPatricia McConnell, co-author with Karen London. The book is titled "Love Has No Age Limit-Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home." So good to see you. Congratulations.

  • 11:56:51

    MCCONNELLAlways great to be here. Thank you.

  • 11:56:52

    REHMThank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:56:57

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Sarah Ashworth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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