Bonnie, the Bouvier des Flandres

Susan Foster
Bridgeport, WV 

I contacted Dr. Megan Maxwell in April, 2009 for help with a highly reactive 3 year old Bouvier (Bonnie) and a 4 year old Burmese cat (Penny) that was absolutely terrified of Bonnie. Life at home consisted of Bonnie constantly monitoring the street in front of the house and barking hysterically or, if the front door was open, hurling herself against the storm door when anyone or anything on foot passed by. Having people come for a visit was very difficult. (At least she would settle down after they made it into the house and she had a chance to get used to them.) If I sat down, she would immediately start to push and poke me and would insist on my undivided attention. She poked and prodded the other three cats (who fortunately coexist fairly well with her) until they would get off of my lap. And of course, any chance to chase and terrorize Penny was a bonus. Penny was to the point where she stayed in one room that Bonnie was not allowed in, and she had also become increasingly terrified of people coming to the house. 

Walks with Bonnie were also becoming very difficult, and I was to the point of having to think carefully about where we were going to go. Places with wide open areas beside the paths and long sight lines were a requirement since she would bark and lunge at most people when we passed. Since I couldn’t tell what triggered a reaction, I needed to watch both in front and behind us so that I could get her well off of the path when I saw someone coming. She is a fairly large dog (approximately 75#), so the lunging and pulling were becoming difficult on me physically since it required all of my strength to control her. Car rides were another stressful situation. Any person walking or riding a bicycle or motorcycle caused her to hurl herself against the car windows and bark hysterically. 

Despite all of the problems, Bonnie was (and is) a very sweet and loving dog with the people that she knows and feel s comfortable with. I was becoming increasingly scared that she would bite someone and I would have some very difficult decisions to make regarding her future which is what prompted me to contact Dr. Maxwell. 

The first time that Megan came to our house, she met the kitties and then Bonnie. After spending time with us and observing the dynamics of our relationship, Megan showed me how to get Bonnie to respect my personal space and what to do to keep her from bothering the cats when they were spending time with me. She also showed me what to do to when Bonnie barked or growled at someone on the street, and she showed me how to get Bonne used to wearing a Gentle Leader so that I would have more control while walking her. She observed that it would be easier to get Penny to change her reaction to Bonnie than vice versa, so she came up with a plan for that too. Within the first week, Penny had come out of hiding and was spending time with the rest of us in the main part of the house, Bonnie was only occasionally barking at someone on the street, and peace was finally being restored to our home!! 

On subsequent visits with us, Megan worked with Bonnie and me when we were out walking and on getting people from the front door into the house. We can now go to any of our neighborhood parks to walk, and even trips to the dog park are successful and fun! Bonnie is welcome at any of the pet stores in town, and comes to the office with me on weekends when necessary. We don’t get that much company, so work at the front door is ongoing but improving all the time. 

Sadly, Penny passed away in September from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that is usually fatal and rarely diagnosed in advance. I will always be grateful to Megan for giving Penny a peaceful and happy final 5 months to her life. She was truly coming out of her shell, and I think that given more time she would have even become more comfortable with strangers.

In conclusion, the ONLY thing that I regret is not contacting Megan sooner than I did. I have a dog that I love dearly and am proud to take with me at any opportunity. She is comfortable in most situations now, and when she is uncomfortable she lets me know and does not react by being aggressive. I am thinking of adding a kitten to the family, and I am looking forward to Megan’s help with that. So thank you very much, Megan!!!