My wife is a pet lover who has owned dogs her whole life. She also happens to be very good with them. For example, she can read their moods and knows when they need treats or walks. But one thing that I never thought my wife could do until recently is teaching our black lab, Cooper, how to shake hands.
I don’t know why this happened, but last month, I came home from work to find Cooper on his back, wiggling around as he tried to claw at something under the couch. He had been acting like this for about 10 minutes when I walked in the door. We live in an apartment so there isn’t any other pets’ insight, and we always keep the doors closed.
So it wasn’t clear to me what might have startled him. Once I picked up the remote control and saw the TV screen, however, I knew exactly what had set off his fear reaction. There, on-screen was a man shaking another man’s hand. This made me laugh because it looked so ridiculous I couldn’t help myself.
Cooper got even more upset after seeing the scene, barking loudly and growling while attempting to bite at the TV screen. A couple of days later, I brought him in to a vet clinic where I worked, hoping that some kind of veterinarian would have an idea of what caused this strange behavior.
The first person I asked said that it seemed likely that he’d simply seen someone else behave in a way that frightened him. He suggested I take him home to see if things improved over time. If they didn’t, he recommended trying to desensitize Cooper by bringing him into places where lots of people were present. That might make him …