Behavior Patient Profile: Zoey

“We were feeling helpless about how to deal with some behavior issues our adopted dog, Zoey, was experiencing. She is a poodle mix, around seven years old. We were lucky to have been chosen by the SF SPCA to be her parents. Zoey was shy and timid, but friendly when we met her. We felt an immediate connection.

We soon figured out that Zoey had some debilitating issues. She did not like being brushed, groomed, or bathed. She would growl, snap at us, and act aggressively. When Zoey first arrived at the SF SPCA’s shelter her coat was very long, horribly matted, and full of ticks. It must have been uncomfortable for her and probably scary and painful to get cleaned up. We realized we needed a veterinary behaviorist to help us.

We made an appointment with Dr. Wailani Sung, SF SPCA Director of Behavior and Welfare Programs. Dr. Sung taught us so much at Zoey’s evaluation meeting. What stuck with us the most is that we have to look at Zoey’s behavior as her way of communicating with us. We had to build trust in baby steps.

We initially didn’t think Zoey was very motivated by treats. We were so wrong! Dr. Sung taught us about regular treats and high value treats. When we first began to touch her hind feet, we would give a high value treat like freeze dried chicken. We have slowly gained her trust. We were encouraged to in keep in touch with any questions or concerns we have.

Zoey now loves putting her muzzle on, because one of us puts the muzzle on while the other gives her treats through the muzzle. Dr. Sung also recommended we give Zoey anti-anxiety medication a couple of hours before grooming. At a video visit, Dr. Sung gave us advice on dealing with toy and food aggression. Zoey has already figured out that if she drops her favorite ball, she will get a treat!

Getting Zoey professional help has made a huge difference for her and for us. Zoey knows at least ten different commands! As her trust in us increases, we feel even more connected. We love her dearly and she loves us. We are so happy we have found each other.”

— Bonnie, Zoey’s guardian

Our Behavior Specialty Clinic can provide expert care and guidance for any dog or cat behavior query or issue you may be facing. For more information, visit

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