Mike's Q&A

An interactive question and answer forum with expert dog trainer Michael Wombacher for all of your most pressing dog behavior and dog training-related questions.

Welcome to Mike's Q&A

Each week I'll be answering your questions right here on my blog. I'll draw from my 20 years of experience training dogs to address your needs quickly and effectively.

Submit your pressing pup questions here

Housebreaking in Manhattan - Tips for City Pup

Q: Hi Mike. Firstly thank you. Your book is tremendously helpful. I just got an English Bulldog puppy. He was 8 weeks old, now 9 1/2 weeks. I live in midtown Manhattan. The vet has told me that it will be another 2-3 months till I am able to walk him outside to go to the bathroom since he needs all his vaccinations. Said it would be different if I lived somewhere with a patch of grass or a yard but since I live in the middle of the city I will have to wait till he has all his vaccinations. With the help of your book the housebreaking is going well and he uses the pad most of the time. I fear though that if he is inside going to the bathroom for that long that it will be extremely difficult to make him understand that he needs to go outside then. My question is: Is this true that he cannot be walked in the city till he is 3-4 months of age? Any tips for raising a pup in an apartment building in a big city? 


A: Unfortunately you are in a tough spot. Your vet is right and yes, you’re in a tough spot. But not irremediable. When your pup gets to the point that you want him to go outside simply eliminate the potty pads in the house and start taking your dog out. Overloading him with food and water is helpful and keeping him crated or on a leash with you in the apt. until you take him out is key. If he does nothing the first time out, bring him back up, crate him for 20 minutes and try it again. Keep loading him up with food/water each time until you’re at the busting point. Bringing a paper outside and laying it down can help. Also, using the “hurry up” command to teach him to go to the bathroom on command now will help enormously then (it’s in the book). Of course when he does do his first few poops and pees outside reward him like mad with a treat so he knows what a good boy he is J.

Aggression around Treats & Toys

Q: I have adopted a lab/pit mix in June, she is now approximately a year old (not sure on the date). She is wonderful around people, always very outgoing and social. With other dogs however she is aggressive around food and treats or when fetching the same toy with another dog. There have been instances where she has fought with other dogs over toys or food that has dropped between them. I would love to feel comfortable taking her out without fearing her attack another dog over a toy, are there classes available where she can learn to share with other dogs and not become aggressive?


A: Hi there. That is an unfortunate circumstance that will require private training help. I don’t offer group classes for that sort of aggression and have doubts about group classes that profess to deal with this sort of thing. It’s a very tricky situation that will require some serious front end work with your dog so that her “off” and “come” commands are bullet proof before you could even begin to deal with the situation directly.  Often, with issues of aggression like this it’s a bit of a time consuming process that involves both retraining and management, management meaning preventing the situation from unfolding to a point of aggression. At any rate, I’d be happy to speak with you about this so feel free to give a call.

Housebreaking an Older Dog

Q: We have adopted a 3 year old female Yorkie 6 months ago. She had been living in a kennel all those 3 years and used as a breeder. We love her, have taught her all sorts of things dogs do--she didn't even know how to climb stairs when she came to us--but she's peeing and pooping all over the house. I can't believe it's too late to change this behavior but really HELP!
Thanks and hello from your former client Nicola and Snowy (dog is Monty), 


A: The best thing to do is to check out the section on this site specifically addressing housebreaking. Generally the issue is too much freedom. It’s through an intelligent combination of confinement, supervision and regulation that you can crack the housebreaking nut. It’s sometimes very challenging with an older dog coming from a breeder situation where who knows what the house rules were. This will take some months for you to resolve reliably. Again, check out the housebreaking section on this site. There’s tons of information there.

When Dog Aggression needs Professional Consultation

Q: We have two jack russell/beagle mixes that are 5 years old. They are very friendly off leash, but they exhibit really aggressive behavior towards some dogs (especially bigger dogs). One of the dogs will stand on top of the other and they bark and growl aggressively towards the other dogs. They have never bitten any other dog and they are generally great with our toddler. My husband has tried putting them on their backs after they exhibit this behavior, but it doesn't seem to change anything. I have tried keeping them on a short leash and saying no firmly. These measures haven't worked either. Any advice on curtailing this behavior would be greatly appreciated. 


A: This is a very complex behavior and probably requires some private consultation. Turning them on their backs and tightening the leashes will probably not help and, especially the leash tightening, make things worse. There are many elements that contribute to this which have to be pulled apart and dealt with before you can craft a meaningful response to this. There are too many variables to be able to in a short forum like this. It might be good to give me a call to discuss.

Deaf Dog Nervousness - What to Do?

Q: I have a deaf 6 year old chihuahua/terrier mix. Recently he's been acting weird. Whenever I bring him outside for a walk, he seems scared as if something is behind him. A week ago I took him to Fort Funston and there was this big dog that kept chasing him. My dog got scared and we carried him in order to prevent the big dog from attacking him. Ever since, my dog is very scared whenever I bring him outside for a walk. Even at home, he is also scared of something. What can I do to help him in this situation? Do u do training for a deaf dog?


A: Wow! That’s a bummer. One of the first things to know is that unfortunately many Chihuahuas, deaf or not, have tendencies towards nervousness. Generally the best way to deal with that is to try to couple something the dog really likes with the situations that freak him out. Bring some steak or chicken to the beach, keep him focused on you and the treats and try to have some fun with him doing little bits of training or fooling around and rewarding him with treats. Keep it all upbeat and probably do it in short increments so the dog doesn’t get overwhelmed.  You will have to be patient with this as anxiety related issues are always the most difficult to resolve. And having a dog missing one sense naturally exacerbates this. And yes, I definitely work with deaf dogs. Have worked with dozens of them, in fact. Not as hard as it might seem. As you can imagine, blind dogs are much harder.