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.

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.

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.

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), 
Deborah

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.

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.

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.

Q: I have a 5 year old Shiba Inu named Odin who is really, by far, the best behaved dog I've ever had or known (thanks to your training!). I get compliments on how good he is all the time. In preparation for a new human baby to the household, I read your book "There's a Baby in the House." There were a few changes we made to prepare for my son's arrival (mostly about less attention, more quiet time, and more time away from us), but really Odin was in good shape. He's been amazing with the baby and is extremely respectful. The baby is four months old and Odin lets him touch him, even in the face, without any signs of aggression. However, Odin is extremely smart and has figured out that when one of us is holding the baby, that person will not raise their voice or chase after him if he decides not to obey a command. So, he's essentially stopped listening to the person holding the baby. If you set the baby down or hand him off to someone else, Odin goes back to listening. We've tried to support each other to show him that he still has to listen to the parent holding the baby, but if the other parent isn't around it's clear that he "decides" himself whether he wants to listen. Any ideas on how to get him to understand that he still has to listen to the parent holding the baby?

A: That is hysterical! I would leash Odin and have the person holding the baby also try, at least as best as possible, hold the leash or at least tether him nearby. Since he already knows all his commands and needs only to be convinced that you mean business, giving him a small leash correction when he blows you off will probably do the trick. Let him know that you can still get to him regardless of the baby in your arms. Of course, if he complies love him with lots of verbal praise and physical if possible

Q: I have had my rescue puppy (4 1/2 months old) for 8 weeks, and she is great on-leash around my home, and around the block in my community, but when I take her to an outdoor trail, she stops, and sits down, and seems scared when she looks down the trail. I have tried the same trail 3 times. I did take her once to an off-leash trail and she was willing to follow for 25 minutes, but on-leash she doesn't seem to want to go on this other trail. Should I just keep trying? I keep her on-leash for this one trail, because there is a lot of poison oak, and other bikes/pedestrians, so I prefer to keep her on-leash. I have succeeded in getting her to walk for about 5 min. then she sits down and seems to want to go back to the car.

A: I would keep trying. Bring her favorite treats and toys and see if you can cajole her with those. You can also try a 30-foot training lead and just start walking. By the time you get 30 feet away your dog might be more inclined to follow. If not, then just insisting might work. Once the dog gets moving and realizes that nothing terrible is happening to her she might lighten up. But again, it might require you just insisting and moving the parade forward. Once the dog is moving reward with lots of high pitched praise, favorite toys and killer treats. Just keep going with it. Also, if she has any dog pals maybe bring them along to give her some confidence.

Q: We rescued a 1 year old corgi/staffi mix (we think based on looks) from Lancaster Dog shelter about 3 months ago. She was extremely fearful and was doing good, until about 4 weeks ago, when she started to show dog aggression on the beach and on walks not in her neighborhood. She lunges at them and tries to nip them, or run at them. Is there something you can tell me to do to try and break this, or a class that you recommend in Berkeley for me to take her? Thanks.

A: The best thing I could advise in a situation like this is get some private professional help. I am not sure about classes in the Berkeley area that would address this but in general I am skeptical of group classes being able to reliably resolve such behaviors. Generally speaking the way to resolve this usually involves a combination of approaches including solid obedience training, especially walking without leash pulling, solid recalls, and a bullet proof “off” command. With these things in hand you are in a position to begin approaching your dog’s interactions with other dogs and helping him to learn new ways of responding to them. Again, I think private training help will give you the most bang for your buck here.

Q: I have an older pooch (8ish) who never barks, is super mellow, and appears to be the easiest, best pup around. So what's my problem? Laziness! She's super lazy and although I can appreciate laziness, it makes it difficult when I have to get to work. I'm often late to work because I can't get her up to eat and go potty. Most of the times I have to carry her outside and pull her to get her to walk! And this is not super early, but around 7:30 or even 8. Any suggestions?

A: Wow! Have you tried pulling out some salami or other awesome treat that your dog never gets at any other time and using that as a motivator? Or a favorite toy (though lazy dogs aren’t usually all that amped for toys). I would start there and see what happens. You might just check with your vet to see if it isn’t something physical. And lastly, you might just insist. Put a leash on the dog and use it to demand that he or she get moving now.

Q: Hi, Mike...My Standard Schnauzer, who took 2 of your puppy classes is now 18 months old and doing well. She seems happy and well adjusted and we can typically take her anywhere we go. Overall, she's well behaved when we're out and she LOVES people and other dogs, too. Goes to Doggie Day Care once or twice a week for socialization and gets plenty of exercise on a daily basis. My question is that she sometimes gets aggressive when I'm walking her. She gets worked up and barks like crazy at the poor pooch who's coming towards her. Next dog that comes by, she's fine! Have tried to figure out a pattern, but there doesn't seem to be one. I go back and forth between reprimanding and praising...any suggestions? Other than that...she's perfect and such a joy!...thanks.

A: There are a lot of factors at work contributing to this situation. The first thing to do is to make sure that she does not pull on the leash when she sees another dog. Leash frustration is the most common contributor to on leash dog aggression. Also, from your question it isn’t clear if your dog is being aggressive or just excited to see the other dog. These require quite different responses. The main thing they have in common is that you have to get your dog’s attention on you. If you are using an effective training collar a relatively easy way to do this is while you are approaching the other dog, when your dog starts getting worked up, without warning him suddenly turn away from him and march in the opposite direction. If your dog isn’t paying attention he’ll get s quick pop on the leash and turn around to see what happened to you. If that’s not the result you’re getting you might consider changing training equipment. Once your dog is checking in with you you can offer a really good treat. Turn around and start walking toward the other dog again. Keep your dog focused on the treats as you pass the other dog. If, at any point, he starts acting up again, repeat. That is, blast off without warning in the opposite direction again and start over. Tedious but often effective. If there’s aggression involved you might need some professional help.

Q: My lab Pollock has become quite the picnic raider in recent months. When off leash at the dog park, how do we keep him from running off to steal someone's burrito? He's been "rewarded" with stolen food every time. When I finally catch him, I don't even have to punish him, he instantly goes down himself - like he knows he did something wrong. What can I do?

A: That’s a tough one! I would suggest revisiting hardcore recall training. Go back to basics, put him on a long line, bring him into challenging situations and practice recalls (“off & come”) when he is in proximity to his target. Unfortunately he will need some collar corrections to prove to him that it’s not in his best interest to disregard you in this context. If Pollock is smart enough to figure out that he has to be good when you’ve got him on the leash (line wise) then you may have to use a remote training collar. If you go this route be sure to work with someone who knows what they’re doing with this at least for the first session. I’m happy to help out.

Q: We were told that allowing our Great Dane puppy on the couch would make her think she was our equal? Is there any truth to that? She is allowed on the couch, but she still gets off when she is asked. I didn't think that having her share my seat would effect her view on our pack hierarchy! I'd love your thought on this.

A: Whoever told you that was more or less right. Letting a young dog have unfettered access to furniture can send very confusing signals about rank and status. I would suggest you allow the dog to grow up a bit first, make sure he or she is very well trained and respects you and then teach him or her that they can only get on the furniture with your permission. In other words, he or she should wait to be invited up.

Q: My ~3yr old Pit Bull attacked my 13yr old border collie (the queen dog). After a new small terrier had been introduced to the family, (with us for 2 months, and had become a playmate with the PB). The border collie barked at the little terrier. How do I go about defusing the dog-dog issue? Can I get it back to the more neutral situation?

A: Hi there, Thanks for your inquiry. This is a very complex issue and has to do with pack/rank dynamics that can be tricky to sort out. If a younger dog is going after the older one it may be a sign that she's taking over. Adding a third dog may have thrown the entire pack structure up in the air and everyone is testing now. The thing is, you have to be perceived by all dogs as the leader, which would put you in the position to control the conflict in the group. If this is not unequivocally the case, it needs to be. Then we also have to sort out which of the dogs is the natural leader and reinforce that dog in its hierarchically appropriate position with preferential treatment that is apparent to all dogs. At the same time, if you've established yourself as leader you should be in a position to reprimand lower ranking pack members for inappropriate overtures and posturing towards more dominant dogs and also reprimand the more dominant dogs for any bullying behaviors.

Anyway, like I said, it's complex. If you end up with more fights you should get professional help asap!

Q: My husband & I have a 5-month-old dachshund/spaniel female puppy who has started to pee & poop on our bed whenever we go out for errands or are at work. Although she doesn't do it every single time we're out of the house, she has been doing it almost every other time (we make sure to leave clean puppy pads out for her when we're not home too). When we're at home, she's well-behaved and knows that she isn't allowed on the bed unless we invite her, and she pees & poops when we take her out. We're absolutely at our wit's end, and aren't sure what the cause of this behavior might be. Is it separation anxiety or is it an assertion of dominance? How do we correct this behavior? Thank you.

A: Hi there, Thanks for your inquiry. I would begin by confining the dog when you are gone. An ex-pen, some baby gates in a hallway or a crate would do it. It may be connected to separation anxiety - hard to tell. Check out the section regarding separation anxiety on this site and see if you find anything useful there. 

Also, a five month old pup, no matter how good she's been doing on housebreaking, IS NOT housebroken. You can't consider your pup reliably housebroken until she's six to eight months of age and hasn't had an accident in two months. Prior to that it's on you to confine, supervise, regulate the pup until that target has been reached. You can check the housebreaking section on this site as well. Lots of helpful info there.

Q: Hi Mike, I currently have a service dog (100% Black Lab), who is very submissive dog. We are thinking of adopting a 13 week old lab mix from an adoption agency. We are not sure what the puppy is mixed with and afraid it may be pit bull. I've heard that pits can be unpredictable, even with the best training. Is this true and something to be concerned about? What should we look for when we meet this female pup?

A: Hi Kathy, That's a complex and charged question. I think the main thing to look for in the pup is sociability with people and with dogs. With respect to dogs I would observe her playing with other pups. Does she always need to be on top, pinning the other pup down. Is she overly rough and seemingly insensitive to the other dog's play level? These are not good signs. You want to find a pup that would be about evenly on top or the bottom, would be able to take the other pup's play signs and level of intensity into consideration and basically be a balanced, fun-spirited player that is sensitive to the other dog's play interest. A bad sign would be the pup that mows everyone down, is insensitive to the other dog's willingness to play and so on. This often leads to very problematic behaviors later.

And yes, while it might not be politically correct to say, Pit Bulls are not like other dogs. They have a way higher tendency toward dog aggression and use a way higher level of force when they are triggered. Of course, this is a generalization and may not apply to a particular individual. But it's a bit of a potential red flag, though I wouldn't necessarily consider it a deal killer. Observe the pup and see what you think.

Q: We just rescued our dog Mochi two months ago. He's a 6 year old Silky Terrier, and this is his 5th home in the past 6 months. We love him to death and he's doing great in our home, but he's really nervous around men and often times when they walk past him he sometimes "plunges" at them and tries to bite on their leg (he's never actually bitten someone, but he often catches their jeans and it freaks me out, so I try to keep him close when men are around. This never happens on walks, but normally when we're in a closed environment.). It took him a while to get used to my fiance, but they're best friends now. 

We think he used to be abused from a past owner by a man 🙁 Is there anything we can do to make him more comfortable around guys and have him trust them more? We try letting them give him treats, but he's still pretty nervous. Thank you for any help!
-Gina

A: Hi Gina, Thanks for your inquiry. There are two approaches that I would use simultaneously. The first is pretty obvious: have any and all men give him as many treats as he'll take. You cannot do too much of this. Over time this should help to relax him around men. But this takes time so you have to be patient, consistent and persistent. It could take six months to a year to see lasting and dramatic changes. The second thing is that he has to learn that no matter how fearful he might be, he simply CANNOT lunge at anyone. That means he has to be reprimanded for doing this - not by the men, but by you. This is important! Any reprimands coming from the guys will just freak him out more. You have to do it so that he associates this with your authority. 

Only having men give him treats without effectively reprimanding the behavior will never teach him that shows of aggression are always inappropriate. Some ways to reprimand him would include a Pet Corrector, a canister of compressed air available at good pet shops, a snappy leash correction if he's on a leash, a squirt on the nose with a water bottle - whatever works for your dog.

Putting these two items together should, with patience, resolve the behavior reliably.

This is a special post for the Q&A section based on a current local event. 

As most of you have probably heard by now, within the last few weeks some deranged lunatic has been placing poisoned meatballs around San Francisco streets in hopes of killing neighborhood dogs. In fact, a number of dogs have been sickened and at least one has died. While there is no explaining why some people are driven to prey on the lives and emotions of innocent neighbors and their pets, thankfully there are many things you can do to protect your dog from such madness.

The first, of course, is vigilance. When out walking your dog survey the scene ahead of you and try to be as aware as possible of what you and your dog are approaching. Steer clear of suspicious items which would include any food items.

Second, be sure that your dog is well trained, at least with respect to leash walking and the command "off." Specifically, use whatever combination of gear and methodology you need to to ensure that your dog does not pull on the leash. If your dog is pulling madly on the leash it's guaranteed that a) he's in his own world and on the hunt, paying little if any attention to you; b) you're distracted by the pulling and thus much less able to be aware of things you might be approaching that could be dangerous to your dog and c) even if you are aware of such dangers you'll have fairly little control over your dog with which to effectively respond.

Additionally, be sure that your dog is very responsive to the command "off" or "leave it." Very responsive means that when you say it once in a commanding tone of voice your dog will back off from whatever he's focused on and turn his attention to you.

Lastly, DO NOT walk your dog around city streets without a leash on! Ever!!! People do this all the time and it absolutely drives me insane. Not only do dogs routinely get killed for this very stupid reason (over a hundred dogs I've worked with over the years have been killed by cars for this singular reason) but in relation to the question at hand, off leash your dog will be guaranteed to find that meatball or whatever else way before you have a chance to respond.

In short, be attentive and take the time to train your dog. It protects his life and your mental and emotional well-being.

Q: Our mini labradoodle, Maggie, goes into (what seems like) an anxiety attack every time we put her into the car. Driving her to the groomer...to the local pet wash...or even just to drive to the grocery store-she starts shacking and whining and it seems like there is no calming her. It almost seems like a panic attack. Is there anything we can do to calm her nerves? I should mention-nothing bad has happened in the car or after a car ride....ever. Hope you can help.

A: Phobias are the most difficult things to deal with in dogs and generally systematic desensitizing is the only way to get reliable long term results. In your situation that would mean doing things like feeding your dog all its meals in the car, with the car turned off and parked wherever its parked. It would mean playing games with her in there and doing anything she likes and associating it with the car. Once you've established some baselines try turning the engine on without driving the car and repeat. Once you've gained some ground there try driving a very short distance, and I do mean very short, like out of your driveway and back in while the dog is doing something she enjoys, like eating a bone.

Once you can make some progress with all this, which definitely takes time and can prove challenging, then be sure to start taking short drives with great experiences on either end. Like drive to the end of the block and get out and give her tons of treats, a game with a favorite friend who you've arranged to meet there, another dog buddy to play with...whatever is going to turn her on. When you get home again have some awesome experience waiting for her. 

That all said, I do realize that we may actually have to take the dog somewhere before all this desensitizing, which can take a fair amount of time to produce results, kicks in. There's nothing to do about that although it might set your efforts back in the short run.  

The final possibility involves what's called flooding in behavioral lingo. If you're planning a longer road trip, say down to LA, take your dog with you. Extended exposure with you and the car being the only consistent reference points in an otherwise rapidly changing environment can totally change your dog's view of the car. 

Hope this helps. 

Q: I have an older dog(6 yrs) from rescue organization is not house broken. Go for walks and then upon return to the house, she goes to a corner and does her business. She has it reversed!

A: There are a couple of things you can do here. First, rather than taking a long walk with your dog hoping that something will happen, take her outside near your place and an area you’d like to have her use as a restroom. If within five or so minutes nothing happens, take her back inside and crate her or confine her in some other appropriate way. Then, 20 or so minutes later, try it again. If still nothing happens, repeat. At some point the dog will have to go. After all, “when you gotta go you gotta go.” When the dog does go, make a big deal and then go for your walk. The reasoning is this: many dogs learn that the moment they go potty on their walks the owners head them straight back to the house. The message – pottying ends your walk. The work around? Hold it as long as possible and then relieve yourself back at the ranch.

There are a couple of tricks to help speed this up. Five or ten minutes before the walk overload your dog with food and liquids. You can generally get them to fill up on water by adding something tasty like milk or bullion to it. They’ll lap it up enthusiastically and usually to the bursting point which will make them likely to be less fussy outside. Do the same with food if needed. Just add something good and let the dog have at it.

Additionally, if for whatever reason your dog does not go outside you absolutely cannot let him go inside. That’s a recipe for disaster. No matter how you apply the above concepts into the actuality of your life and schedule, if your dog hasn’t gone outside you just cannot give him any freedom inside. Crate him, tether him to you, throw him out in the back yard – whatever! Just don’t let him go in the house.

And lastly, if your dog is hitting the same place again and again in the house try feeding him there. Dogs don’t like to poop or pee where they eat. Of course that doesn’t mean they would go elsewhere but it’s a good way to teach them that that place is off limits.

Good luck! J

Q: I am a first time dog owner with a 6 month old female Shiba Inu. I got her from a breeder whom I met at the Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show a few years ago. I told the breeder I was not interested in ever showing the dog and simply wanted a good companion pet. Did the breeder take my needs into consideration? NO! She paired me with a singleton puppy who exhibits a laundry list of behavioral problems, at the top of which are lack of bite inhibition and no impulse control.10 days after I brought her home at the age of 8-1/2 weeks, I decided to work intensively with a highly recommended dog trainer who uses only positive reinforcement techniques. In addition to one or two weekly training sessions, I boarded her on two separate occasions with our trainer for a total of 3 weeks. My problem is that she continues to bite me sporadically when I put on her harness to take her for walks and long line exercise. Because there are no consequences for bad behavior (only the reprimands "settle" or "Uh-Uh"), I never know when she will lash out at me in irritation. Short of aversive training, is there any way to show this alpha puppy that in my house she must follow my rules and biting is a capital offense? Kidding, of course.

A: There is a lot in your question. First, Shibas in general are very difficult dogs. In many ways you could say they are more like cats – fussy, overly sensitive and very temperamental. In my puppy classes the Shibas often have great difficulty with handling exercises and it takes quite some time to get to the point where the dog can be handled in any way you see fit without throwing a fit, including biting. Second, positive “only” training is, at least in my not so humble opinion, a severely limited, one-dimensional and often ineffective way of training a dog. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the positive part that’s the problem. Of course we want to do as much positive as possible! It’s the “only” part that’s the problem and the fact that you are simply not allowed to do anything else. In other words, out of the 4 generally accepted training modalities – positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment – this approach ignores 75% of available training methodologies and tries to squeeze every dog and its issues through the remaining 25%. When that doesn’t work trainers who advocate this will often either tell you that you’re not working hard enough or that your dog is untrainable. They’ll generally never concede that maybe their approach has limitations and at the same time castigate anyone who will try a more comprehensive approach to difficult situations like yours.

That said, your situation is complex and, as said, Shibas are very difficult. A proper combination of “rank management,” desensitization, and more self-assertion on your part should enable to get to the other side of this. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a Shiba, or any other dog, that could not get to the other side of these temper tantrums. Shibas just offer extra challenges in this department. Short of meeting the dog, it is difficult to offer simple suggestions as working with Shibas often becomes more art than science as we navigate the rather uneven terrain of their psyches.

Q: Our new addition is a 2-year old rescue with some behavioral issues. She often growls when our other dog (who we've had since she was a puppy) gets closer to us when we are snuggled with the rescue, or comes to us for attention when we are with the rescue. Sometimes the growl is low, but grows more menacing. We have read that correcting the growl can sometimes result in the dog skipping the growl and going straight into an aggressive action like biting. Is this growling about jealousy (since it often involves one of us humans nearby) and what's the best way to handle it?

A: So the first thing is, whoever told you that correcting growling is problematic was right. Growling is a courtesy that lets you and others know that the dog is unhappy and irritated. Second, this is definitely about jealousy and I would begin by not indulging the rescue dog with so much affection. I don’t know what his background is but if it’s been unstable then he can easily develop an excessive level of attachment to you. One way to respond when he starts with the growling is simply to put him off your lap and get up and walk away. While you are not reprimanding the growling you are dissolving the situation that’s contributing to the attitude shift and teaching him that acting out of that attitude will make the thing he’s trying to hold on to go away. Letting this sink in will take some time.

On a deeper level, when you are trying to manage dynamics in your pack it’s important to figure out which of the dogs is the more naturally dominant dog between them and adjust your relationship with them accordingly. That is, you want to be sure to treat the naturally more dominant dog preferentially in such a way that both dogs know it. That way you are reinforcing the social structure that they’ve already worked out between them. Trying to give preferential treatment to the “underdog” as a form of compensation for his lower social status will tend to lead to trouble. Once you’ve figured out the pecking order, help to enforce it. For instance if the “lower ranking” dog makes dominant overtures toward the higher ranking dog you should reprimand the lower ranking dog. Conversely, if the higher ranking dog is needlessly hassling the lower ranking dog, you can reprimand him as well. If you are sending all the signals to the higher ranking dog about his higher status then he should have no need to lord it over the other dog.

With respect to the situation you asked about, this would help to ensure that there’s no confusion about status and contribute to the lessening of tension in the situation described in your question.

Q: I have a three year old Doberman who reacts with anxiety to me and behaves well with the men in my family. He will not sit outside the coffee shop for me without barking and pulling at his lead, he jumps incessantly when I come home, he insists on sitting in my room when I am working at my desk and he follows me around the house from room to room when I am home. My adult son can take him to the safeway and he will sit politely and wait for him to return even if it is an hour. What have I done to create this mess? 

A: I think the main issue here is not that the dog is generally anxious around you but specifically that he has separation anxiety with respect to you and experiences intense emotional distress at the thought of you not being around once you are nearby.

The main thing to do in situations like this is to tone down the emotional nature of your interactions with him. When you come home ignore him for the first ten or fifteen minutes and once you begin to engage with him keep it all low key. No long periods of hugging and baby talk and emotional over-indulgence. At this point, with respect to his emotional condition around you, this is poison. It’s like feeding drugs to the addict to keep him happy. We have to break the addiction and then build a new kind of relationship around that. When you are home working and he wants to follow you around, don’t let him. Tether him at certain places, make sure he’s got a comfy bed there and if you leave your desk to get a drink from the fridge, make him just wait there. If you tie him out at a coffee shop and he acts up, give him a spritz on the nose with a water bottle and in a firm tone tell him “quiet.”

Also, doing some solid obedience work with him without treats would help him develop an appropriate hierarchical relationship with you which will help with all sorts of things including this. It will give him a stable, predictable context for his relationship with you that’s more structured and comprehensible to your dog than purely an emotionally based relationship of attachment.

Hope this helps. Please check out the section on separation anxiety on this site as well. Good luck!

Q:  6th day home with our 11 week old Aussie girl. She is doing very well, sleeps in crate (during the day when she's very tired and through the night next to me.) She has a 30'x10' pen outside and LOVES It! She even spends alone time out there with my sweatshirt. The problem is the 5'x12' play pen inside. She barks for food or? even when we are in there with her. I would let her bark, I have been trying to reward when I say "quiet" she's never quiet though. But my poor cats are trying to adjust but hate the high pitched barking. What to do....what to do....?
 

A: A couple of things to start with. Letting her bark until she gets tired of barking and then giving her a treat is terrible advice, although it seems to be all over the web. When you give her a reward for being quiet when taking a break from barking all it does is reinforce the fact that you get a treat for barking. That is, the dog will figure out quickly that "if I bark and then am quiet for a moment, I'll get a treat. Repeat, and I'll get more treats." 

That said, sometimes intense barking requires a more direct solution. Try using a water spray bottle that will shoot a jet stream and if the pup barks, give him a little spritz in the nose and mouth and say "quiet" in a strong, commanding tone. If water doesn't work, try Bitter Apple spray or some other taste deterrent. If using taste deterrents be sure to spray in the nose/mouth and avoid the eyes! If all that fails, try a citronella spray barking collar. These will stop the barking quickly in most cases. Let me know what happens and come back to this Q&A with follow up questions if needed. 

Q: Hey Mike! Long time no see 🙂 Pollock has become quite the picnic raider in recent months. When off leash at the dog park, how do we keep him from running off to steal someone's burrito? He's been "rewarded" with stolen food every time. When I finally catch him, I don't even have to punish him, he instantly goes down himself - like he knows he did something wrong. What can I do?

A: You're absolutely right that your dog is being powerfully rewarded for this behavior and that all your "after the fact" efforts are fruitless. And yes, when you get him he knows you're mad, but the payoff will always seem to have been worth it to him.

With issues like this you have to be more pro-active, which means teaching your dog bullet proof "off" and "come" commands. That way, when you see him about to head off toward what will soon become the scene of the crime, you can quickly recall him.

There's a lot to this, but to start simply, put him on a long training lead or Flexi-Lead (retractable leash), have a pocket full of killer treats, and bring him to a tempting area. When you see him heading off periodically, especially if he's fixated on something, tell him "off", then call him to "come." If he doesn't respond, give him enough of a nudge on the lead to get his attention, show the treat if necessary once he's looking at you, and praise like crazy as he's heading toward you. When he gets to you, deliver the treat, let him go again quickly and repeat. 

As he gets used to this pattern try bringing him into increasingly challenging situations and repeat. Once he's pretty good with all this try letting him drag a 10' or 20' training lead around and keep practicing. He should be okay at this point but the lead is nice in case he blows you off by allowing you to step on it and stop him short. Keep working to increase levels of distraction until you feel like you can take him to the dreaded picnic zone. In the super highly charged distraction zone be sure that at least for the first few times you have your hands on the leash so you can respond quickly. Only give him more freedom as he demonstrates increasing reliability. Eventually, after some weeks of practice, you should be in a pretty good position with him and be able to trust him again. Good luck, and feel free to follow up on this Q&A.

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