Certified professional dog trainer Jamie Eaton joined Post staffer Maura Judkis to give advice on common dog behavioral problems. Here is an edited excerpt:
Q: My dog gets along with other dogs, except when we're on walks. For some reason, he's started growling and barking at other dogs when he's on his leash. He is two years old and it hasn't always been like this. No major changes in environment, although some dogs do bark at him first. Off-leash, he's fine. One trainer told me to give him treats as soon as we see other dogs approaching on our walks, so that he'll associate seeing other dogs with something positive. I've tried, but it doesn't seem to be working too well. Any advice?
A: Many of our clients have this same issue. Many dogs are either fearful of being restrained by the leash or frustrated by it. In either case it can lead to aggression. It is also quite common for this behavior to become worse during adolescence and your dog falls into this category. We focus on 3 core areas when dealing with leashing reactivity: management, basic obedience fundamentals, and behavior modification. I agree that you want him to associate other dogs with something fantastic (meatballs and liverwurst are my favorite high value treats), but you have to make sure the dogs are far enough away that your dog is comfortable. Think of it this way, say you are terrified of heights.
Q: My 2 1/2-year old border collie mix dog is very nervous. She always has been wary of strangers (not aggressive, just "don't-touch-me"), even as a puppy, although she is very affectionate with my boyfriend and I and others that she gets to know well. We did our best to socialize her when she was young, but we were new to town and didn't know a lot of people, so it probably wasn't as much as it should've been. When she was about 9 months old, we were walking downtown and some really loud banging from a construction site startled the bejeezus out of her -- I mean yelping, squealing, tugging on her leash as if the devil himself was after her. Ever since then, she's been terrified of loud noises. Buses, trucks, cars back-firing, car doors slamming, anything loud and sudden and (to her) unexplainable. And it's not the volume, because a car back-firing way off in the distance is often more distressing than, say, a really loud motorcycle two feet away (she is not afraid of motorcycles at all). I've talked to a few dog trainers and no one really had any helpful advice beyond some vague suggestions for positive reinforcement, ie., giving her a treat every time something startles her. . . . but she's still afraid of them. . . . Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was waiting outside a shop with her on a busy city street -- she was cowering and shaking due to all the buses going past -- and a woman passing by put her hand down for her to sniff and my dog snapped at her! She didn't break the skin and the woman was fine, said it was a very gentle nip, but still! . . . now I worry that her wariness of strangers is only going to grow and worsen. It's already a huge ordeal having company over because she is so nervous and territorial, and now I have to worry about her nipping too. Do you have any advice?
A: I'm sorry to hear that your border collie is having some issues. First let me say -- good for you for being your dog's advocate by keeping her away from people when she is uncomfortable! She is definitely under some stress and interacting with people while under stress may push her past her bite threshold. This is a case where a behavior consultation is absolutely recommended. A behavior modification protocol would like include counter-conditioning and desensitization in a controlled environment to change her association about the things she fears. One element of that protocol would be to feed her meals while playing videos or mp3's of city sounds on the computer at a very low volume. You want her to notice the sounds, but not react to them. I also recommend trying some calming aids such as the Thundershirt or Rescue Remedy.
Q: My dog, who I rescued almost 3 years ago, is amazing. She's a quick learner and eager to please. Only one problem -- she still uses the bathroom in the house. She knows she's not supposed to. When I'm in the same room as her and she has to go, she'll walk to the front door and scratch it to let me know she needs out. But if I'm not home, or not in the same room with her, then she'll just use the . . .carpet. I try taking her our frequently and keeping an eye on her, and use positive reinforcement. Maybe related: Ever since I switched her to better food because of her allergies (Blue Buffalo) 6 months ago, she has to poop around 5 times a day. Lately, I'll take her outside, she'll poop, and then as soon as we get back inside she'll poop again, usually right in front of me. I'm at my wits end.
A: For a situation like this, I would rule out any potential physical issues. I would make a vet visit as a first step. If nothing is physically wrong, then I would start a housetraining protocol. A proper housetraining protocol requires confinement while you are away from home. When you are home, the dog should be physically attached to you to make sure they don't sneak off to another room to go the bathroom. The dog should be taken out to eliminate at regular intervals and a journal should be kept to start discerning patterns and times of day the dog is likely going to need to go out. Also, don't forget to clean the carpet with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature's Miracle. We can't always smell where the dog has gone, but since their since of smell is so much stronger, then tend to return to the same areas to eliminate.
Q: My dog likes to bark. She'll bark at the bird on the deck and the dishwasher door being open and wind. I like that she barks when the doorbell rings, it's the other stuff that gets to me. Is there a way to train her that it's okay to bark at the doorbell but that the dishwasher is not a threat? If it makes any difference, she's a poodle and pretty dang smart.
A: Barking is one of the most common issues dog owners have. This behavior is a very normal doggie behavior and is used to verbally communicate both to you and other dogs, so to expect a dog never to bark isn't a realistic training goal. However repetitive or excessive, nuisance barking can be a problem. To develop a successful behavior modification program, you should first determine the motivation (or the why) for the barking behavior.
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons and the training plan will be different depending on the reason. It sounds like your poodle may be Alarm Barking, meaning : your dog barks at every noise and sight regardless of the context.
In this particular case, I would teach an alternate behavior. Another way of looking at it is that our dogs need jobs (especially smarty-pants poodles!). If they don't have a job to do, they create one for themselves. So in this case, an okay job is to bark when the doorbell rings, but not when the dishwasher door is being opened. The alternate behavior I would focus on is either a Leave It or Go to your Spot and then a Down/Stay. Both cues will redirect your dog so they know that their job is not to bark in that particular circumstance.
Q: I have a female, three-year-old, rescued Pyrenees mix who I am worried isn't getting enough stimulation throughout the day. She has no interest in toys or chewing bones. She might hold the toy in her mouth for a few seconds or try to chew a bone for a minute but quickly loses interest. She'll wrestle with my boyfriend for a few minutes at a time once or twice a day but then stop and try to get him to pet her. She genuinely just seems to want to cuddle all of the time. I'm worried that she must be bored out of her mind when we're not home to snuggle. Should I be concerned or just accept I have a 65-lb lap dog and relax?
A: Mental stimulation is something I advocate for ALL dog owners. I'm a huge proponent of feeding only from puzzle toys like the Kong Wobbler or Premier Kibble Nibble. I haven't seen a dog yet that doesn't enjoy working for their food.
I commend you for trying to get her interested in bones and toys. Since she doesn't chew much, I would double check with your vet to make sure that her teeth are not causing pain for any reason. One trick to make chew items even yummier is to soak them in chicken broth. I also give my dog raw marrow bones, mostly beef and lamb. Raw bones are more porous and easier to consume. Cooked bones are more likely to splinter. I'm also a big fan of the Kong and making layered "parfaits" for dogs. I often use peanut butter, yogurt, applesauce, canned pumpkin, or canned food and layer that with my dog's kibble. I'll freeze it to make it take longer to work through.
Of course training is a key piece of mental stimulation as well. It's important to teach our dogs new activities. I love introducing tricks, and Kyra Sundance's book 101 Dog Tricks is a great intro to trick training.
Q: Our dog is a rescue whom we got as an adult. He knew and has learned all sorts of things, but left to his own devices, he's inclined to run away. Are there some dogs that can never be trusted off-lead? I'd love to take him hiking with me, but he's already lost one home, and we don't want there to be a second.
A: I will be honest with you and say that I don't trust my own dog off-leash. I swear she's a hound trapped in a Newfoundland's body! When she starts tracking a scent, nothing else exists in the world. And this is a behavior I've worked on with her since adopting her 18 months ago. I would absolutely continue to work on recall skills with your dog, but I don't know that he can safely be off-leash in all situations.
Hiking is a wonderful activity to do with your dog, so I encourage you still to partake in the activity by using a long line. We recently discovered a fantastic company that makes synthetic long lines that we highly recommend -- you can find them at www.palominelines.com.
Q: I am wondering what I can do to help my dog before my baby arrives. My dog is 5 years old and has had all of the attention in the household. How do I teach her that she has her own toys, that this new little person is not a dog or danger. My dog is a little nervous around small kids especially if they get excited. She also dislikes anything on wheels. I want to start working with her now months in advance in hopes that things are little easier on her when the baby comes home.
A: It's fantastic that you want to start working on this now. Drop It, Leave It, Go to Bed, and Down/Stay will be important cues for your dog to know. I typically try to place a dog bed right outside of the nursery and heavily reinforce the dog in this position. I would also desensitize her to the sounds babies make by playing videos or mp3's of crying noises while she's eating her food. The goal is to associate something positive (her food) with something that makes her a little nervous (baby crying). It will also be important to desensitize her to all of the baby gear. Set the car seat and stroller in different parts of the house and let her investigate them on her own. Gradually build up to moving these items around. Good luck and congratulations!