Trish McMillan, Senior Manager of Animal BehaviorOctober 19, 2007
What makes your dog tick? (Besides ticks.) Why does he behave like, well, a dog? You had lots of questions about your canine’s crazy behavior. Joining us with answers was Trish McMillan, ASPCA Senior Manager, Animal Behavior. Trish was on hand to explain what to do when your pooch is a troublemaker or does sillyand funny!dog-like things.
Hi Trish, it's nice to talk to you. I have a two-year-old English springer spaniel, whom we are trying to teach the command "come." She was doing really well at it until fall started and all those neat smells came out. Now we when we tell her to come, she totally ignores us or doesn't come until we end up screaming. Any advice? We used positive reinforcement to train her and used training treats. It's just not working. Thanks for the help.
Ah yes, spaniels. Great noses on those dogs! It sounds like she's learning that "come" doesn't mean anything if smells are around, so I'd start by teaching her a new word, maybe "here." Do it the same way, with super-scrumptious treats (something she gets at no other time, maybe cheese or liverwurst), starting indoors with no distractions.
Next, start adding in distractions. Have someone hold a treat in a closed hand and call her away from that. Then have someone hold a toy, and call her off that (don't let her get the distractions!)
I'd also keep her on a long line, and if she doesn't listen, just reel her in like a fish, so she'll learn that the new word is not negotiable. If she is not on a leash and you've said "here," you must go get her. This is a command that can save your dog's life, so you'll want it to be extremely reliable before you think about not rewarding every single one. (Yes, I even reward the dog if I have to reel him in, especially during the learning stages!)
And just remember, winter's on its way and there will be fewer distractions once everything's frozen (hmm, I'm assuming you're from the North, like me!).
One of our dogs is constantly licking everything. She licks the floors, the carpet, the cupboards, usyou get the idea. I thought it could be OCD, but if so, how do I correct this, and why is she doing it?
Dogs can have compulsive-type behaviors, and I've met dogs with this type of licking. This is the sort of thing that might need a veterinary behaviorist and medication to correct.
In the meantime you could try increasing her aerobic exercise (I think all dogs should run until their tongues hang out at least once a dayand some need a lot more!). You could also give her other outlets for her oral fixation, like feeding her all her meals in stuffed Kongs (you can even mix dry and wet food together and freeze it to make them last longer).
My one-year-old black Lab keeps barking at me when he gets mad at something. When he gets excited, especially outside, he will start running around, and then lunge at me over and over. He nips at me while doing this as well. I finally just walk away from him, but I don't think he understands that he was doing wrong. What can I do?
This is not terribly uncommon behavior from an untrained adolescent Lab. Have you taken him to obedience classes? Once he knows how to sit, down, stay and come on command, you'll find you have tools to ask him to do something other than bark and nip.
When dogs demand-bark at me, I just pretend my doggy translator got scrambled, and give them the opposite of what they want. "Oh, barking at me while I'm eating? That means you want to go sit in the bathroom by yourself." Then I march the dog to the bathroom for a 30-second time out. If they do it again, the time out will be a few minutes. If they do it a third time they're going to their crate for a nap. (Hey, no one barks at me while I'm eating!)
For the lunging and nipping, why not channel all that energy into a useful pursuit? A young Lab like yours should get at least an hour of aerobic exercise each day. Playing fetch using two balls (don't throw the second one until he drops the first one) is usually something Labs love. Swimming is great if the weather suits. Other options include getting an attachment for your bike and teaching the dog to run beside the bike, or taking him to the dog park.
If he still has the energy to grab you, do the "scrambled doggy translator" thing with this as well. Keep a leash or long line on him in the yard. If he nips at you, say "too bad" (on the first one) and march him to a time-out area. Three strikes, you're outsame as the barking.
But get that dog some training, too!
My dog, Cheba, is ten years old. When I am home, no one can leave the house without her barking and chasing them out the door aggressively. When I am not here she doesn’t act like that at all. Do you know why?
No, I can't get into a dog's head to know why they do all the wild and wonderful things they do. I tend to take a more objective approach. A. What is the dog doing? B. What would you like the dog to do instead? C. How do we get from A to B?
You have three choices here:
(My favorite) The fancy training approach: Teach Cheba to go to a place and hold a stay, then work up to having her hold it as you add more and more distractions, finally having her hold a stay as someone leaves the house. If you're not good at training, you may want to get a trainer to show you how to work through these steps.
Manage the behavior (certainly you'll need to do this while working on 1). Put Cheba in another room with a delicious chewy like a food-stuffed Kong toy while your visitors leave.
Teach Cheba that people leaving means delicious treats will rain down from the sky (or her favorite toy will be thrown) by having this happen over and over as people leave. If she's too wound up to take treats, or if she doesn't have a toy that's more fun than chasing people out of the house, this will not work.
Good luck! Old dogs certainly can learn new tricks, so give these a try!
I would like to know how I can stop my two-year-old golden retriever from jumping on people as they come into the house.
Ah, goldens are such enthusiastic greeters! Fortunately, they're also usually really food-motivated and very fast learners, so this is relatively easy to fix. Taking him to a basic obedience class and teaching him some basic commands is a good place to start. I've never had anyone complain their dog was too well-trained, and most goldens love having work to do.
In the meantime, here's something you can do at the door if you have some willing friends (try bribing them with pizza and a movie. That works for mine!).
Put dog on leash. Hold the dog firmly, far enough back from the door that his paws can't reach the person.
Have friend come to door. When she comes in, the moment your dog's paws are off the ground, have the friend turn around and leave.
Repeat, asking dog to "sit." If paws come up, leave again.
After 5-20 repetitions of this (usually closer to 5) the dog will just give up and remain sitting. Yay! Have your friend give the dog a treat.
Repeat until dog is sitting politely for treats every time the friend enters.
Try this with a different friend.
It will take fewer reps with each new person, until your dog is politely playing the "sit" game with everyone who comes to the door!
I have a six-year-old old pure mutt, Bella-Luna. I think her two top breeds are pit and Lab. She loves everyone, but one time, when I was having some friends over for my 17th birthday (four years ago, when she was only two), she barked and wasn't wagging her tail when one of my friends came in. She kept barking and wouldn't stop. My friend went down to her level, and was very calm, but for some reason, this was the only one of my friends she did not like. Do you have any idea why she picked one person whom she didn't like?
Unfortunately, I don't have the ability to get into an animal's head and know why they pick the friends they do (I wonder this about people, too, sometimes!).
I've met dogs who were fearful of people wearing hats, people with beards, people who smell of alcoholtheir world is pretty different from ours, and sometimes things that seem very normal to us are very weird to them.
Dogs reach social maturity between 18 and 36 months or so, and this is not an unusual time for them to begin making their own decisions about things.
You did the right thing having your friend get less scaryhaving that person provide special toys or treats might also help her get over this reaction if it happens again. But if it hasn't happened in the last four years, it's very likely it was a one-time event.
I have a rescue dog, Tango, who is always trying to "escape." He loves his new home life, but I can't even let him be in the backyard unsupervised or he’ll digs out under the fence or find a hole to squeeze through. Is it possible he is still trying to get "home," or are some dogs just given to wanderlust?
Hey, the desire to roam is a reason many dogs become stray in the first place! Again, I don't think it's that important to understand the reason dogs are behaving the way they do. It's more important to figure out how to change the behavior to keep them safe. Whether your dog is trying to escape to meet new friends, run the roads or find his old home, the important thing is to keep him safe. Neutering often helps with wanderlust, but I'm assuming that if your dog came from a rescue this has already been done. Sounds like he's found himself a good home!
Hi, Trish. We have had a West Highland white terrier for many years, and she is very special to my family. About a year ago, we adopted a baby boy cockapoo, who is very hyper and active. Nowadays, my Westie seems very slow, and doesn't want to run around. It’s difficult getting her to simply go outside.
What is going on with my girl? Is all this behavior just because she is getting old? Does the new puppy have anything to do with this? Please help! Thank you so much in advance!
It may be worth getting your Westie checked out by a vet and see if any aches, pains or other chronic conditions are adding to her lethargy. Some older dogs become more playful when a puppy is added to the mix, but unfortunately a puppy can't cure old age!
Personally, I like to have about five years between my dogs, so I have a middle-aged dog to run interference between the puppy and the senior if need be!
After being in my apartment for three months, my two-year-old English springer spaniel started having accidents inside (just urinating.) It was once a day for four days and now it's stopped. The first day it happened we think he was scared that he was in trouble. The second day we had a family member's dog over (one he had never met before; we had never had another dog in our apartment, and he has never had a doggy playmate other than the two older sisters with whom he grew up). The third and fourth days were just random urinating. And they were puddles, not just dribbles. Was this because there was another dog in his home? Does this mean we can't get another dog?
Hmm. Any time there's a behavior change in an adult dog, I like to get him checked out by a vet. Certainly dribbles are more likely a sign of a bladder infection than are puddles, but it's worth ruling out physical causes first.
It seems there have been a lot of changes in this dog's life lately and perhaps he's just a sensitive sort and this makes his bladder a little more active. Lots of dogs are more likely to urinate when they've been running around playing.
If he's leaving big puddles, perhaps just taking him out more often will help (especially if you know a dog friend is coming over).
If there is no medical cause for an adult dog's housetraining lapses, I'll usually just tighten things up a bit, treat him a little more like a puppymore supervision, baby gate him in the kitchen when I'm away, more frequent walks, maybe even start giving treats for elimination on walksuntil his schedule's back to normal. Hope this helps!
I live in an area full of families with young children. When I walk my dog, Archie, all the kids come up and want to pet him. The hair on the back of his neck stands up and he starts barking and lunging (although he barks at strangers, it is only with young children that he exhibits this aggressive behavior). I am worried that if a child gets too close, he might bite. How do I make walking my dog safe for Archie and the neighborhood children?
Aggression toward children is a very serious problem and really outside the scope of an online chat forum. I highly recommend getting a good trainer or behaviorist in to work with you and your dog. Do not let children pet him in the meantime. Walk in child-free areas and at child-free times.
You may also consider fitting him with a Gentle Leader head collar so that you can keep control of his mouth.
Here are some resources for finding a certified trainer or behaviorist in your area:
Public Directory of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists: Dec 2006
List of Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)
My dog has a tendency to growl at me while I'm in my bed, and he scares me because he doesn't growl in a playful manner. It's like he’s ready to bite me. He actually bit me one night while I was sleepingI moved my leg and he nipped my foot. How do I change this behavior? Thank you!
If a dog growls at me over furniture, I do two things:
Do not allow him access to the furniture until this problem is dealt with (keep a leash on and physically remove dog in an unemotional manner, cover furniture with upside-down carpet runners so it's pointy and uncomfortable, crate dog at night).
Teach the dog to happily get off furniture on cue. Say "off" and toss a treat on the floor. Then start saying "off" and don't toss the treat until he's on the floor.
General obedience training and a "Nothing in Life is Free" program are also good additions for dogs like him.
We adopted a three-year-old beagle, Jericho, this year. He is a such a blessing and we love him so much. He does, however, suffer from separation anxiety. I have never heard of thisour vet gave us this diagnosis. I do not want him on medication. I work at home, so I am sure that does not help, and he has already destroyed two sets of blinds just because I went to answer a door or throw out the trash. We really do not want to crate train him for this, as I read this can actually make the situation worse. I am trying gradual methods, such as picking up my keys and then when he settles down advancing to the door, etc., but I am unable to advance past the door without him getting very upset. We really do not know much about his upbringing as the rescue got him from a shelter. He has been debarked (kind of a heads up of what he has been through), and is a bit aggressive. However, I am finding this "loving" method of teaching him manners is not working. We have no kids, so it is just my husband, myself and Jericho. Any advice you have for us is greatly appreciated. Trish, thank you for your time and help.
I've met a lot of beagles with problems like Jericho'sI wonder if because they were bred to run in big packs, they might suffer more than more aloof dogs when left alone.
I absolutely agree with your vet that your dog would benefit from medication. I don't understand why so many people are nervous about medicating animals who are clearly suffering. Sometimes I ask people to imagine if it was their brother or child exhibiting this behavior, would you be more okay with giving them a little something to help them through this issue? Why not offer poor Jericho the same comfort?
The other thing to think about isif it's going to take you six months to work through the separation anxiety program without meds, while it might take you half that time if you can just chemically prevent the dog from having panic attacks while alone, why not see if meds can put this behavior modification on the fast track and prevent the dog those months of suffering?
It sounds like you're doing the right things, and I agree that sometimes crating makes these dogs worse, but having a "safe place" of some sort is often very comforting. Do you have Patricia McConnell's booklet, I'll be home soon? It's a fantastic resource.
I also highly recommend getting a trainer to help you in person with this, especially since you say there are aggression issues as well. Go to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers for a Certified Professional Dog Trainer or to CAAB Directory of the Animal Behavior Society for a certified applied animal behaviorist.
Good luck with Jericho. It sounds like he chose himself a very dedicated new family!
I'm a college student and was curious what courses (and major) I would have to pursue in order to become an animal behaviorist. Anything you can offer would be great! (So far my advisors have told me to pursue vet studies. Is there more to it?)
While vet school is an honorable pursuit, and can lead to the career of veterinary behaviorist, there are many other branches of the animal behavior world.
I generally recommend people start by learning to train dogs well on their own, through apprenticeships, volunteering at shelters, training their own dogs, joining APDT or taking CCPDT certification. Having all the academic credentials in the world doesn't help if you don't know how to hold a leash!
Then take some learning, ethology and animal behavior courses at your local university. These may be offered through the psychology or biology departments (and some universities are now offering “biopsychology” as a subject). Volunteering with university researchers is another great way to learn how science works and see if academia is truly the route you wish to pursue.
There are not that many graduate degrees offered in animal behavior in North America, and, confusingly, they may be offered under different names: biology, ethology, zoology, psychology, behavior analysis or cognition. It’s worth taking classes in each area to see which one interests you most. The ABS website has a listing of national and international programs: ABS Guides and Bulletins.
I understand there's a new Master's program starting in Urbana, IL, under the guidance of the ASPCA’s Dr. Pamela Reid.
Good luck with your studies! It's a fascinating field. I wish I'd known it existed earlier on in my career (my degree is a Master of Science in Animal Behavior from the University of Exeter, but I didn't finish the degree until I was in my 30s!).
We don’t see many joggers. So when a gentleman came jogging toward us this morning, our dog’s tail went between her legs and she barked as he was running. What gives, and how do we change that?
This is a really common problem for us here in NYC! With a dog who is barking because she’s fearful, it usually helps to set her up with her trigger, starting at a distance that's far away, and pair the trigger with either just treats or a command that will be rewarded by treats (or a toy, if your dog's more toy-motivated.)
Here's what it looks like:
Jogger appears, half a block away. As soon as your dog notices the jogger, ask her for a sit (or a watch, or a hand-touch) and reward her with her favorite thing in the world cheese, liverwurst, a game of tug, etc.
Repeat a few times until she's seeing the jogger and instantly sitting/watching.
Then have the jogger run by a little closer.
If your dog barks, you're going too fast. Most people who are not professional trainers do this kind of work way too quickly. If the dog is fine with a jogger a block away, the next step is not to have him right by you very close!
Repeated, slower reps are better with this kind of behavior modification. Getting a trainer to help with the setups is often a good idea.
Our six-month-old neutered dog, Tucker, puts everything in his mouth and eats it if possible. I realize puppies are like babies and that's how they learn, but it's to the point that if it's not tied down, he'll probably grab it. This includes dirt in potted plants, natural items (twigs, leaves, etc.) and garbage he finds on the ground or in the grass, pen caps, plastic wrappers from sliced cheesethe list goes on. So far, I've just been opening his mouth and pulling out what I can. I haven't tried any verbal or physical punishment or correction up until this point. I would appreciate any suggestions! Thanks!
This is pretty normal puppy behaviortaking your puppy to class and teaching "leave it" and "drop it" commands are very helpful in curbing this behavior. It's also important to get your puppy some aerobic exercise every dayuse two balls to teach a retrieve (don't throw the second one until he drops the first one) and give him lots of "legal" outlets for his chewing, like bully sticks or food-stuffed Kong toys. Playing with other dogs is another great chew-and-energy burner!
I have a four-year-old pit bull, Stray. Two years ago, his companion, Duke, died. For two weeks he would hardly eat or drink anything. Since then, Stray has started showing signs of aggression towards dogs. I want to get another dog as a playmate for Stray but I am afraid that he won't accept her. Do you have any advice on how to get used to another dog in the house? Stray has been neutered since he was about six months old. He was never aggressive towards Duke. I really want to get him a playmate because he doesn't seem as happy as he used to. He does seem a little happier when our neighbor’s Rottweiler is in the yard next door. But he seems to want to attack him more than play.
It's not uncommon for pit bulls to become less friendly toward other dogs as they get older, though very often they're okay with dogs they grew up with. Many of them prefer to have all the people attention to themselves, so if your dog has spent two years with all the attention to himself, I'm not sure he really needs or wants a companion.
I'd need to know more about the type of aggression he's showing to know whether or not he might accept another dog friend. If he is grabbing and latching on to every dog he meets, and has sent dogs to the vet for repair, I'd say he doesn't need a dog friend. If he barks a bit while on leash, but plays nicely off-leash, he's a better candidate.
When looking for a companion for a dog, I advise people to get a dog of a similar size, but the opposite sex to the one they currently have. Matching two "pushy" dogs or two terrified dogs may exacerbate problems, but a more assertive companion will sometimes help a shy one out of his shell. Some dogs accept puppies better than adult dogs, and some can't stand puppies.
Allowing him to practice fence-fighting with the Rott next door may be increasing his dog aggression. I'd put a stop to this (bring him in if he charges the fence, or make the fence more opaque or harder to get to).
We have two seven-year-old German shepherds and live on a quiet, dead-end street. One of them (Lucy) will only leave the house if everyone is going, and even then, she pulls on the leash to go home. She's only happy if she can walk along off leash. She never runs away, but doesn't always keep up. Our neighbors aren't thrilled about an off-leash German shepherd. The only way to get Lucy to walk on leash is to drive away her from our neighborhood for the walk. What's up with that? Thanks!
Hi Lisa, I have no idea why Lucy doesn't like walkshave you had her since she was a puppy, and did you take her to puppy classes and socialize her well? Have you ever had a trainer come and check this out in person? What kind of walking equipment have you tried on her?
When she's on a leash, does she panic and try to back out of the collar or is she just gently pulling back toward the house? Does she seem fearful of noises in general or only while outside? Will she take treats when she's outside? Are there any toys she likes to play with outside?
In order to give more concrete advice, I'd have to know a lot more about this dogthis behavior could have many causes and solutions. All behavior can be improved, though, so this one might be worth getting a trainer out to help.