Teach Your Dog to Enjoy Alone Time

Dear Poncho,

Our dog Tessa is a wonderful addition to our family. She’s smart, lovable, and very obedient. Our only problem is leaving her alone. She cries, barks, and shreds her bed in the crate. If we leave her in the backyard, she chews at our fences, although eventually she settles down. She has also destroyed my car’s door panels when I’ve left her in there for even short periods of time (with open windows, in the shade, and with water, of course).

We don’t know what to do about her complete agitation when she is away from us, and I don’t have time for long and intense training. Please help!

Thank you,
Cara

Dear Miss Cara,

Sounds like your assessment of Tessa’s behavior is right on track: she’s agitated when left alone, as opposed to being bored or angry. I can totally empathize, because I used to dread spending time alone. Now though, after my folks helped me out, I have the confidence to do so, and actually look forward to it. Sure, it’s great being a mama’s (and daddy’s) boy, but frankly I need a break now and then. Allow me to provide my pooch’s perspective. Continue Reading “Teach Your Dog to Enjoy Alone Time”

How to Get Your Dog to Answer Your Call

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I like to take my dog to the park to let him play off-leash. However, I’m finding it more difficult because when it’s time to go back home, it takes me too long to get him to come back to me. I never know how long the whole ordeal will take.

In addition, he sometimes runs off so far that I can’t see him. Or, he ends up shimmying under a fence and is off exploring somewhere. I’m afraid he will run onto the street and get hit by a car. Can you help?

Owner of a wandering woofer

Dear Wandering,

Sounds like your dog is a proficient explorer of the great outdoors. Although we’re sure that you appreciate that trait, we can understand that his “selective hearing” can be frustrating, especially when you need to leave. Fortunately, we can help! Just by following a few “coming when called” guidelines, performing some pre-event practice sessions, and  supplying a side-order of environmental management, you’re sure to make everyone happy while staying on schedule.

Set a Course for Action and Adventure

When it comes to calling your dog to you, especially in a stimulating outdoor environment, keep in mind that you’re asking him to stop what he’s doing and leave the amusement park. For him, this means that the fun is ending. Talk about punishment! To entice him away, you’ll need to promise a much more attractive alternative to what he’s doing at the moment so he’ll want to come to you no matter what. The following guidelines provide dog training tips sure to encourage your dog to “take your call”: Continue Reading “How to Get Your Dog to Answer Your Call”

House Training Tips for Dog Who is One Potty Girl

Dear Poncho,

Could you tell me why my 13-year-old lab, who has never had an accident in my house, will sometimes discreetly pee in my parents’ house when she’s there? Help!

Cheers!
Deena

Dear Miss Deena,

Been there myself. And I must say, when you aren’t given a heads-up on the rules, then you just go with the flow. Unfortunately, in this case the flow is on your parents’ living room floor. Bummer. Allow me to give you the help you’re asking for.

Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animal!

Unless we’ve been taught otherwise, we dogs eliminate when we feel the need, no matter where or when. And, similar to you humans, we have preferences as to where we prefer to do the deed. Two main triggers that get us going are surface texture and scent. The feel of dirt or grass can be appealing to one dog but not another. This goes for tile and/or cement. And wet grass? Hah! Fahgettaboudit! Do you like a wet toilet seat?

As for scent, again each dog has his or her own favorites. You may have your “31 flavors”, but for us the entire world is one giant perfume counter. Observing one of our buddy’s go potty, wanting to update our status by “marking” territory, and previous learning are a few other reasons we’d get the urge. So be mindful of any smells and surfaces that might be sending a mixed message. Continue Reading “House Training Tips for Dog Who is One Potty Girl”

Real Simple Dog Training Steps to Make Life Easier on Dogs and Dog Owners

Poncho and Mama New Years Day 2012When it comes to dog behavior and training, it’s common for many to lose sight of the bigger picture of how great our dogs are. In general people tend to focus on the irritating things their dog does, even though these are often the behaviors that drew them to their pooches in the first place.

As a professional dog trainer I like to remind dog training students that for every day life, keeping it simple and focusing on the positive can help guide your training, as well as enhance the relationship you have with your dog. There’s a time and place for structured action plans, but for the overall, ongoing, every day stuff I suggest a few of the following:

  • Keep a more optimistic and positive outlook on your dog’s behavior. These are key elements in teaching and shaping their behavior.
  • Focus in on and reward the behaviors you like and want. This results in getting more of the desired behaviors, and less of the unwanted ones. Similar to us, our dogs can never be thanked too much, for the little things.
  • Visualize what you want from your dog, so you know what to teach them. This will help you look at your dog with a more positive attitude, and not the negative. Continue Reading “Real Simple Dog Training Steps to Make Life Easier on Dogs and Dog Owners”

Dog Training Basics to Prevent Fido From Being Left Out of the Group

Dear Poncho,

Help! We’ve had family staying with us all weekend, and our dog, Wiley, has had a hard time behaving. At the family’s request, when we go outside, we have to put him inside, in his crate. That’s because if we let him out when we go out to play, he jumps on and nips at us, the extended family, neighbors, the gardener and anyone else stopping by for a visit. When we are inside, Wiley must be sent outside in the yard.

Wiley is part of our family, and I want him to blend in and be able to play with us. When we try to ignore him by turning away, he jumps on our backs and also continues to nip. We just can’t have him doing that, especially to my 85-year-old dad or our 2-year-old granddaughter. We’ve tried lots of praise when he sits and we pet him, but then he jumps and nips. I hope you have some suggestions for us — we’re so frustrated, we’re happy to try anything you suggest!

Ellen (Wiley’s mom)

Dear Miss Ellen,

Sounds like Wiley is living up to his name — skilled and clever at getting what he wants. I’d be happy to offer some tips on how you can help your own inquisitive canine become part of the group, not left out in the cold.

Let’s talk about dogs and a few of the general behavior traits we possess: jumping to greet, having enormous amounts of energy (especially when we’re young or haven’t burned off the excess energy), using our mouths to explore the world, wanting attention (positive or negative), preferring to be around people than alone and always game for a good time.

Hmm, yep, sounds like Wiley is a full-blown canine extraordinaire! My first tip is to understand these characteristics and appreciate Wiley for who he is — a dog who loves people of all ages and wants to spend time with his family.

Continue Reading “Dog Training Basics to Prevent Fido From Being Left Out of the Group”

Home Alone Needn’t Equal Lonely for Inquisitive Canines

Dear Inquisitive Pet Parents,

As we head into the fall season and get back to our usual routines with school and work, it’s not uncommon for dogs to develop behavioral issues. Why? Because they go from being around us humans all of the time to suddenly being home alone.

In fact, most people think of the “dog days” as being the hottest days of the year, but I like to define that phrase as the ideal time of year for dogs — when they get loads of added companionship from house guests, from getting to participate in family vacations and outings, and from having the kids and parents at home more throughout the day! I’m sure you can see why it’s a tough adjustment for canines to go from basking in all that extra attention to waiting all day for the sound of the keys in the front door.

Whether you’re a seasoned dog guardian who’s coming off lots of togetherness time with your canine family member, or you’ve taken advantage of the summer’s relaxed schedule to newly adopt a pup, the tips Poncho and I present below will help ensure a smooth transition for all this fall.

Canine Attention Deficit Disorder?

The pattern of going from the center of attention to complete independence can be rough on a dog (no pun intended). As a certified professional dog trainer, I all too often am contacted from dog guardians telling me their pup is destroying their home and property, or that they’ve received calls from neighbors reporting that their dog is barking and howling incessantly. These are responses to a sudden attention deficit: Some dogs end up bored, some become anxious and fearful, and others don’t really care. To help determine if your dog is bored or anxious, take this inquisitive canine quiz.

So before you place the cover back on the barbecue, Poncho and I would like to provide a few training tips to help your pooch make a smooth transition into your new routine.

Training Tips for Teaching Independence

Unless your dog is accustomed to being left alone for hours at a time, being apart from family — especially for long periods — can lead to behavioral issues like those mentioned above.

Whether you’re taking steps to prevent these problems from rearing their ugly head, or trying to fix an issue that has already started, the course of action is similar:

  • Determine what you want: What’s your ideal situation? To come and go whenever you want while your dog is relaxed at home enjoying some alone time? If so, you’ll want to start with being out of the house for shorter increments of time. Even just leaving the room for awhile, along with ignoring and/or being “boring” as you come and go can help dogs adapt to being alone. Boring is good! Continuous interaction leads to continuous dependence — not healthy for either canines or their guardians.
  • Determine what you expect from your dog: If your dog has never learned to be alone, you’ll definitely want to take steps to train him or her to do so. For those who work from home or are stay-at-home dog parents, think about teaching your dog to be independent through confidence-building activities and outings with others outside the immediate family. You’ll also want to consider crate or confinement training, conditioning your pup to feel comfortable in specific areas of your home.
  • Create a fulfilling environment: Enrichment activities — to motivate your dog to spend time on his or her own — should be used for delivering meals and for mental stimulation. Interactive food toys, scavenger hunts and chew bones are just a few ideas to help provide recreation for dogs. These outlets should be made available when others are home, and even more so when he or she is left alone. Creating an engaging environment helps with building self-confidence, gaining independence, and prevention and handling of boredom-related issues like redecorating the house with their jaws or landscaping the yard through digging. For additional tips on providing enrichment for your dog, check out these blog posts on enrichment.
  • Set up play-dates with others: Scheduling activities for your dog with people other than primary family members is a great way to not only help with independence, but also assist with socialization and expending energy! Asking outside family members, friends and/or neighbors to look after or even walk your dog can be fun for everyone involved. Other options include hiring a pet-sitter or dog-walker, or doggy daycare.
  • Plan and practice: Once you determine what it is you want for yourself and from your dog, you can arrange your dog’s environment to implement the new routine. Begin with integrating training steps into your dog’s daily agenda before your own schedule changes. This way, you’ll be able to concentrate on your dog’s needs, without being preoccupied with yours and that of other family members. Dress rehearsals are key in setting everyone up for success!

Home Alone Dos & Don’ts for Canines

  • DO engage in planning, environmental management and training to prevent your dog from developing behavioral issues due to being alone.
  • DON’T make a big fuss before leaving, nor for the first few minutes when coming home.
  • DO teach your dog to look forward to being left home alone by providing enrichment activities.
  • DON’T go from constant to zero interaction if your dog has never spent time on his or her own, especially for longer periods of time.
  • DO seek assistance from a qualified professional if your dog appears anxious when left alone.

Canine Caveat
Be mindful as to whether your dog appears anxious while you’re getting ready to leave or exhibits any of the following behaviors:

  • chewing and/or digging at doorways and windows within the first hour of being left;
  • not eating when left alone;
  • howling or barking throughout the day; or
  • eliminating in the house when he or she is already house-trained.

If any of the above behaviors occur, we recommend you speak with a certified professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate and help make the correct diagnosis and receive proper treatment.

Remember, dogs are social animals by nature. The transition period between current and post-summer vacations can be stressful on everyone. But you can still help your dog enjoy the last few dog days of summer, along with a new routine of self-sufficiency and enjoyment. All it takes is knowing what you want, realistic expectations, a little patience and some dress rehearsals.

How to Play Matchmaker, Introducing New Dog to Resident Dog

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

Several years ago, I brought a new puppy into the family “to keep my older dog company.” The older dog was a male Yorkie, and the puppy was a female Cockapoo. I intentionally bought a female because I knew that the male was territorial and thought he wouldn’t be threatened by a female. Wrong!

I fed them separately. I gave lots of attention to the older dog, just as I always did. But I had to keep them apart because they fought constantly. It wasn’t “play fighting,” it was vicious biting, snarling, and turned out to be a disaster. It was a terrible two years.

The Yorkie passed away a few years ago from cancer. I’d love another dog in my family, along with the Cockapoo who is now four years old, but the last experience was so terrible, I’m afraid.

What should I do? What is the best way to introduce a new puppy into a family with another dog?

KG

Dear KG,

What a devastating experience for you and your dogs. It’s a shame the situation didn’t work out as you had intended. I’m also sorry to hear about the passing of your Yorkie. Although it’s been awhile, I’m sure there’s still an emptiness in both your heart and home.

As a certified pet dog trainer , I’ve helped many clients assimilate new pets into their existing families. And when it comes to bringing a new dog into a home with a resident dog, first impressions are key!

You’ll want to concentrate on creating a situation where both dogs are enjoying themselves, each other’s company, and the overall situation, which in turn leaves them wanting more…of each other! As opposed to a disaster where they end up never wanting to see each other ever again.

I often say, it’s best to have your own dog choose their new “sibling,” as opposed to just “setting them up.” Therefore, when determining which dog would be a good choice as the second dog, it’s best to “ask” your resident dog – or at least, take into consideration your dog’s likes and dislikes.

Ask yourself, does my household dog:

  • Like other dogs? If not, then do you really want to push this relationship? Maybe he or she likes to hang out with cats instead.
  • Have lots of doggy playmates? Just a couple? None at all? If it’s the former, this gives you more choices. If it’s the latter, again do you want to spend the time training your dog to like other dogs? Our domestic dogs adapt much more easily than us human-folk do. You might just need to be pickier when finding that perfect match.
  • Like a particular type of other dog? Breed? Size? Gender? Age? Consider the potential pros and cons of bringing a puppy into a home with a senior dog versus bringing home a dog who is closer in age, temperament, and play style to the resident dog. If I were setting up a friend on a date, I would choose someone they would find interesting and want to hang out with – not someone that was completely opposite in every way.

After narrowing down the best possible choice for you, your dog, and the rest of the household, you’ll want to take proper steps to help ensure a successful encounter:

  • Be a cheerleader! It’s all about creating pleasant associations for both dogs. Use your happiest voice, praising both dogs, cheering them on about how exciting the situation is that they’re both around each other. You can also use yummy treats, rewarding any behavior you like. Not only are behaviors reinforced, but both dogs will start to associate great things with one another. “Hmm, whenever that other dog is around, great things happen for me. I can’t wait to have that other dog around again!” 
  • Location-location-location: Provide a safe, non-threatening, neutral location where both dogs are most comfortable. An area where your own dog has a history of fun times meeting and playing with other dogs would be a good choice. At the very least, have it be any area where both dogs have room to move around, and where there would be less risk of any type of “territorial guarding.”
  • Keep it “loose”: If dogs are on leash, do all you can to keep the leashes loose. Tension on the leashes can increase tense behaviors. Avoid other methods of restraint such as holding one dog while the other dog investigates. Dogs communicate through body language. If you keep one from communicating, messages can get misconstrued. Watch your own behavior. Keep a happy tone and posture. This helps relay to both dogs that all is right with the world. “Hmm, whenever she has that look on her face, good things happen for me.”
  • Allow dogs to be dogs: Have the dogs set the pace regarding wanting to meet, sniff, and play. Learn to recognize what dog play is and what is appropriate. Encourage and reward desired behaviors, but don’t force the issue. Better to take it slow, with multiple pleasant meetings, allowing for a relationship to form naturally, versus forcing them to like each other. Think of it in human terms: arranged marriage as opposed to meeting someone at a social gathering, hitting it off and wanting to see each other again.
  • Allow both dogs to display customary canine greeting skills: including sniffing both ends, and performing the ‘circle-dance.’ Avoid any type of punishment if part of “greeting” appears more like conflict – low growls, a snark or two. This is part of normal canine greeting, where dogs assess one another, determining where each one fits within their canine social scene. Just like us humans forming a “chain of command” in group environments, dogs will do the same. Allow for dogs to communicate to each other what the best “pecking order” is for them. It could be either one, and it could change depending upon the situation.
  • Prevent disasters: You’ll want to watch carefully for any type of threatening postures that could escalate into a fight – stiff body, tense face and mouth, raised hair on their back, growls, snarling, hard stares, T-ing over (one dog places chin/neck over other dogs neck/shoulders, which other dog does not tolerate). If this does happen, intervene by calling their names, creating a ‘startling’ noise to interrupt their behavior (clapping loudly, banging two pots together), and luring them away from each other. Ask them to do something more engaging with the humans instead of provoking one another.
  • Maintain a happy home: Once you bring the second dog into your home to stay, make sure you (and other humans) continue to supervise interactions for at least a few weeks before leaving the dogs on their own. You’ll want to:
  • Continue to encourage and reward desired behaviors of both dogs.
  • Maintain your resident dog’s regular routine, as much as possible.
  • Provide individual attention for both.
  • Continue to allow dogs to set the pace of their own relationship, establishing their own canine boundaries.

Just like us humans not wanting to be friends with every other human we meet, dogs don’t necessarily get along with, or enjoy the company of every dog they meet either. It’s unfair for us to assume that just because they’re dogs, they should like every dog they meet.

Sometimes it’s best to decide what is best based upon the dog’s wishes and desires, not the human’s, especially when it’s the resident dog who is the one spending the majority of the time with the new pup.


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.

Dog Bully Behavior: How to help protect your dog from getting picked on

I recently answered a question about”dog play” for our syndicated dog behavior advice column Dear Inquisitive Canine. “Anxious in Austin” has a Cocker Spaniel who seems to be terrorized by the neighbor’s “nightmare of a Pomeranian”. When situations like this arise, it is important to be able to recognize appropriate dog play…

Venture to any off-leash dog arena and these are the types of behaviors you’ll likely see being displayed: 

  • dogs chasing after other dogs
  • dogs being chased
  • mouthing
  • nipping
  • tugging
  • chest banging
  • pinning
  • wrestling
  • rolling
  • mounting

But when it’s “play,” it’s reciprocal and consensual! Those are a couple key factors! Reciprocal and consensual! Other notable elements of proper play are:

  • Big, inefficient movements amongst all involved. Think Three Stooges versus Muhammad Ali.
  • Self-interruption: One dog will stop for a second or two to take a break, others follow by taking a break as well.
  • Good “listening” skills: If one dog no longer wants to play, they will communicate as such, and the other dog will comply and go in search of another playmate.

When dogs aren’t exhibiting healthy dog play behaviors, there are several things you, as a responsibly aware dog guardian can do.

The goal: to help your dog build trust and self-confidence. You can easily do this by rewarding your dog for being brave. EX: your dog looks at, approaches gently, or investigates another dog, he or she gets a yummy food reward, and lots of “cheer-leading happy talk”. You can also reward with food and praise if another dog approaches your dog to say “Hi!”. This is similar to encouraging young children to make new friends. As humans we use encouraging verbal language and praise to help children deal with shyness and novel experiences. We can do the same for our pet dogs too. Through food, your dog learns to trust, while making positive associations with other dogs they meet.

Additional techniques that may come in handy:

  • Manage your environment or “avoid” if necessary: This is for when you don’t have the right kind of rewards handy, you don’t have the time to train, or you just don’t feel like dealing with the situation.
  • Come up with your best “spin”: “I’m so sorry, I’m running late today and don’t have time to stop. How about another time?” “Oh geez, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve only got a couple of minutes to get my dog exercise, so I’m gonna have to take a rain check. Thanks though!”
  • And with the convenience of modern gadgets, you can always be tied up on the phone, or even pretend to be on the phone – just make sure the ringers off so you don’t get a call while you’re faking it. I know, it’s a white lie, not very ethical. But hey, you’re doing it to protect your family and your sanity!
  • In the case with “Austin”, maintain a friendly relationship between you and your neighbor: You can use some of the same techniques with your neighbor’s dog too. Bring a basket of muffins for your neighbor, and treats for both dogs. You can reward the Pom for being nice towards your dog, while continuing the treat plan with your Cocker. If the Pom begins to “act up” the rewards stop, and you suddenly remember you have to leave. You can also explain to your neighbor that you’re trying to help your dog overcome her shyness. Many people love to help and feel needed, so it’s a good time to fill her in on your plan and ask for assistance.
  • Dog Training Services: Even for dogs that are already trained, getting into classes helps build up or maintain trained skills, but also helps to keep dogs socialized. Sometimes classes are the only time dogs get to be around other dogs.

It’s important to be consistent when helping your dog learn to successfully conquer difficult situations. With a little patience, understanding, and time, even the shyest of dogs can make new friends, eventually leading to lots of play-dates!