Author - Adrienne Farricelle

Q&A: How do I keep my dog from picking things out of the trash?

How do I keep my dog (a rescue) from picking things out of the trash. For example, we cleaned his ears and then threw the stuff in the small bathroom garbage pail. He was after it immediately! What’s the best way to teach him that garbage cans are off limits?

Thanks, Gail Isabel

Greetings Gail, and thank you for reaching out.

For dogs who raid the trash can there are 2 solutions: one involves management and the second involves training. Let’s look at the two options more closely.

First of all, let’s understand the behavior more closely. As a general rule of thumb, consider that behaviors in dogs that repeat and persist, have some form of reinforcement at play. If every time your dog raids the trash can he finds something enticing (from his perspective) contained within, he will be likely to visit it more and more. It’s sort of like shopping, if every time you shop at a store, you find great deals, you will be more likely to visit that store in the future. If the store though stops providing good deals, you will likely stop going there.

Dogs are sort of like toddlers, they tend to get in trouble if we leave them to access to a full kitchen with all its cabinets full of items that may look like toys. While stealing some cotton balls from an ear cleaning may not be much of a safety hazard, consider what may happen if there were bones, chocolate or chemicals in the trash. In bathroom trash cans consider that tampons, bottles of nail polish removers or boxes of hair dyes can cause big problems if a dog has access to them. Stopping a dog from raiding the trash can is therefore more of a safety measure than a training issue.

So this brings us to solution 1, the easiest solution of all: keep the trash can out of the way in a closed cupboard or closet, for instance, or invest in one that has a lid that doesn’t allow a dog to open,even if it is knocked down. There are several trash can models now on the market that are pretty much dog proof. But if you want to go 100 percent safe, keeping a trash can completely out of reach is the safest and most effective option of all. Out of sight, out of mind!

The second option which is training a dog not to raid the trash can. This option though comes with some flaws. It comes natural for many dog owners to want to punish the dog in the act, but by doing so there is a big risk factor: your dog may learn to not raid only when in your presence. So your dog will be more likely to sneak his way to the trash can when you are not looking, which is a big problem if there is something potentially harmful in the trash can.

On top of that, consider that scolding the dog for doing something that is instinctive (dogs are scavengers by nature) can make the dog owner appear unpredictable as dogs may not understand why their owners are unhappy. “Is my owner upset because I am eating? Because I just looked at him? Because I made the trash can fall? Because I am in the bathroom? Because I stopped eating? Because I am playing with a toilet roll? “

You see, when you are training a dog not to raid the trash can, you are dealing with strong competing stimuli. In other words, the trash can is inviting your dog, while you are telling your dog not to give in. Back to the shopping example, it’s as if somebody is telling a shop-aholic not to shop. So what is left to do? Unless you are there t oalways 24/7 monitor your dog, sometimes it takes a multi-model approach

Q&A: How to get my dog to stop being aggressive towards people and other dogs?

barkingI have an elderly dog (around 11 years), and she’s always been the kind of dog to do what she wants no matter what I say. I have tried everything I can think of. If I walk her she is constantly pulling on the leash, jumping towards people and either attacking or overwhelmingly jumping up on other dogs. I have tried making her lie down every time a dog passes with a stern “stay” or “no”. I should clarify that she is one of the few dogs that responds to “no” decently. Anyways, even when I’m holding her down, she continues to wiggle and try to get to the person/dog. I know I’m doing something wrong, because a dog really can’t be that bad.. So I was hoping you’d be able to help me out with ideas? ~Brooke

Greetings, and thank you for reaching out,

The most common problems owners face in training dogs are lack of consistency and giving up when things are starting to get better, even if it doesn’t look that way.. When this happens, this causes the bad behavior to resurface even stronger than before. It often starts like this: one day you decide to not let your dog pull on the leash, so you may make the leash shorter and perhaps even give a correction under the form of a leash pop every time your dogs pulls. (I am not an advocate for delivering leash pops, just making an example) You do this several times, then you notice that it’s not working because your dog is trying to pull more than before, so you give up or you may try something different. This is the most common scenario I encounter when people consult me and tell me that they have tried almost everything. There are two main problems occurring when this happens:

1) inconsistency makes behavior problems worse. So if 2 out of 10 attempts to pull, your dog gets to meet a dog, your dog will take advantage of that because trying to pull yields results. It’s sort of like playing the lottery, if you win every now and then, you’ll soon become addicted to playing.

2) the extinction burst phenomenon. It’s often easy to give up when something seems like it’s not working, when in reality it’s really starting to work , but it doesn’t look that way. To better understand this phenomenon, you must learn about extinction bursts. So let’s say your dog is pulling, you decide to stop your dog from pulling, but then your dog pulls more than before, why does this happen? It happens because your dog has pulled pretty much all her life, so after you start making a change, your dog will pull more than before because she has always been used to you allowing her to pull. It’s as if your dog was thinking “this is really odd, usually when I pull, my owners just follows and I get to meet another dogs, maybe I should try pulling even stronger than before.” For sake of a comparison, think of a child who cries at the store to get candy. Mom gives candy always to keep the child quiet.

The day mom doesn’t buy candy, what happens? The child starts screaming, throwing a fit. If mom stays strong and doesn’t give in, chances are eventually the child will learn to stop crying and asking candy. If mom gives in though, mom will have more problems than before and you’ll bet the candy-asking behavior will never stop and only get worse and worse. In dogs, the same thing happens. So keep in mind that behaviors with a history of reinforcement tend to get worse before they get better.

So the ultimate secret is to not give up when the behaviors worsens. If your dog has pretty much always done what she wants for all her life, and now you would try to make a change in that, consider that you will encounter resistance. Lots of it. But if you ignore the extinction burst and keep up with the rules, you will see results. Gradually, you will see less pulling mixed with some pulling still, but you will notice a difference. Keep it up and your training will yield results.

Here are a few tips I want to share with you on how to deal with this situation:

1) Invest in a no-pull harness that has a leash that attaches to a ring in the front.

2) Arm yourself with the tastiest treats

3) Start walking your dog in a quiet road first.

4) Stick to the rule that every time your dog pulls, you will stop in your tracks.

5) Call your dog back to your side, reward and resume walking.

6) Repeat over and over and over, until your dog gets the idea that pulling makes you stop and staying next to you makes you walk. To make it clear: a tense leash is your brake, a loose leash is your accelerator.

7) Only after your dog has attained enough improvement, may you introduce distractions such as other people or dogs.

8) I suggest that you look into “LAT, look at that training”, where every time your dog sees a person or dog she is fed tasty treats. There are some videos on You Tube depicting the exercise. Also is handy to teach your dog to do attention heeling as you walk by distractions.

9) Also look into keeping a “dog under threshold.” That means not exposing your dog to overwhelming situations where your dog cannot control herself. When you say you put your dog in a down, it sounds like your dog is too overwhelmed to be able to listen. You need to work at farther distances where the exercise is much easier.

10) Also, not sure what breed your dog is, but at 11 years old you may start seeing a bit of cognitive decline some dogs. Yes, you can train a dog new tricks and many elderly dogs can be trained, but consider that at this age, some dogs may be a bit slower to follow commands and they may have a harder time coping with certain situation, so the golden rule to be a splitter and not a lumper comes particularly handy here. Don’t ask too much at once, split your goals into smaller attainable steps and reward for compliance. I hope this helps!

Q&A: How to make my dog comfortable being alone?

I recently adopted a stray 10 year old shepard mix at the Humane Society. He is a wonderful boy but very clingy. He follows me from room to room and I have a small house and he is a big boy so he is literally always under foot. I did learn that his past he was mostly chained up outside and left to his own. He even will bark when outside on his lead to be let in. He doesn’t seem to want to be alone at all. How can I get him more comfortable so he doesn’t feel I need to be insight at all times? ~Carol Merten

Hello, and thank you for reaching out,

It’s wonderful to hear that you opened your heart and home to such a lovely dog. Sadly, not many senior dogs are adopted as many people are drawn to puppies. Senior dogs have so much to give and they offer the advantage of being calmer and their temperament is stable versus not knowing what you get with a puppy. Your dog sounds like he’s trying to adjust to his new environment. Many recently adopted dogs are clingy, especially during the first months. Some call this adjustment period: the “honey moon period.” They are trying to figure out their new routines and want to be on top of everything. You also mention he is a shepherd mix, and being part shepherd may also play a role in his behaviors. Shepherd dogs were selectively bred to work closely with their shepherds so they’re naturally predisposed to bond closely to their humans. On top of that, dogs who lost their owners, changed homes often or were surrendered in shelters often develop an over attachment because they have a strong need for stability. Not to mention, that sometimes dogs who are surrendered were given away because of separation anxiety, a condition that causes dogs to become anxious and even destructive when left alone. Here are a few suggestions for your “Velcro dog .”

Start with a Vet Exam

Since your dog is up in the years, I would first start with a vet visit. This is to just make sure everything is fine in the health department. Sometimes, senior dogs may be prone to some health issues that make them feel vulnerable so they want to stay as close as they can to their caregivers. Loss of eye sight and loss of hearing may cause a dog to want to stay close their caregivers because they depend on them to be their “eyes and ears.” It’s not uncommon for senior dogs to develop separation anxiety as they age because of this. Also, as some dogs age, they may also develop the first signs of canine cognitive dysfunction which can make them prone to becoming anxious when they’re separated from their family. Usually, though dog with a decline in cognitive function exhibit several other signs such as whining at night, aimless wandering, staring at objects etc.

Rewarding Brief Absences

Once medical reasons for clingy behaviors have been ruled out, you can then start implementing some behavior modification to get him adjusted to brief absences. Most likely, you will find that your dog likes to sleep near you or in contact with your feet. This is your dog’s way of monitoring you, so he knows when you are about to get up so he can get up and follow you too. Your dog may get up when you put your arm on an arm chair, put down the remote or a book or when you give any subtle indications that you’re about to get up. Here’s a game I play with clingy dogs that tend to follow me around. I call it “the destination no where” game. I start by repeatedly giving indications that I am getting up or about to get up but then I do not get up. I do this several times until the dog gives up responding to these signals as he learns that they are all “false alarms.” Then, I will get up and get the dog to follow me in circles aimlessly wandering around until he gets tired of doing that and then go back to my seat. After several times of doing this, I start rewarding the dog when he stays in his place despite me getting up. So I will get up, tell the dog to “stay” walk a distance and then come back and reward the dog with a treat or a piece of kibble. I do this several times, gradually increasing the distance I walk away each time. I then will give the dog a longer lasting treat such as a bully stick or stuffed Kong to get him occupied while I walk away to grab something. With time, your dog will learn that when you must walk away, great things happen. If you do this enough, he might even start looking forward to you getting up and leaving him briefly as it becomes a sign that he’ll be getting goodies!

For difficult cases, you may need to install a baby gate or some sort of barrier so he doesn’t’ follow you. Then, you would toss a treat and disappear for a second or two out of sight. Then once he’s done eating, you would toss another treat or two, disappear for a little bit and then repeat several times, gradually increasing the time you’re away of sight and using longer lasting treats. If your dog whines, barks during your brief absence, may sure you don’t come back or you’ll be rewarding those whining/barking behaviors! Wait for him to quiet down, even if for a second, before you come back. Reward silence with your presence. Your presence is a strong reinforcer so use it to your advantage to reward good behaviors.

Another great option is to feed your dog when you are momentarily away. Let him eat with his bowl at a distance from your chair where you’re sitting, then move your chair gradually farther and farther away, until he’s able to eat with you out of sight. In other words, you are always working on making all the goodies appear when you are a briefly away. Make sure you use high-value treats as they need to be able to distract him enough. You need to do this very gradually though. If you overwhelm him in the process, he may start associating the treats with you leaving the room and may no longer want them.

A great command to teach your dog is to “go to your mat.” This way your dog no longer sleeps by your feet controlling every your movement. Teach it by placing toys or favorite long lasting treats there so your dog enjoys them. Praise him when he lies there. Let your dog sleep on the mat also at night too. Also, teach your dog to play with interactive toys when you are away. Give him a stuffed Kong or a Buster Cube. Feed him his meal or treats inside a Kong Wobbler while you do your dishes or take a shower. Other games that encourage distance from you include hide ‘n seek and hiding your dog’s kibble around the house so he must be away from you, even if briefly.

For the barking outside, it’s not uncommon behavior. Not many dogs are happy of being left alone even briefly when their owners are inside. Most dogs rebel and want their owners out with them or want to be inside with them. Their frustration often leads to barking and destructive behaviors. You can try to give him a safe bone when you need to put him out, but it might not work if he’s not really into chewing it.

If your dog is struggling despite these tips, you may have gone too fast in the process or you may need to invest in some calming aids such as DAP diffusers or calming chews, but consult with a vet before adding any supplements. Severe cases may require prescription medications and a consult with a veterinary behaviorist. I hope this helps! Thanks for adopting a senior fellow and best regards!

Q&A: How to make my dog comfortable in his collar?

Hello, I have a 4 month old Scottie (male) that is totally shutting down when I put his collar on him. We have had a collar on him since he was 2 months old and he had a very fluffy double coat – no problems. Several days ago he had his first puppy groom. Now whenever I put his collar on he scratches with his back leg a little and then just lays down and won’t move for anything…food, treats, to go outside…nothing. I’ll take the collar off and he’s back to normal. I’m thinking because his coat was so thick it didn’t “bother him” or he was unaware of it. Now that he has been groomed the collar sits on his trimmed fur. Help! Any suggestions? I know Scotties are stubborn, but he was doing so well before the groom and now seems to be terrified to even move. Thanks!

Greetings, and thank you for reaching out,

It makes sense for your beloved Scottie to start resenting the collar now that he’s been groomed, considering that his thicker coat may have sort of “buffered” the sensations related to wearing a collar.; however, this is worthy of further investigation. Let’s give him the benefit of doubt. Please carefully check the neck area for any accidental nicks or irritations that could cause sensitivity in the area. Another possibility is he may have pulled a muscle around that area when being groomed or caged. Some dogs have very sensitive skin after they are shaved down. It’s not uncommon for some dogs to act a little weird after being groomed, especially the smaller breeds. When working at the vet’s office we used to get calls of owners concerned about dogs “walking weird” or “shaking” after being groomed.

One thing you can try is to sort of try to“re-create” the sensation of hair, by making some “padding” between the neck and collar. You can do this at home by making a sleeve or soft fabric through which you can insert the collar or you can look for special collars for dogs with sensitive skin that have a layer of special cushioning. I know some companies that make fleece-lined collars. You can use this collar until the coat grows back.

If the padding alone doesn’t work, you may need to also create positive associations with the collar, by using a desensitization and counterconditioning program. Basically, you would start very gradually to introduce the collar (desensitization), while you make great things happen (counterconditining). To do this, you will need high-value treats that are used exclusively for these “collar” sessions. Here is a step-by-step guide:

1) Hold the collar behind your back and present it, when your dog looks at it or sniffs it, praise lavishly and immediately give a treat. Put the collarbehind your back again and present it again, rewarding him for looking at or sniffing. Repeat several times. Then, put the collar away and no more treats. You want to make it clear that treats come out only when the collar is in sight.

2) Hold the collar behind your back and present it, now place it around your dog’s neck without buckling it, praise lavishly, while somebody feeds him a treat. Remove from the neck. Repeat several times. You want to make it clear that he’s fed treats only while the collar is around his neck.

3) Hold the collar behind your back and present it, now place it around your dog’s neck and buckle it loosely, leaving it on while you praise lavishly and a helper feeds him 2-3 treats. Then unbuckle. Repeat several times. You want to make it clear that he’s fed treats only while the collar is worn.

4) Hold the collar behind the back and present it, now place it around your dog’s neck and buckle it a little bit tighter, leaving it on while you praise lavishly and your dog is given 2-3 treats. Then unbuckle. Repeat several times. You want to make it clear that he’s fed treats only while the collar is worn more.

5) Hold the collar behind the back and present it, now place it around your dog’s neck and buckle it normally. Praise lavishly and give him a longer lasting treat such as a cookie, stuffed Kong or other type of long-lasting chew. When your dog is done with it, remove the collar. You want to make it clear that he’s fed treats only while the collar is worn more.

6) Try letting your dog wear the collar during meal time or during play sessions. When meal time is over and play time is over, remove it. At this point, your pup should be more comfortable.

If at any time your dog show signs of shutting down, it’s often indicative of going too fast in the process. Go back a few steps and try again. However, keep into consideration that if there’s a medical problem such as an irritation, these methods won’t work until the problem is addressed.

Another option is to let your dog wear the padded collar and present your dog with salient stimuli that will help your dog forget all about wearing the collar. For example, put the collar on when you have a play mate coming over, when you have guests coming or put your dog in the car, place the collar on and immediately go out for a walk. The idea is to present your dog with situations where he’s excited enough to forget all about the collar. Think about situations during which your pup us super excited and use them to your advantage. There are chances he may remember about the collar once he returns home, but can try to beat him to it by removing it before he can even think about it. If you find a situation where he forgets all about the collar, make sure you present the collar and put it on right before exposing him to that situation so he’ll learn to associate the collar with that happy happening.

Finally, consider that if the moment your dog starts scratching, you remove the collar, your smart pup may have learned that his scratching action is the magic button that puts you in action to take off the collar. If you do this often enough, when the scratching doesn’t work to make you get up and remove the collar, your pup may decide to upgrade to more dramatic displays in hopes of getting the collar off. This is called an “extinction burst” sort of like a pup in crate that whines and the owner opens the door every single time he hears the whining, but then that day the whining doesn’t work, the dog starts scratching the crate’s door and throwing a tantrum that gets the owner running to get him out.

Some trainers may suggest to wait it out and remove the collar or open the crate door only once the dog is quiet, or in your case, giving signs of acceptance of the collar. In other words, waiting for you pup to eventually get over it. However, while this strategy may work, it’s far better to work on changing the way the dog feels about the collar by creating positive associations than waiting for the dog to overcome the unpleasant sensation on his own. Not to mention, it wouldn’t be nice to use this strategy when we are not sure if the response to the collar stems from a local irritation! So I would first rule out any irritations or neck issues and then start trying the steps suggested above. I hope this helps your pup overcome his bad feelings towards the collar. Best wishes and kind regards!

Q&A: How to make my dog comfortable in his crate?

We have a 3mo old lab that every time I put into his crate he started rapidly breathing and salivating while he screams and howls, chews on the door of the crate and continues until he wears himself out. He calms down long enough to catch his breath and starts again. I have fed him when I place him in the crate and he doesn’t eat, he just spills the food and proceeds to salivate to and cry. We have been at this for 3 weeks. I have to be able to crate him. I would welcome and suggestions and appreciate any help you might offer. Thank you.

Thanks, Pam

Hello Pam, and thank you for reaching out.

You are describing a pup who is breathing fast and salivating when you close him in the crate. If these symptoms occur only when your dog is closed in the crate, they are highly suggestive of anxiety associated with confinement. Salivation, rapid breathing, screaming and howling are your dog’s ways to let you know he is very uncomfortable. Additionally, the fact that your dog refuses to eat is also suggestive of anxiety as a dog who is highly stressed won’t eat.

Why is your dog stressed when closed in the crate? There may be various reasons. The anxiety may be caused from the fear of being closed up in the crate or from the fear of being separated from you, and sometimes both, which is often seen in dogs who start associating being closed up in a crate with the owner leaving. This is often seen when the dog starts noticing a pattern where being closed up becomes a pre-departure cue suggesting that the owner is leaving.

It’s important at this point determining what’s exactly causing the behavior. There are several ways to determine this. Here are some pointers: Does your dog act this way even when he is not closed in the crate and you must leave the house? To find out, the best way is leaving your dog in a puppy-proofed room with plenty of toys and recording his behavior during a brief absence. If your recording reveals that your dog is breathing rapidly, drooling, vocalizing and trying to get out of the room, there are chances you might be really dealing with a case of separation anxiety. Showing your recording to a behavior professional can help you further determine this.

Does your dog act this way when he is crated and you are around? To find out, you would have to crate your puppy and stick closely nearby without leaving for some time. Do this at a time you never leave the house, for example, in the evening. Read a book or watch TV and determine if your presence is helping to calm him down.

If you have determined your dog still gets upset even when he’s not crated and you are out and about, most likely you are dealing with a case of separation anxiety. Your dog is a bit young to show signs of separation anxiety as usually it affects puppies around 4 to 6 months in age, but it’s not unheard of it affecting some puppies earlier. This is something that will take some time to address, but with an early age of onset you have better chances at success if it’s caught early and nipped in the bud. In this case, I would highly suggest consulting with a dog behavior professional for a step-by-step behavior modification plan where your puppy will be gradually desensitized to better tolerate your departures. A good read would be Nicole Wilde’s book: “Don’t Leave Me” which offers an insight on what to do.

If your puppy instead shows signs of distress regardless if he is left alone in the crate or in your presence, most likely you are dealing with a severe case of fear of confinement or barrier frustration. Barrier frustration causes stress and “tantrums” when dogs are confined and affected dogs experience severe distress along with destructive attempts to escape the crate. In this case, treatment would involve teaching the puppy to tolerate confinement instead of teaching him to tolerate being separated from you. Following are some tips on how to teach a dog to better tolerate crate confinement.

• If your dog has a hard time tolerating the crate and you must leave your puppy for quite some time, you can try confining him in what Ian Dunbar calls a long-term confinement area. This is a puppy-proofed area with tiles (kitchen, bathroom or exercise pen) where your dog has more room to romp and access to a crate that is left open so your dog can go in and out at will. You will also add a water bowl, plenty of safe chew toys and a doggy toilet in the farthest corner away from the bed, crate and water. This may be the fastest solution as many dogs feel less nervous once they have access to more space and the ability to engage in different activities, (chew, sleep, drink, walk around, eliminate)

• If you absolutely must crate, then you must dedicate several days to make the crate a more pleasant place. This may take some time to accomplish. Start on a weekend when you are home. Keep the crate open and place a high value treat or favorite toy in there. When your dog goes inside to eat the treat or get the toy, praise you pup and place more inside to replace them. You want your dog to develop positive associations with the crate. Never close your puppy inside at this stage!

• Continue adding goodies to the crate, but this time add longer lasting ones. A Kong stuffed with goodies, a bone (make sure it’s suitable for puppies under 6 months) or his meal scattered inside are some ideas. Your goal is to have your pup enjoy these goodies inside the crate and spend some more time in there. Don’t close your puppy inside yet!

• As time goes by, your puppy will start investigating more and more the crate. From a scary place of confinement, it’s starting to become a treasure cove! Now, start placing goodies inside the crate (the smellier, the better) and close the crate with your puppy outside the crate. The goal is getting your puppy to be really eager to go inside. You want to catch him pawing at the crate, whining to get in. Open the crate and let your puppy inside and allow him to eat the goodies. Repeat several times.

• Finally, after some time, you can start letting your puppy in the crate to get the goodies, close him briefly—(the time your puppy has to eat them) and open him as soon as he is done, before your puppy has even time to whine or ask to get out. This will help him understand that good things happen in the crate and good things end out of the crate.

• As time goes by, start giving your dog longer lasting treats that will allow your puppy to be closed for longer periods of time. You can freeze a Kong with some goodies inside which take some time to finish up.

• Consider that crating a tired puppy ups your chances for success for him to nap. Play with your puppy for some time, go on a walk and provide loads of mental stimulation before crating him. Then, let him find a long-lasting goody in the crate. After managing to eat the long-lasting goody, he may feel more compelled to nap.

• Make it a rule to reward only calm behavior. If at some point your puppy is more accepting of the crate (doesn’t show signs of anxiety anymore) and you catch him whining and pawing to ask to be let out, ignore these attempts to get your attention and let him out only once he’s quiet. Stay nearby so you can promptly open when you notice a pause in his whining or pawing at the crate behavior. Do this as well with other behaviors your puppy displays. For instance, put the leash on only when your puppy seems calmer, feed his food only when he’s quiet, toss a ball only after your puppy sits or calmly waits. You want to reward only calm behaviors.

• Make sure the crate isn’t in an area where your pup is exposed to scary noises or where the crate gets too warm or cold. Never use a crate for punishment. It should always be a great place to be.

If you are not seeing much progress or do not have the time, consider that a long-term confinement area may be a better choice for your puppy. Not all puppies do well in crates. I hope this helps! Best wishes and kind regards!

Q&A: How to keep my dog from chasing cars when walking him?

I have a 4 year old dog hes a border collie mix. He never learned to walk on a leash but now I’ve been trying to train him. A week ago I tried the halti head-collar and that worked for a few days , I have to walk him on the side of the road cause on the sidewalk he just wants to mark everything. But yesterday when a car drove past us, he jumped up trying to pull me towards it and almost got out of his collar. There isn’t a lot of traffic or anything just one and one car. I’ve walked him there for 2 months now and he hasn’t acted like this before.

I’m really scared to walk him now since he has been close to getting loose to the driving cars. I will get him neutered soon but I’m wondering if that will help at his age? Also walking him he just keeps pulling, I have tried stopping and turning around with giving him treats. But as soon as I start walking he pulls again. Its really hard to get his attention both inside and outside. What should I do?


Hello Maria, and thank you for reaching out.

From your description it sounds like your dog really wants to chase cars as they pass by him. This is quite common behavior in border collies and border collie mixes as they have an innate predisposition to want to “herd” anything that moves. This is instinctive behavior that isn’t learned or trained, it’s likely just part of his genetic background from the border collie side. While this instinctive behavior cannot be removed, it can be redirected into a more appropriate behavior. Training your dog a more appropriate, alternate behavior on walks can also help you distract your dog should he decide to mark. Here are some tips to help you train an alternate, more appropriate response.

Work under threshold.

At what distance does your dog want to chase the cars? Is it when they’re right past him? at 5 feet? 10 feet? Find the distance where your dog seems to react the most and work farther from that distance. So, if for instance, he reacts the most when the car is at 3 feet, try working from 5 feet. What we are trying to avoid here is getting your dog at that level of arousal where he’s unable to respond to you. Once you find the distance from cars that he doesn’t react, you can have him focus enough to train him an alternate behavior.

Train an Alternate Behavior

When you are at home with your dog, train him to respond to a smacking sound you make with your mouth. Make that smacking sound and bring a treat at eye level. The moment he makes eye contact, praise and give him the treat. Repeat several times. As he gets good at this, add some motion. Make the smacking sound as you are walking and praise and reward him for looking up at you as you are both walking.When you reward your dog as you’re both walking, make sure you deliver the treat to him right next to your knee. That’s the reward zone so your dog learns how sticking by your side is rewarding. Practice walking more and more steps with your dog looking up at you. Once your dog does well, start practicing in a fenced yard, in front of the home and then move on walks in low distraction areas.

Reduce Pulling Behaviors

Make it a rule that every time the leash is tense, you stop walking and when the leash is loose you resume walking. Basically, a tense leash is your break and a loose leash is your accelerator. Dogs pull because the behavior is reinforcing. Every little inch your dog gains from pulling, even the very slight forward motion of you arm, reinforces the pulling. So from now on, on walks, this is what you will do:

Start walking. The moment your dog pulls, stop in your tracks. Say the word “heel” and lure your dog to come next to you in heel position to get his treat. When he’s right next to you, give him the treat in the reward zone next to your knee. Resume walking. If he walks nicely, next to you, keep on walking. If he pulls, stop again, say “heel” and reward him when he comes next to you for his reward. Repeat as necessary. Your first walks may feel like you are getting no where as you may have to repeat this exercise several times, but soon if you are persistent your dog will get the point that pulling gets him nowhere. Right now, you dog knows that you are trying to stop him pulling but soon you get frustrated and give up so he wins. This only makes training more difficult because there’s no consistency and he’s being rewarded for being persistent. So you really need to get really determined and NOT give up or get frustrated. If your dog continues to want to pull on walks, determine if it’s cause he has too much energy to drain. I will list a few ideas to get him a bit tired before walks in the next paragraphs.

What to do When You Spot A Car

Since you mention you don’t have lots of traffic, you can take advantage of this opportunity to train him using the alternate behavior. The moment you spot a car, from a distance move to the distance where your dog is best under control. It may be the sidewalk, but the good news is that you can now try to distract him from wanting to mark since it’s hard to focus on marking if you’re asking him to do something else. So once you’re at distance from the car, make the smacking noise with your mouth, bring the treat at eye level, and have him walk looking at you as the car passes by. The moment the car passes by, praise him and give him several treats in a row. Repeat as necessary. By doing this you accomplish two things: you teach your dog an alternate behavior to the marking and chasing and you create positive associations with the cars. This way, the moment your dog spots a car, he will start anticipating the treat so he should automatically look at you. If at any time you notice your dog reverting to his chasing behavior, you are likely too close to the car and your dog is not ready for working at that distance yet. Go gradually. With time, you should be able to move a little bit closer to the cars. Another great exercise is simply standing at a distance from the road and watching the cars passing by. Every time a car passes by, you make the smacking noise and deliver a treat. Of course, before doing all this you need to make sure your dog is safely restrained to prevent a possible escape.

Fitting the Right Collar

You mention your dog almost backing out of the halti head collar. This is not uncommon. Many dogs are able to escape out of their head collars. You have the choice of trying another type of head collar for a better fit or you can try a martingale collar which is made in such a way as to prevent a dog from backing out of it. Alternatively, some people have more success with a front-attachment harness such as a Sensation harness or an Easy Walk harness. In these harnesses, the leash attaches to a front ring to allow better control of the shoulder area. When the dog pulls, the dog is re-directed sideways. Some people attach their leash to both the front-attachment harness and the martingale collar for added security. It’s very important to ensure security on walks A dog who breaks free and engages in car chasing can injure himself and others. Also, a dog who is successful in escaping a collar even just once, will likely try to repeat the experience the next time and soon you’re stuck with an escape artist.

Neutering to Reduce Marking

Neutering is often portrayed as a cure-all, but it’s often not. Neutering mostly works to reduce behaviors that are derived from hormones. So, in your case, it might reduce the urine marking behavior if it’s related to marking to attract female dogs and compete with males, but it will likely not reduce the pulling on walks or the will to chase cars. It will also not reduce the barking behavior when you get the toy.

Barking for Toys

The barking at you when you grab the toy is likely a playful behavior. He likely wants the ball and is telling you to toss it. Many dog get quite vocal during play. A while back when we were training dogs to bark for search and rescue, the most effective way to train them to bark was getting a toy and hiding it behind our backs. The dog would start barking in protest because he wanted the toy and we would give the toy to reward the barking. So in your case, if you find the barking annoying, you could grab the toy and toss it only when he STOPS barking. To kick things up a notch, you can even incorporate some training here. Get the toy, ask him to sit and toss it when he’s sitting nicely. This may distract him from barking.

Increase Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Last but not least, generally border collies and border collie crosses are very energetic dogs with a great need for exercise and mental stimulation. Make sure you provide plenty of opportunities to release pent-up energy and give loads of mental stimulation especially before going on walks. Incorporate play in your training. Ask for a sit before you toss a ball or a Frisbee, ask your dog to stay as you hide somewhere, and then release your dog to find you. Hide his kibble around the home instead of feeding out of food bowls, stuff Kong toys or put his kibble in a bottle without a cap so he has to move it around to get the kibble out. I hope this helps you! Training and playing with your dog offers a good opportunity to bond together so you both can reap the rewards! Happy training!

Q&A: How do I stop dog from peeing when left alone?

I have an Irish terrier and he is 10 months old. We never leave him a lone for more than 4 hours at a time, and that only usually happens 3-4 times a week. Only recently he’s started to pee in the house when we leave him. I wouldn’t say he suffers from separation anxiety as he doesn’t cry or bark when we leave him, and he isn’t attached to one person in particular as spends a lot of time between our house and my parents house as they are retired.

He is house trained and hasn’t had any incidents in a while when he is not a lone. I have no idea how to train him not to pee in the house when we are not there!

Many thanks,

Greetings, and thank you for contacting Dog Training Basics!Q&A: How do I stop dog from peeing when left alone?

This sounds like a case that would benefit from wearing an investigative hat and a magnifying glass! In other words, it needs some investigation to see what is really going on. In such a case, I would recommend recording your dog’s behavior in your absence. Many times, dog owners are surprised at what they see. Without seeing exactly what is going on, we can only make some assumptions. Here are a few ideas:

An Authentic Need to Potty

Some times we must give dogs the benefit of doubt. While you state your dog hasn’t had any accidents for a while when in your company, consider as well that in your absence your dog cannot go to the door and ask to be let out. You can get some important hints by looking at the urine you find when you come home. Is there an actual big puddle? If so, there are good chances your dog is actually urinating from a real physiological need to empty his bladder. In other words, he really had to go!

Excessive Drinking Behaviors

While some dogs refuse to eat or touch their water bowls when left alone, some may engage in the opposite behavior. Excessive drinking behaviors can stem from boredom or as a displacement behavior from frustration. It’s a good idea to monitor your dog’s water intake when he’s left alone. Fill up his water bowl before leaving, and then, upon your return, check how much is left. If he’s guzzling water like there’s no tomorrow, he’ll likely not be able to hold it. Monitoring water intake is another reason why it’s worthy to record his behavior when you’re away.

Urine Marking Behaviors

It may seem a bit early for your dog to mark, but consider that urine marking behaviors have been seen in dogs as early as 3 months old! Take a look at the urine when you come home. Is it on a vertical surface? Is it just a trickle? Dogs who urine mark prefer to lift their legs purposely on certain items such as furniture, a table leg or a lamp, and generally, use only a little trickle. The urine marking can be a sign of stress or territorial behavior. This is another case where recording your dog’s behavior may offer an important puzzle piece. It could be your dog sees other dogs or people from the window and he may urine mark as a way of “erecting boundaries” to his territory or leaving some “pee mail.”

Any Excitement Urination?

When you greet your dog upon coming home, make sure he isn’t actually urinating right then. It could be you think your dog urinated hours ago, when in reality the accident just happened, only it happened so fast your weren’t able to see it. Some dogs are really quick in squirting urine. One moment they’re there greeting you, and the next, right when loom over to you greet them, they release this little dribble of urine. Another good reason to record your dog’s behavior as you may not see the urination as it happens but a recording may show a whole different story!

A Case of Separation Anxiety

You mention separation anxiety is unlikely, but so do many countless owners who record their dog’s behavior in their absence only to notice behaviors that never expected. Turns out, their dogs are constantly pacing, circling, scratching at doors and windows and whining. Many times, owners think their dog eliminated in their absence, when in reality what they are seeing are actual dribbles of drool, which is common in dogs who suffer from separation anxiety. There are different versions of “separation anxiety.” Some dogs attach to a particular person and some others attach to both their owners and suffer from isolation distress.

As seen, there are several possibilities that can explain your dog’s behavior. Your strategy to reduce this behavior will vary based on your findings from your recording. Here some tips:
•If your dog urinated from an actual physiological need, consider letting him out to relieve himself before heading out. This can lower the chances for accidents.
•If your dog is drinking excessively, try to leave him a stuffed Kong to keep him occupied. Hopefully, this would distract him from the water bowl.
•If your dog is marking after seeing people and other dogs from windows, it may help to prevent access to such visual stimuli. Window film may help or you can keep him in different room. Also, make sure you clean up those soiled areas with a good enzyme-based cleaner. Using a crate may help reduce the chances for eliminating in the home.
•Excitement urination can be reduced by making greetings low key or greeting your puppy outside.
•Separation anxiety needs a process of desensitization and counterconditioning. To attain an accurate diagnosis, show a trainer or behavior consultant the behaviors you have recorded.
•If your dog isn’t neutered, neutering may lower the chances for urine marking related to hormones. It’s estimated that neutering can help reduce marking behaviors in roughly 80 percent of dogs.
•Last but not least, anytime new behaviors pop up, it’s always a good idea to rule out medical problems.

I hope this helps, and that you’ll be able to go to the root of this problem! Best regards,

Q&A: How to get my dog to stop ignoring me?

My 14 month old cocker spaniel, seem to show me little respect. She does not respond to me when I call her name and the recall is very poor. Also if I leave a side gate open and she is not tethered she will run off and it is then a trial to get her back because of the recall. On the lead training in the garden she is very different, sits, stays, will recall. I would welcome your comments, thank you


Greetings, and thank you for contacting us! I will try to address each issue separately and divide into smaller segments so you’re not overwhelmed with too much information. There are several explanations for your dog’s behavior, and the good news is that you can work on the issues and transform your dog into an active listener by following some easy steps.

Welcome to the Terrible Teens! Your dog is 14 months old which means she’s at the peak of the adolescent stage. Consider that dogs are considered “teenagers” generally between the ages of 6 months up to around 18 months. This is a transitory phase, meaning your dog is in between two temporary, yet very important, developmental stages midway from the puppy stage and the adult one. While your dog may seem to be maturing physically, she may have moments of reverting to puppy behaviors and show little impulse control. At this stage, dogs are often looking for ways to drain their boundless energy and keep their brains mentally stimulated. On top of that, during this stage, dogs may turn a deaf ear and at times they may act as if they have never heard a command before. Gone are the days during which puppies were following us from room to room eager to please us! It’s not a coincidence that, sadly, the majority of dogs relinquished to shelters happen to be in the adolescent stage. It can be challenging, it can be nerve wrecking, but it’s only temporary and the best part is that your dog is getting towards the end of it, even though it’s true that dogs will need training for a lifetime. Don’t feel discouraged. As with the human teenager phase, this stage will pass. I will be happy to offer you some guidelines to help you out.

A Matter or Bonding

We often think dogs aren’t respectful to us, when in reality, they’re just not in tune with us because we haven’t given them the opportunity to bond with us and learn that we can be the source of wonderful things. You mention she is tethered outdoors. If she’s tethered for a good part of the day, this could be preventing her from bonding with you as she should. You may be therefore missing out many opportunities to interact with her, observe her and meet her social needs. If your dog is often tethered, she will also likely have pent-up energy, so as soon as she’s loose she’ll enjoy releasing that energy, and on top of that, she’ll likely enjoy the exhilarating feeling of being free. On her free romps around the neighborhood, she ‘ll also likely get to sniff around, perhaps meet other dogs and people, chase animals and even eat something yummy she’s not supposed to. All of this is highly reinforcing, meaning she feels good about it so she’ll try to escape more and more. Worst of all, all these positive experiences are happening in your absence, and when you go get her, all these wonderful things end, making you the party pooper that ends all the fun. It’s not surprising therefore why she’s trying to escape and ignores your efforts to call her back. As much as this all sounds like bad news, there’s some really good news coming up.

The Secret to Obedient Dogs

You can change things for the better! The most obedient dogs I have seen come from homes where the dogs are kept in the home with their owners. Often, dogs are relegated to the yard either because they are misbehaving or have poor potty manners. Yet, being left in the yard or tethered, doesn’t give them give them the opportunity to learn anything other than getting frustrated as they wish they could be with their family or escape the yard for an adventure where they get to meet other people or dogs. So I would suggest starting today, keeping your dog indoors with you and working on training her inside. People are often surprised how good their dogs become once they are welcomed indoors. Sure, they may struggle the first few days, but most dogs are great in the home once their needs for exercise and mental stimulation are met.

Keep that Brain Busy!

Your dog is a hunting breed; indeed, as you may already know, the cocker spaniel was used to hunt birds, to be specific, a species of woodcock (hence, their name cocker). This means these dogs need a certain amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Instead of letting your dog walk herself and enjoy the amenities of the outdoor world, take her with you on daily walks and make yourself the source of great happenings by teaching her to walk next to you and getting wonderful treats from you when she’s in heel position. At home, provide ample of mental stimulation by offering interactive toys. Get rid of the food bowl and hide her kibble around the home, make a trail out of kibble or stuff it in a Kong. Keep her happy and busy!

Make Coming to You Music for Her Ears!

The recall command (coming when called) is one of the most important commands dogs will learn. Often this command is poisoned, meaning that it loses it’s potency as it becomes associated with negative events. For instance, if you call your dog when it’s time for bath time and your dog hates baths, next time, you call him you can’t be surprised if he’s hiding under the bed because he has learned to associate his name with the negative event (the bath). If you have been calling your dog when she escapes, only to tether her again, or even worse, scold her and then tether her, the recall command weakens as the dog learns it’s highly inconvenient attending to the command as it means being involved in a negative situation. So how to remedy this? We change the recall command so to give it a fresh new meaning and we make it as highly reinforcing as possible. So if you used to say “Over here, over here!” let’s transform it to “Daisy coooome!” said in the most happy and upbeat voice you can make.

Start with Low Distractions

Why does your dog listen to you when in the garden on lead? First off, she knows that when she’s on lead, she’s prevented from escaping. Second, the recall on lead has a different meaning than the recall once she has taken off and escaped the gate. When you call her when she’s on lead, to her it may be interpreted as: “come to me since you have no where better to go” versus the recall when she’s going, going, gone from the gate may mean:”come here, come here, so I can tether you again!” It’s a no-brainer deciding which command to listen to.

Once your dog is inside with you, your dog will be more in tune with you and you can take advantage of many opportunities to make the recall command as wonderful as it should be. If she loves her kibble, prepare it when somebody else holds her by the lead or opens the crate door to release her. This will build some anticipation. When the meal is ready, call her (your helper will be ready to unsnap the lead the moment you call her) and put the bowl down. Do the same when you buy her a new toy, bone or it’s time to go on walks if she loves walks. The recall needs to be a predictor of wonderful things so she doesn’t have to think twice wondering if it’s worthy of responding to. These are natural ways to polish the recall. Then, you can make purposely set recall sessions to make the recall further worthy listening to. Again, have a helper hold her, and call her, and when she comes to you, give her several small pieces of high-value treats in a row to leave a big impact, everlasting memory on her mind. Only after she does very well in the home responding to your recall every time you call, move to the yard.

Yard Work (with Gates Closed)!

In the yard, repeat the work done indoors. Have a helper hold her on leash, and then unsnap it when you call her. She should come running to you at full speed. Praise lavishly and reward with several tid bits in a row. It’s good to use super high value treats outdoors, think low-sodium hot dogs, cheese, freeze-dried liver or meatballs. You can even create a fun game of hide ‘n seek by having your helper hold her while you hide somewhere and call her to find you. Always make a great deal of coming when called. Also, when you are in the yard with her and she’s off leash (and the gate is securely locked), practice rewarding voluntary check-ins. This means rewarding her with treats every time she voluntarily comes near you. This makes you interesting, sometimes even more interesting than other stimuli in the yard.

A Word of Caution

Let’s face it, not many dogs resist the temptation of escaping a yard or an open door! Even more so dogs who had the opportunity to taste the freedom associated with exploring the world. With your daily walks and all the positive interactions with you, the outdoors will hopefully look less tempting. Note: It’s imperative that during the training stages that gates stays always closed. Actually, a gate should still be closed anyhow no matter how trained a dog is. Dogs are animals, and no training is ever 100 percent effective, which is why it’s unethical for a dog trainer to give guarantees. Just as we wouldn’t keep driving when we notice a ball on a street assuming that a child would be wise enough not to cross, we shouldn’t expect our dogs to ignore an open gate, even if we are there calling them.

Setting for Success

Of course, we can train and work hard on proofing our recall training so that in the event of a door or gate being left accidentally ajar, we have a higher chance our dog will make a good choice and come to us, compared to a dog who has had no training, but we must think that there is no way to guarantee through training the ability to overcome all of the risks dogs may be exposed to. An option you have, should you want to work on training your dog to make good choices despite an open gate, is using a long line (often sold in horse and tack supply stores). A long line allows you to safely practice recalls with the gate open while having control on your dog should she decide to ignore your recall. This training should be done gradually, keeping the long line shorter at first and practicing at a distance from the gate, then making the line longer and practicing closer to the gate. Don’t forget to always reward a lot for coming to you!

The Bottom Line

Yes, many dogs will come to you despite leaving an opened door or opened gate, (I know many dogs who would, including mine) but we shouldn’t take it for granted. There are always chances dogs will follow their instincts and desires which exposes them to danger. Many dogs are killed from escaping doors and yards (being hit by a car, exposure to toxins, eaten by predators) so it’s our responsibility as dog owners to ultimately keep them safe. It’s by far a safer option to simple close a gate than to gamble and expect our dogs to come to us in spite of the gate open especially that day we are at a disadvantage such as not noticing in time or the dog being unable to hear us because of a loud truck passing by.

The bottom line is that we can prevent dogs from making wrong choices, by controlling their environment and setting them up for success. Your dog is young, she’s in the teenager phase and is in need of some training. With your help, if you can set higher and higher goals gradually, you can help her learn how wonderful it is to stick by your side and how wonderful it is to come to you. As she further matures, she’ll also gain better impulse control and with your help she can potentially become a wonderful companion. I hope this helps! Sending you my best wishes and happy training!

Stuck in a “Duh” Moment

Gone are the days when your puppy was eager to please you. You’ll now likely notice your dog act as if he has never heard a command before. These “duh!” episodes of memory loss are quite common during the adolescent stage and will require your patience and understanding. Getting mad and frustrated when your dog doesn’t come to you when called won’t do any good. Fortunately, this is a transitory phase and you’ll eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

More Independence

Just like human teenagers, adolescent dogs will want to have it their way and will want more independence. We can’t blame them: this is the age where in the wild, canines separated from their families to form their own. They are lured to trying new behaviors and testing their boundaries. Gone are the days when your puppy loved to stick by your side and would come running the moment you were out of sight! There are many more interesting sights, smells and sounds at this time just waiting to be discovered.