Tag - how to

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!