Dog trainer Laura Garber helped TODAY’s Natalie Morales train her adopted dog Zara, and now she's answering your questions! This week, Garber offers advice on what to do if your pooch howls too much, starts eating its own poop, and more.
Q:We have two male Jack Russell terriers. One will turn 2 years old this summer and the other is about 5 years old. The younger one attacks doors all the time. He suffers separation anxiety from my husband, but no matter who leaves the house, he attacks the door. Any idea why? It does not seem to be related to the other dog.
— Kate from Norfolk, Conn.
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Some dogs can get aroused, even aggressive, when people leave the house, and sometimes that aggression is directed toward the people; other times, as you say, toward the environment. Depending on the severity of the aggression, it might be necessary for you to enlist the aid of a certified trainer in your area. But here is something to try:
Start playing your dog’s favorite game in the hallway or entryway near the door. At the start, don’t include the door in the picture, just the location. Play fetch with his favorite squeaky, for instance. Build impulse control into your game. (See my article Games to Play with Your Dog for how to teach drop it and then insisting on a sit or down before continuing play.)
Now open the door — hopefully there’s a screen door outside, so there’s no danger of his door-darting — toss the toy, waiting for the retrieve and his polite sit/down, and close the door. Gradually progress to opening the door, disappearing from sight only for a tiny moment, then peaking back in and tossing. Then, actually disappear behind the door, closing it behind you, reappearing and throwing. Do lots of repetitions and vary the length of time you are out of sight.
You can even hang a toy outside the door so that, when people arrive, they can open the door and toss the toy. Over time, he will associate his favorite game with people’s departures and arrivals around the door.
One final note: One of the tricks to being a good trainer is the tiny slices of progression you make. Often people try to progress to the next steps too quickly. So take your time and really work on making him happy and playful in the entry hallway and when starting to introduce the door into the exercise before progressing to the next step. If a dog is feeling playful, he really can’t be feeling aggressive at the same time now, can he?!
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Q: I have a 2-year-old boxer that was a rescue mill dog. I have had him since November 2011. He is doing very well for the most part. A problem that we are having is that he keeps eating his poop. I have tried several different things, but he poops then turns around and eats it. Can you help?!
— Linda from Aurora, Colorado
This is called coprophagia and, unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy answer for this beyond making sure you can prevent him from doing it. So keep him on leash until he has pooped and then pick it up before he can get to it. This way you will break his habit of eating his poop.
There are various theories about why some dogs do this and how to solve it, and I don’t know what you’ve tried so far. One theory is that a dog lacking a high-quality, nutritious diet will look for other sources for supplementation, including poop, to our chagrin and disgust! Take a look at my Canine Diet handout for some tips on reading and deciphering an ingredient list. Steamed or pureed vegetables make a nutritious supplement to his meal. You might even make an appointment with a veterinary nutritionist, or do some research online.
There are also products that you can add to your dog’s food to deter him from eating the resulting poop. Check out this website which compares these products.
Make sure to spend time in the yard playing with your dog rather than just leaving him out there alone. Dogs will not exercise themselves. They need playmates, human or otherwise, to keep them exercised mentally and physically.
And finally, make sure your dog has plenty of interactive toys in the yard, including stuffed puzzle toys (see my Yard Games article). I’ve seen dogs who’ve played with — even guarded! — their poop because they had no other toys enriching their environment.
Hope that gives you some new ideas.
Q: I have a 3 year old dog named Eboni. We recently moved from an apartment to a house with a fence around it. Since the yard has a fence around it I let Eboni out into the yard every morning before I leave for work. The yard has plenty of shade trees, and I felt she would enjoy being outside instead of inside until I came home from work. The first couple of weeks, everything went great. She has plenty of water, shade trees, and toys. Then all of a sudden she started digging huge holes. How do I make her stop digging?
I believe she likes going out every morning and she has not done anything to show me that she doesn't want to go out, but I need to stop her from digging. I am renting the house that we are living in and my landlord was hesitant about renting to me when I told them I had a dog. I really like the place we're living in and would appreciate any advice/help you offer. — Jorita from Miami Gardens, Florida
Digging is one way a dog may try to cool off, by digging a hole and lying in the cool soil. So it may be that, though you thought your dog had enough cool, shady escapes from the heat, she didn’t. You should rethink leaving her in the yard while you’re away, primarily because you’re not there to help her should she need relief from the heat, and secondarily because you’re not there to prevent her from digging where she shouldn’t.
While I understand you don’t want to ruin your landlord’s yard, digging is also a great source of exercise. So, I would point you to the same article that I suggested for Linda in Aurora, Colorado Yard Games. Teach her to dig in a designated sand box — you can even get a kiddie wading pool and put sand or dirt in it. But, again, you’ll need to teach her to use it and prevent her from using other parts of the yard.
Q: I have a foxhound rescue who is about 8 years old. We've had him for four years. Every night he chases a possum or raccoon or something up a tree and then howls at it until we can come out and catch him. Needless to say, this is not easy in the dark woods at night (we've got four acres). Our neighbor who lives near the edge of our property, has two kids who go to bed early, and they do not appreciate the sound of a hound dog howling all night. How can we get him to stop without dampening his spirit? I don't mind that he chases the animals, I just want him to howl for a bit and then let it go. Is this possible?
— Sharon from Jamestown, Rhode Island
So, since you don’t mind the chasing or the howling, you just want him to return to you faster. Sounds to me like you need a better recall. Train your dog to hand-target, which means to touch his nose to your hand. At a distance, this looks like him running at top speed back to you to touch his nose to your hand, and that is a recall! Dogs tend to love hand targeting because it’s such a fun game. Check out my article Hand Targeting – So Much More Than Just a Trick for the steps on how to train this.
Once you’ve made it strong in the house, you’ll need to generalize his behavior to the outside world, and using a long line to practice the behavior will help with this. Katie from Glenn Rock, Pa.,was having the same kind of problems getting her dog to return to her at the dog run, and I sketched out my windshield wipers exercise to build speed and distance to the recall.
Mind you, this won’t be easy, as this is a strong trait in your foxhound and he’s been practicing this behavior for a long time. But persevere! Your relationship with your dog will be the better for it!
Q: My husband and I rescued a golden retriever named Peanut who had a rather rough start. That was three years ago, and he seems to be a different dog than when we first got him. He really has come a long way. The only problem we have is that he is afraid of water and will fall apart if his paws get a little wet. We live in the Northwest, so this is a bit of a problem since it rains 300 days out of the year here! My husband and I also go hiking and to the beach a lot as well. We take Peanut with us, but he will stay away from the water as much as possible. We tried getting him used to the water by giving him treats when he would get near it, but that did not work. The second his paws get wet, he gets scared and runs away from it. Is there any kind of training that we can do to help with his anxiety with water?
— Erin from Vancouver, Washington
Rather than treats, I would try a favorite game of tug or fetch near the water and see if he can forget his fear long enough to start enjoying the beach. Don’t immediately start out by throwing the toy into the water. Rather, play near the water, allowing him to lose himself in the game. It may take several sessions before you even approach the water’s edge, so be patient. You want to see him lose his wariness. Then gradually get closer and closer until your play just flirts with the shallow waves and see how it goes.
Remember, as with anything that you’re going to use in training, you want to withhold that reinforcer from your dog’s regular day. If you’re going to train using treats, then you want to make sure your dog is hungry, right? So you train before a meal. The same holds true when using a favorite game. If you’re playing fetch in the back yard, then he won’t be “hungry” to play the game elsewhere, so save his favorite game just for the beach. Good luck!
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