Dog trainer Laura Garber helped TODAY’s Natalie Morales train her adopted dog Zara, and now she's answering your questions! This week, Garber tackles doggie kisses, solving eating problems, dealing with house training issues and more.
Q: Reggie is the love of my life. He is a 4-year-old red wheaten cairn terrior and has been with me since he was 8 weeks old. He's friendly and well behaved with everyone from babies to grannies. The problem is he does not give his mommy, or anyone else for that matter, "kisses". He watches other dogs give their owner loving licks, but when I ask Reggie to give me a kiss, he literally runs away.
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Do you think maybe he's just a gentleman and doesn't kiss and tell? Is there anything I can do to get this little guy to be a little more loving?
Also, Reggie is not a lap dog. He'll sit beside me, but never sits on my lap for more than 30 seconds. If I try to pick him up to hold him, he wiggles and squirms until I put him down. Also, Reggie only plays with girl dogs. If a male dog gets too close, he goes into his alpha dog mode — even if the other dog outweighs him by 50 pounds. So far no fights or biting, he just growls and the other dog takes off. Is there anything I can do to train him to be more social? — Carol from St. George, Utah
I think what’s standing in the way here is the great divide between canids and primates. What we humans call “kisses” with our dogs are anything but affection. Puppies lick their mother’s lips to elicit her to regurgitate the contents of her stomach for them to consume. Later in life, one dog may lick another dog’s lips as a submissive gesture to invite interaction but not a loving one. So, the anthropomorphic assumptions we make — and labels we choose — regarding dog behavior are, if anything, muddying the waters.
That your dog snuggles up against you and seeks such closeness speaks volumes about his attachment to you and is a very loving gesture.
As for his reactivity towards other dogs, though I would need to see it to be definitive, it’s most likely defensive aggression due to fear and anything but the behavior of a secure dog. I would suggest that you seek the aid of a certified dog trainer in your area who works with aggression.
Q: Our 8-month-old Chesapeake retriever, Jack, is fully house trained. We rarely (if ever) have an accident in the house. However, he also will not relieve himself in his dog kennel! He has a large 15 by 15 kennel with fresh shavings and he holds himself until we let him out after work, sometimes waiting six hours! This can't be good for him. We've tried scooping his poop and pee and leaving it in a corner of the enclosure but he still won't do it. What can we do? — Lauren from Berlin, New Hampshire
By Jack’s age a pup can hold his bladder a good long time, certainly longer than the six hours required by your daily routine. If you have to leave him longer than eight or ten hours you should get a neighbor to give him a bit of a break half way through, as much for a break from the monotony as for pottying. But six hours is quite doable.
So I would most emphatically say don’t leave poop and pee in the corner of his enclosure. He’s trying to keep his area clean.
Hope that helps!
Q:I have a 9-year-old Westie who is very smart, very protective and is the love of my life, but he has one very annoying problem. When the TV is on and he sees any animals, birds, or sometimes young children, he barks like crazy and runs to the windows and door — thinking the TV is a window. How do I get him to understand that it's only TV? — Debbie from Ossining, New York
When a dog is exhibiting an undesirable behavior, I try to imagine what I would prefer and then shape that behavior. In the case of a dog who’s getting aroused in front of the television, I would imagine that you’d prefer that he be lying quietly beside you as you watch TV.
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I would train him to do this coming from a couple of different directions. First, I would work on the café-ready default down, an exercise which was described in my recent article "ShapingCompanion Behaviors." This will teach him how to lie beside you. Start by practicing in a quiet environment with no distractions; then gradually increase distraction until he can do this while the TV is on. (Remember that your rate of reinforcement — or treating — may need to be fairly high when you finally put it to the test in front of the TV.)
Secondly, I would work on building his ability to relax, first in a calm environment and, again, gradually building to being relaxed in front of the TV. Check out my description of a relax protocol in my answer to Lisa from Vienna, Virginia back in May.
Though it’s not explicitly part of your question, I would suggest that you not allow your pooch to look out the window and bark at passing people and animals. It can accentuate territorial behavior in the home, a phenomenon I describe in more detail in my recent dog blog entry.
— LauraStory: Practice with your pooch: Shape companion behaviors
Q: My dog Charlie is a young adult schnauzer Westie mix. He was a rescue from a puppy mill. We have had him for a few weeks and recently noticed Charlie likes to grab a mouth full of food and throw it onto the carpet where he proceeds to eat it piece by piece. How do I stop him?
— Ali from Chicago, Illinois
I’ve had countless clients who have rescued dogs from puppy mills. The life these dogs, particularly the breeding pairs, have led up to the point of finding a loving forever home is just unimaginable. That you have opened your home to such a little soul is laudable and so special! If only more people did this, rather than buy puppies from pet stores who are the product of this appalling industry.
That said, many of these dogs may have odd little idiosyncrasies due to their earlier impoverished lives. These behaviors may fade as time passes. You might try feeding him from different vessels (ceramic, plastic, etc) to see if he’s disturbed by the reflections in his metal bowl, for instance. Or he may not like the sound of his tags against his bowl, or he may feel a little uncomfortable where his food bowl is placed. If it’s against a wall, perhaps he feels cornered, or if it’s the middle of the room, he might feel exposed. I would experiment with different variables and see if you can find a way to make him more comfortable.
Hope that helps!
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