Dog trainer Laura Garber helped TODAY’s Natalie Morales train her adopted dog Zara, and now she's answering your questions! This week, Garber answers questions on how to deal with a fighting dogs, a dog who steals blankets, a pooch who refuses to urinate outside and more!
Q: My boyfriend and I both have dogs and we've been dating for 8 months. He has a female Akita and I have a female mutt. They've been in one big fight and that's been enough to scare me from allowing them to be together off-leash. It's impacting our relationship. Neither one of us wants to have to leave the dog home alone at night but we also want to spend time together. I'm thinking about seeing a dog trainer because I'm too nervous to let them try to play. Is it ever possible for us to live together or am I being a bad mom by dating this guy? — Heidi from Atlanta, Georgia
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You’ve done the right thing by keeping them separated after their altercation. The more such interactions they have like that —even just challenging hard stares at each other from across the room — the more it eats away at any potential relationship they might have. I would definitely suggest finding a certified trainer who can help you build a positive relationship between the two dogs. They may never be best friends but they may at least learn how to tolerate each other.
Until you start the work, you should avoid all interactions between them, even from afar. As you start doing behavior modification with the trainer, you will be controlling their interactions to only those that occur within a managed working setting.
Q: I have a 2-year-old schnauzer who likes to tear up paper. If she finds a paper towel, paper napkin or just a sheet of paper, she shreds it. I have tried just telling her "No" but she still does it. She knows when she is doing wrong because her ears go back. Any suggestions? Her name is Nola so I wonder if saying "No" and her name are too similar.
— Susan from New Orleans, Louisiana
So Nola might not, in fact, know that she’s doing anything wrong. Her ears flicking back is an appeasement gesture which she may be doing simply to turn off your behavior (i.e. the harsh tone of your voice).
Ultimately, I would suggest doing some training so that you know that you are clearly communicating with her. Teach her the “drop it” cue so that you can ask her to let go of things (see my article Games to Play with Your Dog) and reward her with a tasty treat. Try to keep your home a bit puppy-proofed and give her alternatives like stuffed Kong toys as targets of her oral play (see my Kongs Fit for a King handout) — with the added benefit that she’s getting some mental stimulation by playing with them. Try to have more interactive walks with her as well so that she’s not hoovering the sidewalk, using “drop it” and “leave it” when you must.
Of course, there’s no way to keep a completely paper-free environment, but at least when she does pick something up you know that you’re talking the same language!
— LauraStory: Why won't my dog kiss me?
Q:We have two yellow Labradors, age 5. One is very passive and gentle. The other has some very challenging behaviors. He recently began taking all of our pillows and blankets outside through their doggie door. He has gone so far as to take blankets and quilts off of the bed and cushions off the couch to bring them outside. He does this mainly when we are not home. We now have to hide such items as much as possible. It has become a daunting task to make sure all pillows, blankets, etc. are put in closets before we leave the house.
The only clue as to why this behavior may be occurring is that he has been observed attempting to take objects out of the house when he sees another dog walking down the street. I'm aware that we could put him in a room with no stimulation, but that does not seem like a reasonable solution and feels cruel. Also, he has become aggressive toward other dogs since he had two ACL surgeries over the past two years. Otherwise, he is one of the most loving and cuddly dogs we have ever had. He is such a joy in every other way and both dogs are the light of our lives. He is truly a well loved and cared for dog. My concern is that he may not be feeling that secure. Any suggestions on how we can help him would be greatly appreciated! — Kim from Exeter, Rhode Island
The fact is that the stimulation that your pooch is getting while you’re not around is not the type of stimulation we want him to be getting anyway. He’s watching dogs pass on the street and, from what you say, you sense that this might be causing his unrest. Make sure that his daily routine includes plenty of exercise, since he is a fairly young, large breed dog. Then you can expect that he’s resting quietly in your absence, and putting him in a quiet room where he’s not getting aroused by the environment will be more restful and not in the least bit cruel.
I would also suggest, as I did for Susan in New Orleans, that employing stuffed puzzle toys might be a fun way for him to burn some mental energy when he’s home alone (provided there’s no issue around resources between the two dogs). As he gets more proficient at unstuffing them, you can increase the level of difficulty, by adding side-polishing complexity and freezing.
You might decide that you’d like to get help from a certified trainer who can help you resolve his aggressive behavior towards other dogs, which is certainly adding unneeded stress to his life.
More on pets
Q: We have a 1 1/2 year old beagle mix that we rescued named Zola. She’s a great dog but refuses to go out. She hates going for walks and will literally get out of her harness and we have to hold onto her and struggle to get her harness on her and pick her up and put her outside to get her to go out and do her business. This is a new issue since we got her 4 months ago. She also sometimes refuses to pee when I take her out for the night at 10:00 pm. I have walked her for 45 minutes without success some nights. Any suggestions? — Suzanne from Midlothian, Virginia
There is a lot more that I’d like to know about Zola’s history, but here are some thoughts given what you’ve told me.
To help her get more comfortable with the outside world, you might feed her meals and play games with her favorite toys outside on the porch or in the yard. If she’s a dog-friendly pooch, you could set up play dates to go for walks with confident dog friends. Try to associate all of her favorite things with the outside world.
Zola may be having difficulty pottying outside because she’s afraid. It’s kind of hard to “let things go”, so to speak, when you’re tight with anxiety! So, as she gets more comfortable outside, her pottying problem may resolve itself. In the meantime, you could set up a dog potty inside if you have the room. (For a DIY dog potty, simply put some fake grass or a bit of sod, or a slab of slate if she likes to go on concrete, in a cat litter box.)
Finally, for safety, you might try using the Freedom harness made by Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers. It offers security and is a good choice for a dog who pulls and stalls while on walks.
Hope that helps!
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