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 dog being aggressive on leash and more.
Q: When driving, how do you train your dog not to bark at people walking on the sidewalk? When she is in the car and when walking her on a leash?
—Jennifer from Paterson, New Jersey
One client of mine takes along a marrow bone or a stuffed Kong for car trips, so that her dog is happily working away at that, especially during city driving where there are more likely to be people on the street. Not only is it a good distraction, but it’s also building positive associations to car travel and breaking her habit of barking out the window.
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As you work on this, you can also try a calming cap, which looks like a head sock and works much like blinders on a horse, decreasing the level of visual stimuli.
As for barking at people when she’s on leash, first you need to determine the reason for her barking. If it’s excitement or demand barking, trying to gain her attention, then you need to work on her impulse control in order to teach her more polite alternatives to get her way. Sitting quietly at your side would be a much preferred approach.
If it’s a fear-based behavior — barking to keep people away from her, for instance — then you need to make her more comfortable with people’s presence. Have you tried giving her treats as you pass people on the street? If she’s hungry and the treats are yummy enough, she might warm to the idea of passing strangers! Just like the Kong in the car, she’s starting to associate something she has found unpleasant up until now with more pleasurable experiences!
Hope that helps!
More on pets
Q:I rescued my Lab-retriever-beagle mix, Cyrus, in January. He is about 2 years old, approximately 40 pounds and loves to go to the park and play with his fellow four-legged, furry friends. I volunteer with the organization I adopted Cyrus from and last week I fostered an adorable 8 month-old shepherd-mix through the same organization. I had Cyrus and Teddy (the foster dog) meet outside and get acquainted before having them enter our home. They are both similar in size.
I thought because Cyrus is so playful and friendly with other dogs, and even has play dates with his dog friends while I'm at work, this would be a fun week. That was not the case. Cyrus was very aggressive toward Teddy and would not share his toys or space. Even when I removed all toys, or gave them the exact same toy at the same time, there were several times when I had to pull Cyrus off of Teddy because of his aggression. I want to be able to foster more dogs that need an "in-between" home but Cyrus' behavior needs to change first. What should I do?
— Justine from New York, New York
It goes without saying that, though Cyrus enjoys playing with dogs outside of the home, he is having an issue with sharing his home with another dog. I think it’s definitely possible to help him through this, but remember that each new dog you bring into the home is going to be a different relationship for Cyrus. Even if he becomes very accepting of Teddy in his home, when Teddy leaves and a new resident takes his place, you may well have to retrace these same lessons of acceptance with the new dog. He may start to generalize over time, but each introduction will have a learning curve. It’s a bit like you having a new roommate every few months, you wouldn’t trust a new roommate just because you’d learned to trust the last one, right?
Whenever you’re working with “sibling” dogs who aren’t getting along, you need to use management (i.e. keep them fully separated and use leashes when together) and behavior modification (i.e. change their minds about the presence of the other dog). This is something I discussed in my response to Susan from Woodbridge, Virginia back in June.
Finally I want to point out that resource guarding is a naturally occurring and, in the wild anyway, a very necessary behavior. One animal needs to protect his resources from another animal or he will go hungry. Still, it’s not a behavior that we humans will tolerate in the home, so I recommend you get a certified trainer who can help you with this.
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Q: I recently rescued a 5-year-old male pit bull-Lab mix. He tries to push the envelope when we are out walking by chewing on the leash if he doesn't get to go where he wants to go. What can I do? He is large and very strong and gets a little rough by jumping up and trying to chew on me as well. I finally end up scolding him very loudly, but I know it’s not the answer. — Cathy from Espanola, New Mexico
There are a couple of things that come to mind. Firstly, if you’re not already using a head collar (like a Gentle Leader or a Halti), I would suggest getting one. For a dog who pulls a lot, lunges, or leash bites, and particularly for a large dog who effectively outmuscles his handler, it’s a great management tool.
Then, if you haven’t already read my article Shaping Companion Behaviors, I would suggest that you do. Clearly your objective on the walk differs from your dog’s and you’re going to need to get on the same page — or rather, get him on your page! Working on leash walking will help with this. This new pooch will be a part of your family for a long time, so it’s worth spending the time now to shape him into a polite, respectful family member
Finally I’d mention that some dogs are placated by being allowed to carry something in their mouths, like a ball. Perhaps he’d enjoy that!
Congrats on your new family member!
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