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‘Dogged’ by problems? Natalie’s trainer offers advice

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Wondering why your dog can't sit still? Need to make him stop biting your guests? Dog trainer Laura Garber helped TODAY's Natalie Morales train her adopted dog Zara, and now she's answering your questions!

Q:My wife and I have recently taken a rescue dog home and we are just a little concerned about her. She must have been abused by males because she doesn't like men, and I have a hard time getting next to her. Does that fear go away at some point? Also she doesn't listen all the time not even to my wife when she talks to her, and she seems to jump at any little noise as if it scares her. Any suggestions? — Robert from Johnstown, New York

Hiya, Robert! While it’s true that there is such a thing as abuse in the world (if only it weren’t the case), more often than not it’s under-socialization during a puppy’s sensitivity period that is the cause of problems such as fear of men. This means that, during the first four months of her life, she didn’t meet enough men and get treats and love from them so as to learn their relevance in her life.

Take a look at my article "Loving a Shy Dog". You must forge a relationship with her through all of the things she most enjoys in life — treats, toys, walks. Also, if she likes the company of other dogs, it can be really helpful to have a more confident dog buddy around so that she witnesses the advantages the other dog gains from interacting with you, like enjoying tasty treats.

You can’t count on the fear just going away — you need to actively work on this with her. As for your concern about her not always listening and attending to you and your wife, you need to do some basic training with her. She may feel afraid and uncertain about her world so that she’s hyper-alert to everything around her and you get drowned out. Sign up for a group training class at a local dog training academy that touts positive training techniques. Check for certified trainers in your area.

Training forges relationship and builds confidence!

— Laura

Q: Help! I have a dog and a cat who will just not adjust to each other! I am the owner of three cats, the youngest of whom was a feral cat when I got her about a year ago. She adjusted fine to my other two cats (after a couple of months). My roommate just moved in with her lab/pit mix last December, and ever since then the kitty has practically been living under our sofa. The dog is living wonderfully with my other two cats, and is only curious about the kitty because he never sees her (it's like a game for him when she comes out). Any tips to getting them to adjust, or do I just need to find my kitty a new home? — Holly from Jefferson, Georgia

Hiya, Holly! Your poor kitty! It can take some cats longer than others to make peace with living with a dog. And the problem is that it can become a vicious cycle — the cat fleeing from the dog and the dog enjoying the chase, resulting in the cat’s continued flight. Check out my article "Keeping the Peace — Life in a Multi-Animal Household", specifically Dogs with Cats. The leash will become a crucial management tool that will prevent your roommate’s dog from having the opportunity to practice chase behavior.

Good luck! I hope they can find an easier peace with each other!

— Laura

Do you have a dog training question? Ask Natalie's trainer!

Q: I have a 4-month-old female Shih Tzu puppy. I am having a hard time potty-training her. She goes outside and loves to stay out, but when she comes in she looks for her puppy pad to use. I tried removing the pads but she will pee on the floor. I have two other dogs that are completely housebroken. I have tried sprays, the bells on the door and just about everything else I could think of. Any suggestions? — Joni from Rome, New York

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  Katie Quinn

Hiya, Joni! This is a pretty common problem. Dogs often get distracted by the excitement of the outside world and the last thing on their minds is pottying.

Have a glance at my handout called "Housetraining 101" and specifically the bullet that mentions the 3-5 Minute Rule. The problem is that she’s enjoying the outside world without having to “pay the toll” first by pottying. Only allow her to remain outside if she actually goes potty in the first three to five minutes. That way, playing outside becomes her reward for doing the right thing.

One other thing I’d suggest is that you can try taking a dirty wee-wee pad outside with you. That might be more successful at eliciting peeing than those sprays. Place the pad in a spot that you’d like to become her potty spot. She has developed a surface preference to paper and we need to change it to grass (or dirt or pavement). So first build habit to pottying in a location and then gradually fade the presence of the pad.

Finally, the bells on the door won’t work until your dog learns that she’s supposed to go potty outside. This is a concept she doesn’t understand yet. She still thinks inside is the right answer.

I hope that helps!

— Laura

Q: I have a 6-year-old pug. I have recently retired and moved to a retirement community where I am one of 12 apartments. Since I have moved here, my dog has a fit if I leave her sight. She never was this way before and I'm not sure how to handle it. I don't know whether to continue to leave her for short periods of time or what to do. I know that a new place can be an adjustment plus the fact that I have retired has her all confused, but I'm afraid that this might become a pattern. I don't want her to become a bother to the other tenants. Summer is coming and she will not be able to go in the car with me as it will be too hot. Do you have any suggestions? — Sheila from Auburn, Maine

Hiya, Sheila! Moving can be very stressful to dogs — it turns their world upside-down! Establishing a routine can be helpful, because it puts some regularity back in her life. Meanwhile, here are some other things to try:

  • Make sure she’s getting plenty of exercise. A tired dog is a good dog. And physical exercise is a great stress reliever.
  • If she enjoys the company of other dogs, include doggie play dates in your daily routine. It’s a great way for her to get some aerobic exercise and it offers her a social outlet.
  • When she’s had plenty of exercise and she’s tired, that’s the best time to give her a little quiet time alone. Food-stuffed puzzle toys can offer her some mental stimulation as well as giving her something to while away the time in your absence.
  • If you have to be away longer than your dog can tolerate, ask a neighbor to dog-sit.
  • Make sure that your dog is on a high-quality diet. Diets high in corn (which is a simple sugar) and preservatives should be avoided.
  • Supplement with an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) supplement. Studies have shown thatOmega 3 fatty acids can elevate mood and decrease anxiety in humans. There’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have the same positive effects on moods in our dogs. Omega 3s are also great for the health of coat and skin. When introducing this to the diet, start at half the suggested daily dosage and work up gradually (sudden introduction can cause diarrhea).

My article "Home Alone" might give you some helpful tips in building your dog’s tolerance to aloneness. Good luck!

— Laura

Story: Natalie's rescue dog tale: Sit, stay, love

Q: I have had the most adorable rescue dog for three years now — she is the best! I feel horrible for her because whenever we have a storm or even a little rain she becomes a wreck — worse than any dog I have ever seen. She shakes like she is having a seizure, she salivates and her eyes get huge and ears go down, almost like she is in a trance — she hears no one. We have tried natural meds and tramadol from the vet, Benadryl and even storm vests, singing, cuddling and nothing seems to work — any suggestions? I’m afraid she will have a heart attack one day! — Lisa from Vienna, Virginia

Hiya, Lisa!
That is such a shame! Poor pooch! It sounds like you’ve already tried a lot of things to help her through this. You might take a look at my article "Calming an Anxious Dog" to see if there’s anything there that you haven’t tried yet.

Many vets prescribe Xanax, which is a fast-acting anti-anxiety drug used for generalized anxiety and thunderstorm phobias. It can be sedating and it can also cause physiological dependence when used with regularity, so you'll need to wean her off of this gradually if at some point she no longer needs it. Talk with your vet about whether Xanax might be an option for your dog.

However, employing a drug regimen is usually more effective when used in tandem with behavior modification protocols. Take a look at my article "Harnessing the Power of Pavlov", specifically the section called Sound Sensitivity. It explains the importance of desensitization and counter-conditioning in treating fear.

Finally, why don’t you try my relaxation protocol. It is as follows:

The“RELAX” Protocol: Touch can be very powerful. Indeed it can calm the wild beast, and it can also calm the wild beast in your pooch! We can use massage to help build a “relax” command so that we can put relaxation on cue.

Pick a time of day when your dog is naturally calm and will be most receptive to massage, likely in the evening, as the day winds down. Start with her lying quietly on her side, with you sitting on the floor behind her. Use deep, slow, calming strokes. Rubbing her chest can be particularly effective, but experiment with massaging different parts of your dog’s body and notice which she seems to enjoy and luxuriate in most. Do a session at least once a day for about 10 minutes in length.

can help reduce stress and anxiety in dogs. Spray about 0.16 ounces of diffused lavender oil on the blanket or towel that you use for these chilling out sessions.

After a week, you should know whether your massage sessions are enjoyable to your dog. If they are, then start associating them with the command “relax” by saying the cue occasionally during the massage session.

As your pooch learns how to “relax,” start asking her to do it at different times of day, times that are gradually more challenging, when her energy level might be a little higher. See that she is able to achieve some calm even in more challenging environments, and ultimately during thunderstorms.

— Laura

Do you have a dog training question for Laura?

is a dog trainer and behavior specialist. She is the owner of

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