IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Go fetch? Why your dog might not play outside

Dog trainer and behavior specialist Laura Garber, who helped TODAY’s Natalie Morales train her adopted dog Zara, offers advice on dealing with a fear of cooking, handling an overly friendly dog, and more.
/ Source:

Dog trainer Laura Garber helped TODAY's Natalie Morales train her adopted dog Zara, and now she's answering your questions! This week, Garber explains why your dog may be afraid of your cooking, how to deal with too much friendliness, and the best way to deal with your dog's aggression.

Q:I am curious about my 3-year-old terrier mix's absolute refusal to play fetch outside. Inside, she is great: She will run, fetch the ball, and will either toss it to me to throw again, or chew on it till I say "drop it." Then she drops it and gets ready for the next throw. But outside she will chase the ball, then walk away from it. She won't even pick it up. Is this common? — Jennifer from San Diego, Calif.

Hiya, Jennifer! 
While this isn’t necessarily common, it’s also not a surprise. Inside there might not be much else going on that’s very interesting, but outside there are all sorts of things to attract her attention — birds, squirrels, smells. She might just be getting distracted from her task. Also, if you’re playing fetch with her inside, she’s had enough of the game by the time she gets outside, so she’s more interested in everything else. Your job is to make fetch more interesting than all the alternatives and to save the game for playing outside. 

To get started, break the task into its components and giving her tasty tidbits for a job well done. If you reinforce her for targeting and picking up the ball, the rest of the game may kick in automatically, so spend a couple of training sessions in the yard marking (with a “yes!” or a clicker) and treating for your pup’s looking at, touching, picking up the ball, and so on. 

There’s a great YouTube video that might give you some more ideas. 

Hope that helps! There’s nothing like a good game of fetch to poop a dog out!

— Laura

Story: Help, my dog won't stop licking everything!

Q: Our dog Bob is 12 years old and going strong; however, a few years ago he was attacked in his own backyard by two pit bulls. Since then he is aggressive to other dogs. We have a 5-month-old puppy, and we have to keep them separate. Is there any way we can help Bob not be aggressive? He does not bite, but does get in the other dog's face. I'm praying we can help him enjoy playing with other dogs again. — Susan from Woodbridge, Va.

Hiya, Susan!  
So my goal for Bob would be for him to live happily with his puppy sibling, not necessarily be able to play with the wide world of dogs. It sounds like he’s had years of not being comfortable with other dogs and lived perfectly happily with his human family, so all he needs now is to live peacefully with the pup.

This is a really crucial time for the two dogs, because the puppy is still quite young. Most adult dogs are more lenient and tolerant with puppies, giving them “puppy license.” But the older the puppy gets, the more Bob will feel threatened by him, and so potentially threaten him in return. Before any more time goes by, I would suggest that you enlist the help of a professional behavior specialist to build relationship between Bob and his sibling. (Go to the Association for Pet Dog Trainers website to find a certified dog trainer in your area.) Such work will involve doing some basic training with both dogs, keeping them on leash and at a distance from each other but in each other’s company. The rest of the time they should be separated, just as you are already doing. This way they will associate pleasurable things with each other’s company, learn polite, controlled behavior near each other, so that you have better control of both dogs. 

It goes without saying that I think training any dog is important — I am a trainer after all, as well as a dog guardian, and I want my dog Trista to be my constant companion, which is only possible if she’s well-behaved. But in a multi-dog household, training is an absolute essential. 

— Laura

Story: Why is my dog afraid of going up and down the stairs?

Q: My daughter just got two new kittens, 8 weeks old now, and they live with her fiancé and his two adult German shepherds, one male and one female (the kittens are both male). What advice would you give to them on acquainting these cats and dogs? —  Debbie from Tucson, Ariz.

Hiya, Debbie!
Obviously, introduction will need to be done carefully. Check out my article Keeping the Peace — Life in a Multi-Animal Household, specifically Dogs with Cats. Here are some key points:

  • Keep the cats and dogs strictly separated at all times when there is no human supervision, even visually separated. You do not want the dogs to be practicing predatory staring at the kittens in your absence, even if they cannot physically get to them. 
  • The leash will become a crucial management tool that will prevent your daughter’s dogs from having the opportunity to practice chase behavior. The dogs must always be leashed in the presence of the kittens for the near future, until you are sure of their behavior together.
  • Start associating pleasurable experiences with the presence of the other animals. Feed the kittens or play games with them while reinforcing the dogs for calm, quiet behavior.  The dogs must be leashed during this work, and the kittens should be behind a gate to prohibit them from getting too close to the dogs.
  • Even as you get more comfortable with the animals being together, the cats should always have a room gated with a cat door and plenty of vertical space where they can seek refuge from the dogs when they want. You should be aware that predatory drift is a very real threat that will exist for the entirety of your animals’ lives together. This is an added risk for you because there are multiple dogs, who can feed off of each other’s energy.

Take lots of time for this introductory period. Don’t rush it. Much better safe than sorry, especially considering what’s at risk. Good luck!  — Laura

Katie Quinn

Q: My 2-year-old pug runs and hides every time I start cooking. He does not like the sounds or smoke. He just started doing this in the last 2 months or so. Any suggestions on how to calm him down when I cook? I don’t want to put him out every time. — Karen from Las Vegas, Nev.

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

Hiya, Karen! 
It’s hard to say why this suddenly started two months ago, but I’d break the problem down into components. There are sounds, like pans clanking and things being stirred or poured; there are smells like frying, baking; and then there’s your movements, like your quick, purposeful step as you get from one place to another. So, while your dog is eating his meals, practice just one component of the experience — your moving quickly from sink to stove or the sound of a spatula inside a pan. But remember that he needs to be able to eat; if whatever that’s happening in the kitchen concerns him too much to allow him to eat his meal, then you need to cause less of a “stir”, no pun intended! 

In the interim, until he’s completely comfortable with everything going on in the kitchen, put him in another room with a tasty, stuffed Kong — preferably with the kitchen activities just a whisper in the background. Check out my article The Power of Pavlov for more hints.

— Laura

Q: We have a 10-month-old Welsh corgi. She is wonderful, but too friendly! She runs to every dog and person she sees to say hello, lick them, jump at them, etc.! If someone comes to our home, she is very determined to be close to that person to demonstrate her love. My arm really hurts from constantly pulling her leash! What can I do to show her that not everybody wants her attention (some people are not very friendly to dogs). — Becky from Cary, N.C.

Story: Help, my dog is afraid of her own food dish!

Hiya, Becky! 
Let me start by saying that there’s no such thing as “too friendly.” Much better than the alternative of not liking people, right?! So be grateful that your dog has such a social, ebullient nature!

But we do need to teach her to be more polite, to have greater impulse control. Stacey in Howard Beach, N.Y., asked this same type of question a few weeks back, for a dog lacking impulse control when meeting people, so that shows you how common a problem this is. Check out what I said to her back then.

As for teaching your dog how to be more polite when meeting other dogs, understanding the concept I call gravitational pull might help you. Check out my dog blog entry.

Works wonders, I promise!

— Laura

Do you have a dog training question for Laura?

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