Ask the Dogfather: Trainer Tom Shelby helps you figure out Fido.

Maggie, a husky, in her element.
Photo by Eleni Roriz

Maggie, a husky, in her element.

Dear Dogfather,

Our five-plus-pound longhair Chihuahua is very fidgety while in our vehicle. I have a seat for him so he can see during the ride. He goes back and forth in it, whining. If I’m the passenger, I hold him and he whines. He has a carrier as needed for plane trips. He does not whine in that. Selfish on my part: I enjoy him sitting with us as we ride.

Is there any way to make him feel comfy without being confined? (He does not spit up or show signs of motion sickness)

I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

Tugg, Oak Bluffs

Dear Tugg,

Being in a car is a big part of most of our lives, which can make the time driving somewhat important. Driving with a dog whining in your ear is even less pleasurable than listening to the news. It’s probably better than listening to your large dog retching in the back seat as you’re doing 70 mph on the highway and can’t do anything about it, but not much.

You mentioned that “Fidgety” is in a car seat that enables him to see out. Well, there’s a good chance that that’s the problem. He can see out! Dogs don’t see as well as humans, except at night. Then they see better than we do. There are plenty of dogs who will at times not recognize their own owners at 25 feet, until the owner moves. Movement is very critical to dogs recognizing living things. I’ve met several dogs that were anxious when they could see out of the car window, but settled nicely when vision was blocked. I think they had trouble handling the view of the movement. Tugg — if he’s low on the back seat without a window view, and quiet? Lose the guilt for depriving him of the view! If he’s quiet, he’s relaxed, and happier.

A reality check about the front seat dog. A 20-mph fender bender with airbags deploying at 200 mph can result in a squashed dog on your chest!

Paula and MacDuff, my standard poodle and six-pound mini pin always take the front seats — after I exit the car. Upon my return they are always told, “Get in the back!”

I think he would be most comfortable in his carrier case in the back seat.

There’s also a real possibility that he needs to be taught the command “quiet” to stop the whining. I didn’t stress that because he’s a five-pounder who’s anxious; the correction used to stop the whining has to be finessed, so as not to cause more anxiety. I’m a “depends” trainer — what I do depends on what I see when I meet a dog. One size doesn’t fit all. Good luck, and may your ears enjoy listening pleasure during future car rides.

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

My nine-year-old husky mix rescue dog wasn’t socialized when she was younger, and as a result doesn’t play well with other dogs. She doesn’t bite them, but she growls and shows her teeth, which worries me, so I usually keep her away from other dogs. I feel bad she doesn’t have any friends, and I’d really like to take her to the dog park. Is it too late to change her disposition?

Thanks for any help.

Friendless in OB

Dear Friendless in OB,

I remember “works and plays well with others” on my kids’ report cards when they were in grade school. They were well socialized and always got “satisfactory” when it came to “plays well with others.” I always expected no problems, yet there was always a mild sense of relief on the confirmation from the school. I wanted to know that when the kids were out there, on their own, they knew how to “get along” in the world.

The key difference here is that your nine-year-old husky won’t be out there, on her own. You’ ll be there! And what you do either alleviates or exacerbates the problem. The great majority of people I’ve met inadvertently do the opposite of what will help, which results in avoidance — in this case, “keeping her away from other dogs.” There are about seven different types of aggression, depending on how you define it, and in my experience it rarely goes away on its own. When the dog discovers that a growl or snap causes you to flinch or pull back, it just learned, “Wow, that works! Got rid of him.” Not a good lesson for the dog to learn, but happens all the time.

Thankfully, her threats are toward other dogs and not people. I don’t know from your question if she basically ignores other dogs and just growls if meeting another dog while on leash, or if you turn a corner with her and she goes crazy upon seeing another dog a half a block away while on leash, or if she’s off leash meeting another dog. Circumstances makes a big difference.

Most dogs are much tougher on leash than off leash. Where you think she may be protecting you, in most cases the reality is she feels much braver by being connected to you; take the leash off, sever the connection, she runs toward the other dog and suddenly realizes she’s alone and “pop goes the dragon.” Whole new attitude as she stops, looks at the dog and says, “Sorry, mistook you for someone else.”

So you do what most people do. Upon seeing another dog you tighten the leash and say the dog’s name with concern in your voice. You’ve just communicated anxiety with your leash and voice, and what’s she going to relate the anxiety to? The dog you’re both looking at, of course. Then you usually do one of two things, cross the street to avoid, or try to get the dog to sit and stay while the other dog passes. Avoid, and give the dog confirmation of the need for concern. At this point, for the dog to sit and stay while the other dog passes is like asking her to sit on the track and ignore the oncoming train.

So, what to do? Ideally, your Husky Girl (HG) meets Miss Mellow (MM) — a sweet, non-intrusive, very un-reactive dog in a large confined area. HG is dragging a six-foot leash which you are not holding and MM is off leash. Best chance of her making a friend, but won’t help much if she aggresses on leash on the street.

HG needs to be taught “redirection” and “leave it.” Redirection can mean “Look at me” or “heel” to redirect her attention to perform certain behaviors instead of aggressing. Whatever HG is focused on, when she hears you say “Look at me!” she does precisely that: makes eye contact with you. Same with “heel.” When told to heel, her sole focus is to stay at your left knee no matter where or what speed you go. She doesn’t sniff, she doesn’t pee, she just concentrates on making sure to go wherever you go. These behaviors should be taught in conjunction with “leave it!” It is whatever she sees that you want her to ignore — a squirrel, a rabbit, a cat, a dog.

So, here’s what to try when you and HG are walking down the street and you see another dog. First thing you do is start making love to HG with your voice. Get her attention with your happy voice and treats (maybe the only time she gets people food treats is when she sees another dog and is not being aggressive). If she acts nasty toward the other dog she gets redirected with a look at me or heel or leave it, depending on her intensity.

Is it too late to change her disposition toward other dogs? My guess, based on your description of HG’s response to other dogs, is that it’s not too late. I doubt that she’ll ever be a social butterfly, but with patience and positive doggy encounters she may become socially appropriate and make a few friends along the way. Good luck!

The Dogfather

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