Authors Posts by Tom Shelby

Tom Shelby

Tom Shelby
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PS: Love those questions — keep ‘em coming! Write to dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Jada and Magnum were born three weeks ago — on August 28. The third triplet did not survive, but these two are opening their eyes and on the move. (Photo by David Roberts)

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owners of a pregnant Vineyard Haven dog, eagerly awaiting triplets.

Dear Dogfather,

Our dog is going to have puppies soon. We are looking forward to the adorable pups, but not so much for all the cleaning up after them. How can we housebreak them as soon as possible?

Awaiting triplets in Vineyard Haven

Dear Awaiting Triplets in Vineyard Haven,

Congratulations on your (probably by the time you read this) enlarged family. One of the lines in my book is, “It’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.” If you’re a dog trainer it’s true. I don’t care if the dog is so well-trained that it takes out the garbage and loads the dishwasher; if it poops or pees in the house it’s no good. Period.

Initially, most mothers will clean up after their pups. Dogs are strong creatures of habit, and what they’re standing on when they first become cognizant of the comfort of relieving themselves can be meaningful. That’s been my experience. If as soon as possible you can have them get accustomed to making pee and poop outdoors, instead of on floors and carpets, it speeds up the housebreaking process.

Dogs have a “den instinct.” They don’t like to make pee or poop where they eat and sleep. That’s where the expression “dirty dog” comes from. If the dog goes in its den, he’s considered dirty. Get a crate large enough for him to stretch out lying down plus a little, and get him to love it. This should start happening at about six to eight weeks of age. Feed him his three meals a day in the crate, crate door open. During the day toss special treats in the crate, praise him whenever he goes in, and put his bed in it, making sure that that is the most physically comfortable place for him to hang out.

As long as he’s too young to hold it all night, the crate, with crate door left open, needs to be boxed in by an x-pen (eight paneled metal gate with all panels jointed so it can be easily configured anyway you want). Next, put a pee pad that has a touch of the dog’s urine on it outside the crate at the back of the confinement area so that when pup wakes up to relieve itself it can leave its den, and pee or poop on the pad which he will be attracted to by the urine smell. The last thing you want is the dog going in his den. You know he can hold it all night when the time comes that you wake up and discover a clean pee pad. That’s when you close the crate door for the night.

If you don’t want a pee pad in the house, have the crate near your bed with the crate door closed and when you hear him crying or whimpering fly out of bed and get him outside immediately. Initially, always praise the puppy with voice and treat as soon as he’s finished going, except at night. No treat then. Keep praise low-key so he goes back to sleep. Most dogs have the ability to hold it all night when they are about 10 weeks old.

Try feeding on a structured basis, close to the same times every day. This way you’ll get a handle on when he has to go in relation to when he eats. I’d suggest he gets fed three times a day until about four months of age, then lose the middle meal and feed in the morning and evening at your convenience. Leave the food down for 20 minutes or so, then remove it and lose the guilt if he misses a meal. He’ll learn to eat when it’s available and you’ll both be better off if he’s on a schedule. (This is not the place for me to deal with the dogs who can’t afford to miss meals for one reason or another).

Also, a dog needs one cup of water for every 8 pounds of weight in a 24 hour period to be properly hydrated. Most vets will tell you to have water always available. That’s because they’ve had clients actually dehydrating their dogs by holding water back to eliminate the peeing mistakes. Cut the water off by 7 pm so pup has a better chance of holding it all night sooner.

During the day, assuming someone’s home, pup is confined within view of caretaker. (The x-pen can make this relatively easy). Enter the Dog God. What happens in most cases all over the world, when an owner sees their dog starting to relieve itself in the house, the person is charging at the dog arms flailing, yelling whatever they’re yelling to stop the dog from going. And what does the dog learn from this? Well, from his perspective, when you see him going,  you clearly lose your mind, charging at him yelling and flailing. That’s why dogs get very good at getting sneaky; they wait till you’re distracted and then step out of sight behind the couch and take a quick pee to avoid your insane reaction to their natural needs.

The Dog God is anything that startles the dog and it doesn’t come from you. Several empty soda or beer cans with a dozen pennies inside, strategically placed to be quickly picked up and shook or thrown near the dog (depending on the dog’s sensitivity) as the dog starts to go hopefully stops the process. Don’t let the dog see you shake or throw the can, and get him out, treats in pocket to reward the outside pee or poop.

Signs of a dog seriously thinking about making pee or poop are a sudden intense sniffing (looking for the right place to pee) or a kind of darting back and forth or circling (looking to poop). If you can’t watch him for whatever reason, he has to be confined in the crate/x-pen area with crate door open and pee pad available, or in the closed crate, depending on his progress. If he goes in the house and you didn’t catch him within 15 seconds, just clean up and deodorize. It is extremely important that the odor of any mistakes be removed, as dogs really do go where they smell it. White vinegar is as good as the odor neutralizers on the market and much cheaper. If the dog is basically housebroken but has a proclivity for going on occasion in a particular spot, feed him on that spot for a week. Dogs don’t like to relieve themselves where they eat anymore than you like to have meals in your bathroom.

In my experience most dogs are pretty reliably housebroken by about five months of age.

Good luck.

The Dogfather

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owner of Izzeira, who was pinned to the floor by a less-than-polite dog.

Dear Dogfather,

Love your column.  Wondering about social protocol?  This is probably an isolated situation, doesn’t happen often, however, when in a public place (the bank), I have my dog, Izzeira, on a leash, and an unleashed dog comes over and growls and pins my dog to the floor.  The owner says, “It is alright, he is just showing that he is the dominant dog.”

I was not alright with that. What should I have said??

Thanks,  vethorse

Dear Vethorse,

Keeping in mind that my wife reminds me from time to time that sometimes I’m socially inappropriate with my directness, my first thought is, “Who do I kick first, the dog or the lady?” The “dominant dog” owner is clearly not from around here, but seemed to speak pretty good English for someone from a different planet. Which is good, so she’ll be better able to comprehend your response spoken in English instead of Jupiterian.

Perhaps I’ll be accused of anthropomorphizing here by saying to dominant dog owner, “Your off-leash dog pinning my dog down and terrorizing her is as acceptable as my husband knocking your husband down and getting on top of him and threatening him!”

Actually, Vethorse, this is really a tough question to answer because if dominant dog owner has a dog like this in a bank, off leash and saying its behavior is okay, then she’s so clueless, who knows how she will respond. Anger usually begets anger in return, but how can you not be angry as your dog is being beaten up, if not physically, mentally.

Perhaps just keep it simple: “Your dog needs to be on a leash and you need to take responsibility for its unacceptable behavior,” or to be less argumentative —  just, “Your dog needs to be on a leash!”

Hey Vethorse, out of curiosity, what did you say?

Good luck and may you never see dominant dog lady and her dog again.

The Dogfather

PS: Love those questions — keep ‘em coming! Write to dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Leo has a bit of a loud mouth. — Photo by Michael West

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owner of Leo, a German Shepherd whose barking rocks the planet.

Dear Dogfather,

My wonderful German shepherd dog Leo barks. I guess all dogs bark, that’s what they do, but he’s a big dog, lots of teeth, and he scares people. He barks at people he doesn’t know, and he barks at people he does know, even my sons, who he sees many times every day. When people come in the house, despite his barking, he is all tail wagging and friendly as he can be.

In the car he rocks the planet with barking every time a dog walks by. Help!

What to do, what to do?

A loving owner of a barky dog

Dear Loving Owner of a Barky Dog,

Several years ago a vet who’s a friend of mine was quite dismayed when he was bitten by a dog whose tail was wagging furiously just before the bite. As I explained to him, there are different types of tail wags. If a dog loves to bite he’ll be wagging, looking forward to the bite. Same goes for barking. All kinds. Excited, playful, fearful, warning, lonely, just to name a few.

Sounds to me like Leo’s barking is habitual, which is not unique. Dogs are creatures of habit. If he seems to bark at everything all the time, it’s become a habit. What to do?

First thing Leo needs to learn is the command “quiet.”  As I’ve said often, the best way to train a dog is to have success build on success. Maybe start in the car where it’s just the two of you with a good spray bottle or water pistol. You’re not looking to give Leo a facial, so make sure your H20 firearm sprays a good stream, not a mist.

If people walking close to the car cause him to bark, don’t park next to the fire engine during fireworks; remember, success builds on success. Park where the occasional person with a dog walks by and as the person is approaching the car start getting Leo’s attention by talking calmly to him and offer him treats as long as he’s not barking.

When his mouth opens to bark he hears a firm “Quiet” with a spray between the eyes a split second after the word quiet. If he shuts up offer him treats as the person passes the car. Frankly, a toy poodle is more likely to respond to a little water than a German Shepherd, but try it anyway. You never know!

If that doesn’t work I’d consider an E collar, using a vibration mode as opposed to electric stim. If that doesn’t work I’d suggest the help of a pro to ensure proper timing and stim intensity. It should be weak enough to startle, not hurt.

Leo needs a “door turmoil routine” for people coming to the house; a routine to eliminate the turmoil at the door. Initially, thank him for barking to let you know somebody’s approaching the house. It’s one of his jobs. Then he’s told to go to his “spot,” located out of the way but with a view of the entering guests, and sit and stay, If he barks, it’s “Quiet,” and have the guests enter. After “Hello’s” with the visitors, Leo is told to come forward to meet the guests with a treat. No barking allowed at this point.

I’m a big fan of this routine because it’s a tone-setter. If he’s out of control when people come over he’s set the tone of the visit — unpleasant. But if he’s trained to do this routine, the tone that’s set is one of good manners and cooperation. You may need a pro’s help to effect this routine, especially with an intimidating German Shepherd.

Good luck

The Dogfather.

— Photo by Alexandra Loud

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels Alex, who will soon be bringing home a new puppy to join their Shortybull, Angus, and the owners of Alby, who is entering her golden years.

Dear Dogfather,

My partner and I have a two-year-old Shortybull (Frenchy-Staffordshire bull terrier mix) who is fabulously friendly, calm, and loving. Angus is neutered and rarely is aggressive toward other dogs. We are planning on adding a new female pup to our home in September. What do we need to do for Angus and the new pup so that everyone is comfortable and happy?

Thanks!

Alex

Dear Alex,

Glad to hear that Angus is a nice guy and also glad to hear that the new pack member is going to be a female. Generally, opposite sexes get along better than same sex. In my experience the worst inter-family dog aggression is often between two sisters from the same litter — especially terriers. What often happens is the dominant sister is a bully, pushing her submissive sister to the point where she can’t and won’t take it anymore, with the result being a serious fight. Usually happens between one and two years of age, with a lousy prognosis. The bully won’t stop bullying and her sister won’t submit and your quality of life goes downhill as the constant anxiety of a serious fight erupting makes your life miserable. With about 800 training appointments per annum I’ve seen this scenario about once a year, with one of the dogs having to be re-homed because they weren’t going to work it out.

When you have a puppy in mind, I suggest you bring Angus to meet her and let them hang out together. If Angus thinks it’s great fun when the pup play-fights with him and you see two tails wagging a lot, you got a match. If Angus’s new sister isn’t coming home with you on the first meeting, take two dish towels and rub her all over with them. Then place one towel under Angus’s food bowl and the other under where he sleeps. The positive association of her scent with two of his favorite spots can’t hurt.

When it’s time to bring the new family member home, bring Angus with you. If that’s not feasible have them meet a block away from the house and then come home together. Meeting at a neutral location will go a long way in avoiding a territorial-aggressive response, which often applies to playdates, too.

Best of luck with your new pack member,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

What recommendation or advice do you have for the lucky owners of elderly dogs? I have been blessed with 14 wonderful years with my canine companion, and while I feel sure she will be the longest-lived dog in existence, I know the time will come when I will have to prepare both of us for her ” next great adventure.” My dog, let’s call her Alby, is a terrier mix of about 40 pounds. She has enjoyed robust good health her entire life and continues to be healthy and happy. I take her for daily walks, and if she is a bit less interested in squirrels than she used to be, she still frisks about. While this not a topic I like to think about, I do want to be able to make the best decisions I can when the end nears so as to be able to afford her a comfortable and dignified passing. Yours with respect.

Alby’s Loving Mother

Dear Alby’s Loving Mama,

The vibe I get from your question tells me that if there’s reincarnation I’d like to come back as your dog. One thing’s for sure. Whenever the end comes, you can be sure that Alby’s had as good a life as a dog can have.

Euthanizing a family member is truly one of the most painful hardships we humans can face. And it comes in three parts — knowing when to do it, making the decision, and doing it.

I think if there’s chronic pain and discomfort and she’s living in a haze of painkillers, it’s time. If she stops eating or drinking, it’s time. If her quality of life has totally deteriorated, make the decision.

But in all of this there’s something that I think is extremely important. NO PITY. Don’t share your sadness with him. Dogs are very aware and sensitive to your mood. ACT. Act as up as you can. Do not share your sadness with her. It will only frighten and depress her more. After it’s done, mourn till you’re out of tears. After it’s done.

My little Cavalier King Charles thought he was in heaven before he actually got there. He passed with his tail wagging furiously as he was devouring a chocolate bar when he got the sleep shot. I might also suggest that if possible, have the vet come to your house when it’s time. Alby will be much more comfortable and so probably will you.

Enjoy the time you have and good luck,

The Dogfather

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Pudgy's owners hope he can attain a more svelte physique. But he is a good boy. — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Comm

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owners of an overweight Scottie.

Dear Dogfather,

Is it best to ease an overweight dog into a new diet?  What kinds of dog food do you recommend for weight loss? What portion size and feeding schedule are best for a medium sized terrier? What about adding vitamin and mineral supplements to his diet?

Signed,

Concerned owner of a pudgy good boy

Dear Concerned Owner of a Pudgy Good Boy,

One of the sayings in the world of dogs is, “If you own a dog and if you’re overweight, the dog’s not getting enough exercise.” Owner of Pudgy: with one exception, your dog’s weight is all on you, 100 percent your responsibility. His weight is based on three things: what you feed him, how much you feed him, and how much you exercise him. Period. The exception is a health issue. For example, if his thyroid’s out of whack he may gain some weight, until you resolve the problem.

As for a weight loss food, ask your vet what she’d suggest. I like to see dogs fed twice a day, morning and evening, at times that are convenient to the owner. To some owners, that may mean 5:30 am and 3:45 pm, to others it may be 10:30 am and 9:30 pm. Most dogs are very adaptable and as a quality of life issue they should meld with your lifestyle as seamlessly as possible. A word of caution for owners of large dogs: to avoid the possibility of dangerous bloating, don’t exercise Bowser vigorously for an hour after eating.

All dog food packages contain feeding instructions, with recommended portions based on  weight and age. I’d probably feed a little less than is recommended because the dog food company’s top priority is to sell as much food as it can.

Unless your vet is telling you to add a supplement for a specific health issue, I’d advise against adding any mineral or vitamin. Your vet will probably recommend a food that is AAFCO approved, meaning it meets the nutritional requirements of a dog. I’ve read a fair amount  about dogs having issues from imbalances created by unnecessary supplements.

Thanks for the question and good luck

The Dogfather

PS: Love those questions — keep ‘em coming! Contact the Dogfather here.

Edgy in Edgartown

Pancho gets a little too protective of his family. — Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owners of  Pancho, who is too overprotective of his family.

Dear Dogfather,

My dog Pancho is very protective of his family. He is normally well behaved around strangers, but if he feels that his family is in danger, he gets aggressive. Once, when my oldest son (whom Pancho is not used to) was home from college, he started play-wrestling with his younger brother. Pancho got scared my youngest son was actually being hurt, and came up and nipped my oldest son. It wasn’t a serious bite, but it did draw blood — and it scared us all. I think it’s great that Pancho wants to protect us, but I’m worried he can’t tell the difference between real danger and play. How can I break him of this habit before someone gets seriously hurt?

Dear Edgy in Edgartown,

Boy! Have I seen a lot of “edgy” dog owners in the last several decades. I remember how edgy the film star was about his two pugs possibly urinating on his $30,000 white dining room carpet. Or the Park Ave patron very edgy about his Lab puppy chewing on his expensive antique chair legs. But when it comes to aggression, edgy easily blossoms into fear.

There are about seven different types of aggression, depending on how you define it. Your dog who wouldn’t dream of biting you breaks a leg and bites you when you pick it up to take it to the vet. That’s pain aggression. Or the same dog get attacked by another dog and bites you severely when you try to break up the fight. That’s redirected, or displacement aggression. Lots of dogs being trained for police work “wash out” because of displacement aggression presented during training. They bite the handler in frustration if they can’t get the “acting bad” guy. When a dog bites the couch next to him because he can’t get the deer or rabbit he sees through the bay window, he’s a displacement biter.

All dogs contain aggression within. It’s a matter of thresholds and intensity. Push the right button, and how quickly does the dog aggress, what’s it’s threshold? And just as important, what’s the intensity and endurance of the presented aggression. The Lab who chases a ball is actually presenting predatory aggression. It’s why the puppy chases the blowing leaf: the leaf represents prey and the dog gives chase. That’s why the last thing you want to do if a dog is threatening you is run!

Edgy, it would help to know in this case the size and age of Pancho. Is he the size of a four-year-old, 80-pound shepherd or an 8-month-old chihuahua? Precisely what I would suggest depends on your answers to several questions I’d ask, if I could.

Many dogs get easily excitable — call it a low threshold for getting unstrung. These are dogs you don’t want to play wrestle with because they escalate the play too fast and too hard. My Doberman Michelle played like a soft teddy bear and my Doberman Mikey got too rough way too fast, so we didn’t play rough with him.

Put simply, Pancho needs to be trained and desensitized. Desensitized to loud noises and kids at play and rough-housing. This is done with success building on success. If your dog is afraid of the sound of sirens and you live in Manhattan you have one of three choices. Move to the top of a mountain in rural Georgia where you’ll probably never hear a siren, or ignore the dog’s panic and ensuing behavior, or, desensitize him to the sound of sirens. Buy a noise CD that has the sound of sirens and play it softly( loud enough so that the dog registers the sound but softly enough so that the dog can handle it) and give him small pieces of meat as he listens to the sirens. With success building on success slowly ratchet up the sound level to the point where Bowser not only tolerates wailing sirens, but actually likes it because it’s the only time he get people food.

Pancho first needs to be taught to come reliably, to stay and to “leave it,” it being whatever you want him to leave alone — in this case kids rough-housing. He then needs to be desensitized to kids play acting rough-housing, with success building on success. A tip on getting dogs to come reliably — 15 to 20 times a day, when Pancho doesn’t expect it, call him to come using the same command. The first four times he gets a treat after he arrives. After that he gets the treat intermittently. Intermittency is the strongest way to condition an animal. His attitude will become, maybe there’s a treat, I better go check it out.

As for the “stay” and “leave it”, you’ll probably need some help from a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

This Boston Terrier, Angus, has learned to wade into the Lagoon. — Jamie Stringfellow

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owners of a Boston Terrier who refuses to swim, and Pancho, who is too overprotective of his family.

Dear Dogfather,

Huxley Nadler prefers to stay on dry land.
Huxley Nadler prefers to stay on dry land.

Can my 8-year-old Boston Terrier ever be trained to swim? He gets his paws wet, but he looks surprised and offended if a wavelet comes along and smacks him. Since I love to swim myself, and the Island has so many wonderful beaches — not to mention that we live a few short blocks from The Inkwell in Oak Bluffs — I just wish he were less of a wuss about the water! Also, when I take a dip, he barks at me as if I were turning into a monster of the deep.

— Drydocked by my dog

Dear Drydocked,

Every summer as a dog trainer I had a bunch of appointments which required my showing up with my bathing suit; the goal being to teach the dog where the steps to exit the pool are. Unfortunately many dogs drown in backyard pools because they can’t pull themselves out of the pool, and don’t know about the steps. So there I am getting paid to go swimming in some celebrity’s beautiful pool, and oh yes, at the same time teaching the dog where the steps are. Did I mention I love my job? Once, I was called to go to Fire Island to teach a Newfoundland to swim, which seemed crazy to me at the time because Newfies are the best swimming dogs in the world. Newton, the Newfie, was clearly terrified of the pool and he would have died of old age before entering the water for any kind of treat. So with hot dog pieces secured to my waist, and a harness and 20 foot leash on Newton, I literally dragged the 135-pound dog into the pool, barely avoided being shredded by his nails as he tried to scramble up my body, and slowly started walking around the pool. His attitude transformation was fast, going from “I can do this!” to “I think I like this” to “This is great!”

I warned the owners; nonetheless, I got the call a week later. “We’re tired of constantly having to dry a huge, hairy, soaking wet dog before he comes into the house. How do we keep him out of the pool?”

As for Mr. Boston Terrier (BT), I’d suggest Sengekontacket pond, across the road from State Beach. Not only no waves, not even wavelets; it gets deep very gradually, and it’s warmer than the open ocean. BT gets no people food, with the exception being when he goes swimming. Have the tiny pieces of meat in a little plastic bag attached to you and carry him into the water and then turn and face the shore, and gently lower him into the water. Talk to him with positive tones telling him how much fun he’s having as you two slowly head to shore. As soon as he’s not swimming anymore and walking in the water offer him pieces of the meat.

He’ll be more relaxed if when you lower him in the water you get down to his level with just your head above the water. There’s a good likelihood he’ll try to climb up your body scratching you in the process, so avoid that by calmly turning him away.

I had to go through the same thing with my two Dobermans, who like BT are also not water dogs — no webbed feet. It’s like us swimming with our hands balled into fists. Nonetheless they can swim fine once they get the hang of it. Most water dogs also have long tails which help by acting as rudders.

If his antics once you lower him in the water seem funny, don’t laugh at him; rather, laugh with him telling him you’re both having fun. If he likes to chase and retrieve a ball or stick or toy, try using that once he’s somewhat acclimated to the water. Remember, he’ll be more amenable to the whole water thing if you’re in the water with him.

As for his barking when you’re in the water and he’s not, it’s quite common. I’ve had many training appointments where I had to stop the dog from circling the pool barking like crazy when people were swimming. Actually, the dogs are frantic for your safety, and one of the best solutions is getting them swimming with you.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

My dog Pancho is very protective of his family. He is normally well behaved around strangers, but if he feels that his family is in danger, he gets aggressive. Once, when my oldest son (whom Pancho is not used to) was home from college, he started play-wrestling with his younger brother. Pancho got scared my youngest son was actually being hurt, and came up and nipped my oldest son. It wasn’t a serious bite, but it did draw blood — and it scared us all. I think it’s great that Pancho wants to protect us, but I’m worried he can’t tell the difference between real danger and play. How can I break him of this habit before someone gets seriously hurt?

Dear Edgy in Edgartown,

Boy! Have I seen a lot of “edgy” dog owners in the last several decades. I remember how edgy the film star was about his two pugs possibly urinating on his $30,000 white dining room carpet. Or the Park Ave patron very edgy about his Lab puppy chewing on his expensive antique chair legs. But when it comes to aggression, edgy easily blossoms into fear.

There are about seven different types of aggression, depending on how you define it. Your dog who wouldn’t dream of biting you breaks a leg and bites you when you pick it up to take it to the vet. That’s pain aggression. Or the same dog get attacked by another dog and bites you severely when you try to break up the fight. That’s redirected, or displacement aggression. Lots of dogs being trained for police work “wash out” because of displacement aggression presented during training. They bite the handler in frustration if they can’t get the “acting bad” guy. When a dog bites the couch next to him because he can’t get the deer or rabbit he sees through the bay window, he’s a displacement biter.

All dogs contain aggression within. It’s a matter of thresholds and intensity. Push the right button, and how quickly does the dog aggress, what’s it’s threshold? And just as important, what’s the intensity and endurance of the presented aggression. The Lab who chases a ball is actually presenting predatory aggression. It’s why the puppy chases the blowing leaf: the leaf represents prey and the dog gives chase. That’s why the last thing you want to do if a dog is threatening you is run!

Edgy, it would help to know in this case the size and age of Pancho. Is he the size of a four-year-old, 80-pound shepherd or an 8-month-old chihuahua? Precisely what I would suggest depends on your answers to several questions I’d ask, if I could.

Many dogs get easily excitable — call it a low threshold for getting unstrung. These are dogs you don’t want to play wrestle with because they escalate the play too fast and too hard. My Doberman Michelle played like a soft teddy bear and my Doberman Mikey got too rough way too fast, so we didn’t play rough with him.

Put simply, Pancho needs to be trained and desensitized. Desensitized to loud noises and kids at play and rough-housing. This is done with success building on success. If your dog is afraid of the sound of sirens and you live in Manhattan you have one of three choices. Move to the top of a mountain in rural Georgia where you’ll probably never hear a siren, or ignore the dog’s panic and ensuing behavior, or, desensitize him to the sound of sirens. Buy a noise CD that has the sound of sirens and play it softly( loud enough so that the dog registers the sound but softly enough so that the dog can handle it) and give him small pieces of meat as he listens to the sirens. With success building on success slowly ratchet up the sound level to the point where Bowser not only tolerates wailing sirens, but actually likes it because it’s the only time he get people food.

Pancho first needs to be taught to come reliably, to stay and to “leave it,” it being whatever you want him to leave alone — in this case kids rough-housing. He then needs to be desensitized to kids play acting rough-housing, with success building on success. A tip on getting dogs to come reliably — 15 to 20 times a day, when Pancho doesn’t expect it, call him to come using the same command. The first four times he gets a treat after he arrives. After that he gets the treat intermittently. Intermittency is the strongest way to condition an animal. His attitude will become, maybe there’s a treat, I better go check it out.

As for the “stay” and “leave it”, you’ll probably need some help from a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

If your dog chases cars, read The Dogfather. — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Comm
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Help!

poodle.JPGI have a 2-year-old female standard poodle. She was attacked (off leash) by a yellow Lab when she was 4 1/2 months old. She is wary and careful about approaching large dogs, especially Labs. She is defensive, a little fearful, and has exhibited territorial aggression toward other dogs if they approach her too quickly, even if they are friendly. She has never bitten any other dog, but does show her teeth if they are too forward or friendly.

Is there any way to help change her behavior and help her develop confidence when we go out to play (off leash) with other dogs?

Please advise!

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

It’s a lot easier to take the dog that looks in the mirror and sees God and make him realize that there may be a God — but it’s not him, it’s you — than it is to take a fearful dog and make him bolder. The concept is, how do you make a coward brave? Not that your dog is a coward: she’s been traumatized and is understandably nervous with dogs she doesn’t know.

The extremely high concentration of Labs on the Island makes it not surprising, but that much more unfortunate that it had to be a Lab that attacked your puppy. Why couldn’t it have been a Maremma (a breed you’re unlikely to ever see on the Vineyard) or a Komondor, instead of a Lab. But alas, it was a Lab, and your poodle girl is likely to meet plenty more.

A word about poodles in general, especially since I adopted a 1 1/2 year old female we named Paula about nine months ago. They’re usually quite smart, and sometimes sensitive to a fault. Mine is smarter than some of my friends.

I’ve seen a few cases where a friendly dog that was mauled by another dog became a consummate dog fighter. “The best defense is a good offense,” as they say. Fortunately that’s not the case with your poodle girl. She’s just wary.

So the first thing I’d suggest is that you get her a DAP collar. It stands for dog appeasing pheromone, and can be quite relaxing to dogs. The scent it gives off lasts for about a month, and one of my daughters can tell when she needs to get a new collar for her dog by the behavior of the dog. Put it on your poodle girl an hour or so before she goes out to socialize.

The only real solution to getting Poodle girl to relax in the company of other dogs is lots and lots of friendly dog encounters. So go out of your way to make sure as best you can that she has play dates with friendly dogs as often as possible.

Also, if the only time she ever gets pieces of chicken or steak is when she’s about to be taken off leash to play with other dogs, her attitude is likely to become more outgoing. However, be sure not to give her the special treats if she’s showing fear or teeth so as to avoid rewarding unwanted behavior. Once again, timing is critical. When poodle girl sees another dog, start loving her with your happy voice and giving her the treats, telling her what a great time she’s going to have as you unclip the leash.

One other thing. Remove her from the happy play date while she’s having a great time. Make her leave “wanting more” play time, as opposed to having had enough!

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

Hello Dogfather,

My two-year-old Lab mix is awful on the leash. Instead of walkin, she would rather rip the leash out of my hands and play “catch me.” When she isn’t being chased by me she’s chasing squirrels or rabbits or anything that moves and gets especially excited to meet other dogs; so much so that she’s actually pulled me over. I’ve tried using a harness, but somehow she chews her way through them. We both need the exercise. but sprinting and wrestling are too much for me.

Thanks,

Marvin

Dear Marvin,

Sounds like your girl is in need of some serious parenting. Countless times I’ve told people that dogs are usually a lot smarter than you think, get away with what they can, and are very manipulative. Therefore, they need to be parented, given behavioral parameters.

When I’ve entered a house and found the six-year-old child sitting ON the kitchen table eating mashed potatoes with his fingers I usually guessed right that the dog wasn’t going to be very well mannered either.

Age two is about when brain wave patterns change and dogs enter adulthood, and it’s long overdue for Lab mix girl to grow up and become a well mannered, cooperative lady. This will require comprehensive obedience training from a pro. If you’re just interested in mitigating the pulling on the leash, I’d suggest a gentle leader, which uses the same principle that enables a rider to control a thousand-pound horse. Even though the bit is in a horse’s mouth, the leverage is derived from the pressure on the horse’s nose.

Marvin, if I pull you by your nose, what follows with little resistance is you! And so it is with a gentle leader. It goes around the dog’s snout with the leash attached below the mouth and eliminates 95 percent of the dog’s pulling. However, when you put a pair of sunglasses on your face, you know why they’re there. When you put something on a dog’s face, most of the time the attitude is, “Get this thing off my face!” often with the dog on his back pawing at it to remove it.

I’ve acclimated countless dogs to gentle leaders by introducing it with a treat, sizing it properly and immediately taking a 20-minute walk using treats when there’s no resistance. It’s also important that the gentle leader is used every time Lab mix girl takes a walk. If it’s used intermittently, she’s likely to fight it much longer.

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

A Greyhound who gnaws and a jumping Golden.

Lena likes wooden tables for lunches, defiantly eyeing her owner while she munches. — photo Courtesy of Mary-Jean Miner
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Dear Dogfather,

I have been adopting rescued greyhounds since 1992 and find they have a whole passel of idiosyncrasies. Vitesse, my first and longest lived so far, was typical of retired racers, as she was docile and sweet and never barked. She was The Only Dog until I was asked to foster Rhody, who arrived with a whole box of problems. And she barked. So Tesse learned to bark, too.

Of course, the foster part was short-lived, and full adoption came within the week.

Rhody had a bit more difficulty adjusting to life without a cage. When I had to be away for stretches of time, she amused herself by eating the corners of furniture and edges of windowsills. I attributed that to separation anxiety and was glad I owned very few wood items of any value.

She finally calmed down a bit and we regarded the damage as patina, or maybe just signs of a time gone by. When Rhody was joined by Annie, the dynamics changed again. Annie was super shy and Rhody was nuts. I will not go into details about adjusting to indoor living, as both dogs have now crossed the rainbow bridge and the floors no longer get washed daily.

Now we have Number Four, Lena. She is pretty nearly perfect, even though she had never seen the inside of a house or a basket of dog toys in all the five years she spent on the track.  She decided home was a good thing, and has never had an accident. She does have one flaw, though, sort of a variation on Rhody.  Rho pursued her wood fetish in private, leaving me to discover her latest project.

Lena looks right at me and begins to chew the corner of the coffee table. Or the end of the piano. Also, she managed to bite off a small strip of rushing on the only genuine antique in the house. She has a varied doggy diet, with lots of munchies and the occasional pretend toothbrushing gimmick from Milkbone, so I can’t think she lacks fiber. She bites wood whether we are alone or have company, so it doesn’t seem a bid for attention. Your thoughts?

Greyhound Friend,

Mary-Jean Miner

Dear Greyhound friend,

The greyhound world is lucky to have you in it. Lena’s not chewing wood because of a nutritional deficiency: she’s a wood chewer. Many destructive chewer dogs are quite specific in what they chew. Some only do plastic (beware TV clickers); some are strictly into cloth, (beware couches), and Lena’s into wood. From her perspective, rushing is an acceptable variation of wood. Lena needs two things: a “leave it” command, and redirection. Even if she learns not to touch wood in your presence, it’s not good enough. Lena needs to be introduced to the “Dog God,” the God of dogs who sees all, all the time. And she (dog God) doesn’t like it when Lena chews wood whether Greyhound friend is around to see or not. A vibration collar may be a fine dog God. Whenever her mouth touches wood you touch the remote button and Lena gets startled by the vibration, and associates her mild surprise to chewing wood, not you. You say nothing. If need be, set up a mirror so she can’t see you observing her.

In your absence apply bitter apple or some similar product to wood she favors. Also, when you leave, redirect her attention to “special” toys that she only gets when nobody’s home. Try three hollow marrow bones, one with a piece of meat wedged in it so she can’t get it, but will be very interested. The other two with cheese and peanut butter. Very important: remove them when you’re home or they will lose their “specialness.” As for the leave it command, it would be best taught by a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

Tucker is good 99 percent of the time. During the other one percent, he insists on greeting visitors by jumping on them.
Tucker is good 99 percent of the time. During the other one percent, he insists on greeting visitors by jumping on them.

We have a two-year-old golden retriever, Tucker, who is the love of my life and such a good boy – 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent is a big problem. When people come to visit he jumps up on them. He’s a very big boy, 65 pounds, to jump up on people. We’ve tried keeping the leash on him, but he still jumps up. So my question is “How can we teach Tucker not to jump when guests arrive at our door?”

Thank you.

Rebecca

Dear Rebecca,

Most of the “good boy- bad boy” percentages I hear are 90-0, not 99-1. So it sounds like Tucker is a real sweetheart, but has become habituated to jumping on people entering your home. Most of the time I need to ask a few questions before I answer one, and my question here is, does he jump on you, especially when you come home? As they say, “It starts at home.” Rebecca, you, and anybody who may live with you need to have a zero tolerance for Tucker’s jumping.

The “all rewards” trainers (does not include me) might tell you to have the visitors ignore the dog and turn away from him when he jumps, and you give him treats when he’s not jumping. However, Grandma may not be thrilled with Tucker’s paws raking her side as she tries to ignore him, not to mention the 45-pound five-year-old trying to stay upright as he’s being accosted by a 65-pound two-year-old with four legs.

By using the leash to hold Tucker back he’s not learning anything, he’s just being physically restricted. There needs to be a negative consequence the second his front feet leave the floor, with accompanying “contrast” the moment all four feet are back on the floor. By contrast I mean praise. Training a dog is very much based on timing — letting the dog know you like his behavior or you don’t, as the behavior is happening. So if the dog hears “Off” and something unpleasant happens the moment he’s jumping, then a quick “good boy” the moment all four feet are back on the floor, he’ll pick up quicker on the contrast between your happiness when he’s not jumping, and your unhappiness when he is.

So what to do? Well, there are a myriad of things to do depending on your capabilities and Tucker’s sensitivity. Let’s start with Tucker dragging a leash and assume that he may jump on you. Were you to step on the leash in just the right spot so that when Tucker jumps he runs out of leash on the way up as you say “Off”, and smile with a quick “good boy” when he’s down, he’d learn to stop jumping quickly. Easier said than done.

Instead, recruit a friend or family member. Then hold the leash in your hands (LOOSELY)  and let Tucker commit to the jump as your recruit enters the house. Snap and release the leash sharply to the side as Tucker is on his way up as you say “off.” There is a world of difference between a snap and release and a pull on the leash. A snap will not move his body, a pull will. It’s also best to do this with a collar that has a couple of metal tags on it so that it makes a chinking sound when you snap the leash. It may take several repetitions of the recruit entering until Tucker “gets it.”

Ideally, Tucker should be taught what I call the “Door Turmoil Routine,” the routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil. When someone comes to the door, Tucker gets praised for letting you know someone’s there. Then he’s told to go to his spot (in sight of the door but out of the way) and lie down and stay. Then the guest is let in and greeted, and then Tucker is told “okay” and allowed to come forward and greet the guest politely. This would probably need to be taught to Tucker by a pro.

Good luck and keep your questions coming!

The Dogfather

Fagin the fierce, and a visiting boxer.

Maggie the Boxer (right), with her roommate, Moshup the Mastiff. — Barbara Reidinger
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com

Hi Dogfather,

I hope you can help me.

My wire hair fox terrier is fine with all humans, large and small. But he is a real problem when other dogs visit. Unless he is on a leash he is very aggressive. He is quite friendly to other dogs when we are out walking, happily doing the sniffing and tail wagging stuff. But in his own yard or house all bets are off. He will attack!

This is especially difficult because he is trained to use an electronic fence so he can be outside by himself when an unleashed dog (yes there are dogs off leash, with and without owners) wanders into the yard.

When friends visit we just leash him and everything is fine but what can we do to have him not attack the uninvited?

Thank you.

R. Lyons.

Dear R. Lyons,

Fagin.jpg
Fagin the fierce, a territorial Terrier.

Terriers basically look in the mirror and see God. What’s interesting here is that he’s friendly on leash and not off. It’s usually the opposite. Most of the time people think the dog is protecting them when in reality the dog feels protected by its leash attachment to the owner, thus emboldening the dog. Unleash the dog; he’s on his own, not so tough.

But in this case, what you’re talking about, R. Lyons, is territoriality, one of the seven aggressions displayed by dogs. It’s why dogs bark at the door and why you’re unlikely to open a gate and enter a fenced yard with a big dog behind the fence.

Territoriality is one of the reasons man and dog bonded — dogs will always let you know when someone or something is penetrating what they perceive as their territory.

Electronic fences will keep your dog in, but nothing out. So, realistically, since there is nothing, other than a physical fence, to prevent a rabbit, dog or anything from entering your yard, there is little you can do in this situation. Terrier is just doing his job — protecting his territory.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

I would love to bring my dog to the Island with me this summer so she can be on the porch. However I know she will bark at everyone going by. Is there any way I can get her not to bark like this? She is a five-year-old boxer.

Barbara

Dear Barbara,

Almost all dogs love a window view when they have to remain home. Many clients over the years complained that their dogs were on the back of the couch so that they could see out the bay window, especially when no one was home. In many cases, where feasible we created and taught the view-seeking dog a different perch from which to see the goings on.

Porches are perfect lookouts and my Paula and MacDuff love hanging out on my porch, as did all my dogs over the years. So will your Boxer, but we don’t want it to cause you and your neighbors acoustic trauma every time a person or dog happens by.

I would suggest two things, one positive, and one negative, and the timing is important here. When someone is approaching, before she barks, start loving and praising her with your voice, your attitude being, “Look at that, a friendly person is passing by, isn’t that great, Boxy!” At the same time offer her treats, maybe even chicken or hot dog pieces, as long as she’s not barking. If the only time on planet Earth she gets people food is when people are passing by she may look to you for her treat instead of yelling about it.

Now for the negative, which varies greatly with the sensitivity of your dog, which I know nothing about. The word I use is “Quiet!” when I want a dog to stop barking, which is accompanied with a correction that will cause the dog to stop barking, even if only for a second. Here’s where the timing is so important. The moment the noise stops you’re back to praise and treats. As for the correction, it could be a slight tug on a leash that she’s dragging while on the porch, or the quick shake of an empty beer can with a dozen pennies in it, or, as the bark is coming out of her mouth a quick squirt in the face from a water pistol as you say “Quiet!”

For the dogs with the sensitivity of Godzilla there are ultrasound devices that make high frequency noises that most dogs find distracting, citronella spray collars and all kinds of shock collars to stop unwanted noise. I wouldn’t consider any of these without trying behavior modification with a pro first.

If the timing is off the dog can associate the correction with the presence of the passer-by and not the barking and exacerbate the problem.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

P.S. To my readers, keep those questions coming. Thanks.