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.

Four-year-old rat terrier Happy is happiest chasing light.

Dear Dogfather,
Sox, my strong-minded year-and-a-half-old bichon/Lhasa apso crossbreed, has finally learned he will be let into my fenced backyard to pee and poop when he stands by the door and whimpers. But he has begun going to the door at different times during the night (I’m talking 1:30 am and then again at 5:30 am) begging to be let out. He’ll jump on the bed, stand on my back and whimper into my ear until I wake up and let him out. Sometimes when I let him out he simply turns right around and comes back inside. What can I do to inhibit his abuse of in-out power?

Sox’s sleep-deprived mistress

Dear Sleep-Deprived Mistress,
I think the last line of your question is brilliant in its description of how Sox is treating you. Abuse of power has caused as much strife in the world as anything you can name. Every one of my training customers has heard me say, “Dogs get away with what they can, and they are very manipulative; count on it.”

In the course of housebreaking Sox, you taught him to let you know when he needs to relieve himself. You did great. Believe me, there are an awful lot of people out there who wish their dogs would let them know when they have to go out! As a trainer, as funny as it may sound, it’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.

So Sox learned, “If I go to the door and make some sad sounds, Mom will let me out.” You gave Sox the power of communication, a way for him to get some conscious control of events in his life. You gave him some power.

Night is when the primal smells of the earth are stronger. Sled dogs run faster at night. All the nocturnal animals are out foraging, and there are hardly any humans and cars out at 3 am to pollute earth’s natural smells. Sox couldn’t help but notice how different and interesting the smells of the night are.

So one night, Sox wakes up at 2 am. His hearing being far superior to a human’s, perhaps he hears a deer outside. And the smells coming through the window are delicious. He goes to investigate, but hits a stone wall in the shape of a door. So who does he call, Sleep-Deprived Mistress? And so the abuse of power begins.

Like people, dogs don’t like to relinquish power, so don’t expect an easy fix. Plus, dogs are strong creatures of habit, and he’s now habituated to his nocturnal adventures. If you’re a working girl out of the house at 7 every morning, I’d suggest you start the training on a weekend when you can sleep in, because you have to win the first time around. If you cave in and let him out after two hours of resisting, you’ve made him stronger, given him more power.

Sleep-Deprived Mistress, I’m sure you’re old enough to decide whom you want to share your bed with. Sox is out. Period. We can’t have him jumping on your back anymore! He can sleep in your bedroom on his own bed or blanket. But there’s a leash that’s attached to him, with the other end attached to anything that allows him to sleep comfortably on his bed, without being able to reach your bed. While in training, cut his water off by 6:30 or 7 pm.

On your night table next to your bed is your trusty spray bottle or water pistol. When he wakes you with his whimpering, tell him “Quiet,” and let him have it right between the eyes a split-second later. Then try to go back to sleep.

If feasible, you might want to install a doggy door and teach him to use it, but only during the day. That’s assuming you don’t want him playing with the skunks at night. In my experience, he’ll quit pushing after two or three nights.

One other possible solution: Move to the Arctic Circle. Sox probably won’t want to leave his bed at night.

Good luck,
The Dogfather

***

Dear Dogfather,
My 4-year-old rat terrier seems frightened by shadows and reflections that the sun makes during the day when it hits reflective surfaces. She sees the spots and runs around barking, and though I have tried distracting her, nothing seems to work. How do I get her to stop barking at this?
Sincerely,
Olivia S.

Dear Olivia,
Your little girl is probably what we call a “light chaser,” a dog that is very reactive to reflections and shadows. Before the advent of vibration collars, I would use a red laser beam to teach deaf dogs that weren’t looking at me to come. The dogs learned pretty quickly to come and find me when they saw the beam. Then one day I had a lesson with a deaf Dalmatian that practically tore the room apart trying to get the light. It was my first lesson with him and I had no idea he was a light chaser. The dog spent the next 15 minutes looking for the light after It was turned off! He was an extreme case.

The reasons some dogs are light chasers has lots of experts guessing, but no definitive answer. Whatever the reason, it’s probably genetic and not a behavior she was taught, which means we probably can’t stop the initial startle response, but we can manage the ensuing behavior.

Olivia, you’re right on target with the idea of trying to distract her, but let’s call it re-directing her. I want you to teach your little girl “Look at me” followed by “sit.” Start indoors, where there are few distractions. This is the only time she gets people food. I mean: the only time. Have tiny pieces of chicken or baloney or whatever ready. Timing is super important here. When you say, “Look at me,” the split-second her eyes meet yours, that split-second you say “YES” with a smile and pop a treat in her mouth. Then immediately tell her to sit and verbally praise her when she does. She probably knows sit already.

Do this several times a day when she doesn’t expect it. Do it in different areas of the house. When she’s really good at responding quickly, which shouldn’t take long, start doing it outside. With success building on success, increase the intensity of the distraction through which she turns to you for eye contact for that people-food treat.

I adopted my poodle a year ago at age 1. She’s a light chaser. She used to leap into the air at shadows of birds flying overhead. It took some doing, as it will for you, but she’s 100% better now. She still starts at reflections, but it only lasts a second, and that’s what’s going to happen to your little girl. Her response to the reflections and shadows is going to be to make eye contact with you and sit. It’s very doable.

Touch base with me if you have any problems or questions.

Good Luck,
The Dogfather

The new puggle has a hard time relaxing alone in a car. – Photo courtesy Hunter Denman

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 a stress pooper.

Dear Dogfather,

I recently rescued a puggle, and she is doing really well. I’ve got some questions, however, and was hoping for some help.

One sticking point I am having has to do with her being alone in the vehicle. Any time I have to run into the store for anything, she immediately starts barking, crying, and scratching, and if I am inside for more than five minutes, I can almost guarantee that there will be a big dookie waiting for me. The barking and crying is annoying and pretty embarrassing, and the scratching, chewing, and making is doing a number on the interior. It’s important to me that my dog learns to be comfortable relaxing by herself in my vehicles so I can fit her into my work life.

Please help,

Thanks

HD

Dear HD,

Congratulations on your new family member and being one of the “good guy dog rescuers.” Sounds to me like Puggle girl is suffering from car separation anxiety. Assuming she’s crate-trained, meaning she loves her crate, sees it as a den and sanctuary and therefore keeps it clean, put it in the truck. When you leave the truck, throw a couple of “special toys” in the crate with her. Two hollow marrow bones, one with a piece of any kind of meat wedged in the middle so she can’t really get to it, the other with a piece of cheese.

Show no emotion when you leave the truck, no long goodbye. Just a quick “back in a bit” as you throw the two bones in the crate. Then leave for a very short time. You want success to build on success.

Enter the truck with a quick “Hi Pugs,” and take the bones out. Be as emotional as a park bench at the reunion. She only gets the “special toys” when she’s alone in the truck. Leave her and return multiple times, slowly increasing the length of time she’s alone.

When you feel she’s ready to start transitioning out of the crate, try it by following the normal routine, but leave the crate door open. After a while you should be able to leave the crate home, with her loving the ride-alongs.

Also, make sure that the truck often represents going to places that are great fun. If the only time you got to ride in the car was to go to the dentist, you’d learn to hate the car. My dog Paula has been driven to Trade Winds so often that she’s petitioning for her own car and driving lessons. I did have a dream to that effect, anyhow.

If she’s not crate-trained, you can try all of the above without the crate. However, I’d suggest you get her crate-trained first, and if you need to learn how to do that, let me know.

The Dogfather

 

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Shock collars are controversial.

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 poop-eater.

Dear Dogfather…

What do you think about using shock collars to adjust your dog’s behavior?

Dear questioner,

Great question because its use is controversial. According to the American Pet Dog Trainers Association and the All Rewards Trainers my position is politically incorrect. As my wife often says to that, “So what’s new?”

It’s so politically incorrect that the collar is not referred to as a shock collar, but rather an E collar (electronic collar), and many people would be shocked by the use of the word “shock” collar. It doesn’t shock, it gives stim (stimulation) and is often referred to as a stim collar. So much for semantics.

Do I use a stim collar? You betcha! Have I ever said to someone, “Get a stim collar and use it.” Never. I’ve told clients to get the collar, read the instructions and don’t even let the dog see it till I get there.

Then, depending on the age, sensitivity, and behavior we want to change or eliminate, I decide how and when the collar is to be used. Most modern shock collars have three different types of stim – a tone, a vibration, and the stim. The stim on my collar can go from 1 to 100. At 1 or 2 I feel nothing when testing it on my hand. At 100… well, I wouldn’t test it on myself at 100.

That’s right, I always test a collar on myself (on my hand) before I put it on a dog. I need to know exactly what the dog is experiencing. You can buy two identical E collars and find that a stim setting of 2 is about the same as a 3 or 4 on the other collar. It is, after all, just a mechanical device.

If it’s to be used on a very sensitive dog, the tone or vibration mode may more than suffice. If it’s a dog with a history of seriously attacking other dogs, the stim may be needed.

Then it’s a matter of Pavlovian conditioning. The dog’s on the porch barking at everyone walking by with the owner screaming “Shut up!” It’s reached a point where neighbors are complaining as the dog completely ignores the screeching owner. Enter the E collar. The dog barks and as the bark is exiting the dogs mouth, I say “Quiet,” immediately followed by the tone, then immediately followed by the stim, if necessary. The stim is always set to startle, not hurt. If done correctly,the dog will stop barking to avoid the stim when it hears the tone. With a few repetitions the dog will quiet when it hears the word “quiet” to avoid the tone which precedes the stim.

Two examples where I recently used the shock collar: A well-trained Lab worked like a metal detector finding and eating every turd it could at the dog park. The lady hired a trainer who chased the dog around the park on a leash and yelled “Leave it” when it grabbed a turd. The trainer did this till he slipped and fell in it himself.

I explained to the dog owner that at best, the dog will leave it when closely watched while on a leash, and that what we really want is the dog to relate discomfort to picking up the turd even if we’re nowhere near. Perfect for the E collar. And the dog’s reaction was funny. He went to grab a turd within seconds after I unhooked the leash. Nothing said here by me. No “Leave it.” I wanted this to be strictly between dog and turd. Tone and stim just as he picked up the turd and it flew out of his mouth, with him now circling the turd and growling at it. Two more tone and stims and he had lost his appetite for the smelly hot dogs.

The second example involved a 76-year-old lady who found a puppy in a garbage can and rescued it. At six months of age the puppy weighed 65 pounds while the woman weighed about 95 pounds. Every time she took it for a walk the dog was jumping on her and grabbing the leash and being quite obnoxious. When I took the leash the dog behaved beautifully, but I was unable to accomplish what I call the leash transfer, getting the dog to behave for her if I wasn’t assisting.

Enter the E collar. She left the house at precisely noon with the dog wearing the collar and me holding the remote, across the street. As far as the dog was concerned I wasn’t even in the country. When the dog acted up the lady yelled “foo,” something the dog had never heard, and I shocked the dog from across the street. Within 20 minutes and after several “foo’s” the dog gave the lady the respect she demanded whenever he heard the word “foo.” I was able to empower the elderly dog owner with the use of the E collar. I then spent a fair amount of time teaching the lady how and when to use the collar.

So what do I think about the E collar? I think it’s a very useful tool when used correctly. Not for amateurs. Let the hate mail begin.

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 owners of a poop-eater.

Dear Dogfather,

My dog problem is so embarrassing that I beg you not to use my name. Here it is: my two small dogs eat their own poop. They are rescues. The vet estimates they are about seven years old. He also told me that this is very common. But that is small comfort to me. Is it too late to correct this embarrassing behavior?

Signed,

Embarrassed and Anonymous

Dear E&A,

As regards, is it too late, the short answer is, no. The oldest dog I started training with was a 14-year-old bearded collie who was making beautiful progress, until he died of a heart attack between lessons. The saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is literally incorrect. I do a lot of “trick” training and believe me when I tell you that an adult dog is going to get what you’re asking of him a lot faster than a distracted-egg-for-brain puppy. The saying should be, “It’s harder to break long established habits in an older dog than in a young dog.”

The habit of eating poop is called coprophagia, and it’s not terribly uncommon, especially the eating of other species’ feces. Most dog owners on our Island have seen their dogs  occasionally nibbling on goose poop. It’s a little less common for them to eat their own species’ feces, but as my wife says when dogs do disgusting things, “It’s the dog in them!”

There are products on the market that claim to stop the poop eating when added to your dog’s food. I have never seen any of them work. But there is a solution that I’ve employed many times, with total success. Training a dog is based on timing. Dogs basically live in the moment, so as the behavior is happening, they need to know that the behavior is acceptable, or not acceptable.

With the coprophagic dog the interaction has to be strictly between the dog and the turd. Best solution is an electronic collar. From the dog’s perspective the human has nothing to do with it. It’s turd vs. dog. Period. You can be sitting in the house observing the dog through the window. As soon as the dog licks or picks up the sausage you simply push a button on your hand-held remote and the dog gets a noise, or vibration, or startling mild shock. If the dog experiences something unpleasant every time he picks up a turd (unless he’s a masochist) the behavior will be extinguished quickly. In my experience, the stim (shock) needs very few applications for the message to be received by the dog. Please be advised, I never suggest that someone gets an E collar and use it without working with a trainer using it first. The decision whether to use tone, vibration or stim, or the intensity of the stim, depends, and should be made by a professional.

Also, picking up the poop every day is strongly advisable. If the dogs spend hours in a yard surrounded by tootsie rolls you don’t need to spend your day with a remote in your hand gazing at dung. Leave one big one that is clearly visible to you and zap when necessary.

Best of luck,

The Dogfather

Diapers can work wonders with females in heat. – Courtesy Bostonterrier.com.

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 he owner of a dog in heat.

Dear Dogfather,

I have two dogs, one male, 1.5 years, and one female, 10 months. The female has gone into heat this morning. The male is neutered, and I have a Pampers with a hole cut for her tail. What else should I do/expect?

Tyler

Dear Tyler,

I bet your male dog is a lot more excited about your female going into heat than you are. Heat averages about three weeks. Generally the bleeding turns pink by day 12, and stops by day 16, but they are not out of heat. It just means that she has ovulated, and it’s during this time that there are many unplanned breedings. Keep the diaper on her (indoors) for at least a couple of days after the discharges have stopped. You may also want to put a belly band on the male to prevent his “marking” indoors.

She will have a very strong and distinct smell that dogs from miles around can smell. Having used my dogs for search and rescue for 25 years, trust me when I tell you: Depending on the wind, dogs in Falmouth will be trying to take the ferry over to meet your alluring girl. When outside, do not take her off the leash. Period.

On average, they are breedable between the 12th and 18th day, known as the estrus period, but they can remain in heat until day 21. It is during the estrus period that you will see her “flagging,” cocking her tail to the side and backing her butt up to the male, or your leg, or whatever, saying, “I’m ready NOW!”

In terms of behavior, it’s not unusual to find both dogs humping each other, your leg, or anything humpable. Raging hormones may cause some minor behavioral presentations, and sometimes result in a “hysterical,” or false, pregnancy. It may occur whether or not she was mated. Symptoms usually begin four to nine weeks after the heat period, and may include mammary-gland enlargement with or without the production of milk, lethargy, and actually taking a toy and treating it like a newborn puppy. If that happens, let me know, and we’ll discuss it then.

If you have a yard with a six-foot fence, it’s still not good enough. An ardent suitor will get in or your dog will metamorphose into Houdini and escape to find the nearest “lover.” Outdoors she stays on leash!

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dogfather #2|

 

Dear Dogfather,

Our 12-year-old Australian Shepherd barks at the front door, intimating that he would like us to open the door. We accommodate and he walks outside. Barely a minute passes before he is barking at the door again, intimating that he would like to return inside. We open the door, he comes inside. A few minutes pass and he is back barking at the door again. And so it goes. Other than spending the night opening and closing the door, is there anything else we can we do?

Thanks,

Kate

 

Dear Kate,

Dogs are pack animals and if they had their way the pack (family) would always stay together. Most dogs will present mild anxiety when during a walk a family member leaves the group (pack) to discard a soda can in a recycle bin 50 yards away, and show obvious satisfaction when the pack member rejoins the group.

Dogs also love attention and will do what they can to garner it, even at the expense of preferring negative attention to no attention. That’s why the puppy, rather than being ignored, will grab a sock only to have you chasing him, even if you’re angry about it.

Dogs are also tremendous creatures of habit. I remember a lady with a 7-year-old Spaniel mix who woke her up every night at 3 am to go out. “God, I’d love, for once to sleep through the whole night without having to let her out,” was what the lady said to me. I told her dogs are very habitual and this behavior is likely a carryover from her puppy housebreaking days, and the dog probably thinks it’s her obligation to continue her nocturnal outings. I suggested that she cuts off the water by 6:30 and when the dog awakens her at 3 am,  to tell her to be quiet and not get out of bed. The lady called me the next day to thank me and said, “She laid back down and sighed as though she was saying, ‘Thank God I don’t have to do this anymore.'” Creatures of habit.

So Kate, when you have the audacity to be doing something other than paying attention to your Aussie, he gets your attention by his barking at the door, but when you don’t go out with him he not only gets no attention, he needs to make the pack whole again. Quite a habitual dilemma for him and you.

First suggestion, install a “doggy door.” Problem solved. Or, teach him “Quiet!” At age 12 he’s certainly very attuned to your wants and dislikes. When he barks at the door tell him “Quiet!” sternly and ignore him. If he keeps barking try startling him by shaking a throw can a split second after you say “Quiet.” (An empty soda or beer can with a dozen pennies in it). If he still continues his pesky barking try throwing the can near him (not at him) as you say “Quiet!”

A good spritz with a stream of water from a spray bottle in conjunction with “Quiet” often works well. If he responds, you’ll find you just have to reach for the bottle and he’s done.

Don’t be surprised by a possible behavioral burst — meaning that his initial response to your not cooperating at the door might be to bark louder and longer. If you teach a mouse that when he pushes on a bar of a device to get a piece of cheese, and then remove the cheese, his initial response will be to push the bar harder and longer. “I always got cheese when I did this!”

If you’re willing to endure the acoustic trauma, you can just try ignoring the barking, or leave the room. Good luck with that.

Take a look at the bright side. If you ever move to Boston and decide to apply for a job as a doorman in a luxury building, your door opening experience will look great on your resume.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

P.S.  If you do install a doggy door and have difficulty getting him to use it, let me know and I’ll tell you or show you how to get him doggy door savvy. It won’t be the first time.

Gidget fidgets around people she doesn't know. —Photo courtesy of Simone DeSorcy

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 ownerof Gidget who is afraid of men, and the owner of a dog in heat.

Dear Dogfather:

I have been adopted by two small rescue dogs, both very loving. The female, Gidget, is terribly fearful of strangers, particularly men. When new people come to the house, she initially barks and sometimes growls as they knock on the door. Once the guest enters, she retreats to the back of the room and jumps on the couch, continuing to bark. Quite often she gets the shakes, and occasionally the nervous piddles. When I host a large dinner party, as I frequently do, Gidget zooms upstairs and crawls in my bed.

More worrisome is her fearful behavior as we take our daily leashed walks around the neighborhood. We live on a very busy street with narrow sidewalks.  When Gidget sees another pedestrian, either in front of or behind us, she balks (not barks) and tries to back out of her harness and/or onto the road…very scary, as the myriad car and truck tires are merely a few inches away on a road system that was never designed to accommodate such traffic.

Is there anything at all that you can suggest we try to make this little being less afraid of the world?

Many, many thanks,

Gidget and Pierre’s Mum

Dear Gidget and Pierre’s Mum,

How do you take an insecure dog and make him a confident dog? How do you make a coward brave? It’s much more difficult than taking the dog that looks in the mirror and sees God, and making him understand that there may be a God, but it’s you, not him.

The most stable dog is afraid of nothing. How do you get a dog afraid of nothing? You expose him to everything, and nothing bites him. Many dogs bite out of fear, and since more than half of my training appointments have been with problem dogs, I’ve seen a lot of fear biters, and plenty of dogs that were not biters, but nonetheless extremely fearful of anything new.                                              Once again I find myself not in harmony with most modern training modalities. Because I use what some may call force, but I call it gentle, loving firmness. If a dog is afraid to come down the stairs, I’m not going to stand at the bottom of the stairs and try to coax him down with a piece of cheese. With the average lifespan of the midsize dog being only about 12 years, there’s not enough time. If he’s small enough I’m going to pick him up and place him on the second or third step from the bottom and gently force him down the one or two steps with a leash attached to a harness and then give him the cheese. When he’s descending the two steps for the cheese with no pressure from me we move up to four or five steps from the bottom. If he’s a 110-pound dog, I’m not carrying him down and placing him two steps from the bottom. I’m holding onto the banister while dragging him down next to me with very little slack in the leash so he can’t fall and scare himself further, offering the cheese every other step. How many times have I done this with total success? Probably hundreds, with no failures. I’m a strong believer, if it works, stick with it.

Mum, assuming that your guests don’t try to kick Gidget when they see her, from now on when your friends come over I suggest that you are holding the leash attached to Gidget in harness as you open the door and let them in. Both you and the guests ignore Gidget, but keep her close to you, basically forcing her to deal with the strangers in close proximity, without the strangers actually confronting her.

That’s how a good part of the visitation is going to go. Whether Gidget’s leash is tied to a bureau leg in the loop of activity, or being held by you or one of the guests, she is going to get desensitized to the presence of “aliens.” Now add tiny pieces of meat to the equation. When no force is necessary because she’s not at the end of the leash pulling to get away, offer the people food. If the only time on planet earth that she gets people food is in conjunction with new people and experiences, her fear is going to be replaced with curiosity. I’ve used this approach successfully a thousand times. Where feasible, have guests offer her the people food treats and watch her become “Miss Happy to Meet You.”

When walking down the street and you see somebody approaching start talking to Gidget very happily and offering her those pieces of cheese, redirecting her attention to you on a very positive basis, once again in conjunction with the approaching stranger. Better yet, set it up with a friend. Walk toward the friend with your happy voice and treats, treats only if she’s not trying to pull away, and stop and talk to the “alien.” Have the “alien” offer Gidget some of the cheese and watch her attitude change from shy to gregarious.

When the weather permits, take her to Mocha Mott’s and have your coffee with the two of you sitting outside, people-watching. Expose her to the world with treats and she will learn to embrace it instead of fearing it. Write back and let me know how it goes.

Good luck,

The DOGFATHER

Dear Dogfather,

I have two dogs, one male, 1.5 years, and one female, 10 months. The female has gone into heat this morning. The male is neutered, and I have a Pampers with a hole cut for her tail. What else should I do/expect?

Tyler

Dear Tyler,

I bet your male dog is a lot more excited about your female going into heat than you are. Heat averages about three weeks. Generally the bleeding turns pink by day 12, and stops by day 16, but they are not out of heat. It just means that she has ovulated, and it’s during this time that there are many unplanned breedings. Keep the diaper on her (indoors) for at least a couple of days after the discharges have stopped. You may also want to put a belly band on the male to prevent his “marking” indoors.

She will have a very strong and distinct smell that dogs from miles around can smell. Having used my dogs for search and rescue for 25 years, trust me when I tell you: Depending on the wind, dogs in Falmouth will be trying to take the ferry over to meet your alluring girl. When outside, do not take her off the leash. Period.

On average, they are breedable between the 12th and 18th day, known as the estrus period, but they can remain in heat until day 21. It is during the estrus period that you will see her “flagging,” cocking her tail to the side and backing her butt up to the male, or your leg, or whatever, saying, “I’m ready NOW!”

In terms of behavior, it’s not unusual to find both dogs humping each other, your leg, or anything humpable. Raging hormones may cause some minor behavioral presentations, and sometimes result in a “hysterical,” or false, pregnancy. It may occur whether or not she was mated. Symptoms usually begin four to nine weeks after the heat period, and may include mammary-gland enlargement with or without the production of milk, lethargy, and actually taking a toy and treating it like a newborn puppy. If that happens, let me know, and we’ll discuss it then.

If you have a yard with a six-foot fence, it’s still not good enough. An ardent suitor will get in or your dog will metamorphose into Houdini and escape to find the nearest “lover.” Outdoors she stays on leash!

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Monte got bullied at the dog park. —Photo by Danielle Zerbonne

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 small dog who was bullied at the dog park and a golden retriever who likes to steal food from guests and.

Hi Tom,

When two standard poodles chased down and bit my 15-pound pup at a Land Bank property a few years ago, the ensuing confrontation with the owner was terribly upsetting.

She left in a huff, and it was only after she drove away I realized her dogs had drawn blood.  Being so upset in the moment, I never thought to get her name or information. Luckily the local animal officer figured out who it was from my description. Recently a friend had an experience of a loose dog attacking her dog, which was tied in the backyard, and she tracked down and confronted those owners, with a similarly frustrating and fruitless confrontation. Do you have advice for dealing with the aftermath of this kind of event? Dealing with the offender/s as well as the frightened or injured animal?

Thanks!

Danielle

Dear Danielle,

This is a tough one. Tough because my expertise is training dogs, and half this question has to do with the training of people. If a dog presents unwanted or intolerable behavior — anything from peeing on your carpet to biting your elderly mother — the behavior of the dog has to be modified through training. I can get you set up properly and give you the do’s and dont’s to housebreak the dog, and help you manage the dog’s unwanted aggression, if not eliminate it.

This is America, land of litigation. I’ve testified as an expert witness in dog-related cases many times — in court, and in both condo and co-op tenant and landlord-tenant arbitrations. Sometimes it’s bad blood between neighbors and the dog has nothing to do with it. I had a client in one of the premier Manhattan skyscrapers get a notice from management that basically said, “Your dog’s barking has received complaints; either get the dog to stop barking, or get rid of the dog, or get out.” Thanks to modern technology I had the owner record the dog’s silence for 36 hours, a period during which the neighbor complained of the barking. The result of which left the neighbor embarrassed, which turned to anger, and the last I heard was he was suing management for one thing or another.

I’ve done many lessons at dog parks, and at Kakiak State Park dog run, near where I used to live in New York, there was a guy with a large dog with a history of attacking dogs in the run. The aggressive dog owner ended up in a brawl with the owner of a golden retriever.

Here’s a case where no “human training” is needed. Your puppy gets attacked and bitten by another dog and that dog’s owner apologizes, gives you his name and number and tells you he will reimburse you for any expenses incurred. Wouldn’t that be great? And Danielle, it does happen sometimes.

Unfortunately, it’s not been your experience. Best advice, if an aggressive dog owner is not civil and is in need of “human training,” use your phone. Take pictures of him, his dog, his car with license plate, along with any injuries to your dog.

First and foremost, however, is attending to the immediate health and safety of your injured dog. Next, police, dog warden, and court if you’re so inclined.

As for your injured puppy, if it needs mouth to nose resuscitation, obviously get it to a vet ASAP. If it’s a lot more frightened than injured, comfort it without smothering it in pity. Then, ASAP, get it together with known, friendly, mellow dogs. Try not to inadvertently reward a fear response, meaning petting him and telling him it’s okay when he shows fear at the sight of a strange dog. Rather, talk to him so happily that you get his tail wagging and are giving him treats, and all this happiness has to do with the new friend he’s about to make.

I prefer training dogs. As Mark Twain said, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. That is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”    Good luck and may your future dog encounters be enjoyable ones,

The Dogfather

For the Dogfather-

My one-year-old golden retriever is a food hound. She constantly tries to steal food, particularly when we have guests.  I have tried locking her away, but she just cries and fusses, making entertaining a chore. Please help so we can enjoy having company again!

Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

Dogs go from puppy to punk to young adult to adult adult to senior adult. Congratulations; it may have started around six months of age, but for a golden you’re right in the heart of punk-dom. It’s when they’re seriously into playing “no speaka English.” When I started in the business the common thought was, “Don’t start training until the dog is six months old.” The fallacy of this was obvious to me the first time I worked with a puppy. I start laying a foundation of doing things correctly when a puppy is about eight weeks old. Unwanted behavior: boy, is it easier to prevent than to correct.

I learned early on that the best way to really help people harmonize with their dogs was to go into their homes because the truth is, 95 percent of the time you’re hanging out with your dog, it’s in the house.

I have a thousand stories because I’ve been in so many homes I have no idea what the word normal means. The lady who burst into tears when I said, “You don’t have a lot of company, do you?” This was just after I entered the home and she let the English Bulldog out of the bedroom to greet me. He was so happy to meet me that he went airborne and hit me in the gut knocking me onto the couch behind me. Then all 65 pounds jumped on my lap and proceeded to lick, snort, and fart in all his joy.

Jennifer, locking her away actually exacerbates the problem. Dogs are social animals, separating her is like a “time out” for a kid. It’s a punishment. She just needs to learn her manners.

All you mentioned is stealing food. I don’t know if that means grabbing food from the counter or table when you’re not paying attention, or actually going for it in front of you, or ripping it out of your guest’s hands.

At age one a golden is a large dog and I’d suggest you get a pro to help you. If you live in N.Y.C. I can give you a number of a pro who will transform your girl in one or two lessons. In the meantime I’d suggest a “place” command for golden girl. Pick a spot in the loop of activity, out of a traffic pattern that enables her to see what’s going on. Put something on the floor that she likes to lie on and set up a piece of leash that you can affix to a heavy piece of furniture or an eye hook on a floor molding. When company comes bring her to that spot and attach the leash, making sure it’s long enough for her to lie down on her bed, but no longer. Then give her a frozen kong with peanut butter, or a hollow marrow bone with a piece of meat wedged in the middle.

If she still fusses, once again I’d suggest the help of a pro. What method I’d use to teach her to be “quiet” and stop fussing really depends on several variables, including her intensity and perseverance.

Jennifer, I understand that you know where I live. When you get the chance, please come around and it will be my pleasure to help you.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

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

Lily the dog. How much of a workout does she need?

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 Lily about how often she should work out, and advises on how to avoid, or change, a biter.

Hi Tom,

How often does my 60-pound half Australian shepherd/ half red tick coon hound need to exercise?

Thanks,

Sian Williams

Dear Sian,

I had a client who was training for the triathlon. His life basically revolved around exercise, most of which he shared with his smooth collie, which resulted in what I referred to as diminishing returns. That dog needed a solid hour of running next to a bike just to warm up and get loose. In the house he was like a spring coiled tight, ready to explode.

Granted, the expression in my business is, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog,” but imagine you’re best friends with Clark Kent and talk him into jogging eight miles to your house hoping to tire him out before your tennis match with him. He’s still going to beat you.

So Sian, you’re not looking to make “super dog,” but you do want lean and muscled and not pacing with excess energy he needs to expel. And those exercise needs vary greatly with age, breed and health. The young German short hair pointer isn’t quite warmed up by the time the young pug is completely exhausted. Aussie shepherds and redbone hounds are both breeds that require lots of exercise. Assuming your dog is relatively young and healthy, in addition to pee and poop outings two serious half-hour walks should suffice.

Just before I sat down to write this answer to you, Sian, I was at Sunset Lake Park in 30-mph wind-driven rain with my poodle, Paula. She was totally crazy, totally happy and energized by the cold, wet wind. I however, was not. So another thought came to mind: mental stimulation.

I remember how my kids complained of how tired they were after taking their SAT exams; while my response was, “Tired! What are you tired for? You were sitting on your butt for three hours!” Sian, take a half-hour working with your dog on obedience, mixed with a new trick and it will be just as exhausting as a half-hour walk.

Another suggestion. If you’re going to have company over or barbecue, try to exercise the dog vigorously for 40 minutes before the guests arrive. People will be commenting on what a well-behaved dog you have.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Hi Dogfather,

What advice do you have for people entering a house where there’s a dog with a history of biting people? What gestures should I watch out for in the dog? What body language should I exhibit?

I don’t want to make the wrong move or a fast move near the dog.

How do I break through to the good dog inside it?

Signed,

Not Fond of Stitches or Rabies Shots

Dear Not Fond of Stitches or Rabies Shots,

Great question for those of us who prefer avoiding hospital emergency rooms. My close friend Brian Kilcommons (Google him) just recently answered this very question for police departments across the country. Cops responding to domestic disturbance calls run into very agitated dogs all the time.

I remember an Easter dinner at my house years ago when my wife’s uncle raised his hand and asked me if he could go to the bathroom. I was boarding and training a huge Scottish deerhound at the time who stood up and alerted with a hard stare at any visitor who had the audacity to move about.

In a perfect world, dogs that threaten visitors would be denied access to the non pack members. In the real world I learned very early on in my career to ask many questions, especially about any history of aggression, and the dog’s response to people it didn’t know entering the home. You’d be amazed at how many people describe bites as “nips,” or are in a state of denial about their dog’s belligerence. I’d need an abacus to count all the times I’ve heard the fib, “Wow, it’s the first time he did that!”

Dogs bite for different reasons. There are six or eight different types of aggression, depending on who you ask and how you define the trigger that sets off the response. I remember the tearful lady who told me about her Vizsla who mauled a guest who had simply walked into the kitchen to toss her paper plate with the chicken bones into the garbage. The dog had raided the large container and wasn’t about to share its booty with anyone. That’s possessive aggression, or resource guarding, the resource being the chicken in the garbage.

So, what to do when, as a guest, you’re about to enter a house with a biting dog? One way of eliminating about 80 percent of the territorial aggressive response is to ask the owner to have the dog outside in the yard or in another room when you enter the house. Then have a seat on a chair at a table, not on a couch. If the dog is crazed with barking because it knows there’s a stranger in the house, wait till it calms down, then have the owner let the dog enter, perhaps dragging a leash. The owner should not be holding the leash. Your job: basically ignore the dog. Fleeting eye contact with a brief, “Hi Rover” is okay. Don’t try to engage the dog, even if it’s sniffing you while growling. Ignore. Never approach an aggressive dog. I’d need my abacus again to count all the people who ended up in the emergency room, who even after being warned, said, “Oh, I’m good with dogs; dogs love me.”

When it’s bored with your neutrality and saunters away is the time to break through to the good dog inside. As it’s walking away it’s your turn to engage with a happy sounding, “Rover, come!” When he arrives, offer him a treat from your flat hand below his mouth. Then ignore and continue talking to the host, even if Rover nudges you for more. It’s the reverse sale, like a stockbroker telling a client, “I have a hot new issue but was only allotted a limited amount of shares; I can’t give you more than ——.” Have him wanting more! It’s the same with trick-training a dog. I just taught Paula, my poodle, to drop dead when I shoot her with my hand and say bang. As soon as she got it and loved the praise and treats, instead of repeating it till she got bored, I stopped it, leaving her wanting more!

You’re right about not making a fast move around the dog. I remember a client’s dog lunging and biting a guest who leaped up yelling during a Super Bowl game. Surreptitiously observe the dog observing you. If he’s giving you a hard stare, ears cocked, stay put and ignore. If he gets up every time you get up, be deliberate, but slow as you move about. If his mouth is closed, he’s anxious. What you want to see is the open-mouthed slack-jaw grin. That’s a relaxed dog.

If you’re really not comfortable with the dog’s discomfort, don’t be shy — ask the owner to put the dog away. It might help one of the many owners who are in denial about their dog’s aggression to get some help.

Good luck and keep socializing,

The Dogfather

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

Angus (in front) protects Frankie, his new little sister.
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

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 noisy new puppy and Tyler, who’s moving his pooches to VH.

Dear Dogfather,

Angus (in back) watches his new little house mate, Frankie, who can get sort of noisy.
Angus (in back) watches his new little house mate, Frankie, who can get sort of noisy.

Thanks to your advice, Angus and his little sister Frankie (who came home to us a few weeks ago) are best buds. They play rough, snuggle in Angus’s crate, and pal around all day. Frankie is more vocal than Angus when they play and walk around. For instance, she will “complain” and sounds as if she’s walking begrudgingly while trying to keep up with her pack, or growl and yip during play. Should we be discouraging this vocal behavior? Or keep letting her express herself?

Thanks!

Alex and JD

Dear Alex and JD,

Delighted to hear how well things are going with Angus and Frankie. I refer to dogs that bark too much as their being overly verbal. That usually refers to dogs that bark for attention, or at the window when someone has the audacity to walk by your house. Then there are the dogs that give the driver acoustic trauma when seeing anything while driving in the car, or the hapless barkers who suffer from separation anxiety when left alone. These being some of the examples of overly verbal canines, I don’t think they apply to Frankie. From what you described it sounds to me like play excitement barking. Paula, my poodle, will sometimes jump straight up and bark on the sighting of another dog, basically saying, “Oh boy, a possible romp with one of my own kind!”

When dogs play, they chase each other and play fight, and as often as not they verbalize when playing. My Doberman, Michelle, had a best friend, a German Shepherd named Daisy. They played often and sounded like two lions fighting to the death. When Michelle had a tug of war with a rope toy with my other dog Tri, it was a 90-pound Doberman against a 17-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She could have easily ripped it out of Tri’s mouth, but didn’t because she enjoyed the game, and you should have heard the decibel level of the growling coming from both of them.

Alex, if you tried to stop the verbalizing while she’s playing, Frankie would probably relate your correction to her playing, not her growling. Playing, to her — as with many other dogs — includes growling.

However, I’m a little confused when you mentioned that she “will complain and sounds like she’s walking begrudgingly while trying to keep up with her pack.” That almost sounds like she’s experiencing some physical discomfort while walking. You might want to keep an eye on that.

As I’ve said before, the best you can do to have dogs get along is interfere as little as possible, let them work it out.

Enjoy the extended family,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

I will be moving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven at the end of the month. I have two dogs. Will this be stressful to them,and if so, how do I lessen the stress?

-Tyler

Dear Tyler,

Will moving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven stress these dogs out?
Will moving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven stress these dogs out?

I read somewhere years ago that moving ranked with death and divorce in terms of trauma. That of course pertained to humans as the article went on to explain that a large percentage of people have to move because of something catastrophic such as a job loss or cancer diagnosis. Countless times I’ve heard, “My dog’s behavior is regressing; she started destructive chewing again like when she was a puppy, or peeing in the house,” or whatever, for no reason at all.

But there’s always a reason, and it’s my job to find out what’s causing the dog’s aberrant behavior. Dogs are very aware and sensitive to the vibe of the household. The sadness of a wife whose husband passes away may create enough anxiety in the family dog to cause it to start nervously chewing on furniture.

So if you have to move because of a catastrophic change in your life, your dog is likely to be depressed or a basket case before you even move. Now add to that the fact that your dog can’t even conceive of the concept of “moving.” What the dog will perceive is the disassembling of her den, of her sanctuary, with no understanding of “why.”

When my wife Jaye and I decided to move to MV to retire it was all good. Yet Jaye cried for most of the 5 hour drive from NY just because of the trauma of the momentous change in our lives, leaving our beautiful house we had lived in for 30 years and being so far away from our children, friends and familiar environs.

So Tyler, even assuming that your move is positive, all your dogs see is your stress from the actual mundane hassles of moving all your stuff,  and their comfortable home being obliterated.

So what to do? If possible, before you move, bring the dogs to the new house, making sure they’re hungry, and feed them there. Play with them there. Walk them in their new neighborhood. Do this as often as you can. If you can’t actually get into the house, then familiarize them with the area around the house as much as possible. And when you do move make sure that their beds and bowls and toys are in the new digs immediately, not in a storage facility to be picked up later.

Best of luck,

 

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Josh Plueger)

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 pair of calamitous canines.

Hello Dogfather!

We have two dogs at home — a 7-year-old rescue mutt (herding breed) and a year-and-half-old rescue. The older one was abused when he was younger, and one of his triggers is people walking through the door — especially men. He barks and usually stops if it is someone he knows in his very tight inner circle. Well, now our puppy has been copying this learned behavior. I’ve turned into the crazy dog lady holding the barking dogs when people cross the threshold. I’ve tried shaking the can of pennies — but nothing seems to deter them. Help!

Hi Lady Holding the Barking Dogs,

One of the key reasons that man and dog bonded thousands of years ago is for the precise reason that is such a hassle to you. Territoriality! Dog’s hearing and scenting being what it is makes it virtually impossible for somebody to enter a home undetected if there’s a dog in the house. That coupled with territorial aggression is why you hear barking whenever you ring the bell of a house with a dog in it.

While all dogs will alert their owners that somebody’s on the property or at the door, their follow-up response can vary widely. While the Golden Retriever’s likely response is “Hi, great to see you, wanna throw a ball and play?” or “Here’s the fridge, wanna share something?” the Doberman’s response might be, “You ain’t crossing the threshold without higher-up clearance!”

The basics of my dog training almost always include a “door turmoil routine,” a routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil of aggression or crotch sniffing or jumping, barking, or whatever nuisance behavior the dog presents.

And that lesson is usually one of the last lessons, because it requires redirecting a hardwired instinctual behavior, which isn’t easy. Before the door routine can be established, the dog needs to be pretty efficient at the basics — coming, lying down, not jumping, respecting the word quiet, and most important, using self-control by STAYING, when told.

Shaking a can of pennies without a prior foundation of obedience will probably exacerbate the barking by agitating the dogs further. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever used a shake can for a door routine.

You might try having the dogs out of sight outside when visitors arrive, and then when the guests are seated at a table, let the dogs in. If that’s not feasible, have the dogs in another room, once again meeting the guests after they are seated at a table. You only mentioned barking in your question. If you think the barking may lead to biting, you need to call a pro for help.

More often than not, having visitors already in the house before the dogs meet them eliminates a great deal of the aggressive territorial response. Your best bet: Call in a pro to help you get them under control.

Good luck, and keep those questions coming.

The Dogfather