The Dogfather’s advice on old dogs, new babies, good toys, bad manners

Photo by Sarah Omer

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather advises the owners of Rocco, who’s had sharing issues at the dogpark, and Crosby, who’s been acting out since the arrival of a new baby in the house.

Dear Dogfather,
I have a year old Boykin Spaniel who recently turned from a great puppy to a rambunctious and mischievous dog that is into everything, now that our newborn baby has arrived. Crosby is constantly “counter surfing” throughout the day while I am home with the baby. He has also started jumping on people when they come over, as well as constantly barking at guests for attention and to play with him. It makes it virtually impossible to have guests over to see the baby.

Crazed by Cros

Dear Crazed by Cros,
Sounds like Crosby crossed over from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde stage. Actually, it’s quite normal. Dogs tend to go from puppy, to punk, to young adult (not much better than punk), to adult, to adult adult, to senior adult.

Like people, dogs need real parenting, because so often like people, dogs get away with what they can. Parenting in this case means teaching Crosby to be a well mannered, cooperative gentleman. That’s accomplished through obedience training, which means much more than heel, sit, stay, down, come. It includes the not things. Not jumping on people and furniture, not mouthing and biting, not chewing on couches and rugs, not eating your credit cards ( there’s not a household item you can name that a vet hasn’t taken out of a dog’s stomach), not peeing on your carpet, not intimidating your friends, not barking to the point of acoustic trauma, not counter surfing, not…, not…, etc.

Most of this is going to have to be taught by a pro who is going to leave you quite empowered after the first visit. Crosby will be “towing the line” figuratively, and literally. He will be dragging a piece of leash so that your hands never go to him negatively. He will relate to your hands as “givers” of pleasure — petting, massaging, treats, food. The leash will serve as restraint, when needed.

Imagine you’re at the counter cutting steak for dinner and Crosby is standing next to you, drooling. You just happen to be casually standing on the leash he’s dragging at just the right spot so that when he jumps up he hits the end of the leash as you say “Off!”

Crosby also needs to be introduced to the “Dog God,” the God of dogs who doesn’t allow Crosby to take food off the low coffee table even when you leave the room. I use entrapment. Set up a mirror so you can see Crosby at the coffee table, but he can’t see you. Put a piece of chicken in a perforated tupperware container and leave it on the coffee table and head for the mirror. Next to the mirror is an empty aluminum soda can with a dozen pennies in it.

Watch Crosby look around to make sure nobody is looking, and then go for the gold. Just as his mouth reaches the tupperware, the soda can comes flying into the room near him. He’ll probably screw himself through the ceiling in startlement, but the shock is going to be related to TAKING FOOD OFF YOUR TABLE, not you. The Dog God sees all, all the time, and doesn’t like it when you take anything off a table, and SHE throws cans.

Your quality of life with Crosby for the next 15 years can probably be greatly improved with a few lessons with a pro.

Good luck,
The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,
I take my dog Rocco to the dog park frequently where he will chase his tennis ball for hours (if I throw it that long). Occasionally, another dog will catch sight of and chase his ball (or vice versa) and there’s usually a playful exchange that often ends up with the other dog acquiring a new toy and Rocco walking away sans ball. I’m always thankful that Rocco doesn’t get too protective of his ball, and we’re usually lucky enough to find another stray ball during the course of our walk, but I wonder if this could end up being a bigger problem some day. How do you feel about tennis balls and other toys at the dog park?



Dear Sarah,

It’s about time. Thank you. I’ve been waiting a long time for this question, looking forward to addressing it. I’ve worked with a lot of dogs at a lot of dog parks over the years in New York and New Jersey. To me, watching dogs interact is better than watching TV. With a discerning eye it can be quite educational. I was asked to speak at a National Search and Rescue Conference several years ago and one of the presenters showed a 40 minute video of dogs playing at a dog park. Then, based on the “mode” of play of the individual dogs, the personalities were discussed in detail, and what could be garnered from “how they play” was amazing.

So, toys at the dog park. Six years ago I was at a dog park in NYC that is located on the East Side, literally hanging over the East River. Great spot to watch the boat and helicopter traffic while the dogs do their thing. But I’m the kind of guy who, if a beautiful woman enters with a dog, I’ll be checking out the dog. I’m there with a client and her Brittany Spaniel, and before we go through the double gates to enter the run I zero in on a gorgeous Lab’s body language as he goes after a ball that his owner throws. The Lab is clearly stressed with the competition for the ball, and now I’m a little stressed knowing that Bonnie, the Brittany, loves chasing balls, so I don’t unhook her from the leash as the Lab owner tosses the ball again.

This time a wire hair fox terrier gets to the ball first, and the Lab attacks, and kills the terrier before anyone can prevent it.

Of my 800 training appointments per year, about half were for behavior problems, and the worst problems had to do with aggression. You go near the dog while he’s eating and he growls, it’s possessive aggression, or resource guarding, the resource being the food. I entered an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and in the middle of the huge, formal living room sat the food bowl. Right there in the middle of this humongous room, on a little place mat. The dog didn’t drag it there, it was there on purpose.

“Bob” is a PBGV, a one year old Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, the French version of a Basset hound. About 35 lbs, if the food bowl was at the far end of the kitchen you couldn’t walk by the kitchen, never mind entering it without Bob seriously threatening to bite. In the living room was the only place far enough away where you could roam the rest of the apartment without being bullied by your own dog.

The street dog that lived for awhile on garbage scraps probably fought over “finds” with other strays; his possessive aggression quite understandable. But not the case with the PBGV, it’s genetic, or maybe he got beat up one too many times at the nipple by his siblings. Whatever the reason, it’s very real, and I’ve seen lots of it, in many different forms.It can be the small poodle growling at the approaching grandchild while sitting next to Grand Ma, doesn’t want to share Granny.

Eight dogs chasing one ball, nah. Most of the time it’s OK. If there’s  a history of familiar dogs interacting with toys, it’s great. But enter a new dog, I’d curtail the toys and let them socialize.

Thanks for the question Sarah,

Good luck,

The Dogfather