Does your dog’s behaviors leave you scratching your head? Feeling like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked? Why not ask an expert? Animal Wellness Magazine has teamed up with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to bring you a Q&A that’s all about training! Just leave us a comment on Facebook. The APDT will address several questions every week! Answers posted on Thursdays.
Q. My 4 year old Chihuahua has started showing unusual behavior. He seems to be frightened of everything, and is even scared of the dark, so he doesn’t like walking at night now. Even frightened of eating out of his own dish. Been eating out of my hand or off the floor. Throwing up in the car. No medical problems found. How can I build up his confidence again. I have no idea what may have caused this. -Jackie
A. Hi Jackie, the first thing I would think of is something medical, although you say he was checked out. Did they check his eyesight? Otherwise, it sounds like he possibly might have experienced something that caused him to be frightened. It could be anything, like a loud noise from the street, etc. but what it was doesn’t really matter. There is a great book called Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde that has a lot of great tips. Basically, you want to start very small and at a level of comfort for him where he is not afraid (what we call “under threshold”).
The program will involve exposing him to things he is afraid of at a distance he is comfortable with and rewarding him with food or whatever he finds highly rewarding. Slowly decrease the distance but always at a level he is comfortable with. Never push him past his comfort zone as this can increase the fear level. Some ways to build his confidence could be doing some obedience exercises in the home, or trick training. It doesn’t really matter what it is in terms of what you teach him, the point is to engage his brain and have him focus on you. I would also highly recommend working one on one with a professional as this can be an involved program and your timing for when you reward the dog has to be very good. You can find someone near you at www.apdt.com.
Q. How do I help my 4 year old Dachshund/Beagle mix with desperation barking? -Tabby
A. Hi Tabby, I’m going to assume that by “desperation barking” you mean attention seeking barking or anxiety barking. If its attention seeking, the best thing to do is ignore, which I know is hard to do. Any type of attention to the behavior is reinforcing to the dog, even if it’s something that would seem to stop it, such as yelling “no” at the dog or making a sound. I would then work on an alternate behavior for when he does this that you could ask him to do, such as lying down, or doing a trick, or sitting, etc. Begin rewarding him for that behavior and ignoring him for the barking.
If it’s anxiety-related barking, you need to determine what it is that is making your dog anxious, whether it’s being left alone, or perhaps some activity outside the home that is upsetting him like loud noises from the street or neighboring dogs. For mild anxious behavior, you can try giving him something to distract him, such as a food stuffed toy like a Kong. More serious anxiety-related issues are best handled by working with a professional who can take a full behavior history and help you determine what is causing his anxiety and then providing you with a behavior program to desensitize him to what is upsetting him. You can find someone at www.apdt.com. You can find a handout on our website that has some basic tips on barking at http://apdt.com/m/benefits/handouts/docs/APDT_Barking.pdf.
Q. How do I paper train my one year old rescue? -Andrea
A. Hi Andrea, we don’t really recommend using paper training. The best method for house training a dog is using a crate – you can find some detailed tips on how to do this at http://apdt.com/m/benefits/handouts/docs/APDT_CrateTraining.pdf.
If you are paper training him because you live in an apartment where taking him outside is difficult, one good option is something called a Potty Park (there are several manufacturers who make a similar product). Basically, you want to keep the dog under 100% supervision so they don’t get to go anywhere other than where you want them to go. This is why the crate is very useful. If that’s not an option, you could babygate them into a room that has a tile or concrete floor, like a bathroom or laundry room, or tie the dog to you with a leash around your waist.
The second you see him squatting to pee, run over to the place you want him to go and then reward him effusively when he eliminates (lots of verbal praise, petting and a food treat or a toy depending on what he really likes). The key to housetraining is complete consistency. The dog needs to develop a history of going where you want him to and any chance he gets to go elsewhere slows down the learning for him so he understands what it is you need. On the plus side, being an adult, the amount of time your dog can wait before going is longer than with a puppy!