Expert Q&A: Dog Behaviorist Colleen Demling
Dogtopia’s Dog Behaviorist Colleen Demling answered your questions about dog training, including barking, biting and the use of treats to reinforce good behavior. Watch her Q&A session and see her answers below:
Q: Why does my timid dog bark at everything? What do I do to stop it?
Barking could be because your dog is afraid. To help stop this, we have to teach them that they don’t need to worry about those common, every day sounds and that these sounds are no indicator that bad things are going to happen. To do this start with the sounds you can control, such as a knock on a door. Softly knock on a table or wall and then IMMEDIATELY start praising them and give a treat. By reacting with praise as soon as you knock you should be able to reward your dog before they bark. If you miss the moment and they start barking, calmly and quietly say “nope” and turn your back to them. When your dog stops barking, face them again and try to knock softer or do just a single knock instead of several. When your dog is quiet as you knock—PUPPY PARTY! Your dog will quickly learn that if they are quiet when they hear the knock then they will get treats and love from you. As your dog gains confidence then you can start knocking louder and louder until a knock at the door makes them run to you for praise instead of bark. You can apply this methodology to other sounds as well. Does your dog bark when they hear people walk by? Enlist a friend to walk back and forth in front of the house as you praise and treat them. Does your dog bark when they hear the neighbor come home? Have your neighbor text you when they are on the way home. Be ready with treats and as soon as your dog alerts to the neighbor, PUPPY PARTY! Additionally, make sure your dog is properly exercised. A tired dog has less energy and desire to be on guard at home. Finally, make sure to get them out and socialize them if possible. These life experiences will show dogs that the world is a safe place, and will help them feel safe at home.
Q: My dog has begun barking at random dogs on the street (of all kinds) even though he has been socialized and enjoys his time with the dogs he’s grown up with. What do we do?
Your dog’s behavior could have a variety of motivators from being fearful to being territorial or even just being frustrated that they can’t meet the other dog. Nonetheless, here are a few things to try, but we suggest contacting a professional dog trainer that can see your dog’s behavior in person and provide a customized plan. Since the behavior is relatively new, you should be able to get them back on track quickly:
First, bring extra yummy treats when you walk with your dog. These should be treats that they ONLY get when they see other dogs. As soon as you see the dog, start praising your dog lavishly and give them a treat. This will help them learn that dog equals treat. If dog equals treat, then there is no reason to bark and lunge. Keep treating your dog as long as they are calm and try to create enough distance between you and the other dog so they don’t react.
If your dog does react, calmly say “nope,” block them for a moment with your body, then turn and walk away from the other dog. This creates distance between them and the dog and should help to calm your dog.
Try to stay as relaxed as possible when you see a dog or if and when your dog lunges. If you react when they do then you will only add stress into the situation.
Also, make sure the walks have structure. If your dog is allowed to pull on the leash, stops to sniff every 5 feet, and pees on all of the trees, then they will think that they are walking you. This means they won’t listen to you when they see another dog. Practice having them walk next to you on a loose leash. Have them sit multiple times on a walk just because you asked them too. You can also change your walking speed or normal route. All of these things will help your dog learn that you are in control on a walk. If you are in control, then they need to listen when they see another dog.
Q: Why does my dog steal things like socks and bury them in the backyard?
Dogs bury things that they see as valuable in order to save them for later. By burying socks, your dog thinks they are a special thing to save for later!
To stop the behavior, the easy answer is to make sure socks are put away.
If that can’t happen, rotate your dog’s toys. If their toys are exciting and entertaining then there is no need to horde socks. Likewise, you can also buy toys that are similar to the sock fabric.
Sometimes we teach dogs that the sock is a valuable thing because anytime they have it, we chase them and take it back. If you see them with the sock, calmly ask them to sit or trade it for a toy. When your dog complies, praise them lavishly!
Another hint is to increase activity level and utilize interactive toys (treat ball/muffin tin/puzzles). If your dog is tired and has other fun things to play with, then there will be no time for sock burying.
Q: How do I get my dog to potty train? Especially when they have bells at the door to signal when they need to go, but still end up going in the house anyway?
A dog may ring bells to go outside, but unless they are fully house trained then they will still think they can go potty in the house as well. Why ring the bell to potty when they can just go on the rug?
If the bell has become the signal to go outside, but not necessarily just potty, then there is a disconnect. In a dog’s mind: “I ring bell. Mom opens door. I get to play/eat a leaf/run around/etc.” If your dog rings the bell, make sure their only option outside is pottying and then coming back in.
To housetrain your dog, try these simple tips:
- Take your dog out on a regular schedule. Most puppies will need to go every 3 hours or after they sleep, play, and eat.
- Keep a potty diary. If you know when they have gone in the past, you can predict the future!
- Move your dog’s food bowl around the house – dogs don’t like to eat and potty in the same place.
- If you take them out to potty and they don’t or you think they have to go more, keep them on leash and with you in the house. This will prevent your pup from sneaking away and if they do squat, you are right there to catch them.
- If they don’t go the first time, wait 10-20 minutes then take them back outside. Praise when them when they go where they should.
- If you catch your dog in the act, say nope, and quickly pick them up and carry them outside to where they should go potty.
- Clean any accidents with pet deodorizer to eliminate the scent for the dog (like Dogtopia’s Eliminator available at your local Dogtopia).
- Patience and understanding is key. Your dog isn’t being bad, they are learning their way in the world. They will get it.
Q: How do I stop my dog from jumping on the table and taking down my decorations?
A great rule is “Reward when four are on the floor.” If all four paws are on the floor, your dog gets a treat or attention. If your dog only gets attention when they jump then it’s a double win – mom’s attention and whatever was on the table.
When possible, remove access to whatever is on the table – push decorations to the center, push in chairs, etc. Sometimes it is easier to control the environment than the dog.
Likewise, be sure your pup has enough interactive toys to keep them busy. More toy attention means less jumping! Be sure to rotate the toys they have so as to keep them entertained and interested.
You can also teach him a “leave it” command: Have your dog on a leash, then show them the decoration. Say “leave it” in a firm, but happy voice and as you say “leave it,” show them a yummy treat and use it to guide them away from the decoration. When they listen, give tons of praise. If they don’t then a gentle “nope,” and say “leave it” again. As your dog gets better, put the decoration back on the table and then walk him up to the table, say “leave it,” and if they hesitate, then drop the treat on the floor. If they jump, say “nope” and use your body to push them away.
Lastly, be sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise. A tired dog is a good and healthy dog.
Q: Do potty pads confuse dogs about going inside the house?
The short answer is: yes they can! If there are potty pads all over the house then it is easy to confuse potty pads with other soft surfaces like carpet.
If you want or need to use potty pads:
- Place them in one location of the house. This location should stay static over time and not move around the house.
- If possible, the potty pad should be on wood/tile and not on carpet. A pee pad on carpet can be confusing. Where does the carpet end and the pee pad begin?
- Put the pee pad in a pee pad holder or kitty litter pan.
- You can also use something else like fake grass or dog litter as an alternative.
Q: How do you stop a puppy from biting and nipping at your hands when you are trying to pet them?
Firstly, make sure your dog has plenty of other proper items to chew on so they don’t have to chew on your hands. Sometimes dogs that are a little more mouthy just like having something else to chew on to keep them stimulated.
A few tricks to get your dog to stop nipping are to stop attention when they do nip. As soon as they try or do nip, calmly say “no” and look away. Removing all of this attention from your dog will show them that a nip means no more love or attention. Try a “three-strike you’re out” concept – if your dog nips, you say no, and they do it two more times, calmly get up and walk away from the situation. This disruption will distract them from what they were doing.
Another tip is to take treats or a few bits of kibble and sprinkle them on the ground. When your pup starts to eat, start petting their back. Your dog will be looking down instead of trying to nip at you and this will teach them over time that when you pet them, they keep their head down to continue the attention.
You can also have your dog or puppy on a leash for better control for when they get too nippy. Likewise, try not to encourage too much rough housing between you and your pup – this only confuses them from when you think it is fun to when they are in trouble.
Q: Why is my puppy digging in its water bowl? Why does my dog do this and how do I stop it?
Most puppies just like to explore! One day your puppy probably thought “This is cool!” and decided to play in its dish.
First, stay calm. Don’t react with heightened voices because all your dog hears is the cheerleading squad that is screaming their name – this reinforces the behavior.
No spill water bowls do exist, which is one option to get them from spilling water everywhere.
Likewise, when filling your dog’s bowl, only put a little water in the bowl. Monitor it so it isn’t empty, but if it does empty, add a little more, and so on. Less water in the bowl makes splashing less fun.
If your pup starts to dig in the bowl, a gentle “nope” and then picking up the bowl for 5 minutes, this disrupts their behavior.
Lastly, make sure they have plenty of proper toys to keep them entertained – fun toys make the water bowl look less fun!
Q: How do I prevent my dog from spilling water in its crate?
If your dog is only going to be in the crate for a few hours or overnight, then they don’t need water in the crate with them.
If you must leave your dog in the crate for an extended period of time, hang a small bowl from the side of the crate a few inches from the bottom.
You can also put the no-spill bowl in the crate or, alternatively, put water in a bowl and freeze it. As it melts your pup can drink and enjoy.
Q: How do I get my boxer to have better experiences at the dog park? Does the length of a dog’s nose and how they breathe play a role in how they interact with others?
How your dog interacts with others has nothing to do with their nose (though do make sure your short-snouted friends don’t overheat as they are unable to cool off as efficiently).
Boxers have tons of energy and can be overwhelming to other dogs at times. Dogs communicate through an expansive language of dog body signals. Sometimes, boxers (and others) can ignore the signals of other dogs that don’t want to play, which causes a reaction.
A few helpful tips to hopefully diminish these interactions:
- Try exercising your dog before they get to the dog park. It seems counterintuitive, but if your dog has less energy, they will be more calm and is more likely to get along with the other dogs better. A simple lap or two around the block can help a lot.
- When you get to the dog park, have your dog sit four times between the car and the park. This will help them stay calm and remind them that they need to listen to you.
- For a lot of these kinds of dogs, daycare is a great option. At Dogtopia, we separate dogs by size and temperament and can be helpful in helping your dog learn playtime etiquette and social cues.
Q: My dog will go outside to pee, but then sometimes will pee and walk around the house while he does it. He rings the bell after he finishes to go out, so he knows he was wrong. How do I stop this behavior?
It might be worth a vet check to make sure your dog isn’t suffering from a UTI or bladder infection. Dogs don’t normally just walk and pee around the house and then tell you they need to go outside. Any time you see a behavior change that happens out of nowhere, it is always a good idea to check with your vet for any medical cause.
If that is all clear, some things to try are taking your dog out more frequently instead of waiting for them to ring the bell.
Be sure to monitor their water intake as they may be overdrinking. Some dogs will drink way more than they need to satisfy their thirst. Never restrict their water entirely, but try filling the bowl part of the way and if they drink it, add more and go from there. This will prevent over drinking.
Q: How do I train with immediate, no matter the distraction results? Especially when other dogs and distractions are around?
Firstly, remember your dog isn’t trying to be naughty. Your dog is likely just distracted by all the amazing things going on in the world. Similar to a child – asking them to do homework in a quiet house is easier than asking them to do their homework at Disneyland.
Start slow when training in a new environment. Start by having your dog listen and obey in the front yard or a park where another dog is 100 yards away.
Try random reinforcement – sometimes give your dog a treat, other times don’t. This will get your dog to gamble. Somedays they’ll get none and others they might get 10! If your dog never knows if they will win, then they will always fail, so doing this keeps them on their toes.
If when you are training and your dog fails the task three times, make the ask easier. Making the task too difficult will only make you both frustrated and sets your dog up to fail.
Be sure to tune in to our future Facebook Live Expert Q&As, and submit your questions ahead of time here.