Dog training expert advice

Dogtopia’s Dog Behaviorist Colleen Demling answered your questions about dog training, including dog park behavior, house training, and excessive barking. Watch her Q&A session and see her answers below:


Q: What do I do when my new dog starts misbehaving at the dog park, especially when they single out specific people to bark at/nip?

Here are a few things to try:

Stop taking them to the dog park for now. The more they behave inappropriately, the more it will happen in the future. We don’t want your dog to hurt themselves or others.

Increase her exercise with more walking or try a doggie daycare where she will see the same people every day.

Take them to people heavy areas on leash. Allow them to sit and watch people walk by. A busy park is great because it will allow them to see people walking, running, playing sports, etc. Praise your dog lavishly as they sit calmly.

Take them to an obedience class. They sound like they are well behaved in general but we also want to make sure they are responsive to your direction. This will allow you to call them to you when they react to a person.

Once they have settled in more to your house and their life, try the dog park during a calm time. If they show the behavior, leash them up and leave the park. Then take them to the outside of the fence and have them watch the person. Give them treats and praise as they sit calmly. If the person is okay and the person is calm then have the two meet.


Q: Why does my dog start to pee when they meet new people/get excited?

If this is a new behavior, it might be worth a vet visit to make sure they don’t have a bladder infection or UTI.

If that all checks out, it’s good to note that dogs pee for a variety of reasons. It may be nervous peeing in both situations. In their mind, they think, “There are people here, I really hope they like me. You want me to sit? I hope I can do it right!”

To combat this, have people ignore your dog when they met them. If strangers are excited then they get excited or nervous and then pee. If strangers remain calm then this helps your dog increase their bladder control.

If you have guests who just can’t ignore such a cute pup, then have the strangers scatter treats on the floor as they walk in the door. If your dog is busy searching for treats then they can’t squat to pee.

Use a treat to help them with the “sit” command. Put it right at their nose and slowly lift it up and back toward their butt in an arch. Most dogs work like teeter totters, if their head goes up, their buttwill go down. As they sit, praise them calmly.

If they repeatedly step backwards instead of sitting down, then try to do the exercise against a corner cabinet or couch. If they can’t back up they will likely sit.

Calmly praise your pup when they do comply. If you get excited when they sit then they will pee. Only pet them under the chin and on the chest. This will teach your dog that standing and sitting gets love and it is hard to pee in both situations.

If your dog rolls on their belly to be pet without you asking too, stop petting them, take a couple steps back, and encourage them to stand. This will help them learn that brave behavior gets attention and nervous behavior gets ignored.


Q: How do I change my dog’s behavior from peeing in the middle of the night to more regular hours?

First, limit water and food at least two hours before bedtime. Remember: Intake dictates output.

No evening napping. Often dogs will deep sleep hours before we actually go to bed. If that is the case, then they will be well rested at 4am and will want to wake up and go potty. If they are kept awake until you sleep then they will sleep through those urges.

Make sure your dog goes outside to potty before bed-even if that means they have to go on a walk. Give HUGE praise when they do anything they are supposed to.

Create a nighttime routine: TV off, hallway light off, outside light off, etc. This will let them know that they have to go potty because you are headed to bed.

Try to wake up before they do. If they can wake you to potty, then they will learn that waking you up gets a reward of a bladder release. As they get better, set the alarm for later and later until they sleep through the night.


Q: Why does my dog bark all the time at home, but not at daycare?

Sounds like your dog could be alert barking. In their mind, they think: “Mom- a car! Mom- a cat! Mom- a leaf!” Your dog is likely not barking at daycare because they are having too much fun.

Even though you take them to daycare, they may need more exercise or may need to go more. Tired dogs are less likely to bark in the house.

Teach them that they don’t need to tell you about everything they hear/see. To do this, start with things you can control, such as person walking by the house. Ask a friend or family member to help. Have the person walk by. As soon as they see the friend, IMMEDIATELY start praising them and give them a treat. If you miss the moment and they start barking, just wait for them to be quiet and try again. If you start yelling at them to stop barking (NO, NO, DON’T BARK!) then they will only think you are barking with them!

Be sure to practice obedience commands. If we want a dog to listen to us when they are reacting or barking, then they also have to listen when they are in the house or on a walk. Make them sit, lie down, and stay multiple times a day just because you said they should.


Q: How do I keep my dog calm while walking around other dogs?

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.

First, bring extra yummy treats when you walk with them. These should be treats that they ONLY get when they see other dogs. As soon as you see the dog, start praising them 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 them 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 your dog and the other dog and should help to calm your pup.

Try to stay as relaxed as possible when you see a dog or if your dog lunges. If you react when they do, 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, stop to sniff every five feet, and pee 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. Then 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.

If you aren’t already using one, a front load harness or head halter can give you more control on a walk, especially when your dog is excited.

Your dog may also need more time off leash! Consider doggie daycare or taking your dog to the dog park.


Q: How do I get my two dogs, who walk well separately, to walk well together?

Good manners start at home. If the dogs will listen to your commands in the house then they will be better behaved on walks. Make both sit before you give them attention or food. Practice commands together: make one sit on one side of the room and the other sit on the other side of the room. Ask one to sit as you tell the other to down. Be sure to lavishly praise all compliance. If one makes a mistake, that’s ok! Just start over.

Make sure the walks start out calm. If they are crazy as you put on the leashes, then they will be crazy on a walk. Pick up the leashes and if they start jumping/running around, put the leashes down and walk away. When they calm, try again. The goal is that they patiently wait as put on the leashes and get ready for the walk.

Have them sit five times in the first five minutes of a walk. This will remind them that they need to look to you for guidance and not each other.

Remember to praise! Calmly praise them and even give them a treat any time they make a good decision on a walk. If we only react when they are being naughty then we will never fix the issue. But, if they learn that good behavior gets praise, treats, and attention from mom then they will be better behaved on the next walk.


Q: Why does my puppy bark at my child? Do they just want to play?

First, contact a professional trainer if you are concerned that your puppy is acting aggressively towards your child.

It is hard to say without more details, but your puppy may be barking just to play or they may be barking because they are nervous or protective over a toy.

Try having your child feed the puppy. They should also give them any new toys or chews.

Make sure your child isn’t roughhousing with your puppy. If your child plays rough with your puppy, then your puppy is more likely to bark at your child.

Respect your puppy’s boundaries. Most dogs do not like to be hugged, picked up, or kissed. If your child is doing these things, your pup might be telling your child that they are uncomfortable.

Do not yell at your dog if they bark or growl. They will learn that saying they are uncomfortable will get them in trouble, so the next time they won’t warn you, they will just react.

If your dog does bark for attention, remove all attention from them. Stop playing. Look away. Walk away. They will soon learn that barking means all attention will be removed.


Q: What is the best way to introduce a new dog into a home that already with a dog?

If you are even 1% concerned that the two dogs could dislike each other or scuffle, then consult a professional dog trainer in your area to properly introduce the dogs. A first meeting between dogs is like a first date between strangers. If it goes wrong, it is hard to repair.

If you know the dogs will get along but just want to get them started out on the right path then take them on numerous walks together. Dogs who walk together get to know each other by moving forward and doing similar things (like sniffing a tree). These “relationship building walks” will help them bond.

Once they are comfortable on walks then allow them into the backyard but keep their leashes on. All toys/beds/food bowls/anything they could fight over should be removed. Calmly praise them anytime they interact. Once they are comfortable in the backyard or if you don’t have one, allow them into the house.

Keep interactions short and sweet. It is better that the dogs have a short and positive encounter then a long drawn out one where they scuffle at the very end. You can separate them with a gate, crate and rotate or even use leashes to tether them to opposite sides of the room.

Stay relaxed. If you are nervous when the dogs meet then they will be nervous. If you stay happy and upbeat then the dogs will be too!


Q: How do I teach my puppy their name?

This can also be used for a new rescue dog since they may not know their name or you want to pick a new one:

Be in a quiet environment. Say the puppy’s name in a happy and fun tone. As soon as they look at you, give them a treat. Wait a few seconds then say the name again, wait for eye contact, and treat.

If the puppy looks at your hand and not your eyes, lift the treat to your eye.

If the puppy doesn’t look, ignore, wait a few seconds and try again. If they are still struggling, say the name and use a kiss or other sound to get their attention.

Remember to keep sessions short and sweet. But also keep in mind that this should take a few days to learn.


Q: What is the difference between a Service Dog, an Emotional Support Dog and a Therapy Dog?

Service Dogs have no official “registration.” This dog has trained skill to assist with a person’s disability. A Service Dog is allowed to go everywhere and the person cannot be discriminated against.

  • Because there are so many fake service dogs, states are cracking down on rules. Over 19 states currently have laws or are actively in the process of enacting them. In most of those states it is a misdemeanor in some parts of the country to lie and say your pet dog is a service dog.

Emotional Support Dogs are dogs that are given limited access (planes and housing not restaurants/grocery stores/etc.) because the mere presence of the dog calms the person. The dog doesn’t have a special skill or the disability the person has doesn’t severely impact their life as defined by the Americans Disabilities Act. For this dog, a person needs a doctor’s note.

  • Airlines are also cracking down on emotional support dogs after serious incidents. As of March 1, Delta Airlines is now requiring proof of vaccinations for Emotional Support Dogs and having customers sign a statement saying their dog is well-behaved.

Therapy Dogs are dogs that have been trained and given permission to go into specific facilities to assist with pet related therapy. Examples are hospitals, nursing homes and schools. These dogs have zero public access rights except in that specific facility when they are invited.


Q: How do I get my puppy and older dog to get along?

First, make sure the puppy has extra exercise. Puppies have tons of energy and if we give them extra things to do, they will be less likely to bug the older dog. Remember: tired dogs are good dogs.

Interactive toys and games are great ways for puppies to stay preoccupied.

In the house, it may be worth looking into an exercise pen for the puppy so they aren’t constantly bugging the older dog.

A training technique, that will require two people, is as follows: put both dogs on a leash. As the person with the puppy starts approaching the older dog, praise the older dog lavishly and give special treats to reinforce that puppy means praise and fun. Then, the person with the puppy starts to move away. The older dog will not get anything at this stage, but the puppy instead will get the treats and love. This reinforces that when the puppy is away from the older dog, they are doing something right.

If you have done lots of these tips and the situation does not improve, it might be worth contacting a professional dog trainer to observe and assist.


Q: How do I get my dog to stop jumping on the counters?

Taking your dog to a basic obedience class can help you dog learn commands and some basic manners.

In the meantime, a few options:

If your dog jumps when someone comes in the door, pay them no attention at all. As people come in, they can drop treats on the ground. This encourages feet on the floor and not on people.

For counter surfing, make sure to keep items safe and back off the edge of the counter. Every time your dog jumps and gets something, even attention, it reinforces bad behavior. When you are cooking or do a lot in the kitchen, it could be beneficial to give your dog a special, interactive toy that distracts them from the counter where you are. If this does not work, crating or penning them away might be a great option.


Q: How do I encourage my cats to come down stairs when there is a dog in the house?

Have a professional come to the house to help. Sometimes dogs and cats don’t get along because they are unfamiliar with what the other one is but occasionally the dog can see a cat as a prey animal. In this case, your cats are making the best decision by staying upstairs. If we force the interaction we may be putting your cats in danger.

If they do come down, make sure there is no chasing. If the dog chases the cats, even just once in a while then the cats will always be afraid.

Another tip is to swap scents. Cats and dogs get to know each other through scent. Have the dog sleep on a blanket, the cats sleep on another blanket then swap. This way the cats will get to smell the dog and vice versa.

If possible, have the dog and cats eat near each other. Initially this may even be through a door. The dog eats on one side and the cats eat on the other.

Allow safe exploration of each other’s space.  Crate the dog or take him on a walk and allow the dogs to come down an explore. Then move the cats to a secure room and allow the dog to explore the space. Repeat this for at least two weeks.

Next take your dog on an extra-long walk so they are well exercised. Put one of the cats in a smaller room where the cat can’t hide or run but has a safe place to perch out of the dog’ reach. A master bathroom or laundry room works well. Put the cat on the counter and give the kitty an extra special treat the cat will only get during this exercise. Next bring the dog in on leash. The dog should be given special treats as well and praised as long as they are calm. If your dog starts to act up, walk them out of the room. Wait 20 seconds and walk back in. If at any point either the dog or cat gets too stressed, stop immediately.

If you have more than one cat, make sure the dog gets exposure to both cats but only one at a time to start.

As the dog and cat spend more time together, then they should be able to stay calm in each other’s presence in the small area. Once they can be calm for at least 30 minutes, then you can start to practice in larger areas.

Once the dog can be calm with each cat in larger areas, then you can introduce any other cats you may have into this area.

Remember: Never force any cat or the dog into a stressful or dangerous environment.