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Training Q&As

Great tips and advice from the Animal League Experts.

Below are Q&As on training that relate to cats or dogs. Not what you're looking for? Use the form below to change your criteria, or submit your question to one of our experts.

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How Do I Prepare for My New Adopted Dog?
Q:

When I bring my newly adopted dog home, what are some important things to remember?

A:

Dogs are pack animals that live by social hierarchy. When a dog enters a new home he is looking for that structure. It is important for obedience and stability that the dog sees all the people in the family as leaders.

To help establish yourselves as leader don't allow the dog on furniture since this puts the dog on the same level as you. Don't use baby talk. To you it might convey affection, but to the dog it's not perceived as leadership. As you move around your home, go through the doors first and allow your dog to follow you. Teach the dog to wait at the door and when he is responding say "let's go" to clearly signal that you'll both going somewhere together.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Vincent Buscemi
Is Puppy Play Biting Normal?
Q:

Is puppy play biting normal?

A:

Play biting or mouthing is a normal attention-seeking behavior that puppies use to be noticed and play with littermates. If your dog is too rough, typically another puppy will either bite back harder or "shun" the dog by ignoring him and walking away. Since dogs are "pack animals," which means they are born in a litter and live by a social hierarchy, when a dog enters a new home he perceives his new family as his pack of littermates.

He will get the attention the same way he would with his real littermates, by using his mouth. When a puppy puts teeth on flesh or clothing, they should be corrected effectively, consistently and swiftly so they can think twice about the consequence the next time they have the urge to grab and play bite. A good correction is a "shaker can" (empty soda can filled with some coins) which you use by shaking, without the puppy seeing you, if he/she should go to mouth you.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Vincent Buscemi
How can I train my puppy to eliminate outside?
Q:

My 5-month-old puppy won’t eliminate outside. She will only urinate. What should I do?

A:

Where is the puppy defecating? If it is going back to a specific spot in the home, that spot should be cleaned thoroughly with a product such as Natures Miracle or 50% vinegar/water solution to prevent the puppy from being drawn to that same spot. Vigilance and consistency are the keys to housebreaking. Maintain a consistent schedule for the housebreaking routine. This will help your dog anticipate the time he/she is going to need to eliminate and help you predict as well. Feed the dog at the same time every day. Leave the food down for a half hour only. Do not leave food down all the time, as it will cause the dog’s elimination habits to be erratic. Take the dog out on a leash within fifteen minutes of eating to the same spot where he/she has urinated. Give them ample time to go. If the dog does not go, they should be supervised when being brought back into the house to avoid an uncorrectable accident and then given another housebreak walk in fifteen minutes. Use a training crate as a housebreaking aid when you can not physically watch the dog.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Vincent Buscemi
How can I calm my excited dog during car rides?
Q:

I have an 11-month-old, male, neutered Labrador retriever named Pete that I adopted from a shelter when he was 4 1/2 months old. Pete is fairly high strung. He is well-socialized and goes out every day for hikes or the dog park for at least 45 minutes to an hour twice a day. His only major issue is that he gets so excited for our “outings” that he whines and cries in the car. He is too wild to be loose in the car, so he rides in his crate in the back. How can I calm him down in the car? I've tried taking him on many “rides to nowhere”, given him toys in crate, etc. What can I do?

A:

Riding in the crate is a good decision and the safest and best method of transport for an excited dog. I would start over by reconditioning your dog to riding in the car. Get him used to the car without actually going anywhere. Get in the car with him when the car is parked in the driveway or on the street. Reward him with a treat and praise him for being quiet. You want to emphasize the term “good quiet” when rewarding him with the treat. Repeat this a few times without starting the car or driving anywhere. After doing this a few times, try a short car ride and try walking your dog home. You want to keep using the term “good quiet” and continue using the treats as rewards. Gradually increase the length of the rides and continue to use treats and praise along with “good quiet”. The key to success is consistency and patience. Pete is a young, energetic dog that requires a lot of exercise. You may have to increase his exercise before going for the car rides, and just remember that eventually he will calm down as he leaves puppyhood.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Vincent Buscemi
How do I keep my cat curious?
Q:

I have a 3-year-old Siamese mix cat named Max who loves to play fetch, asks to play with "birdie" (feather on a pole), and even brings toys into my bed at night. He also goes in the pet buggy outside for a safe meet and greet. How do I keep this little Einstein intrigued and motivated?

A:

Appropriate play is a very important tool to keeping our cats happy and healthy. Self-play toys such as cat dancers will keep your pet active and occupied when you are not home. You can also construct home-made toys by using a cardboard box. Poke holes in the top and hang different toy items (a ball of tinfoil, a Q-tip with the cotton removed, or toy mice are some examples). This will keep Max happily entertained (and away from your curtains) when left to his own devices.

When you are home, consistent interactive playtime will help maintain a strong bond between the two of you. It will also ensure he is not waking you up at 3AM to play. Pole toys are excellent options because they have a tendency to mimic prey-like behavior when moved. They create high-energy playtime for your cat and act as an appropriate release for hunting behavior. You can also hide treats in self-play toys (balls) to keep Max motivated, and ensure he is rewarded for appropriate play.

Another option would be to adopt a playmate for your cat. Having another cat in the house to play and rough-house with will definitely keep your cat happy and occupied. Play between two cats is not only fun, it’s a learning experience. It is a way for cats to learn that biting and scratching hurts. In addition, cats will correct each other for inappropriate or rough play behavior, which can also help with appropriate interactions with people.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Dorit Shevach
How do I prevent relocation trauma?
Q:

I’m going to be moving soon, taking my 11-year-old female Border Collie and 10-year-old Blue Heeler-Australian Shepherd male from where they’ve lived with me in a small community all their lives, to the big city of Seattle. I will be living with friends temporarily—they have two cats and a backyard—before we move to something smaller, quite possibly an apartment or condo. My Border Collie is quiet and easily managed; my male dog is hyper, protective of me, has a few separation issues, and is sometimes aggressive toward strangers. How can I ease the transition from their familiar routine to something so completely different? I’ll make sure we see the vet before we move, and I know I should bring along and keep consistent their bedding, food, and exercise routine, etc. My Border Collie has some arthritis and cataracts, but otherwise both dogs are in good health.

A:

First, we need to dissect the idea of health. While your dogs may be okay physically, your male dog’s aggressive behavior is adversely affecting the mental health of your entire family. I see this move as a real opportunity for you—since unfamiliar territory will create the kind of temporary uncertainty needed to establish a fresh set of rules and boundaries. If you can swing it financially, I’d advise you not to bring any of your dogs’ old paraphernalia, since without it, you can create new associations and, as a result, new behaviors. I don’t know if you put a backpack on your Blue Heeler mix when you walk him, but if you don’t, I’d start now. And I’d also use this as an opportunity to claim my own interior space; for more on this, read the chapter about “proximity” in my book, How to Raise the Perfect Dog.

One thing I do when I need to make change happen is draw a rectangle, and inside it, I write down five things that I want: “I want total discipline”; “I want to be out of this apartment in three months”; “I want a great job,” etc. I keep it simple; I don’t overthink it, I just feel it. Spiritually, in our DNA, we all know what we want but when we think too much, we dilute that sense of certainty. What works for me is writing about my wishes for my whole life, not just my wishes for my dogs—because the manifestation of getting the other things that I want will be a great relationship with my dogs. While Dog Whisperer’s episodes are planned, the show itself—its insistence on striving for calm-assertive energy—came completely from a feeling, one that was at the very root of who I am.


Submitted by Chere
Answered by Cesar Milan
Is she imitating her elders?
Q:

We have two Mini-Schnauzers: Hudson, six years old, and Molly, 18 months. The minute Molly arrived, Hudson began snarling, barking, and pulling at other dogs when I’d take him and Molly out walking—and his high-pitched squeak-and-bark combo sometimes scares people. Worst of all, though, whenever Hudson gets rowdy, Molly immediately begins imitating him (it seems she’s trying to act like a big dog, even though she’s considerably smaller)—and she always has to have the last bark. They ignore my efforts to calm them down, and it isn’t until the other dog has finally passed that the two of them continue their walk as though nothing has happened. Any ideas?

A:

Respectfully, when I hear phrases like “trying to act like a big dog” or “needing to have the last bark,” it’s obvious to me that you are humanizing your dog—a tendency many people have when their dogs aren’t behaving the way they want them to. What they’re not comprehending, though, is that in order to really understand our dogs, we have to first honor them as dogs. It’s important that you learn to view your dog in this order: 1) animal; 2) dog; 3) breed; and, 4) name. Even with my own dogs, I call them by name only when they’re in a calm-submissive state; I don’t think it’s fair to use their names when they’re misbehaving. I’d suggest you read my second book, Be the Pack Leader. It’s all about taking charge, which, in effect, amounts to honoring the identity of your dog. Once you’ve mastered that, the rest will fall into place.


Submitted by Ron
Answered by Cesar Milan
She doesn’t bark - she cringes!
Q:

My 18-month-old female Lab-Terrier mix is very smart and doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. She is, however, a bit skittish. When she was about eight months old, a large sign fell on her when we were walking down a busy street, and ever since, she’s been nervous around anything that looms over her (she’s only 35 pounds, so that’s just about everything). I’m a firm but affectionate owner, and I don’t baby her, but I feel bad that she gets so worked up. What can I do to help?

A:

It’s very important that you understand that our dogs react to events—and to objects—based on how we nurture their reactions. People often tell me that they’re firm with a dog, but that doesn’t really tell me they aren’t also feeling bad about what they think the dog is going through—and transmitting that feeling directly to the dog through their energy. My advice would be to make two lists: one, of the things that you think are bothering your dog; and the other, of the things that are bothering you. The idea that “everything” is bigger than your dog and is therefore frightening her is really just a story you’re telling yourself, and the lists will help you separate the story from the reality. Once you’ve done that, you can begin taking control of how you’re behaving around your dog.

The first step, I think, would be to quietly observe her when she’s near one of those big objects (like the sign), and pay close attention to what’s really happening. Make sure you’re keeping your own reaction neutral, rather than seeming in any way anxious or apologetic. You might even try bringing another dog along and comparing her reaction to your dog’s. In dealing with our dogs, just as in dealing with life, blaming the leaf—or whatever it is that falls—is equivalent to making a thing responsible, when it’s always our reactions to things that determine our fate.


Submitted by Boris
Answered by Cesar Milan
What is Spaniel Rage?
Q:

We recently got two adorable English Springer Spaniel puppies, and just this morning we heard about something called “English Springer Spaniel Rage Syndrome.” Have you ever heard of this? I truly hope we don’t have to deal with something that sounds so potentially awful!

A:

Spaniel Rage is real; it’s biological, and caused by bad breeding practices. It’s one of the reasons I’m such an advocate for the idea that only people with good ethics should become dog breeders; and why I’m so determined to abolish puppy mills. Unfortunately, Spaniel Rage—characterized by vicious, unprovoked behavior—is a condition I can’t rehabilitate. Like a panic attack, anything at all can trigger it, and medication is the only treatment. Sad as it is, I thank you for sending this question. Hopefully, it will help people understand the importance of spaying and neutering, and remind them of another positive aspect of adopting a mixed-breed dog—mixed breeds rarely display unprovoked rage.


Submitted by The Joneses
Answered by Cesar Milan
My Poodle mix seems to "freeze"
Q:

I recently adopted a wonderful little dog. Not sure what his age or breed-type is—my best guess is Poodle-Maltese mix—but often when we’re out walking, he sits down and refuses to budge. Sometimes he’ll do this if we’re heading home too quickly, but it’s often for no reason at all. He’ll occasionally respond if I pull his leash sharply, but most of the time I have to pick him up. Any advice?

A:

Your question began with your trying to figure out what breed your dog is, which, in my opinion, is not the ideal approach. When people are preoccupied with breed, it tells me they believe the dog’s behavior is linked to breed; and when a dog picks up on this conversation—this idea that you don’t really know who he is—he feels disoriented, and it becomes hard for him to trust you. Being a leader who instills confidence comes down to providing protection and direction—but instead of feeling secure, your dog is sensing that you don’t know how to deal. Instead of focusing on breed, learn to see your dog as body language and energy. When your actions say, “I don’t know what you are,” you’re manifesting doubt in all areas of your dog’s life. Like in any significant relationship, the message should be, “I love who you are; I know what you need.” And sometimes, you just have to wait. Being supportive means learning to live with uncertainty. Once your dog senses that you’ve learned, his self-esteem will increase and his nervous behavior will dissipate.


Submitted by Gillian
Answered by Cesar Milan
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