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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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Do my pups Pine When I’m Away?
Q:

How do you think dogs handle it psychologically when their owners go on vacation? I live in Montana and have access to hundreds of acres, a pond, and a lake, and my dogs and I are together a lot. We hire dogsitters, but they can’t spend the kind of time with my dogs that I do, and I envision them pining away and becoming really anxious when no one’s around. I know the minute they see suitcases, they sense their routine will change, but how traumatic do you really think this is for them?

A:

I need to be very honest with you. Going on vacation will be as traumatic for your dogs as you want it to be. We attach our own stories to our realities, and our dogs intuit them and evolve accordingly. To keep from feeling bad about leaving—and having your dogs pick up on your guilty energy—try dragging your luggage out when you’re not leaving; that way, the action is part of your 24/7 reality, rather than an occasion for feeling crummy. Also, ask your dog’s sitter to take an unwashed piece of your clothing—a T-shirt, say—and tuck it into his back pocket. The smellier and sweatier, the better! The only thing your sitter can’t imitate is your scent—and that’s what your dogs miss. Finally, rather than urging sitters to mimic your behavior, get your dogs to see them as “the adventure people.” All dogs need is a new place to explore—a different block or field from the one they’re used to—and suddenly, they’re in Disneyland! Once they’re presented with a new challenge, there are no worries.


Submitted by Paula
Answered by Cesar Milan
What’s with all the food dragging?
Q:

Georgia, my two-and-a-half year-old spayed female Maltese, takes one piece of food at a time from her bowl and then walks around with it before eating it; or she’ll take it to the rug in the family room and eat it there. Sometimes she puts it on the rug and goes back and forth, up to the food and then away from it, touching it with her nose before finally picking it up and eating it. What’s up?

A:

Your dog is exhibiting the kind of beautiful, instinctive behavior that we rarely see in modern dogs. The urge to move food with her nose—what she’s doing is burying it—is encoded in her DNA. If she were living in the wild, this is how she would save food for later. Since she’s inside the house, though, the rug seems to hold more burying possibilities than a wood floor or linoleum, and that’s why she has chosen it. I love to see this kind of behavior!


Submitted by Donna
Answered by Cesar Milan
Charlie’s training didn’t take!
Q:

I’m a trainer, and my client’s Border Collie, Charlie, won’t stop barking. My client’s husband—who was very close to the dog—died suddenly of a heart attack, and afterward there were a lot of visitors in the house. I sensed that Charlie’s barking was caused by his owner tensing up in anticipation of how Charlie would behave when a guest arrived, and I temporarily solved the problem by getting the owner to relax, putting Charlie in a sit, and then, when everyone was feeling calm, asking guests to come in or giving them the go-ahead to depart. It worked, but since the owner doesn’t have many guests these days, the training didn’t take, and Charlie’s back at square one. What next?

A:

This is a case where a simple, logical approach is your best bet. Charlie’s life has changed, but not for the better, and it seems that people may be focusing on what they want, rather than on Charlie’s needs. Is he walking? Being challenged? Is he undergoing agility training? Does his everyday life have structure to it? Unwanted behavior disappears when wanted behavior emerges. If Charlie’s owner is in an emotional crisis, as anyone would be after the death of a spouse, it’s possible she’s not tuning in to Charlie’s needs. And the truth is, if we want our dogs to respect us, we need to respect them. Charlie is just manifesting what’s missing in his own life. My hope is that working to build a structured life for Charlie will help his owner work through some of her own grief as well.


Submitted by Sharon
Answered by Cesar Milan
My Maltese messes up when I’m sick!
Q:

I have MS, and whenever I get sick or upset, our Maltese, Biggie Smalls, pees on the rug in our bedroom—odd, as it’s also his favorite place to play. We’ve replaced the rug many times, and even though we watch Biggie, we rarely see him do the deed. He also pees and has diarrhea everywhere when we leave him at friends’ homes, but other than this, he’s a wonderful dog. Any ideas?

A:

Your dog is very much in tune with you, but he doesn’t know how to react to your biological changes in a helpful way. He becomes afraid and pees, when what he needs to do is alert people to your distress. Try using his sensitivity as a positive starting point and getting in touch with a center that trains MS therapy dogs. They’ll steer Biggie in the right direction and make him the kind of asset he wants to be. His behavior in other houses is linked to his behavior at home; once that’s addressed, the rest will resolve itself. Encourage this dog; you have a real opportunity here.


Submitted by Nikki
Answered by Cesar Milan
I Panic Around Dogs
Q:

Cesar, How do I become calm-assertive? Fourteen years ago, my 90-pound Border Collie/Lab mix, Toby, was attacked by a Rottweiler as I was walking him on a leash. The dogs fought furiously, and though -neither was hurt, I was completely traumatized. And to this day, I continue to be! Toby died two years ago, and three months later I adopted Turbo, an 18-month-old Black Lab/Pit Bull mix who’s wonderfully trained. But -although I no longer scan for other dogs when we’re out walking (or run back home when I see one!), I still haven’t conquered my fear of them. I’ve learned a lot from your TV programs; I even know how to be calm-assertive—until another dog comes into view. As soon as one does, I become tense and fearful, and, of course, Turbo goes on alert and becomes determined to protect me. Turbo is wonderful, and I want him to have all the freedom and friends he deserves. But as long as I keep going into panic mode at the simple thought of another dog, I know that’s not going to happen. Is there any way I can have the life with my dog that I dream of?

A:

First, let me tell you that some very -positive things are going on here. One is that you obviously have the ability to see -reality—you’re clear that when the Rottweiler attacked, no one was hurt. And the second good thing is that you’re aware of your own tension and the effect that it’s having on Turbo. When I help people change their state of mind in -order to change their energy, it’s sometimes very tough to get them to own their feelings—and to admit to the damage those feelings are doing—so be happy you’ve already mastered that.

Once we’ve lost control of our emotions, though, what none of us can do on our own is change our behavior. To help guide you through that part of the process, I would advise you to turn to someone you trust and respect. This person doesn’t have to be a therapist or professional of any kind. In fact, a loyal friend—one who’s calm and confident around dogs—is probably your best bet. With your friend at your side, take Turbo for his walk—and when you see another dog approaching, keep moving toward him. Stay four to 10 feet from the dog you’re afraid of for a while, identify all the fearful thoughts you’re having, and write them down. Keep hanging out near the dog until you’ve started to relax. The energy you draw from your calm, confident friend is what will enable you to complete this exercise. Repeat it as often as you need to, until you’ve achieved your goal of a fear-free walk. And if you find you’re losing faith, just keep reminding yourself that the only way to get out of a tough situation is to go through it. Good luck!


Submitted by Kathy
Answered by Cesar Milan
Donkey Tale
Q:

I live on a farm in New Mexico with a number of animals, including an eight-year-old Pit Bull named Tank (who I’ve had since he was eight weeks old). The problem is that Tank attacks my large animals—but he does it only when guests are here! He’s fine with our chickens, cats, and other dogs, but last night he attacked a donkey in front of friends who were visiting from Costa Rica. Earlier this year, when people were over, he attacked a bull, and before that, a goat. Other than this, he’s a great dog. Is there anything I can do? My friends are telling me to put him down (“three strikes” and all that), but of course I don’t want to.

A:

Because Tank behaves this way only when new people come over, we need to consider that your guests are altering the reactions of your animals—your bull, donkey, and goat. Since this is possible, why not have the dog on a leash until people who are new in the environment become knowledgeable enough that they can help your farm animals feel comfortable? Everybody’s curious, but when the dog feels that the bull, donkey, or goat is becoming nervous, excited, or tense, it’s normal for him to try to protect or help the humans.

I don’t see a reason to put Tank down. In that case, let’s not invite people over! I’m kidding, of course, but why not understand prevention? The leash is the way to do it, and I’d also use a Halti. Obviously this was horrible to watch, but it could have been prevented—because of the fact that your dog is attacking only when visitors come.


Submitted by Karen
Answered by Cesar Milan
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 Mike Malloy
Do Dogs Feel Shame?
Q:

My 13-year-old Pug/-Boston Terrier mix has malformed vertebrae and is slowly but surely losing neurological function in his back legs. His lower-body control is already so poor that he doesn’t even know when he’s pooping, and he’s stumbling more and more. I know I need to make a decision about either getting him a cart or putting him down. My friends are giving me all kinds of conflicting advice, but since I don’t know if dogs feel shame or embarrassment, I wonder what Puggy’s preference would be. He’s been treated by a chiropractor/acupuncturist, we’ve tried steroids, and he’s currently taking glucosamine and chondroitin and a supplement called Ligaplex II. During the summer I make sure he swims a lot, and I always make sure he gets lots of exercise. I have some time before he stops walking altogether, so any advice you have would be much appreciated.

A:

Your decision comes down to Puggy’s quality of life. If he shows willingness to stay alive, that’s coming from his mind, and that’s what I would choose to honor. If it’s his body alone that’s failing, I would make an effort to show him my appreciation by using devices like wheels to help him get around. When we provide some kind of stimulation to the body, this can often give us a few more years of life. This is my hope for both of you.


Submitted by Karen
Answered by Cesar Milan
Baby Blues
Q:

In February 2009, we unexpectedly lost our dog of seven years, just two weeks after we brought our newborn daughter home. After our grieving period, we started looking for another dog, but I can’t seem to get comfortable with the idea of bringing a new one into our house. I’m nervous about an unfamiliar dog being around my daughter, and I don’t want to start out with that kind of negative energy.

How do I make sure I’m bringing the right dog home? And how do I regain my confidence as a pack leader? I’ve always loved dogs and was so looking forward to raising my child in a home with one. Thanks for all you do.

A:

Before you fully commit to adopting a new pet, why not try fostering a dog? This way you’ll have an opportunity to get to know him without feeling truly attached or obligated. As you learn more about him, if you begin to sense that he’s the right dog, that feeling will help you reconnect with the pack-leading side of yourself.

It’s learning to trust a dog that’s the real key to your feeling comfortable again. In any relationship, it’s the trust that comes first. Then comes respect, and, finally, loyalty. All together, they equal love.


Submitted by Deanna
Answered by Cesar Milan
Fear Factor
Q:

When I was a kid, I was bitten by a dog, and ever since, I become a bit fearful when a person with a dog passes me on the street. I always freeze a little and avoid looking at the dog, and sometimes the dog notices and it makes him curious.

My two questions are: How can I become more comfortable around dogs (especially the big ones), and how should one behave when a dog -approaches in an aggressive way? My first impulse is to run, although I know that isn’t right. I’ve wondered about these things for so long, and I hope you can give me a clear answer. (Your show recently started airing in the Netherlands, where I’m from, and I instantly became a huge fan!)

A:

You’re absolutely right about not running away, and about the idea that a dog can pick up on the fact that you’re fearful. The best way to conquer your fear, I think, would be to ask someone who has a dog-walking business to let you come along with him when he walks his dogs. And whenever you’re with that person, ask as many questions as possible. The more you learn about the -mechanics of a dog’s mind, the more confident you’ll come to be.


Submitted by Edward
Answered by Cesar Milan
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