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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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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
Sensitive Senior
Q:

My 14-year-old female Westie has been sleeping with me for 13 and a half years. I’d like to break this habit and have her sleep in a dog bed, but when I try, she screeches and cries (very loudly) all night. I’ve tried crating her, putting her in another room, and moving the step table she uses to get onto the bed, but my efforts only result in sleepless nights for both of us. I realize what a mistake I’ve made, and I won’t make it again—but is my dog simply too old to handle change? Should I just let things go and learn from my mistake? I don’t want her last years to be stressful.

A:

It’s never too late for a dog to change, and -although the change will entail some sacrifices, the pain won’t last forever. Your Westie has spent her life manipulating humans with her howling and whining, and she’s learned that she can control them. All change will be uncomfortable at this point in a dog’s life, but if you want to make it happen, you can.

Start by crating her at night on weekends and on holidays—the times when you can probably sleep a little later if her antics have kept you awake. And don’t forget the importance of picturing what you want. By repeatedly visualizing a tranquil sleeping environment for both you and your dog, you will help create the energy that makes it a reality. Don’t feel bad about what you’re doing, but remember: Your Westie has been sleeping with you for 14 years, so you do need to give her time.


Submitted by Cindy
Answered by Cesar Milan
Nervous Disservice?
Q:

Wyatt, our six-year-old newly adopted Beagle mix, has been exhibiting some distressing behaviors, and I’m not sure how to deal with them. Though my husband and I keep the radio and TV on when we go out, he seems to be experiencing major separation anxiety—howling and crying when we’re gone (I can hear him from the street), when we come home, and when he encounters another dog or human being.

I’ve never been a calm person—I always lacked self-confidence—and to make matters worse, I have ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), and I’m bipolar. Although I’ve been teaching Wyatt to shake and catch and am working on heeling, he constantly breaks his learned patterns, and I think it’s because he’s picking up on my anxiety and other problems. Also, I don’t know if this is relevant, but my dad—who was 6-foot-4 and had the same psychological difficulties I have—always rolled up a newspaper to hit our dogs, the first two of which were Chihuahuas. Help!

A:

It sounds as though your dog is saying, “I want to work—to serve—but no one’s giving me that job.” Why not take advantage of this situation and make your Beagle mix your therapy dog—train him to help you deal with your anxiety. It’s almost like getting him to see, and then, in essence, getting him to say, “You don’t look fine; let me help you.” Look for specific advice—in books or online—on how to train a Beagle mix to become a therapy dog. It’s not just German Shepherds and Retrievers who are up to the job. Any dog who is calm can take on the role.

Try to find activities—like walking—where you can help your dog help you. A dog always creates a more socially interactive environment, and people often perceive you as being more friendly or outgoing when they see you with a dog. Once you start to sense you’re being perceived that way, it may even help to quell some of your nervousness. As far as your question about your father, it’s impossible for me to say how his behavior may or may not be influencing you. What I can tell you, though, is that who you are now is more important than where you came from or what happened in the past.


Submitted by Sharon
Answered by Cesar Milan
Reflection Affection
Q:

London Longlegs, our rescue hound, has become obsessed with flashy ceiling reflections created by utensils and other shiny objects. This started in the kitchen, when we would move his metal feed pans to and from the counter, and now when anything at all—a piece of foil, a person’s watch—causes a light to dance on any ceiling, he goes nuts, barking and trying to reach the source of his obsession. I tried putting him into a “sit,” but it didn’t work. Was that the wrong technique? What should I do?

A:

It’s natural for a dog to follow smells; it isn’t natural for him to follow lights. And since you describe London Longlegs as “going nuts” when he sees those flashes of light, I’d say his behavior has reached an obsession level—meaning he’s in a red-zone phase that won’t be cured by -reframing his expectations with food or toys. On the show, if I see that a dog is escalating toward this type of fixated state, I’ll pull on his leash to break the spell. It’s never done to hurt, and it’s never done with negative energy. It’s more like what you do when you’re having a conversation with a friend who isn’t paying enough attention—even though you’ve tried getting it by saying his name a few times—so you finally touch his arm or shoulder. You’re just trying to say, “Snap out of it!”

Remember, though, that timing is really important. A dog can go from zero to 10 in one second, so use that physical touch as soon as you sense London Longlegs veering toward obsessive behavior. Just make sure to keep the energy positive—don’t touch him as though you’re sad or feeling sorry. Also, once his fixation level has gone beyond 10, he’s in a red zone and it’s time to walk away. Give him time to cool off, just like you would with a person.


Submitted by Nan
Answered by Cesar Milan
Split Decision
Q:

I have a pair of two-and-a-half-year-old yellow Lab mixes from the same litter who’ve been inseparable since birth. Although I know they both need their daily exercise, I’m a hiker, and I’m wondering if it’s OK to take one dog hiking with me one day while the other stays home, and then take the other out hiking on another day. Is it healthy for my girls to sometimes be separated?

A:

Absolutely! Separation creates a human-dog bond as opposed to a human-pack bond. And for that reason, it’s actually beneficial to sometimes separate your dogs. I do it with my dogs all the time. It’s not to show favoritism; it just establishes a one-on-one relationship—not that different from sometimes hanging out with a large group of your human friends and sometimes hanging out with just one.


Submitted by Tiffany
Answered by Cesar Milan
Window Display
Q:

Our girls—Molly, a 10-year-old Rottweiler mix, and Auroara, a five-year-old Lab mix—are friendly and well behaved, except for one thing. If another dog or a uniformed human walks by our house, they rush the living-room picture window. Unsuspecting folks like the fill-in postal worker are quite frightened when the Plexiglas bows under the pressure of Molly’s scratching as if she’s trying to get through to the other side. (She did this for many years, and finally Auroara joined in the fun by barking loudly as Molly scratched.) I’ve thought of blocking the dogs’ view with a piece of furniture, but I know that what we really need to do is change their behavior. I’ve tried a training device that emits an obnoxious noise as well as an ultrasonic sound that’s inaudible to my wife and me but is supposedly bothersome to dogs—and both dogs ignore it!

Neither is aggressive in other situations, and I’m positive they don’t intend to attack whoever is walking by, but we’re afraid one of them is going to get hurt by bouncing against the window. Thanks for considering our problem.

A:

It’s obvious that you have everybody’s best -interests at heart, but you need to understand that your dogs’ behavior isn’t harmless. What they’re doing is being territorial, and if they were to break through the Plexiglas, the only way a passerby could stop them from biting him would be to freeze up completely. While it’s a very basic human tendency to trivialize or label as “unimportant” the things we don’t want to deal with, in this instance it’s crucial that you change your perception of your reality. By not doing so, you’re potentially putting others in jeopardy.

Having said that, I never suggest that a dog change her behavior; instead, I encourage the dog’s owners to change their -energy, because that’s what’s prompting the undesirable behavior. And you don’t need store-bought devices to do this; the only devices you need are yourselves. When dogs don’t see their owners claiming, owning, and leading in the territory we call “home,” they take control. Your dogs need to feel safe, but the physical aspect—the energy you claim to make them feel that way—is missing here; and it concerns me that it’s been missing for so long that Auroara even began to follow Molly’s lead.

Think of homeless people’s dogs. They don’t charge passersby on the street—because for the most part, they know that they “own” the 10 feet of space inside the imaginary fence that surrounds their owners. I suggest you go back to my first book, Cesar’s Way, and read some of the chapters on pack leading and displaying calm--assertive energy. There’s no activity behind it, and it is not about -taking away the dogs’ ability to protect—it’s just about taking away their ability to explode.


Submitted by Ed and Carol
Answered by Cesar Milan
Why Won't My Cat Play With New Toys?
Q:

Why won’t my cat play with the toy mice and balls I just bought him?

A:

Most cats will enjoy a good chase after a toy mouse, or ball, while some cats can become bored very quickly. Cats are natural hunters, and although the toy may look like a mouse, it doesn’t really act like one. This is why you may have noticed that your cat will lay down, and just watch, lazily, as the ball rolls across the room. Toys that mimic prey-like behavior will be more enticing to your cat, and will create a more high-level active play. Pole toys, or "cat dancers" are excellent toys in that they maintain constant movement, often very similar to prey they would be hunting in the wild. They will keep your cat entertained and interested for longer periods of time.

Children also love to swing these toys around, so they can be a wonderful tool to utilize when teaching your pet appropriate interactions with children (and vice versa).


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Dorit Shevach
Why Is My Cat Pawing?
Q:

Why does my cat paw at the floor around his bowl after he eats?

A:

What your cat is trying to do is "bury" his/her food. In the wild, cats must protect their territory from predators and invading cats. They must cover their tracks, and any other scents that may point such predators in their direction; this includes both food items, and excrement. Although your cat is domesticated, some "wild" behaviors have a tendency to be maintained, regardless of whether an actual threat still exists.

I would suggest using a heavy, ceramic food dish to prevent your cat from knocking the bowl over, and spilling his/her food. He/she may still paw at the ground around the dish, but at least the food area will be clean.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Dorit Shevach
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