Category Archives: Behavior Information

Articles and Links… Dog Behavior

Renee PremazaPhone: 609-280-9338Email:


Prevent Dogs From Getting Lost – Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 of my article, scroll down and read that first. Part 2 is a discussion of how to get your dog to come to you every time you call him. But let me remind you that you can never call your dog and then holler, or tell her she’s bad for having gotten out! I can’t stress that enough!. Your dog needs to develop complete trust in you so he doesn’t ever feel afraid of being punished when returning to you, even if he’s been gone for hours. Also, make sure you practice, practice, practice these games a lot. Practice makes perfect. However, if he’s gotten out, even once, she’s been reinforced for getting out, and will eventually escape again given the opportunity (gates left open, jumping the fence, digging holes underneath the fence, etc.). You need to keep a close eye on your dog whenever she’s outside

The following are some games/exercises that I want you to play with your dogs as often as possible. You should play them minimally once, preferably twice a day when you first start training. As your dog improves with each of these games, you can play a couple times/week. Sometimes play one of the games, and then switch to another game to keep your dog practicing coming each time she’s called:


Show your dog a treat, and then say “Go Find It” as you toss that treat on the floor away from the dog. At first, don’t toss it too far because you want the dog to learn what this game is all about. As soon as she eats the treat, call him back by saying “come” or “here” or my favorite word, “Com’ere.” Use your party-voice whenever you call your dog back to you — ALWAYS!  Make sure to praise him up and applaud her when she comes back to you! Then quickly toss another treat somewhere else, keeping your dog fully engaged in this game of returning back to you.

Once your dog understands what you’re doing, begin tossing the treats further and further away so you can call her back from further distances.  You should play this in several different locations inside your house. This is a fun hunting game as well as a fun recall game. Dogs love it!!


Start out standing just a few steps from the person you’ll be playing this game with.  One person calls the dog to him with a happy word (e.g, “com’ere”), by luring him a treat.  When the dog gets right in front of that person, he praises and gives that treat as a reward for coming.  The second person then calls the dog and repeats this same process.  When your dog gets really good at coming to each of you, (1) start increasing the distances between you and your partner a little bit at a time when you’re calling the dog back to you; (2) put that treat lure behind your back now, and bring it out only when your dog returns to each of you. 


Anytime you train your dog outside, make sure to use high-value food rewards (e.g., cooked bits of chicken, smelly cheese, tiny cooked meatballs, etc.). Put your dog on a 15-20 foot nylon long line (most pet supply stores carry these). Do not use a flexi-leash! Take a walk with your dog out in your backyard (if you don’t have a backyard work on this at a park or other safe area where you have some room to walk around holding that line).  Give your dog plenty of line to allow him to wander away. Don’t pull on it at all. Randomly call your dog over to you, praise with your party-voice and reward him for coming treating her with those high-value treats. Switch directions as you walk around. Sometimes walk in large circles and then smaller ones.  Walk at a slow pace at first, and use your happy recall word.


Some dogs will recall right to the backdoor and then get a treat. But once some of those dogs have gotten the treat, off they go again 😉 This exercise will teach him that coming directly into the house is where the good stuff is. But you will need someone else to help you who can do a little bit of running. Also, everyone in your family needs to practice this so your dog knows to come to all of you when called.

Put the dog on your 15-20 foot long line. Make sure you have plenty of your high-value food rewards in your pocket. Give your dog one of those treats right before you begin working with him.

You should be standing close to your backdoor, but not at the door YET. Your assistant should begin by taking the dog to various places in your yard not too far from where you are standing. Call your dog to you using your designated recall word and your party-voice. If your dog doesn’t begin to come, have your assistant start running toward you holding the loop of that long-line and encouraging the dog to run with her. When your dog does reach you, give lots of praise and offer a treat.

Then your assistant takes the dog to a different spot in the yard. Have your assistant take her to places where she likes to dig or to look for squirrels. Once your dog understands that you’re giving him scrumptious food rewards, she’ll begin to look in your direction and will start running on her own to get to you.

Once your dog is running happily over to you, and your assistant no longer needs to hold onto the long-line, you can now place yourself right inside your backdoor holding the door open. Practice again calling your dog from various areas in the yard. Always offer a treat now right at the backdoor.

The last part of this exercise consists of your recalling the dog right inside the backdoor. Start playing the GO FIND IT game, and toss one treat at a time all over the floor inside for at least 15 seconds. Quickly close the backdoor as soon as she’s in that room. Once she’s found all the treats, let him right back outside again to continue practicing recalling her back inside.

Make sure to practice this game a lot. Your dog will eventually learn to trust you not to make all her fun end every time she is called into the house!




Help You Can Give To Your Separation Anxious Dog

If you haven’t read my first article about Separation Anxiety, please read it before reading this one (scroll down this page to see it). Judging from the amount of comments, likes and shares in that article, I can see that many of you, or your friends, are dealing with this issue. I will provide as many suggestions as possible so you can, at least, get started on your own to improve your dog’s anxiety. However, I would still urge you to hire a Behavior Consultant who is very experienced working with SA, or visit with a Veterinary Behaviorist at some point to help you get as much success as possible.

It is important NOT to leave your dog alone until you are seeing some success with your teaching your dog to accept being alone. More often than not, I will recommend to clients to take their dog to a doggy daycare 2 to 3 times per week, as long as the dog gets along with other dogs. Daycare has a 2 day effect because they’re still tired the next day. Some doggy daycares can leave a dog crated (if she’s crateable!) if she doesn’t get along with other dogs, but will play with the dog or walk her periodically through the day. Of course, hiring a pet sitter to come a few times a day can also be helpful. If you have a friend or relative who would be willing to take your dog, that also would be very helpful (as long as your dog’s anxiety doesn’t involve one specific individual who leaves. If any of these suggestions would not work for you, there are still things you can do.

Purchase an Adaptil, Dog Appeasing Pheromone diffuser to help your dog feel more relaxed (aka DAP). This product is available at Amazon. Many veterinarians also recommend this product. The DAP Diffuser needs to be plugged into an open outlet that is not blocked by anything. If your dog can remain in a crate, plug the diffuser into an outlet nearby. The liquid in that diffuser will last around 30 days. Don’t neglect to have a refill on hand. The liquid will emit through your house wherever you plug it in. I love this product! However, if you have a pet rabbit or bird, you cannot use this.

I have discovered FREE music choreographed specifically for dogs with SA to help them relax or sleep. The music can play for as long as 10-15 hours (please avoid leaving your dog alone for that long — EVER!). You can download this music to your TV, computer or phone. Sometimes, I’ll play this music just because I like it too. However, you need to play this music randomly throughout the day when you are home. You don’t want your dog to think the music means  You’re Leaving! 

Teach your dog to wear a Thundershirt. I call this “Hug Therapy.” Thundershirts are available at several retail stores (Bed, Bath & Beyond, Petsmart, Petco, or The thundershirt is guaranteed and you can return it within 30 days for a full refund!

There are some good calming treats available. Give the recommended amount to your dogs at least an hour prior to your leaving your house. If you have a pet sitter come during the day, ask to give your dog another one before leaving. When going to these companies, type in the names of these items into their search boxes:

  • Zesty Paws, Calming Bites – Available at
  • VetriSCIENCE, Composure Pro – Available at
  • Bach Flower Essences, Pet Rescue Remedy – Available at:

Make sure to give your dog some mentally stimulating activities to keep him occupied so she’s not thinking about being alone all day long. Here are a few ideas:

  • Keep at least 3 frozen-filled Kongs in your freezer all the time. Freezing Kongs makes it more of a challenge for the dog to lick all the goodies out of it. I suggest soft mixtures like peanut butter, yogurt, cream cheese, or banana. Mix whatever soft food you’re putting in with chunked up bits of healthy biscuits (never Milkbone!! – not healthy), fruits or veggies, or left-over kibble.
  • Provide your dog with a Kong Wobbler. This is a wonderful food-release toy that your dog must push around in order to get treats or kibble to come out of a hole that’s on the side of it. Teach your dog what to do with it and get all excited when encouraging him/her to interact with it.
  • Hide treats around the house in little containers. Put them just slightly underneath your furniture, in the kitchen just underneath your oven or sink. Hide treats in corners and areas that she has to work in order to get them. I like hiding a couple treats in cardboard boxes (remove all staples) and scattering those boxes around in rooms where dogs are allowed to be.
  • Take one or two pieces of your laundry and fold some treats in them. It will comfort the dog to have something of your scent while hunting for treats.
  • Have you heard of a Snuffle Mat? Check that out at It’s  kind of a new thing. It’s a mat with tons of folds in it to hide kibble and treats to keep your dog busy hunting for a long time. If you purchase this, make sure to see how he uses it before leaving him alone with it.
  • If your dog loves to shred newspapers, then let him have newspapers you’ve already read, to shred when she’s alone. All you’d have to do when you come home is throw the papers out.

Here’s what I definitely do not want you to do:

  • Never punish your dog! I realize how difficult it is to come home and see destruction, or pee and poop on your floors. But… your dog is already suffering from anxiety. Punishment creates more anxiety! When you leave, he finds things to do (like destruction) to occupy herself until you come home.  Peeing and pooping in the house is not spitework. It happens because she is stressed to the max!
  • If you just rescued a dog, or if you just brought home a new puppy, do not make a big deal when you leave your house or when you return home. It may sound cruel, but when my dog sees me coming home, it actually takes him a minute or two to come greet me! It’s a calm greeting! I just tell him, “you be a good boy” when I leave, and “hi buddy” when I come home. That’s it! Believe it or not, some of my clients are so used to acting woeful when leaving and excited when returning, it is harder for the humans to change that habit than the dog getting used to its human’s new greeting routine!
  • Again, if you just rescued a dog, do not allow him to sleep in your bed for at least a year! Separation anxiety is very common with shelter dogs. They’ve already lost a home or two. Sleeping in your bed will only make him feel more dependent on being close to you. Don’t add fuel to a possible fire!

I have some referrals for you if your dog is suffering from this emotional disorder:

  • If your dog’s SA is severe (a lot of damage to the structure of your house, poop all over walls and ceilings, dog is escaping the crate and injuring himself, broken glass where dog has attempted to escape), you must see either your own veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. A dog that’s showing severe SA will likely need to be put on medication. However, don’t think meds are going to be a cure! Medication will help your dog to be able to learn better when doing behavior modification training. If you live anywhere near Mount Laurel, contact Dr. Shana Gilbert-Gregory at Mount Laurel Animal Hospital. The address is 220 Mount Laurel Road, Mount Laurel, NJ. Call (856) 234-7626 for an appointment. She also makes house calls.
  • If your dog is struggling with SA, but some of his behaviors are causing him to become injured, I can also recommend a certified SA trainer, and can work with you either by phone or remotely using Skype. Her name is Leslie Wiesler. You can contact her on Facebook by typing in her name and messaging her.
  • I also work with dogs that suffer from SA. When speaking with me on the phone I can often determine whether or not you first need to speak to your vet or to Dr. Gilbert-Gregory before doing behavior modification: (609) 280-9338.

I hope these suggestions are helpful in making your dogs feel less anxious! But there is more work to be done…


Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is one of the most complicated behavioral issues dogs can develop. Separation Anxiety (SA) is an emotional disorder. Dogs are such social beings, and when we bring them into our homes and expect them to be alone for up to 8 hours, 5 days a week, it can sometimes be very taxing on them. To make things worse, we don’t realize our dog is suffering from anxiety because we’re too quick to get angry at them for making a huge mess in our house. People come home from work and discover their dog has eliminated in the crate, or all over the house. People are shocked to see their dog ripped into the pillows of their sofa and chairs and there is pillow-stuffing all over the house. Dogs with SA commonly chew the walls and woodwork around windows and doorways! Some dogs are so anxious to escape their crates, they will actually break their teeth trying to escape through the wires of it, or they will chew a hole in the airline-carrier crate to get out. Dogs with SA can bark or whine for hours throughout the day causing the neighbors to complain.

Many of my clients exclaim “My dog knew he did wrong because when I told him he was bad, he looked guilty. She cowered and ran behind the sofa!” NOOOooo! Dogs do not feel guilt! Cowering and running away is an attempt to escape your anger. Reprimanding only increases the anxiety. This can happen over and over again, but the dog only continues its destruction and elimination.

Let me give you a few reasons dogs develop SA so you’ll have a better understanding of how this disorder can happen:

  • You are a teacher and are home all summer. You figure this would be a great time to get a puppy because you’d have plenty of time to spend with her. Then… you go back to work in the fall.
  • Your teenage daughter always takes your dog for a walk and plays with him when she gets home from school. She’s graduated from high school and just left for college. Your dog is alone now for several additional hours until you come home.
  • Grandpop has lived with you and your family for many years. Your little dog loves him and spends hours sitting on his lap everyday. Sadly, Grandpop passes away.
  • You and your family move to a new home. You spend a week getting settled in and then go back to work. When you return home, you’re shocked to see the dog has chewed all around the wall and woodwork of the front door and insulation is exposed.
  • You adopt a beautiful dog from the shelter and spend a 3-day weekend with her. On Monday… you go back to work.
  • You purchase 2 littermate puppies and are so impressed with how close they are. You make sure to put them both in the same crate, and they are together 24/7. Sometime later one of the dogs needs to go to the vet, and the other dog winds up having a major panic attack! The same thing can happen when adopting 2 shelter or rescue dogs at the same time. They can bond and their over-the-top closeness is encouraged.
  • Shelter dogs commonly develop SA!

I will follow-up with another article offering some ideas to help dogs suffering from Separation Anxiety.



Littermate Syndrome

So… you want a new puppy. You look for breeders, you research online and you see pictures of the most adorable puppies being offered, you see a picture of a pup and you’re all excited to go see it. The breeder brings out your puppy of choice, along with a litter-mate. These pups are the last to be sold. Breeder tells you how attached the two puppies are, and it would be really sad to separate them. Your heart melts and you return home with two dogs.

You place both pups into one crate. When feeding the puppies, you put their food into a single bowl for both of them to eat. You allow them to be together all day and love to see the strong attachment they have toward each other.

Around the age of 4 1/2 to 5 months, you begin to notice the puppies are squabbling with each other. One puppy is always trying to steal the other one’s chew toys. That same puppy gets very upset when his sibling is getting attention from the humans in the house. When eating their meals, that same puppy will not allow his sibling to approach the bowl until he’s finished eating. One day your two loving dogs are having more serious fights, even when they’re in the crate! Suddenly you realize you need help from a professional.

One of the puppies has become a bully, and his sibling has no self-confidence at all. “Littermate Syndrome” is very common! If you think your own dogs are suffering from this you should read this article:

Littermate Syndrome: The risky downside to raising sibling puppies

Adopting a Shelter Dog

Many people have made decisions to adopt shelter and rescued dogs and provide them with a forever home. If a dog has been surrendered, or if a dog was found as a stray and placed in the shelter environment, they have experienced certain events in their lives that we may never become fully aware of. I don’t think it’s too common to get a complete history of most shelter dogs because sometimes people just don’t want to elaborate on these issues, being afraid that the shelter may not accept the dog or may disapprove of the owner’s responses toward their dog. Some of these people may not realize just how they did affect their dog during the time they lived with him, and so don’t even realize what circumstances would even be important to relate when discussing the dog’s history. Many people drop a dog off at the shelter and want to leave as quickly as possible without being grilled about why they want to surrender their dog. Of course, if a dog is found as a stray, and nobody claims him, there is no past history to make any assessment of the dog.

Dogs that have lost their homes for one reason or another may enter a new home equipped to deal with their new lives based strictly on how they lived their former lives, what their experiences taught them, and how those experiences affect their behaviors.

Our dogs definitely do let us know about their life’s experiences, but we need to pay attention to what they’re trying to communicate to us about that. Dogs are extremely adaptable and become a reflection of their environments and experiences. They, like us, are creatures of habit and behavioral patterns. What this means is how they react to things in life is determined by past learning, and also by their genetic makeup. A dog’s coping skills is partially governed by hia basic innate personality.

Sometimes, in my own practice, people will complain that their rescued or shelter dog is nothing like the dog they had before, even though their previous dog was the same breed and also a rescued dog. I have to remind them that dogs are not clones of one another. We’re not clones either. I have one brother and we share the same parents. My brother and I are actually complete opposites in most of our behaviors, even though we shared many of the same experiences in our early lives. I can’t help teasing him by saying he was adopted!

Dogs also react differently from each other, even though they might be related, or they might be of the same breed, or they might have lived in the same environment. Every animal is a distinct individual, and will react to his experiences as an individual, not as part of a group. That’s why it’s a mistake to expect your new dog to behave the same way your former dog did.

Dogs are very impressionable during the early months of their lives. During early puppyhood, whatever they experience influences much of their emotional responses and behaviors as they go into their adulthood.

Certain triggers to things that remind them of their previous life affect shelter and rescued dogs. Even the people at the shelter may not have witnessed these triggers from the dog prior to your adopting him. Once he goes to his new home, there is often a “honeymoon period.” Anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months, these triggers may emerge as life goes on for the dog. How many times do we hear about a dog becoming very reactive when a family member raises a hand to toss a ball or a stick? It’s not uncommon for people to realize that their newly adopted dog is afraid of men, including the husband in the family. Something has occurred in this dog’s life to trigger a negative response to a particular stimulus or an event.

My own dog became extremely reactive when his trainer lifted her leg over a baby gate to go into another room to answer a phone. Jack went nuts on her, and thankfully he was already wearing a muzzle when this happened. We were working on his known triggers, and then this hidden trigger reared its ugly head. We’ll probably never know why he saw a leg-lift as being so threatening to him.

This is not to say that we have to be afraid of adopting a shelter or rescue dog! I just want you to understand that these dogs have past experiences that they may be affected by. Once you bring your dog home to live with you, these triggers can extinguish as you help the dog realize that he can trust you to provide his basic needs, that you’ll not put him in harm’s way (meaning also that you won’t physically punish him), and that you’ll provide structure and benevolent leadership in his life.

Most shelter and rescued dogs are adolescents when a lot of undesirable behaviors begin popping up. Anyone who raises kids knows that the teenage years can present many challenges to the parent. When dogs become adolescents, they will also test all sorts of behaviors to see which work and which don’t. It’s during that adolescent stage that some dog owners lose patience with their dogs and decide to give them up. Most shelter dogs are untrained adolescents and don’t know how to control themselves very well either.

If a dog lives with a family who practices loud yelling, or physical or bullying type behaviors, and the family interacts like this with each other and their dog, this type of environment will make the dog very stressed and anxious, and may possibly cause the dog to behave with similar responses. Again, I’ll use my own dog as an example here. Jack came from a family where there were 2 young daughters who were not well disciplined. The girls got most of what they wanted, and if they didn’t, they learned to make a huge fuss until they finally got what they wanted. When Jack arrived at my home, I saw an amazing similarity between his attitude and behavior with those of the girls. Jack learned that if he made a fuss by biting somebody, he’d also get what he wanted.

When dogs live within a dog pack, they must learn to adjust their behaviors to fit into that pack in order to be accepted. Otherwise, they will be killed or expelled. So, if that pack doesn’t practice behaviors that the dog has already learned to do from his own past experiences, he must change and adjust his behaviors to conform to the rules of his new pack. Sometimes this leads to confrontations, but the dog knows if he wants to survive, he needs the support and help of his new packmates, so he has to make changes. We’re talking about instinct here.

When we adopt a shelter or rescue dog, we must understand the mental and emotional processes of the instinctual nature of the dog. We have to recognize that the new family constitutes a “new pack” having new rules, structure and hierarchy. We have now learned that the dog only knows how to interact and react by the rules of his previous pack, that being his previous owners. Our rescued dog might now offer some inappropriate behaviors with us since those were appropriate behaviors with his previous pack. What we consider inappropriate had been appropriate and worked well for him before.

Dogs experience many of the same emotions that we do. But, they react to them like dogs, not like humans! We humans can ask someone NOT to do something that annoys us or threatens us. We can yell, we can argue with somebody in order to make our feelings known and understood. We can put our hands on our hips, or slam a door shut or shake our finger in someone’s face. Dogs communicate too, but they growl and show their teeth or they snap or bite. They can’t just sit down and discuss what’s on their minds. They just have a different mode of communication, and we have to recognize that for what it is.

I’m sure you have tried to break some of your own bad habits at some point in your life. If you’ve smoked cigarettes like I did, and decided to quit, I’m sure you’ll agree that this was a very hard habit to break especially if you smoked over 2 packs a day for 20 years! Our dogs develop behavioral habits too, but we have to teach them more appropriate habits to replace the ones we don’t like. Please remember that a dog behaves like a dog. He doesn’t see ANY of his behaviors as being immoral, illegal or unethical. It’s just dog behaviors! When we adopt a dog that shows inappropriate behaviors in a domestic setting, it’s up to us to modify those behaviors. This is not accomplished overnight. Our dog is still under the assumption that he needs those previously acceptable behaviors to survive, based on the rules of his former “pack”. So, his behaviors have become habits and patterns. We will need to take the time to recondition these habits to become more acceptable in the dog’s new environment. We will need patience and understanding to accomplish this. We must always be consistent in our rules so the dog gains an understanding of what those rules are.

Suppose you adopt a dog and discover that he’s food aggressive? It’s hard for us to understand this behavior because most of us are happy to provide our dogs with a bounty of food everyday. Yet the new rescued dog protects his food bowl and rawhides and pigs ears. Why is that? Remember that somewhere down the line, your dog may not have been provided with ample food. And if they did have enough food, quite possibly there was a member of his previous pack who kept trying to take food away from him. Some people think they have to teach the dog to relinquish food items by grabbing things out of their mouths, or by removing the dog’s food bowl before the dog is finished eating. Or, like in the case of my dog again, the young girls Jack lived with often fought with him because he kept stealing their Barbie Dolls. Off he’d go with Barbie or Ken, and then the girls had to struggle with him to get the dolls out of his mouth. When Jack came to live at my house, he was severely food protective and I couldn’t even play with him because he’d guard every toy he had. If there was a ball lying on the floor, and I wanted to have a game of fetch with Jack, he’d snap at me when I would reach for the ball. Here is a prime example of how past learning experiences with a previous pack affects a dog’s behavior with a new one.

When you bring your shelter dog home, teach him that YOU control his food, which will also teach him to rely on YOU for his survival. Avoid keeping food in your dog’s bowl all day long. Your dog will think that it just grows in the bowl. He’ll also become a fussy eater because food won’t be as important to him –he knows it is always there so why should he worry about it’s availability? Let your dog know that food comes from you. Feed him twice a day, and whatever he doesn’t finish within a 1/2 hour, put it away for the next meal or throw it away if it won’t stay fresh. Your dog will see you in a real leadership role once he learns that YOU control all of his important resources.

Let’s not forget that some shelter dogs come from a previous pack where they’ve had to assume the responsibility for taking care of themselves, rather than being able to rely on a pack leader to do this for them. It’s important to a dog to recognize someone as a pack leader for him to feel confident that his pack can survive. You may have to now recondition your dog to trust that you’re going to assume this responsibility. If your dog seems anxious and stressed out, examine your own leadership skills. If your dog doesn’t trust you to take on this job, he’ll assume that you can’t properly take care of him or the pack. Dogs don’t fare well under these circumstances. It makes them nervous.

Help your dog see you as the giver of all good things. Control his most important resources, like food and water, toys, exercise opportunities, attention and affection. Let him know that only appropriate behavior will gain him access to everything he wants in his life. If he’s crazy about going for walks, make sure he sits before you put his leash on. If he doesn’t sit when you ask him to, just put the leash away for a few minutes and go do something else. In a little while, bring out the leash again, and ask him to sit. I’ll bet he sits really pretty for you the second time, and he’ll sit most assuredly more willingly on subsequent trials. Does your dog want to play tug? My dog would rather play tug than any other game. He knows that he has to sit before he gets to tug, and he also has to drop the toy from his mouth when I ask him to. He’s also very careful NEVER to touch his teeth to my skin, or the game is over! No ifs and or buts about it. I control the game. I am the giver of his toys and I can put those toys away when I want to stop playing. My dog knows what rules I want him to follow, and he’s become a pretty calm and relaxed dog — at least as calm and relaxed as any border collie can hope to be. So…figure out the things that your dog loves the most and control those things. By doing this, your dog will trust your ability to do other things, like protect him and make good decisions for the safety and well-being of his pack.

Most shelter dogs, especially here in my area in south Jersey, are temperament tested very carefully to screen the dog for aggressive tendencies. Dogs are assessed for food guarding behaviors; they’re tested to see how well they can deal with children’s behaviors, especially like pulling ears or tails, or accidentally being stepped on to see if the dog will become overly reactive to that type of event. It’s unfortunate that we have to put the dog through some of these very stressful tests, but most shelters and rescue recognize the need to keep the public safe and to allow people to feel comfortable about adopting a dog. Once in awhile, though an adopted dog might show aggressive behaviors with their new pack members. Is this a bad dog? Haven’t we just said that a dog learns to do behaviors in his life that works for him? Many of you have adopted dogs that were severely abused by people. A dog like this may have learned that he needed to use aggression in order to survive. Can we blame him? Suppose a dog has been kicked around, smacked, yanked by his collar or hung by his leash? A dog such as this needs a ton of compassion in order to teach him to trust humans. This dog now has to learn that nobody is going to inflict pain on him or subject him to any unsafe situation ever again in his life. Do you think you can convince a dog to trust us in a couple of weeks? Odds are it will take quite a lot longer. One needs to be very patient with this dog. Don’t let anyone, and I mean anyone, tell you that there’s a quick fix for aggression. If someone tells you that, they’re going to sell you on the idea of using aversives to rehabilitate your dog. What are aversives? Here are just a few of them: choke collar or prong collar corrections, shock collars and e-collars, doing alpha rolls, which means forcing a dog onto his back to submit, and any other maneuver that requires getting physical with the dog. Then there are things like squirting a dog in the face with water, scaring him by using a shake can, grabbing him by his cheeks and screaming at him, doing ear pinches, kneeing him in the chest for jumping, or stepping on his paws.

So, if your dog is behaving aggressively, know that if YOU react toward them in an aggressive manner, you will only be adding fuel to the fire. Choose a behavior for yourself that will douse this fire. Talk to the dog calmly and let your dog know that you can still be trusted. Refocus your dog’s attention where he can think of something other than what he’s got on his mind at that time. Whatever you do, don’t threaten him; don’t yell and don’t use human body language that your dog will see as scary. Do NOT get in your dog’s face or yell or grab. Keep things as quiet as possible, even if you have to walk out of the room.

If you don’t have a strong background in dog behavior, and if you aren’t familiar with how dogs learn, please consider getting professional help from a trainer or behaviorist who IS experienced in dealing with aggression. Had I not asked for help from an experienced trainer, I doubt my dog would have survived. Truthfully, if he’d gone to a shelter, he wouldn’t have survived! He would never have passed a temperament test. Jack was truly an interesting study. Here was a dog that was disciplined with hitting, yanking on his collar and being hollered at. Jack was also crated a lot, and the older of the 2 girls smacked him on the head when he didn’t listen to her commands. I saw this for myself. Remember too that he was physically forced to give things up that he had in his mouth. Like many dogs, Jack wasn’t desensitized very well to nail clipping, and on one noteworthy occasion, a nail was clipped much too short and he bled. Way before I adopted my dog, I had visited his family and noted that his collar was extremely tight on him and he needed to have a larger size collar put on. Now, let’s look at the behaviors this dog arrived at MY home with: (1) severe food/object guarding, (2) severe collar aggression–if anyone went to grab his collar he’d bite them immediately, (3) I couldn’t clip his nails unless he was muzzled, (4) he didn’t want to be touched on various parts of his body, which meant I couldn’t clean or medicate his ears, (5) he would snap if anyone leaned over him or reached over him him, and (6) he didn’t enjoy the company of children. If you examine his history, he practically constructed a blueprint of his entire life’s history with his behaviors.

Was this family a bad one? Not really — they meant well, but they were terribly uneducated about dogs and knew nothing about modern training methods or proper ways of interacting with their dog.

Dogs are incredibly honest creatures. They will never lie to us. They don’t waste their time skirting issues or letting you know when they’re really happy or very upset. They adapt incredibly well to the human/dog world despite the amazing misunderstanding most of us have of them. Since I’ve adopted my own dog, and since I’ve been able to learn so much about dogs and their behaviors, I am constantly amazed and impressed with how smart and clever they are. If you look at your own dogs, whether they’ve been adopted or not, and you get frustrated with them for various reasons, don’t ever say your dog is dumb! They are resourceful, they know how to get things that are important to them, and they spend a lot of their time trying to communicate with us.

We just need to learn how to listen to them!