Ask the Trainer

The Seven Most Frequently Asked Questions

Over the years I have been asked the same questions again and again. I realized that most pet dog owners experience the same common problems and/or issues and don't know where to find the information they seek. As a public service to new and not so new pet dog owners, here is a list of the seven most frequently asked questions I have come across. If you are an experienced owner and know someone who just got a new puppy or rescue, please direct them to our web site for some free information. Many thanks to our clients throughout the years who made these very inquiries...this page of information is dedicated to you. Along with our volunteer programs, it's our way of giving back.

Tom Goul CB.ccs, Canine Behaviourist and owner of The Puppy Professors.

Dog digging

Q: Our dog is constantly digging in the back yard and driving my wife crazy because gardening is her favorite hobby. Just as fast as she repairs the damage, Buster, our Jack Russell Terrier, has created new holes.

A: Digging is a natural canine activity for most dogs. In fact at one time, the Jack Russell Terrier dogs were called “fox terriers,” prized for their endurance on long hunts and their superior ability to dig animals out of their dens. This breed was selectively bred to exhibit the behavior which you find annoying and unpleasant. Allow a dog to be a dog. Let us suggest a compromise and instead of scolding for what comes naturally, it might be kinder to set up an area or sandbox in which you have buried small treats to make it more attractive than the rest of the yard. Every time your dog digs in the wrong place, do not scold him, simply say "No" and direct him to the designated area and praise your dog for digging in "his" garden. Before long your dog will naturally gravitate to the area you have designated.

dog begging at table

Q: How can I keep my dog from begging for food at the table? I don't mind so much except when I'm entertaining and having people over for dinner; it's quite embarrassing.

A: I don't know how to put this delicately, but the real problem is you. Your second sentence is very telling, "I don't mind so much except when I'm entertaining ..."; herein lies the problem. Let me explain, you are showing an inconsistency by allowing the behavior when you are by yourself, but expecting the dog not to exhibit the same behavior when you have guests. This is totally illogical and confusing for the dog; sometimes it's acceptable and others times it's not. You must be very, very consistent with your expectations and training so as not to confuse your dog. The proper decision here is of course, that we don't want our dog being a pest by begging and stealing Uncle Harry's hamburger off his plate at the family barbeque. Here are a few ideas to break the family dog of this annoying habit. Stop feeding the dog scraps from the table. You and your entire family must be on the same page here; if one family member does not abide by this new rule, you will never modify the behavior. If your dog is not rewarded at the table, he will eventually stop begging, but be warned this learned behavior is not going to go away over night. You must be diligent and committed to this new rule; one soft moment on your part, meaning you give into those adorable eyes and the behavior will start up all over again. If your a real softie and can't find the discipline when your dog begs at the table then we suggest that the dog is adequately distracted by putting the dog into another room with a treat ball or favorite toy during meal times.

Puppy chewing shoe

Q: Should I measure out food for my dog and feed a couple of times a day, or fill the bowl and let the dog eat till it's full?

A: Some dogs can free range and stop eating when they are full without eating excessively, most cannot. After many years of dog ownership we have had only one dog who would only eat until full and then walk away, permitting us to fill the bowl and leave it down for the entire day. It has been our experience that most dogs will eat everything put out for them and more if permitted. You must experiment as every dog is different. A benefit of controlled feeding a couple of times a day, is that you can control when the dog eliminates as most dogs eliminate between one half hour to one hour after eating. The most important thing to remember is to monitor your pet's weight, and keep it within a range as suggested by your veterinarian.

Q: How can I keep my dog from jumping up on me when I arrive home from work or running errands?

A: This is a common problem we come across quite often. Some dogs in their enthusiasm for greeting their owner jump up and down pawing their owner. The best way we have found to combat this behavior is to turn your back to the dog and ignore the dog until it simmers down. What you are saying to the dog by executing this action is "I am going to ignore you, until you settle down". You will find that your dog will eventually sit or lie is at that moment that you greet your dog with much praise. What you are doing is in fact re-directing the dogs behavior to one that is mannerly. The dog soon learns that jumping up is not a reward, and sitting or lying down is rewarded. Don't forget, your attention is just as much a reward as a dog treat. In the beginning you can treat the dog with both your praise and a dog food treat, so please be prepared and have a dog food treat at the ready in your pocket ahead of time. Eventually when your dog has nailed this new behavior, you can eliminate the food treat if you want to, your praise will be enough. We have seen other trainers recommend that you extend a knee into the dog's chest when they jump up on you. DO NOT DO THIS!!!. That is an old school method and we do not under any circumstances recommend this tactic. Please try the method we recommend as it is humane, ethical and appropriate. Remember, Do No Harm.

dogs on couch

Q: I have just adopted a 5 year old golden retriever rescue who was previously permitted to sleep on the couch by her previous owner. At her age can I teach her that the family couch is not her private domain and keep her of the furniture?

A: Absolutely, age is irrelevant. Show her how much better it is for her to be on her own comfy dog bed on the floor than the family couch. When she gets up on the sofa, simply lure her to her bed with a delicious treat, along with a nice belly rub or a scratch behind the ears, and of course much praise for her new found behavior. You will see her gradually go more and more to her bed automatically because the rewards are greater. Always reinforce this new behavior and be consistent. Gradually reduce the food treats, but always give praise when she exhibits the desired behavior. Remember that age should not be considered a barrier as to whether or not a behavior can be modified. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Absolutely.

Q: How tight should my dog's collar be?

A: The rule of thumb is if you can insert two fingers between the dog and their collar then you have it right. That should allow enough room for the collar not to rub and irritate the skin, and tight enough so as to not allow the dog to squirm out of the collar.

Puppy chewing shoe

Q: My puppy chews the furniture, my shoes and socks and everything else she can get her paws on. How do I stop her?

A: All puppies chew, it's a natural behavior, so please don't scold them for being themselves. Puppies chew shoes, socks, T-shirts etc., because they are attracted to your scent and are comforted by them. Puppies also experience quite a bit of discomfort when losing their sharp baby teeth and growing into their new adult teeth. Chewing massages their gums and helps alleviate some of this discomfort. So now that we know why puppies chew, here are a couple of things you can do to save your sanity. First lets remove all the easy temptations. While the puppy is in training remove shoes, socks, newspapers etc. from where they can easily reach them and store them out of sight. Furniture is another matter entirely and if she attempts to chew the legs on the coffee table for example, give her a firm "NO" and redirect her to an appropriate toy like a stuffed Kong, nylon bone or treat ball. Buy big chew toys not small ones, for two reasons, there is no danger of her swallowing it and it lasts a lot longer. You may have to teach her to like these toys better than the furniture, so, a little peanut butter persuasion on the outside of the nylon bone, or some kibble inside the Kong will keep her at it long enough to distract her from what she was after in the first place. This redirected behavior should always be accompanied by your enthusiastic praise. Secondly, lots of exercise can help as well; a tired puppy is less likely to get into mischief. Success comes from being diligent, aware and consistent. You can modify a puppies behavior by raising it's expectations of reward and pleasure.