Tag Archive for Elizabeth Wilhelm

Understanding Your Stubborn Dog

Few things are more frustrating than having a dog who “knows the commands” but for some reason, seems to refuse to perform them on cue. Dogs like this are the ones who have owners saying, “She knows how to sit, she just doesn’t always do it,” or, “We went to training classes and he knew everything then, but now he only does it when he wants to.” There are a lot of these dogs out there, and if you happen to share your home with one, just know that there are ways to overcome this.

Before doing anything else, make sure your dog has been to the vet recently for a full exam. Stubbornness could be a sign that, instead of refusing to do a command, perhaps your dog can’t hear the command anymore, or can no longer see well enough to distinguish your hand signal. Not doing a command could also also be a signal of that command causing your dog pain.

If your dog has been cleared by the vet, next on the list is figuring out why your dog won’t listen every time. It is important to understand your dog’s individual personality and motivations. My Basset Hound, Lou, had a problem with coming when called. Sometimes he did, sometimes he just looked at us like we were crazy, and other times he acted like he couldn’t hear us with his head turned away, freezing on the spot and seeming to hope that we didn’t see him.

Lou never really had a strong coming when called foundation. He wasn’t taught as a puppy, he had no set word used every time and wasn’t given motivation to follow through. I tried using all the baby step techniques – walking backwards with tasty treats in my hand, using a leash to ensure he couldn’t get too far away, and more. As it turned out, the only reason Lou was “stubborn” is because his motivation and way of understanding is different from many other dogs. Lou loves treats, but he loves to know what is going on even more. He froze because he didn’t know what was expected of him. He stared at us, waiting for more direction. The key to this stubborn dog was really to just coax him along, praising every single step until his tail wags, his tongue hangs out, and he is happily trotting towards me. As time goes on, he needs less and less direction.

My Great Dane/Coonhound Mix, Daisy, on the other hand, is an entirely different sort of stubborn dog. Daisy’s main motivation in life is to simply avoid punishment. She is a sensitive dog by way of touch, sound, and quick movement, but she is also a take charge and a “make me” sort of dog. Even when I knew Daisy was aware of what commands meant, she would quite simply refuse to do them, as though she did not see the point. Treats and praise meant nothing at all and performing the cue was not worth the tasty morsels of meat or cheese after she had done a few repetitions flawlessly.

Daisy needed constant challenges and a lot of patience. One of the golden rules to dog training is to never let your dog get away with not doing a command when asked. This is the number one golden rule when working with dogs like Daisy. I once found myself standing in front of her on a walk, getting ready to cross a street, asking for a Sit and refusing to move for a good seven or eight minutes before she finally sat down. It now takes only a few seconds for her to decide that sitting is worth it in order to continue on the walk.

These dogs need structure. They need routine and your expectations of them need to remain consistent. I expect Daisy to sit at every street corner before crossing. I haven’t once let her cross without doing so. I expect her to lay down and wait for her food at breakfast and dinner time and have not fed her without her doing so. These behaviors do become automatic in dogs – even ones like her – with enough time and patience.

The key to working with stubborn dogs is to take the time to figure out why they are so stubborn. Do they really, truly, understand the command and have you taken the time to teach it well? (Be honest here because this is the number one reason that dogs appear stubborn!) Is there a physical ailment that has so far been undetected? Is the motivation you’re using in line with what your dog needs (ie. Treats, praise, toys, etc.)? Have you ever let your dog get away without performing the command after you have asked for it? (If you have done this often, it may be time to start at the beginning and retrain your dog to a different word! It is easier to start from scratch than to teach your dog to pay attention to a word she has already decided has no meaning.)

Your stubborn dog just needs a lot of love, some detective work on your part, and a great deal of patience. She is not stupid, or particularly defiant, she is merely operating in a world that is foreign to her and doing the best she can with what she has learned so far. Remember to be diligent, forgiving, calm, and consistent and you’ll have an obedient dog in no time!

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

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Walking the Dog – Stress Free!

Summertime is here! Time to enjoy the “Dog Days of Summer” with your canine pal, whether that means taking leisurely strolls in the cool morning hours, spending an afternoon hiking in the shade of the woods, or going for a run in the evening just before the sun goes down.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It probably does to your dog, too, and I bet he just might show you that excitement with constant pulling, lengthy “Stop ‘n Sniff” sessions, or barking hello to his human and doggy friends.

If this daydream has started to seem a little less fun because you recognize some of these behavior problems in your dog, rest assured, there are solutions. We’ll cover all of these issues over the next few weeks, starting today with pulling. Be sure to check back next week for tips on ending “Stop ‘n Sniff” sessions, and the week after for barking during walks!


The number one problem on a walk with a dog is pulling. Believe it or not, if you can retrain your dog to walk beside you instead of out in front, most other walk-time behavior problems will start to take care of themselves. While it may seem like an overwhelming challenge right now to teach your dog (who may already have years of pulling behind him!), there are many safe training tools that can help.

First and foremost – before we get any further – please, please, please stop using your retractable leashes! These are just begging for trouble when walking dogs.  The slight, constant pulling sensation on a dog’s neck actually teaches your dog to pull in order to go forward. Want to solve the problem by simply latching the leash to hold a certain length? True, it can be done, but your dog already has associations of pulling with that leash, not to mention the added degree of difficulty in holding a plastic handle in sweaty hands as opposed to a loop of fabric or leather that can be wrapped around your wrist for extra support. And, that retractable leashes are thinner than standard leashes, leading to a higher potential for breaking during use. But enough about retractable leashes – on to other training tools.

My personal favorite, and the one that is usually right for all the long-legged dogs out there (Dachshund and Basset Hound owners – I’m not talking to you just yet!), is the Easy Walk Harness. Yes, most harnesses actually encourage pulling, even some of the “anti-pull” ones on the market today. They do this because hooking a leash to a dog’s back increases the strength of your dog by allowing them to use more of their body to pull forward. Feeling even a slight pressure of pulling causes an instinctual “keep pulling” response in dogs, unless they are trained differently. This is why dogs do so well with things like pulling sleds and wagons!

The Easy Walk Harness is different. The leash actually attaches on the dog’s chest, which means when Scruffy goes to pull, he finds himself turning sideways, often times away from what he is trying to get to, instead of still moving forward. These harnesses also fit a bit more snug than a standard collar, so be sure to allow only for one finger’s width to fit between the harness and your dog instead of two. You can find these at standard pet stores for around $20-$25. (Not in a hurry? Check online retailers for the best deals.) They come in a variety of color choices and are 100% returnable if you or your dog doesn’t like them.

There are a couple of downsides to the Easy Walk Harness. Some dogs can develop chaffing from where the harness hits around their legs. This can be warded off by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog spends in his harness over a couple of weeks, starting with only 5-10 minutes. Also, some dogs can wiggle their way out of the harness during jumping fits, but this only occurs with improperly fitting harnesses, and an owner who pulls the leash down towards the ground when attempting to control these fits. Size it right and hold the leash up and your dog won’t get out. As with any leash walking training tool, your dog will still be able to pull ever so slightly, so be sure to reinforce the right position and lack of pulling with tasty treats for the first few weeks.

On to the short-legged dogs – While the Easy Walk Harness may not be the right choice for your dog, there is another wonderful tool that will help you regain control of your puller! A Martingale collar might be the right choice for you if you find that your dog constantly slips out of his collar, or if you’re looking for a safe alternative to a standard chain-link choke collar. Martingale collars are designed to give the same tightening sensation around your dog’s neck to make pulling uncomfortable, but has a safety stop in it that doesn’t let it constrict to the point of hurting your dog. Typically, most Martingale collars constrict about 2 inches – just enough for your dog to get the point, but not enough to risk damage to his throat. These can be found pretty much anywhere and run the gamut in prices to fit all budgets. Any color, pattern, design and size is available on the world wide web!

The Martingale is not simply a quick fix. Some dogs don’t much mind the slight constricting, so you will need to be sure to employ plenty of positive reinforcement during walks for a few weeks when your dog shows non-pulling behaviors.

Another training method that works well for the Easy Walk Harness and the Martingale collar is simple. Your dog pulls… You stop. Every. Single. Time. There can be no more, “But it is raining and he is just pulling to his favorite spot. If we stop we’ll get soaked,” or, “Is he pulling too much? Should I stop?” If you feel any kind of pulling, you must stop immediately. It’ll be a little stop and go for awhile, but thankfully, most dogs catch on to this pretty fast (especially if you wait for them to look back at you before you keep moving) and once they learn it, your walks will be pull-free.

Here’s to walking the dog (and not the other way around)!

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Stray Dogs – Make Sure Yours Never Is One

While I was washing the dishes earlier today, I looked out the window and thought, “Oh, the dogs are out.” Then, I realized the dog I was watching relieve himself in the backyard was not one of mine.

Long story short, the stray (Spot – changed to protect the frightened!) is terrified of strangers, and even though I went armed with hotdog pieces, he decided fleeing was a better alternative than taking food from a stranger. Not a bad idea if you’re a child, but a terrible idea for a stray dog.

Spot ran away from me, but luckily his owners had placed an ad on Craigslist. I called and, after helping in the search,  they’re still looking for him as I type this. Hopefully, Spot will sleep in his own home tonight.

Turns out, he was a recently adopted rescue dog and had escaped yesterday. The ad even states that he is shy with strangers.

So, how can you stop your dog from winding up like this? Dogs running away is a fact of life – luckily, there are a few things you can do to decrease the chances that your dog will run, and that he will accept help if he does.

Make sure your dog knows the lay of the land! Most dogs escape from their own homes, and those that go on very few walks can’t always find their way home after chasing the neighborhood cat for a mile or so.  Take your dog everywhere, in every direction, around your neighborhood, and those surrounding it. In fact, have someone drop you off a ways away (especially a park, or wooded area that may be enticing to your dog) and walk home together. One time around the block just won’t cut it.

Next, teach your dog the strongest Recall command possible. Make coming to you as much fun as it can possibly be when you say “Spot, Come!” We’re talking treats, praise, toys, anything that gets your dog excited!

When teaching a Recall, remember to use it in positive manners – meaning, do NOT call your dog to you in order to punish him, to bring him inside (thus ending his fun), or to take something away from him that he values. And, if you must call him to bring him inside or to take something from him, practice the Come command 10-15 more times immediately where only positive things happen.

Using a long line (15-20ft. leash) outdoors and in unfamiliar environments will help you gain control over your dog in the event that he should become distracted while learning. Use it to gently remind him to go in your direction, then release him back to his fun after he comes.

If he does not come to you, try running away from your dog. That’s right – away from him. This brings out the dog’s natural chase/prey/play instincts and gives him a good reason to follow!

The next most important thing to teach your dog is that strangers are not enemies, or people to be feared. Strangers may well be your dog’s only hope at ever becoming reunited with you in the event that he gets away.

Socialize your dog to every kind of person you can think of! Have a fearful dog? Approach strangers (start with friends), and ask them to give a few treats to your dog without making eye contact, or speaking directly to him. Once your dog gets used to the idea that people on the street are treat dispensers, have them slowly and gently pet your dog on the chest, or under the chin (still not making eye contact), and work up from there. Practice on the sidewalks and in neighbors yards – anywhere your dog may be if he gets lost.

Have a dog who barks at people? Use treats during walks to distract your dog from looking at the people. Reward your dog any time he looks at someone without barking. Once you can start passing people on the opposite side of the street barkfree, work up to passing on the same sidewalk. Then, start having your dog Sit as people walk by, and you say hello to them. Keep working on it until you can have strangers toss your dog treats.

Any little bit helps. Anything you can do to teach your dog about his surroundings, to teach him to come back when he is called, and to introduce him to all the neighbors will go a long way in leading to a safe return.

(Also – make sure your dog is wearing identification tags. Tags can be broken, so make sure he is microchipped as well. Check the Humane Society of Indianapolis or F.A.C.E. Clinic for cheap prices on microchipping.)

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Are These Dogs Playing or Fighting?

Dogs, like people, are social creatures and most enjoy interacting with other dogs through play.  This is an excellent release of energy, a great form of exercise, and a good psychological boost to dogs – unless, of course, playing becomes fighting.

Playing dogs can appear vicious through barking, showing their teeth, wrestling, and even occasionally growling. It isn’t hard to see why telling the difference between playing and fighting can sometimes be difficult!

Dogs who are having a good time playing with their canine companion will show the following signs:

  • Loose, fast tail wags
  • Wide, excited eyes, glances at, and away from, the other dog
  • Relaxed mouth, slightly open (teeth covered)
  • Play Bows (front end on the ground, back end in the air)
  • Fluidity to their movements, almost like dancing

Fighting dogs will act in the following manner:

  • Straight tail, slow stiff tail wags
  • Squinted, intense eyes/stare
  • Exposed teeth, snarl, possible quick bites
  • Rigid posture, hair on back raised
  • Calculated, harsh movements with intent to threaten or harm

There are some characteristics that Playing and Fighting dogs may show. They must be taken into account with the rest of the dog’s body language to determine the dog’s intentions.

Both Playing and Fighting dogs may show:

  • Quick movements
  • Wagging tails (Playing – Loose, fast. Fighting – Straight, stiff.)
  • Biting (Playing – soft bites, no intense reaction from playmate. Fighting – harmful bites, elicit intense response from other dog.)
  • Wrestling behavior

One surefire way to determine whether dogs are playing or fighting is to separate the dogs by moving the aggressor (the one playing/fighting the hardest, usually this is the dog who is on top during wrestling behavior) away.  If the other dog happily runs right back to the dog, rest assured, they were playing! If the other dog instead runs away, growls, raises his or her hackles (back hair), or continues to focus intensely with squinted eyes, then you just broke up a dogfight.

Most dogs will work out their differences with a couple of hard, intense stares, and the occasional growls/snaps. In fact, it is usually best to let dogs work things out amongst themselves.

However, if your dog has a history of getting in fights, or if you or your dog are unfamiliar with the other dog, break up these potential fights as early as possible!

In the event of a dog fight, the best way to intervene is to determine who the aggressor is and wrap your arms around the dog’s belly – just in front of the dog’s back legs – and lift the back legs off the ground. This throws the dog off balance and will cause him or her to look back at you to see what is going on. As soon as he or she looks at you, grab the collar and lead the dog away. Keep the dog as far away from you as possible during this to prevent a “transference of aggression” where the dog may potentially use excess energy to bite you.

Keep these tips in mind next time your dog begins a canine interaction and remember the golden rule – if you aren’t sure whether the dogs are playing or fighting, break it up.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Solutions to Winter Dog Behavior Problems

The calm after the holiday rush is finally starting, right along with the cold weather. This means more time will be spent indoors – for you and your dog. If you are lucky enough to have a calm, well-mannered dog, this could be a very relaxing time of year. However, if you find yourself stuck inside with a high-energy, jumping, nipping, playful canine, the stress is about to begin!

A decrease in exercise and less time spent outdoors can lead many dogs down a path of destruction – this could mean your furniture, favorite shoes, winter coat, or a whole host of other household items. You could also notice an increase in unwanted behaviors such as barking, digging, jumping, whining, and an unwillingness to follow commands.

Rest assured, there are ways to help your pup through this time of year, even if going for walks in cold weather is not your idea of a good time.

Here are some ideas to keep your dog active inside, and out of trouble:

  • Increase Training Sessions – Even if your dog already knows basic commands, holding two or three 10 minute training sessions with him every day will keep his mind sharp and active, and will help to tire him out mentally. Teach a new trick such as Shake, Roll Over, Speak, or Play Dead, or brush up on commands like Leave-It or Stay that he hasn’t had to do in awhile. This way, he will learn to focus on you and come spring, you’ll have a very well trained dog to take on outdoor adventures.
  • Play Games – One of the best games to play with a dog who knows the command “Stay” is Hide-And-Go-Treat. Have your dog Stay while you hide a treat somewhere in the house (do so in the same room so he can watch the first few times). Release your dog and let him tire himself out sniffing, running, and seeking out the precious treat. Challenge him even more by hiding it under a towel or behind a slightly closed door.
  • Enroll in a Training Class, or Take Private Lessons – Certified Dog Trainers can help you stop unwanted behaviors if you feel that your dog’s behavior is reaching the point of being intolerable, or if you want to ensure that his behavior does not reach that point! Winter is the perfect time to start since this is the time of year that many problems show themselves, and it gives you a few months before the warm weather hits to get your dog back to where you want him to be. You could also consider an agility or therapy dog class, if these activities are ones you feel your dog would enjoy.
  • Purchase an Interactive Toy – There are a lot of toys out there to help keep your dog occupied. Check out the brand “Busy Buddy” for quality interactive toys. They can be found online, or at most major pet stores. Just remember to supervise your dog the first few times they play with their new toy before leaving him home alone with it.
  • Have Doggy Play Dates – Call up your friends who have friendly dogs and invite them over to play in a fenced in yard! Make sure to supervise the dogs – especially the ones who haven’t met each other – and make sure that all dogs are up to date on their vaccinations.
  • Check Out the Local Dog Park – Been putting off taking your pup to the dog park because you are unsure how he will react? Now is the best time due to a decreased number of dogs that will be there. Generally, this time of year is when the “regulars” go, which is great because they are usually hoping for new dogs to come play! (As a “regular” at a dog park, I can attest that this is true.) Generally, dogs who frequent the dog park are very dog-friendly and do quite well at letting new dogs into the group. On the other hand, maybe you and your dog will be the only ones there – let the game of Fetch begin!

The most important thing to remember this winter, while living indoors with your dog, is to be creative! Turn basic obedience commands into games, spend a bit of time outside when the temperatures are bearable, and look for ways to engage your dog in daily activities.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

The Thundershirt – Will it Work for Your Dog?

The Thundershirt (www.thundershirt.com) is marketed as “The Best Dog Anxiety Treatment,” but does that mean it really works?

The Thundershirt is relatively new and sells for around $40 at most pet retail stores. It came out marketed to pet owners whose dog shows signs of anxiety during thunderstorms. Made of a soft, stretchy material, the Thundershirt is designed to snugly wrap around your dog and to give him a sense of comfort when in stressful situations.

Recently, it began noting that it also works for separation anxiety, fearfulness, hyperactivity, barking, and more. Since this appears to be a pretty trendy dog accessory these days, I thought I’d pick one up and try it out on my fearful reactive dog. Here’s what I found for her, and a couple of clients’ dogs.

For my dog, Karma, I noticed a change as soon as I put the Thundershirt on her. She was much calmer. During walks, she barked less at people (some not at all!), and during car rides, people walking near the car didn’t seem to bother her as much either.

To really put it to the test, I took Karma to her least favorite place – the Vet. In this instance of extreme stress and anxiety, I didn’t see any change with her wearing the Thundershirt. She was still very anxious, barking, and incredibly uncomfortable with being there.

A Group Class student was next to try the Thundershirt out on his fearful dog. She ended up being calmer during walks as well – much easier to handle!

Another client who tried it on her dog, found that her dog was also easier to handle during walks, paid more attention to her while outside, and accepted treats while on a walk. Usually, her dog was very focused on the various outdoor scents and cared much more about them than about her or treats.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough I saw, however, was on a client’s dog who is afraid of the stove. He runs out of the kitchen, all the way down to the basement, whenever the stove or burners are turned on. With the Thundershirt, and some positive reinforcement training, he was sitting calmly beside the stove with both the oven and burner turned on within 5 minutes of working with him!

So does the Thundershirt work? Yes and no. It seems to be a wonderful tool to help teach your dog how to remain clam during periods of low to moderate stress. High stress situations, with most dogs, there probably won’t be a noticeable change.

It is important to note that while the Thundershirt may produce a calming effect over your dog, very little research has been done. It is possible that dogs may become accustomed to the Thundershirt and its effects may wane over time, or that the dog may begin to associate the Thundershirt with stressful situations and begin to feel nervous just by wearing it. It is too soon to tell.

The Thundershirt is probably a worthwhile investment (especially since you can return it if you don’t notice a difference in your dog!) if you are willing to also put in the time to train your dog while he is wearing the Thundershirt, instead of relying solely on the shirt to do all of the work. That way, the transition between wearing it and not wearing it will become much easier and your dog will no longer be in need of this training tool!

Have you tried a Thundershirt on your dog? If so, what do you think about it?

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Adding Another Dog to your Family

“I think she needs a friend.” This is a pretty common line of thinking with single-dog households. At some point, we start to wonder if our dog would be happier if she had another canine to run around with.  The answer varies from dog to dog – some dogs seem to adore other dogs and do wonderful with them, and other dogs seem to not really even notice the existence of other dogs. Then, of course, there are a few who make it known that, under no circumstances, do they ever want another dog around!

Even with the best trained, most dog-loving dog in the world, adding another dog to the household could cause problems. These problems can certainly be corrected, but it is important to know that, like humans who live under the same roof, dogs who share a house can find themselves in occasional disagreements.

The addition of another dog may even bring out sides of your dog that you have never seen before. This may show itself as toy or food guarding, attention hoarding, withdrawl, dominance, or aggression. Sometimes it is healthy and perfectly acceptable to let dogs work things out for themselves. For instance, the occasional growl or snap to signal that one does not wish to play at that moment, or that the other is much too close, is just fine. True fights, guarding of resources, or overt displays of dominance, however, will require some leader intervention.

My dog, Karma, and I recently took in a foster dog from the Southside Animal Shelter. Bandit is her name, and while she is a little shy around people, she loves other dogs. Karma is used to dogs coming and going in our home, but all of them have a tendency to bring out different sides of her.

Ivanna, our first foster dog, brought out Karma’s annoyed and “don’t mess with me” side. Jacob, the next foster dog, brought out her toy guarding side. Others have turned her into the annoying little sister who begs for play, or into the aloof big sister who doesn’t wish to play.  All of these issues can be, and were, solved pretty easily.

With all of that fixed in Karma, Bandit has shown me a side I never expected of Karma. You see, I spent about a week telling Karma that we were going to get a foster dog and that she would be Karma’s responsibility to entertain and to help me train. I guess it went to her head.

Karma started showing signs that she believed she owned Bandit. This includes dominant stares, prolonged holds during play, keeping other dogs away from Bandit, pushing in between Bandit and myself while I was petting Bandit, rushing to be first out the door once released from Stay, etc.

Bandit is not innocent in all of this. She never once stood up for herself. She let Karma walk all over her, which led Karma to believe what she did.

I am quite happy to report now, that the two dogs are perfectly at peace with one another. Bandit has learned to tell Karma, “No,” in an appropriate way, and I have managed to show Karma that she in no way, shape, or form owns Bandit. It is very clear that they care about one another and they have a fantastic relationship.

A few things to keep in mind when introducing a new dog to your household:

  • Introduce the dogs in a neutral territory – If neither dog recognizes where you are as “home,” they will much more readily accept one another as a playmate, instead of as a threat.
  • Make sure your current dog has rules – It is important to already have a leadership role with your current dog, and to have some rules that they must consistently follow. This could be waiting patiently for their food, not jumping on furniture, sitting to have the leash put on, or anything else.
  • Teach the rules to the new dog immediately – By showing the new dog the ropes, you will be teaching him or her that you are the leader. Your current dog will also be learning the same lesson, and will view you as fair, making it less likely that your current dog will lash out at your new dog.
  • If you notice any issues between your dogs, consult with a Certified Dog Trainer – Often times, my clients come to me with problems dealing with multiple dog households where the issues have been occurring for years. Catching problems early makes for easier fixes and a stable household for years to come.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.


We’ve all probably been called a Scaredy Cat at some point in our lives – maybe because we were too afraid to follow through on a dare, or because of an irrational fear of spiders , roller-coasters, etc. Fears are common among people and a part of life. We either learn to deal with them, or we learn to avoid fear-inducing situations.

What do you do, however, when you find that the dog you love dearly is a Scaredy Dog? It could be anything – fireworks, thunderstorms, strangers, children, even the vacuum cleaner – that sends them into a trembling bundle of fear. One of my client’s dogs happens to be afraid of the stove. Another client’s dog is afraid of dark places.

There are many different reasons why dogs develop phobias, but the reasons aren’t important. Once a dog has a phobia, “why” doesn’t matter – helping them to overcome it, does.

Dogs who are afraid need to know that they have a leader who is fair, consistent, and patient. It takes time to build the level of trust with a dog that is necessary to help him overcome his fear. But, trust me, it is well worth the effort.

The first step is to figure out exactly what your dog is afraid of, and you’ll know it because every single time that object enters his life, or that situation occurs, your dog will tuck his tail between his legs and run. He might give a bark or two, but you can distinguish fear from aggression by watching how close he gets to the object of his fear and by deciding whether there is an element of skittishness to his barking.

Next, check to find your dog’s “behavior threshold” – the point where your dog can still respond to obedience commands and will accept food treats. He may still be nervous, but he should be able to focus on you for the most part. This is where you will begin.

The tricky part with learning to be a leader, is learning to what “fair” means to a dog. Fair means that you understand their canine instinct, and that you allow them to express themselves while helping them learn new ways to cope, instead of finding new ways to avoid the situations.

What this means, in a real life situation, is that when the object of fear appears (and after you have established your dog’s behavior threshold), allow your dog to run away, but only to the point where you know for sure that they can reasonably focus on you, and will accept food treats. You may find yourself 10 ft. away, or 50 ft. This is your dog’s decision.

Next, it becomes your job to be upbeat and distracting. Ask your dog to to Sit, Shake, or any other favorite command your dog may have. Do not acknowledge your dog’s fear,and instead, reward with treats for completed commands. After a few times of listening to you and being rewarded, leave the fear-inducing situation completely. Your dog is learning that listening to you is much more fun than being afraid. He is also learning that looking to you for guidance when he is feeling a little unsure will be rewarding and positive for him, and that when he does, nothing bad happens.

The next time the object makes an appearance, try allowing your dog to run less far – even just 6 inches less. Remember – it is your dog’s decision on whether he is capable of listening to you and on whether or not he will accept food treats.

Stay consistent, fair, and very, very patient and in no time, your dog will forget why he was ever afraid in the first place.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Toy-Guarding Dogs? There is a Solution!

My dog, Rusty, has a problem of toy-guarding against my other dog, Rosie. Whenever Rusty has a toy and Rosie gets close, he growls and snaps at her until she leaves him alone. I want to keep giving my dogs toys, but I’m afraid they’ll start actually fighting one day. What can I do to stop Rusty from being so mean to Rosie?

The good news here is that there is a lot you can do to create doggy-harmony in a toy-guarding home! Before we begin, however, if Rusty also toy-guards with you and shows aggressive signs when you try to take a toy away from him, please consult a professional dog trainer and keep the toys out of your dogs’ reach for now.

Toy-Guarding comes from a natural canine instinct to guard resources. In a dog’s mind, if he loses that toy to another dog, he may never get it back. The goal will be to show Rusty that if he chooses to guard his toy, he will lose it (but will get it back after showing appropriate behavior). If the following protocol is followed with his toys 100% of the time, he will eventually learn that if he toy guards, he will lose his toy, and if he does not, he will keep it.

To begin, make sure Rusty has a strong understanding of the “Give” command. If he does not, work on that for at least one week until he will drop the toy every time you ask him to. To do this, wait until Rusty is involved in playing with his toy. Tell him “Give” and trade him a treat for the toy. Be sure to always give the toy back to him after he finishes the treat so that the “Give” command won’t mean, in his mind, that he loses the toy for good.

The next step is to wait for Rusty to display his toy-guarding behaviors around Rosie. A problem can’t be solved until it actually occurs.

When Rusty starts growling, approach both dogs and have Rosie move away from Rusty. Once Rosie is away, say “Give” to Rusty, take the toy place it near Rusty on the couch or floor. Do NOT allow Rusty or Rosie to get close to the toy, and do not hold the toy yourself. Rosie and Rusty will be learning to ignore the toy and will see that the other dog is not going to make a move or take it (Rusty’s biggest fear!).

The reason behind having Rosie back off is to advocate for Rusty, who becomes nervous due to her presence. Rusty will start to see that you understand that he is nervous and that you are willing to step in and help him. He is also learning, however, that toy-guarding is not the answer! Rosie is learning that you will advocate for her as well, which will decrease the possibility of a future fight.

Once both dogs have stopped fixating on the toy, give the toy back to Rusty. This part is crucial. In the dog world, a fair leader would not say “Since you can’t play nicely with this toy, your sister is going to get it.” If the toy were to go to Rosie after Rusty displays toy-guarding, Rusty’s mind would tell him that he was right to toy-guard! Afterall, Rosie would have just gotten the toy, which is what he feared in the first place would happen.

Be sure to keep another toy available to Rosie, and to advocate for Rosie in the same manner – by keeping Rusty away from her while she is playing with her toy. If the dogs can play nicely when Rosie controls the toy, no problem. If, however, Rusty has a habit of stealing her toy, or if Rosie becomes noticeably uncomfortable when Rusty approaches, you will need to step in for awhile and keep Rusty at a distance.

After a couple of weeks of advocating for each dog, and of following through with taking Rusty’s toy, keeping it near him, and giving it back to him when he calms down, both dogs should calm down considerably around toys. You will be showing them that there is no need to fight, because you now control who plays when, and you will have shown them what behaviors are and are not acceptable in your household.

I’m very glad that you see the importance of toys and that you wish to keep them around for your dogs to play with. Keeping the toys out reassures the dogs that they will indeed still be there and that toy-guarding is not necessary. Also, with dogs, it is important to face their issues head-on. Removing toys for good will do nothing but increase their frustration levels the next time a toy, or something resembling a toy, makes an appearance in their lives.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.