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Special Guest: Behaviorist Sophia Yin
How to behave so your dog behaves, preventing dog bites, and more

Once again we are super psyched to have a wonderful guest for our weekly open thread. Today, Sophia Yin, DVM, will be stopping in off-and-on to chat and answer questions. A frequent contributor to Bark, Sophia is the author of two textbooks: Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats and The Small Animal Veterinary Nerdbook, a best-selling textbook for veterinarians, as well as a book for dog owners, How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves and her newest ebook, Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.

We’re especially happy to have Sophia here this week because it’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and she’s been diligent in raising awareness about dog bite prevention.

If you have other stories, questions or comments on your mind, this is your opportunity to put it out there for the rest of the Bark community as well. Welcome all newcomers: The open thread is a little like the dog park—get out there and run, sniff around and play nice. Obscene, abusive, offensive or commercial comments will be taken down. We close the thread at 4 p.m. PST.

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Submitted by anonymous | May 18 2011 |

I'd like to know if any dog breeds bite more than others and if they do then why is it? Also, why do dogs seem so universally aggressive toward men in uniforms?

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Are some dogs more aggressive:

There are definitely dog breeds with a greater reputation for biting although this is not a good predictor of which individual dogs will bite. For instance, if you ask a veterinarian which breed is most difficult in the vet hospital they may list chihuahua, dachshund, cocker spaniel. Note that pitbull is not on that list. So then the question is why are they so aggressive. The most common cause of aggression is fear. Here’s an article (and poster) that show the signs of fear and what people do to actually make it worse accidentally (http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/dog-bite-prevention-dogs-bite-when-hum...).

The most common cause of fear is incomplete socialization for the needs of the dog. Then the next issue is which dogs are more likely to become aggressive due to their fear. I think the more high arousal dogs are. And for sure those dogs where the owners actually socially reinforce the dog by yelling in an excited way (No. NO sounds like go! Go!) or yanking them around rather than ). The reason dogs love to bark at people in uniform such as the postman is that their barking/lunging is reinforced every day. When the postman comes and drops mail in the slot, it causes a distrurbance that alerts the dog (or if the dog sees the postman approaching it’s a “disturbance” too). The dog naturally barks and the postman goes away which is exactly what the dog wanted. So the dog’s barking behavior has been reinforced. Then the behavior may generalize to other people in uniform.

What owners should do when they have dogs bark and run towards the postman is train an alternate behavior such as running to you and then getting rewards—long enough so that the post man has left and the dog is no longer in high alert mode. That way the dog isn’t practicing his unruly overly aroused behavior. And he’s learning more appropriate behaviors. The problem with letting them practice running and barking at people is that if they get out and do the same, once they reach the person in a highly aroused state you don’t know how the dog will react. If the postal worker holds still the dog may just calm down. If the postal worker backs away and looks scared or flails his arms and yells causing more excitement, the dog may get even more overly aroused and bite. (Just like how fans at a soccor game get so excited they break out in a riot!)

Dogs with high prey drive and that are more stimulated by sounds are the most likely to learn this “run at the postman and at intruders” behavior.

Submitted by LovesALatte | May 18 2011 |

I have a very good and smart dog. (austrailian shep/border collie) She has learned all sorts of things very quickly, except she pulls on her leash when she sees another dog. It's driving me batty. I live in a very dog friendly community. She is great with other dogs, but she just wants to go sniff them out, as soon as she sees one. Do you have any pointers for me on this? Thank you.

Submitted by Marie at The Bark | May 18 2011 |

A great way to curb pulling is to stop walking when the dog begins to pull. When she turns back to you, mark the behavior (click or "Yes!" or "Good!"), treat if you are using a food reward, then begin walking again. Dog pulls, stop; dog turns to you, go.

You can use a food reward, but the act of moving forward can also be seen as a reward since that is really what your girl wants to do.

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Refer to the post above on Teaching Dogs to Learn to Earn: A fun way to develop leadership.

Submitted by Seana Parker-Dalton | May 18 2011 |

Any ideas about modifying/redirecting a strong prey drive? We've been through obedience two, (which she passed with flying colors) but my German Pointer must currently be on leash or on a cable at all times, or she will run around finding small things to kill until someone catches her. I feel really bad that she doesn't get to play as freely as she should, but, I feel worse for her victims!

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

for this and the post about dogs who pull on leash, again, I start with the say please by sitting exercises (http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/say_please_part_ii). This is the first step in training focus and using your body movement to make the exercises fun.

Overall I tell people that we want to learn to lead like a leader in a dance. We have to move in ways that make it fun to the dog and make it clear what we want or they get confused and bored. And we need to think like "MTV." Dogs like MTV not masterpiece theater. So if we have an energetic dog and we are a step behind them in figuring out what the next step is, then they will get bored and do their own thing (take the lead themselves).

I have a video on this philosphy (illustrating examples) on my home page at www.drsophiayin.com

Once he learns the fun sit exercise--they are repeat sits with you running backwards (every time you stop he sits in front of you and looks at you, then to the side, then forwards with him sitting at your side, then you can do these exercises to keep him focused on you in distracting situations. e.g. he's learning that you're as fun as the distractions. Make sure he's hungry and you have really good treats.

Realistically, many dogs may need to go through the learn to earn program first. I'll address that in the next post in a few minutes (look to the bottom of the page:-).

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

hi there.. I have an almost 3 year old German pointer that gets SO excited when we first meet someone.. he is beside himself with excitement.. we may have just met this person or dog for the first time, or for the 10th time.. no distinction. he is excitable and jumpy.. out of control... and embarrassing (if I don't know them especially).. what can I do to reduce his excitability? thanks!

Submitted by Daniela Lopez | May 18 2011 |

Victoria Stilwell wrote an article about this problem in one of our past issues. Check out the article "Does Your Dog Have a Greeting Disorder?" available online here.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |


Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

What you want to do is train your dog to sit calmly to greet. This can be an easy one step process or it may require a bunch of foundation exercises. The way I train it systematically is

1) First train the dog that sitting gets him what he wants (see http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/say_please_by_sittin). This takes all of 5 minutes.

2) Then make sit a fun game since it's going to have to be as fun as jumping on the person (see: http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/say_please_part_ii).

Now you have the tools to keep him focused on you when the person is approaching. It will also help if you have a gentle leader head collar because while he's sitting you can hold his leash right near the snap to help him know he shoudl remain sitting.

When you greeter approaches, have them first wait while you get your dog seated. Then hold his leash near the snap so he can't move far if he gets up. Then have soft treats that you hold right up to his face in a location that keeps him in a sit position (e..g if treats are held away from his face they may lure him to stand or they give him time to look at the person and get up). When he's sitting and just focused on eating, let the greeter come up to pet him. When he's continues to remain seated and calm, you can add time in between treats. e.g. let him nibble the semi oist treats in your hand and then after he's had some treats, pull you hand a way for an instant but then get it back to him with more treats before he gets up. Increase the interval between treats when you can. I have this in pictures in my upcoming ebook Perfect Puppy in 7 days. It probably comes out on next week. you can find out more at www.drsophiayin.com

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

We live in a rural area, where lots of dogs roam off-leash (sometimes with owners nearby, and other times not). We always walk our 3 dogs on a leash (they are sight-hounds, for one!), and have been attacked multiple times. Once by an aggressive cattle dog mix who nearly killed our greyhound. Once by a fear-aggressive Rottie who bit at our Whippet and did some damage but luckily didn't go for the kill. We've also had countless just-in-times (a car drives by and scares away the other dog; the owner shows up and calls back the dog, etc.) Other than carry Direct Stop and/or not take our dogs for walks, what can we do to protect ourselves and our pack from potentially aggressive dogs? [We've already filed complaints with the town, to no avail.] I'm at the point of not walking the dogs unless my husband can come with me.

Thank you!

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

My rescued English bulldog LOVES to gum stuffed animals or pillows. She doesnt chew them, just kind of sucks on them until she falls asleep. I understand chewing may be away of relieving stress..is she doing the same thing here?

Submitted by marlene | May 18 2011 |

My pug does the same! She sucks on the nose of her teddy bear and pushes down with her front paws, almost like a cat. She almost looks like she's in a trance. What is that?

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

Mine does the same with her blanket! She chews and wrestles it for awhile, then falls asleep!

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

yes! she wrestles it and in the case of her dog bed she ...ahem "loves it" for little while(if you know what I mean) and then gums it !

Submitted by Marie at The Bark | May 18 2011 |

My dog, Wally, does this too, always with his favorite ball (the Dogbol by Petprojekt). I call it "zenning out". He'll even begin whining/moaning while chewing, especially after a rousing game of fetch.

I'm curious to hear what Dr. Yin has to say about this behavior!

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

What are your views on squirting dogs with water to stop behaviors

Submitted by Anonymous | May 18 2011 |

I think about that too. if that reinforces the bad instead of the good.

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

The issue with spray guns/water bottles and other punishers is that you're not really training an alternate behaviors. The general approach to changing behavior is to remove the rewards for the unwanted behavior and rewarding more appropriate behaviors instead. For instance if the dog jumps, you want to remove what he wants (your attention, yelling, touching) and proactively reward sitting insteads.

And reward it repeatedly until he learns to remain seated (not just jump, then sit, then get treat, then jump again!). Or if you have a dog that pulls on leash you want to stop before he gets to the end of the leash (and use a hands free leash so that you don't accidentally let him pull your arm a little--because if he does it's not clear to him that you've stopped). then when he sits and looks at you, (because you trained say please by sitting already) you can reward him with treat or praise (if he likes it) and then walk on in a clear manner that shows you are moving fast.
If dog barks for attention you want to avoid rewarding him by yelling, reprimanding or giving him attention of any sort, you want to instead have trained him that sitting politely and looking at you is the way to earn your attention.

so the problem with spray bottles is that without first training an alternate behavior that he should be performing to get what he wants, the spray is not that likely to work (works only in really easy dogs). Plus it could also become a reinforcer--meaning if he wants attnetion, it is a form of attention. And 3rd, you may need to carry it at all times becuase you never really trained an alternate behavior. 4) some dogs may be really fearful of the spray--and for these dogs there's a possibility that they start being unsure of what you are up to. e.g they never know when something bad will happen to them. (especially if you are not completely consistent at using the spray bottle the instant that they do the unwanted behavior.So to them sometimes they are allowed to do the bad behavior and even rewarded and other times you spray them. This is very confusing to dogs and for fearful dogs it can have amplified detrimental effects.

So, in short:-) I don't use spray bottles because it doesn't train an alternate behavior. I need to have an alternate behavior trained well before I can expect the behavior to change. I am not against using a spray bottle once the dog DOES have a well established alternate good behavior to perform. But if I need to use the spray bottle repeatedly (over 3-5x) then it's not working and I haven't removed the reward for "wrong" behavior and rewarded appropriate behavior well enough.

Submitted by Marie at The Bark | May 18 2011 |

Sometimes something is said that makes the light bulb turn on. "I need to have an alternate behavior trained well before I can expect the behavior to change." Time for some remedial obedience work. Thanks, Dr. Yin.

This is why I love the Open Thread. It's so great to hear everyone's points of view and interpretations on these various problems and solutions.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | May 18 2011 |

Hi all, We're having some technical difficulties with Sophia's replies. We're hoping to sort it out.

Submitted by Becky | May 18 2011 |

I'm currently traveling in Europe and I rescued an American Staffordshire Terrier from a dog fighting situation while I've been abroad. I'm flying back to the US on Tuesday, he's had all his shots and we have an appointment to get his health certificate from his vet in Holland, all the logistics are in place but I'm worried about his stress levels. He's an amazing dog, well adjusted, no agression issues, loves dogs and people, no gaurding issues and is coming along quickly with obedience, i would hate for him to have a bad experience and turn fearful or worse. Are there any tips to make his journey on the plane any less stressful than it has to be?

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Does he already love to be in his crate. If not, that's the first thing I'd train. You still have time. You can find the version of the protocol for cats here: http://drsophiayin.com/professional-resources

(sorry I have a dog one but it's not posted in my web site).

Basically you feed him his meal in his open crate regularly and also put yummy treats for him to find. Plus make the crate comfy. Once he loves the crate enough so he goes in on his own and rests, you can start locking him in for short periods with really tastey treats (e.g. kong toy with canned food and kibble in it or frozen with treats in it). Let him out while he's still calm.

You can also play games where you send him in and then have him lie down and reward with treats and then his final reward is he gets to come out. THis is for dogs who really want to come out. My JRT is great with crates but didnt like going into the small one thats in my room because he didn't want to be locked in for the night. So I put him in, had him lie down for 10 seconds and then gave him what he wanted most--I let him out to jump on my bed. (e.g. I said "ok" and that meant to him he could come out and have what he wanted which was to be on my bed). After that I sent him back into the crate and this time he sprinted in happily and then lay down and wagged his tail --instead of looking sad like he had looked before. And again, I let him out and let him jump on my bed. Then the next night when it was time for bed,even before I had a chance to say anything to him, instead of trying to jump onto my bed, he sprinted into the crate on his own because he associated it with good things (getting access to my bed).

You might also want to get or make a CD of airport sounds (or download sounds of a royalty free sound effects site) and pair the sounds with food so he has a good association.

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Teaching Dogs to Learn to Earn: A fun way to develop leadership.

For the questions about dogs who can't focus on you because they want to jump on people, greet dogs/people, hunt. If the basic exercises I listed earlier don't work alone, then your dogs probably need to go on the learn to earn program at least for a week. This program starts with interactions in the house.

The dog learns that he only gets what he wants when he automatically sits and asks for it and never gets what he wants otherwise. e.g he's attached to you on leash so he can't blow you off and get rewarded for other things. Then he must walk next to you when you walk from one place to another (but he's already learned this as a fun game), and must sit whenever you stop (automatically-not being told), to be petted, to do out the door, to come in, to get food dropped on the ground, to play fetch. Goal is he learns he can get what he wants if he looks to you for guidance and shows emotional self control (impulse control). So you're not the bad guy, it's just how the world works. WHen I do this, I use ALL motivators to my advantage because I want to get it trained fast! So I have them work for all of their regular meal and I feed them less if they are not willing to work for it (sheesh, they only have to sit!). THis is about the humans learning to be aware of what they are rewarding and realizing that their dogs won't really focus on them and behave outside if they don't first look to owners for guidance/leadership inside. It's about making the good behaviors a habit because other behaviors don't work--not just about getting them to behave when you have a treat. Here's an example of dog learning she only gets petted and excited attention when she sits calmly and she only gets to come out the door if she sits politely and has self control. http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/stellah_sits_for_excited_pet...

here's an example of my dog showing he understand he must heel next to me in order to get to the toy he wants so much. It's about teaching them they can have what they want if they do what you want--but making it just a fact of life http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/happy_jack_russell_terrier_h...

Submitted by Irene Ahern Smith | May 18 2011 |

My 5 year old Wheaten Terrier has become very possessive of people when they try to leave our house. He jumps and barks and nips at them and tries to get them to stay. How do I get him to stop? Why all of the sudden is he acting like this?

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Hah! This is a perfect situation to use the Treat&Train or Manners Minder. It's a remote controlled and automatic treat/kibble dispensing reward training system that I developed in 2004 with the Sharper Image. It's now sold by Premier Pet. IT comes with a protocol(DVD and instruction book) that shows you how to train your dog to run to a rug and lie their calmly in the face of high distractions such as people coming to the door, you leaving the house, sounds outside that they want to bark too. It can basically be used to train dogs to be calm instead of barking, whining, racing around in many typse of situations (such as dog barks when crated or separated from you).

Basically the training is in stages

1) train dog that food comes out of the machine. Like clicker training, he learns that the sound of the machine (a tone) means he'll get a treat. In this stage you also train him to focus on you to get the treat rather than being entranced by the machine and rather than barking at or pawing the machine!

2) Then we train dogs to do a down-stay. once lying down you have the machine release treats every 3 seconds for a minute. Then when dog stays down entire time you "release him" and take a break and then repeat. Next step is to repeat but with treats coming at 5 seconds, then 7, then 10 etc. So we systematically train the dog to stay lying down with fewer and fewer rewards. (for me training this takes just about 2 days but for owners it's more like a week)

3) Then when he can lie down on cue and stay for a minute with treats coming just once every 20-60 seconds (your choice) we train him to also stay when you add distractions such as people running around or heading to the door. For me this takes just 1-2 days but for owners again, it takes longer.

But generally its' a stepwise process and the small steps are what make the training go so fast. Then when you want to leave the house, you send the dog to his rug and walk out. At first you can just always give dispense treats as you're leaving.

You can find an overview video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDOiJsjaLTA
And more info at www.drsophiayin/dogproducts

Submitted by Laurie | May 18 2011 |

My 13 month old lab has started woofing at other dogs when they walk past the front yard. As soon as I hear, I distract the behavior by calling him to me and rewarding his recall. Other than distraction training from unwanted behavior, any other suggestions on how to stop unwanted barking?

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Hey Laurie:

You're off to a great start! The next step is to see if you can set the situation up so that you can get a lot of practice within a few days to a week so that you can just make this new behavior a habit. At the same time you want to make sure he has no opportunity to woof at dog walking past.

So, if you can set the situations up then you can actually call him over right as he starts to hear the dogs and then have him perform a behavior such as lying down for rewards. Then reward him intermittently but frequently enough so he stays lying down until the dogs have gone by. When I'm lazy (meaning I'm working and people are coming up to my door to enter and my dog, rightly so, should be on alert OR the gardenere is over), I have him lied down sometimes just put a thin line of cheese whiz on a stationary surface so he can remain lying down.

The goal of practicing a lot in a short time is so that the stimulus (dogs) become his cue to run and lie down to get rewarded for calm behavior. and the better he gets, the fewer rewards he needs--until it's just a habit requiring occasional petting and praise.

Submitted by Marie at The Bark | May 18 2011 |

I love RadioLab and I love dogs, so my interest was piqued when this short popped up on RadioLab's Facebook page this morning. They take a very sad incident to explore the question of whether domestication be reversed. Check it out:

Submitted by Marie at The Bark | May 18 2011 |

Okay, embedding didn't work. Here's the link to the story:

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

Can you give a short synopsis of the podcast for us? Not sure if they are talking about domestication: A process over many generations in which animals become adapted to living with humans. The changes include genetic changes and the phenotype of the domsticated animals (how they look and act) is a combination of the genetics and the recurring environmental factors that accompany their development.

e.g. such as most dogs still retain the ability to kill and hunt but tend not to because they are raised in situations where these behaviors are not cultivated.

Domsticated animals retain the same instincts as their wild counterparts or their ancestors, but they may require stronger triggers. For instance, dogs in general may retain the ability to hunt, but some individuals may need a lot of exposure early on whereas others hardly need any exposure/practice for the instinct to be brought out.

Submitted by Joanne | May 18 2011 |

Tonight my little Shih Tzu, Chloe, graduates from Beginner Dog Obedience Class!!! In about 2 weeks she'll start Advanced Beginners and after that hopefully test for her AKC Canine Good Citizen. From there....sooting for her to become a Therapy Dog. Wish us luck!

Submitted by Sophia Yin | May 18 2011 |

That's fantastic. Keep with it too even after that. The more a dog knows, especially a Therapy Dog, the better therapy they can provide! A lot of people stop after one or two classes and really I think dogs (really the owners) should continue for a solid year. I myself go to a friend's dog class just for practice. It's fun!

Hurray for Chloe. And for YOU, Joanne

Submitted by Michelle S | May 18 2011 |

I want to get another rescue dog but I'm afraid my dog now will get jealous! He is a Pekingese and such a good tempered boy. I want him to have fun with another dog and play but I don't know if he'll like me giving attention to another dog. Does it matter if I got a boy or girl?

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

HI Michelle:

Some dogs don't care at all if you share your attention, other dogs want it all, and some dogs are fine with a new addition until the new addition turns out to pester them or traipse all over them when they want their share of time with you. First I'd make sure your dog likes playing with other dogs. If he does, that's a good sign. And if he's laid back when those same other dogs are right beside him in his personal space when he's getting attention from you, that's even better.
e.g.He may do well with a 2nd dog in the house.

If you do get a second dog you want to makes sure you train it right away to that she's polite about getting your attention. She should learn to sit to greet you and get petted or when excited instead of trampling your Pekingese. I frequently give dogs kibble/treats when they are sitting next to eachother so they learn to sit nicely when both are getting treats. (instead of trying to steal eachother's treats). I also train them to lie down and stay so that I can give attention to one while the other is politely lying at a distance from us waiting her turn.

In general it's safer to get a second dog that is the opposite sex, but it really depends on the personality of the individual dogs. I'd focus on getting a second dog that will be respectful of your Pekingese's personal space so that your pekingese doesn't have to feel possessive about things.

I also give my older established dog some preferential treatment. For instance my JRT is allowed on my bed when he asks. My dad's Australian cattledog who visits me and is well-behaved is not.

Submitted by SchnauzerLove | May 18 2011 |

I have a friend that has 2 male schnauzers. They are littermates & about 10 months old. One of the boys is showing agression toward submissive puppies/dogs. He is fine with human interaction and his brother. Any comments/suggestions would be greatly appreciated! She has searched the web & has tried various things but no luck.
Thank you!

Submitted by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM | May 18 2011 |

He needs a fantastic come when called as well as a gotcha, both of which can be used to call him away from other dogs when he gets overly aroused or they give him submissive signals. (otherwise he's learning to be socially inept--e.g. not responding appropriately to other dogs' signals:-). Darn-it but I cant find the video I have on appropriate play and calling dogs away from play.

Here's one video that illlustrates this a little:

This video shows having an on-off switch on dogs when they get overly excited/aroused:

I'd also have him focus on you a lot around these other dogs and reward a lot with treats for alternate behavior because it sounds like when he's around them he starts getting "worked up."

Submitted by Jen | July 22 2011 |

One of our furry family members passed away about a week and a half ago and the whole house has been mourning the loss. We can't seem to help any of them get out of their funk and would love any tips to help them. He was a member of our family for 12 years, the other two cats and our two dogs knew he was sick and tried to take care of him the last week of his life so it seems they understand that he isn't going to come back, but they are more upset as time goes by.

One of my dogs, Jackson, seems to be hurting the most. He has lost interest in food for the most part and food has always been something he never walked away from. He just looks sad, his face is long and he isn't very interested in playing as much as he use to be. Nothing we do seems to help cheer him up. We bought new toys and have been giving him different things as treats trying to get him to eat more. He has changed his sleeping place from my room to the living room, he has been laying around with a droopy face. Do you have any suggestions on how to cheer him up? It is the first family member that he has lost and I just don't want to see him get sick.

His litter mate, Abby a tabby cat, has become very sad and clingy she has to be touching us whenever we sit down. She stopped eating for a few days, but has since started again. She sits at the top of the stair and looks for him and seems to be sleeping more than normal.

If you have any suggestions on how to help them we would so appreciate it.

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