Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am the owner of a beautiful 1-year-old female black lab. She is playful, rambunctious, affectionate and anxious. She needs constant attention or else she starts to bark at me.
When I do try to give her the attention, she "yells" at me. She will also bite my hands and forearms in almost an anxious manner. It isn't painful, but it sure is not pleasant. She will do the same thing when I get home from classes every day.
She is crate trained because she cannot be trusted to roam the house. She chews and rips everything in sight. She has even ripped her mats in her kennel, and for that reason, she does not have one anymore.
I love her dearly, but I am getting frustrated with her acting up like this. I walk her daily and sometimes run with her to help relieve some of that built-up puppy energy. I am struggling to find alternate ways to calm her down and help her feel less anxious. Do you have any advice on what I can do to help her?
On average, a dog sleeps close to 17 hours a day. We don’t notice this because they don't sleep in one long period like humans do. Instead, they have a long sleep at night when we do, supplemented by lots of short naps throughout the day.
When they are sleeping, they are recharging their batteries. Once awake, they are ready to go again. For this reason, exercise is best accomplished in shorter, more intense sessions sprinkled throughout the day.
If you have a mature lab puppy, it's a safe bet that the one walk a day you mention is far less than she needs. When a dog doesn’t get enough sleep, they can often turn to chewing to relieve some of that pent-up energy.
Many of the behaviors you mentioned that your dog does — chewing, anxiety, crying, nipping, etc. — are textbook examples of a dog who needs more exercise. Your average dog needs at least 60 minutes of exercise every single day. Higher-energy breeds and puppies can need more.
So my first suggestion is to find some ways to exercise your dog that you can accomplish multiple times a day. Walking is nice, but there are other activities that are more efficient. Check out this video for some creative ways to exercise your dog.
After a few days of getting your dog more exercise, you should notice some of these unwanted behaviors abating. Once that is the case, you can start working on your dog’s anxiety — the nipping and “yelling” — by using some operant conditioning.
To do this, arrange to practice the activities your dog doesn’t do well. Let’s start with biting at your hand when you go to pet her. Make sure she is sufficiently exercised with a good 10 minutes afterward to calm down.
Sit down in your normal chair and ask for a sit one time. If she doesn’t sit, pull out your phone, watch some TV or check an email on your phone. What you are saying is, “If you can’t sit for me, I will find other things to do.”
When she sits, reach to pet her. The instant she starts to show any excitement — wiggling, getting up, yelling, reaching for your hand or arms — stop and return your arm to your side. Do not correct her, chastise her or offer any punishment.
You will likely reach and stop reaching many times. This is normal. If you stop the instant she starts to get excited, you will start to see she settles down faster and stays calm when you start to reach. But don’t wait for her energy level to get high enough to be easily noticeable. This is the common mistake people often make. The more excited you let her get, the longer and harder it will be for her to calm down.
With enough repetitions, she will learn that excited behavior causes you to stop interacting with her. It will take time, which is why I suggest setting up practice sessions. Whenever you have extra time, use it to practice petting without biting. Try to do this a few times a day for a week. If you do, combined with proper exercise, you should be able to stop many of her unwanted behaviors for good.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
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Despite being a senior cat at 10 years old, Baby is full of energy and mischief. Here, she dangles from a bannister in her house in Gretna.
Karen Windle, copy editor
We’re Bruce and Ernie (left). We love sneaking raw bacon off the kitchen counter, lounging around the house naked, er, without our collars and making friends with deer. (The deer *love* to play tag, but for some reason we’re always “it.”)
Katy Glover, online editor
Buster can put a smile on your face like no one else, including those of neighbors who spot him dragging me along on a walk or run. Unfortunately, this high-energy guy recently has been sidelined by the doggie version of a torn ACL and subsequent knee surgery. He could use a little boost, so I'm nominating him for the OWH Pet Parade.
Julie Anderson, news reporter
At left is Clyde. He’s a dog. He’s 2 ½. He’s deaf. At right is Pieces. He’s a cat. He’s 13. He can hear. They would like very much for you to pick them!
Brad Davis, business editor
If you're an avid reader of the World-Herald, maybe you've heard of Cooper. Features reporter Chris Peters has written about raising Cooper. Here he is on the custom pallet bed his mom built for him.
Chris Peters, features reporter
At left is Daisy. Her best friend is a reindeer, who comes to visit a few weeks each year. She complains a lot to the non-magical beings she lives with, for obvious reasons. At right is Diaz. He's a handsome boy who doesn't care about that. He loves walks and belly rubs, all people, most dogs, one cat, and zero racoons and opossums.
Rich Mills, copy editor
At the Ducey Farm in Dundee, we have the blackshirt gals who guard the back yard (Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt), and the chickens who help me garden (Brooklyn and Penny). They produce eggs and inspire pillows for the cutest and most fashionable dogs in the world (Phoebe, Gigi and cousin Tyson), who love to bark at the feral cats (Bunny and Butterscotch) who live outside and have matching tails!
Marjie Ducey, reporter
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Cory Gilinsky, features (and Sarah Jarecki, civilian)
Gracie the border collie and Beau the red heeler like long walks and frequent car rides, especially to drive-thrus that give treats.
Deb Shanahan, metro desk editor, and Kent Sievers, photographer
Isabel doesn’t enjoy her humans (especially the little ones) a lot, but sometimes likes a good chin scratch. Mostly she enjoys being left alone to sit on top of the piano and watch the birds outside.
Kevin Coffey, music critic
Izzy is 6 months old. She likes to chase her tail (and often catches it), climb up couches (and people), and bother Zake. Zake is 15 years old and unsure of Izzy. After all, Izzy has the high ground.
Zach Tegler, copy desk
Jameson may be named after whiskey, but this five-year-old gal is all sweetness. At first skittish after being rescued from a farm in Oklahoma, now her favorite hobby is stealing hearts — and covers.
Laurel Foster, online
We say Juni found us after my wife was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. This little Havaton brings our family joy, love and snuggles every day.
Jeff Robb, news reporter/data geek
Laika is, hands down, the happiest dog at the dog park. She is named after the heroic Russian cosmonaut dog, one of the first animals in space. Ciara loves to pray. When she joins our family in prayer, she sounds like Scooby Doo. She is fiercely loyal and protective.
Susan Szalewski, copy editor and news reporter
Lolo was adopted seven years ago in Louisiana. She's a mutt, and we think she's part nutria, otherwise known as a swamp rat.
Hunter Paniagua, digital sports coordinator
Minerva is a very hard worker. Two-year-old "Minnie" likes to spend her time cleaning, inspecting boxes and bird watching. (And looking adorable.)
Brandon Olson, digital content hub editor
Molly, a rat-terrier Chihuahua from NHS, loved everyone she met. She was an excellent high jumper and cuddler and gave us joy for 17 years. She died in April.
Betsie Freeman, features reporter
Nellie is a 10-year-old tabby cat who is more like 5 years old at heart. She enjoys sleeping in fresh, warm laundry, eating, chasing lasers and listening to stories with best friend, 4-year-old Sam.
Ashlee Coffey, Momaha.com editor
This is Oliver. He has three legs and a bullet permanently lodged in him. (We didn't put it there). He pretends like he's surly and tough but deep down he's very snuggly.
Roseann Moring, political reporter
Loves tuna, SBH and
A fireside nap
Sarah Baker Hansen, features, and Matthew Hansen, columnist
I'm Sasha. I was a stray in Oklahoma (where my ear was somehow torn) before a shelter rescued me & treated my heartworm. I just tested negative for heartworm, yay! I really like to play dead & get belly rubs!
Alia Conley, news reporter
Slugger, owned by the original Pet Parade Petitor in Chief and saved by Big Red Rescue in Omaha, chases his tail faster to his right than to his left. He ate a hole in the blinds to watch his owner come and go.
Steven Elonich, online editor
Toby is a 4-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix with a big personality. Given the protective tendencies of his breed, he’s very serious about watching over his property — and his owners. Until he isn’t.
Dave Elsesser, features editor, and RyAnne Elsesser
Toothpick loves biting bare legs, gazing longingly at birds outside and dipping his paw into bags of Spicy Nacho Doritos so he can lick off the Doritos dust (which his owners know is gross and bad but are powerless to stop).
Erin Duffy, news reporter
Boston Terriers, Willow, 8, and Dexter, 6, have a closet full of costumes, sweaters, scarves and even some pajamas. They only sit this nicely for photos because there are LOTS of treats involved – but really – they are crazy little puppies!
Tammy Yttri, copy desk chief
Nine years ago, we found Zed roaming the earth (it was a ruff life). He’s a good boy. He likes his toy lobster, pepperonis (which we call pupperonis) and keeping up with his fans at Zedwin.org.
Graham Archer, digital editor
Hi, my name is Zeus, I an eight-year-old American Eskimo looking to get back in the game. They say I am fixed, but I think my only problem is you aren’t in my life. I love long walks and treats. I want someone to chase squirrels with. Won’t you paw right?
Chris Machian, photographer