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 have continuous problems with my 4-year-old rescue poodle being aggressive and jealous of my 1-year-old baby.
Bowie was rescued at 6 months old and I've trained him thoroughly. He is reserved but never aggressive. He remains sensitive and somewhat nervous of loud noises or a strangers grab for his poodle Afro, but overall he is a very polite canine citizen.
When I became pregnant last year, I put a lot of effort into prepping him for the baby. I bought a training baby and gave it all of my attention. I played YouTube videos with baby crying and noises. I walked him with the stroller and while wearing the fake baby. Everything!
When we returned home with the baby, Bowie's daily work was interrupted and replaced by going with dad to his solitary art studio and he stopped eating. He didn't eat for almost a month and lost about six pounds from his lithe 45-pound frame.
Bowie now eats, but a year later he still growls incessantly at the baby, who crawls about wherever she pleases in the house.
We do all the things I think you're supposed to. We keep them separated. We make sure Bowie knows he has a safe space in the other room on his mat. The baby cannot touch his toys or his bed. But he's forever worked up about her. I cannot help but interpret his actions as pure jealousy.
Please help! I'd love to know the steps I'm taking are on the path to an ending of the growling — not encouraging it.
When I encounter a dog who is reacting to something, the first thing I do is make sure there is nothing going on that is reasonable for a dog to dislike or disagree with. It sounds like you did a good job of that, so I'm going to jump straight to my advice.
Creating a positive association is always a good idea when you are dealing with a reactive dog. The key to stopping dog reactivity is to find a scenario where the dog feels safe and is not reacting. Once a dog is reacting — something we call “above threshold” — he or she is basically hysterical and won’t listen or learn anything. So when following my instructions, make sure your dog is calm and non-reactive. Any time he is, increase distance until he can sit and take a treat while able to see whatever he was previously reacting to.
So find a place large enough for Bowie to see the baby without reacting (you may need to go outside to accomplish this), dust off your clicker and get some amazingly high-value treats with a strong scent. With Bowie on the leash and the baby on the other side of the room or yard, give him a sit command and then wait for him to look at the baby. The instant he does, click and then offer him a treat. Say the baby’s name immediately after you put the treat into his mouth. Repeat this until Bowie is looking at the baby often and with loose, relaxed body language.
Take note of the distance you were at before stopping the exercise. Next time you practice, this will be your starting point.
You want to finish the exercise with a really good feeling so get out a ball and play fetch, pet your dog or spend a few minutes in a game or activity he likes. Be sure to invest a few minutes after each session playing with him for his good work.
During your next practice session, find a different orientation but with the same distance you stopped at last time. Dogs don’t generalize well, so practicing in different locations and orientations is important.
Wait for Bowie to look at the baby while he is sitting, then click and treat again as detailed earlier. Once Bowie is looking frequently with a nice relaxed body posture, take one step closer and repeat the process.
Keep practicing until Bowie doesn’t seem to want to sit or take the treat. Some dogs intentionally turn away. This is his way of saying "I'm getting too close for comfort. If you push me, I'm going to start reacting, which is a big no-no."
It will take some time and practice, but eventually the dog will start to have a positive association with the sight of the baby. And the baby’s name becomes a command word for this engagement. If you go slow and keep Bowie from reacting, you will see that he starts to feels good about and look at the baby often and while relaxed and calm.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
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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.”)
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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
Gator likes eating snackies, expertly posing for pictures, getting floof everywhere and borking (not barking) at neighbor dogs.
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