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.
We have a 6-year-old American Bully I need help with. We've only had him a little more than a year. He has issue with loud noises, such as thunderstorms and fireworks. When these things happen, he hides in my bedroom, panting and shaking.
We knew enough to not condone his behavior, but recently he has started doing other things that he has never done before. He recently attacked our sugar gliders' cage trying to get to them. So we got a bigger cage, but he still tries to get at them.
The most bothersome thing that he has started doing is destroying my door trying to get into my room — even when it's not storming or anything. He’s making himself bleed trying to get into the room, and so far he has succeeded. I put a 2×4 inside the door and now he can't get in, but he’s still trying.
It sounds like you have multiple things going on here. You didn’t say where the sugar gliders are kept, but if it's in your bedroom, that could easily explain why he is trying to get in there. If your dog has a strong prey drive, he's not going to stop trying to get to them until you address that issue or prevent him from having access to them. This is a problem where you really need someone to come to you to help, as there can be a myriad of different reasons for those behaviors.
The fear of firework or thunderstorm sounds is a different story. I have helped many dogs get over a fear of noises like that using a concept called counter-conditioning. This is a process where we expose your dog to something he is fearful or reacting to, but at a low level of intensity so your dog isn’t reacting. At the same time, we give the dog something pleasant to build a positive association.
First you will need a recorded version of the sounds your dog is reacting to. You can purchase firework and thunderstorm sound files online. Fine a few of each and get some high value training treats. I like to use chicken liver, but anything your dog really likes will do.
It can help to exercise your dog before practicing this counter-conditioning exercise if its a higher energy dog. If you do exercise it, don’t overdo it and be sure to give your dog a good 15 minutes to rest afterwords before you try this technique.
Have someone help you by starting and stopping the playback of the recording. You want to start with the sound pretty low. Play it at the highest volume you can with your dog not reacting (barking, whining or lunging). Once you find this volume level, you are ready to begin.
Have your friend play the track for 1 second, then pause it. As soon as the track stops playing, pop the treat into your dog’s mouth. If you wish, you can assign a command word like “fireworks,” or “thunder” although that is not necessary.
After you can play it 5 times in a row with no response from your dog, turn the volume up a bit and practice again. If the dog reacts, turn the volume down a bit and practice again. The key is the dog can’t react while you are playing the sound. You want your dog to practice being calm while the sound plays and it gets something it enjoys (a treat).
This takes time, but isn’t all that hard. Keep practicing in shorter (2-4 minute) sessions until you can play the sound at full volume without any reaction from your dog. Once that is the case, your dog should stop reacting when it hears that sound.
You will likely need to do it for both sounds and some dogs need to practice with a few different recordings. But if you practice this consistently with the dog calm and non reactive, you should be able to help your dog get over the fear of both sounds 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
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