Dog for 8/21

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 dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com.

* * *

Dog Gone Problems,

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. 

Kim

***

Hi Kim,

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.

David

Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com. Visit doggoneproblems.com for more from David.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.