Dog for 10/30/19

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.

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Dog Gone Problems,

I am emailing you in regards to my two dogs. They both are German shepherds mixed with huskies. Lately we've been having problems with Vegas, who has a tendency to bark at strangers. We have been trying to train him to stop doing this but no such luck.

Another problem is he recently started fighting with his brother when it is time to eat. We separate them in a room, but Vegas goes to his brother and starts barking at him. In recent occasions, Vegas has even bit him.

We love them both dearly and we don't want this issue to become more worse that it already is. If you have any tips on how to stop these behaviors from Vegas, I would greatly appreciate it. We are very desperate at this point.

Lino

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Hi Lino,

I'm not sure if these dogs are actual siblings or you are using the term “brother” loosely. If they are indeed siblings, this is another example of what is known as sibling rivalry.

While it’s cute to think about adopting two pups from the same litter, I have seen it cause a myriad of problems, including the more dominant dog trying to dominate or take things from the less assertive dog.

I've found that waiting for a pup to mature and become well-behaved and trained before bringing in another puppy is a much better route to go. The older dog helps train the pup and the pup keeps the older dog more active.

But in your case, the dogs are already here. So let’s focus on helping stop the behavior problems.

Barking at strangers can occur for multiple reasons, including fear, jealousy, territoriality, aggression or stress. You need to identify why the dog is barking in the first place.

In my experience as a dog behaviorist, I have found many dogs think they need to protect their humans or the homestead because of confusion about who is in charge.

Without knowing exactly why the dog is barking at strangers, I can offer some advice of what not to do, as well as some structural things you can do.

First off, never punish or correct a dog for barking or growling. If the dog is warning and learns that warning gets a punishment, many move straight to a bite. This is dangerous and hard to fix.

Rather than punishing or disagreeing, increase the distance between the dog and whatever it is reacting to. While you are doing that, these structural changes often help immensely.

1. Pet your dog with a purpose. Instead of petting them when they demand, ask for a sit first. If they don’t sit after your first command, show them you have other things to do.

2. Reward the things your dog does that you like. I call this passive training, and it's a wonderfully powerful way to motivate your dog to do the things you want instead of things you don’t.

3. Increase your dog’s daily exercise. Most dogs I work with are dramatically under-exercised. Your average dog needs an hour of exercise every day. The previous link offers some creative ways to exercise your dog.

4. Introduce and enforce rules consistently. Dogs probe to see where the boundary is, as well as who the leaders are. A lack of rules confuses many dogs into thinking they have the same level of authority as their humans.

Those tips should help with the barking at strangers. If they continue, you should enlist the help of a positive reward-based trainer or dog behaviorist like myself.

For your feeding problem, I'd add some structure such as feeding them one at a time. If possible, I'd feed the other dog and make Vegas sit 10 or more feet away while his brother eats. Once the brother finishes, he should leave the area so Vegas can eat without him coming within 10 feet. This video explains how to conduct a structured feeding for dogs.

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.

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