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 email@example.com.
* * *
Dog Gone Problems,
I have a 2-year-old husky named Duncan. I try and run with him every day when the weather isn't bad. I also drop him off at doggy daycare, where he gets along with everyone.
My girlfriend has a pit/boxer mix who is older named Casey. A lot of the time, Casey stays at the ex-husband's house, but stays with us occasionally. Casey does not like Duncan. She is old and grumpy and Duncan is young and full of energy.
Casey tries to stay clear of Duncan. However, for some reason when there is food involved, they get into a fight. They show their teeth and growl. It sounds scary but neither have been significantly injured. Casey does have nicks on her snout where Duncan's teeth got her. It seems to be getting worse — usually at night.
Duncan snarls at us when we go to make him go in the smaller kennel. He has nicked my girlfriend's hand even. He has never nicked my hand, but his growl is a mean growl where he shows his teeth.
I love him to death so I want to fix this. Like I said, he gets along with everyone at doggy daycare. They love him there! The problem only presents itself with the other dog at home and his kennel. Do you have any suggestions of how I can nip this in the bud?
When you have two dogs who are not accustomed to one another — and have big differences in age or energy — it can cause problems. Managing the situation by getting the younger dog more exercise and/or sending him to daycare is a great way to manage the situation.
Try not to think of Casey as “old and grouchy.” Instead, think of her as being mature and who possibly has some of the aches and pains that come with being older. If I'm straining or am having an issue and someone consistently bumps or crashes into me, I'd be a little wary, too.
When you have an older dog, it's important to help her feel safe and comfortable. I know she is a guest in your house, but looking after her needs for more relaxed living is important.
When Duncan is trying to get Casey to play, or shows a lot of energy, try one of these creative ways to burn off excess energy. This will do wonders. Be sure to exercise Duncan before your nighttime dinner. Wait for him to stop panting before feeding — at least 10 minutes. Dogs often have energy spurts in the morning and evening. Exercising before they occur is a good way to manage that situation.
When it comes to food, it's considered very rude and a challenge for one dog to be within seven feet of another dog who is eating. Some dogs are comfortable with humans this close, while others aren’t — but you only mentioned the dogs. The point is to give the dog space so it doesn’t feel pressed when eating. So when it's dinner time, I'd suggest feeding the dogs in separate rooms. If one finishes early, do not allow it to go near the other dog. Once all the food is gone — do not leave any leftovers in a bowl; empty them completely — try keeping them apart for a few minutes.
This is a good time to practice some basic commands. Ask the dogs to sit and then give them a treat or reward. Then ask them to lay down and reward them. Do this five to six times and then let them do their thing.
The kennel is something you need to practice. First — you mention “the smaller kennel.” It's very important the kennel is properly sized. The dog needs to have enough room to enter without ducking, and be able to lay inside without having to curl up. If the kennel is too small, that may be the reason he doesn’t want to go inside. Making a dog stay inside a kennel that is too small is cruel.
Also, no dog should be asked to stay in a kennel for longer than four hours unless they're sleeping. This can result in the dog’s body releasing cortisol — the stress hormone — into his blood, making it even more stressful.
For many dogs, the only time they are put into the kennel is when we are leaving or at night. So I find it helpful for the dog to practice going into the kennel at other times in a positive way. Below are a few tips.
Take Duncan only and go to where the kennel is. Toss a high-value treat onto the floor of the front part of the kennel. If he won’t go inside, toss the treat in front of the kennel until he will approach it right away and without any hesitation.
Once he is approaching it easily, start tossing the treat inside. At first, toss only in the front so he can just stick his head in to get the treat. As he gets more comfortable, start tossing them farther inside — but go slow. Keep at this stage until he goes all the way in the kennel on his own.
When he has all four paws inside the kennel, start saying a new word for the kennel when he licks up the treat. Your old kennel word likely has some negative baggage, so choose a new one. Try to use a fun word like “palace,” “mansion,” “castle,” etc. Dogs can read human facial expressions, so if you think it's a funny name that make you smile, that can help.
Practice this exercise a couple times a day to help him see the kennel as a place to go to get treats, and not always an indicator that you are leaving.
You should also leave a treat inside when he is away. Be sure Casey doesn’t go get it or go inside. The kennel should be Duncan’s only.
Another tip is to drill a hole in the back side of a bully stick and zip tie it at the lower section of the back of the kennel. This way Duncan has to stay in the kennel (with the door open) to chew on it. This is another great way to help build a positive association with the kennel. Be sure to monitor or block off access to Casey for this as well. Casey’s presence could also trigger another fight.
If you practice a few times a day for a week, you should be able to help him stop acting negatively. You may also want to check out this video I did for a client whose dog had a similar negative reaction to going into the crate.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.