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.
We have a Yorkie mix, Sherman, we rescued about nine months ago. We think he’s about 8 years old and was a stray, so we don’t know much background. However, he is aggressive to other dogs. He isn't aggressive to people, but is apparently “passively aggressive."
We’ve worked really hard on potty training and leadership skills — structured walks, leadership exercise, meal time waiting, boundaries, etc. — and things are going great when it’s just my husband and I at home. But when we have guests over, Sherman tends to mark right around the guest. It was the kitchen stool last night where our guest was sitting.
It’s taken us a while to figure out that’s what’s happening, but we’re guessing he’s marking to show the guests he ranks higher? This happened last night and the guest whose chair Sherman marked had picked him up when she first got here.
I’m wondering if asking guests not to pick him up would help, as they are elevating him to their level? I don’t think asking each guest to practice the leadership skills would be very practical.
Are there other tips we could ask guests to do, or that we could do when they come over? I’d like to be able to have Sherman around in the house and not have to kennel him when guests are here.
Well, marking and accidents are different. If the dog is only marking, you don’t need to practice potty training a bunch — although occasional reinforcement is good for anything you want a dog to do.
When I have a dog who marks, I always counsel the humans to stop allowing the dog on any furniture and that the dog must do something to earn each pet or attention. I call this petting with a purpose, and you can learn how to do this by watching this video.
I'd recommend guests also follow this policy. A great way to do this is to arrange “practice” visits with friends and neighbors. When you have a real guest over, you are focused on hosting them, which gives the dog the ability to sneak away to lift a leg.
So invite a friend over to help the dog practice this experience. Set him up for success by walking or exercising him ahead of time. And be sure to give him 10 minutes to recover before the guests arrive.
While the guest is there, watch your dog like a hawk. Try to look like you are not paying attention, but don’t let him out of your sight, even for a second. As soon as you see the pup starting to sniff a vertical surface or walking back over the same area over and over near a guest, get ready to say “negative” in a loud voice before the dog starts to mark. If your timing is precise and the intensity is appropriate, it should only take a few corrections — provided you are also petting with a purpose and not allowing your dog on any furniture (or picking him up).
You can try a positive punishment like slapping a wall loudly, dropping a can filled with pennies or even an air horn. I try to avoid these techniques, but in this situation, they can work. A few other tips:
- Don’t allow your dog to mark on walks. Let it go No. 1 before and after the walk, but not during it. This practices the behavior and is related to the dog’s perception of leadership in your home.
- Don’t let your dog walk ahead of you on walks. This is the leadership position and is often related to dogs who mark.
- Neuter the dog if he's intact. This is a big contributing factor for males who mark.
- Some people report tying a cloth soaked with dried urine from your dog while guests are visiting can help reduce their desire to mark, as the dog smells his own scent. I think of this as more of a Band-Aid, but I have heard it can work in the short term.
Overall, it's important to remember that marking is an intentional behavior. The more you enforce rules, add structure and make the dog earn pets and attention, the less inclined he will be to think he needs to mark.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
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