Behaviorists Decode Dogs, Answer Your Questions


These reader questions were all answered by contributing authors of“Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones”(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27), written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. I co-edited the book with veterinary behaviorists Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi, who answer two of the following reader queries.
Steve Dale answers pet behavior questionsQ: I adopted my 3-year-old Pug/Shih Tzu mix from a rescue group two months ago, and now I have a serious problem. The dog has urinated in the house three times, always when I was away. I assume he’s marking his territory. He has a dog door and could go out to the enclosed patio, which he usually does. I don’t want to give him up. Any suggestions? — J.F., Las Vegas, NV

A: Assuming the dog is neutered, Chicago, IL-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi says to see your veterinarian to rule out a medical explanation. Also, if you can videotape your dog shortly after you leave the house, the recording will help the vet determine if your pet has separation anxiety. Those who do demonstrate one or more of the following behaviors: Pacing, drooling excessively, barking, yowling, whining, chewing on things they shouldn’t, and having accidents shortly after their owners depart.

However, it’s also possible your dog was never as reliably house trained as your  were told. Also, dogs can be house trained to one place (their own home, for example), but if re-homed may not be so dependable. Some low level anxiety (associated with being re-homed) might contribute.

If your dog has separation issues, there’s an entire chapter on this problem in “Decoding Your Dog.” Also, enlist help from your veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, a veterinarian with a special interest in behavior (member of American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) , or a certified dog behavior consultant.

If your dog needs a brush-up on house-training, training her to a crate might be helpful. “Decoding Your Dog” also has information on how to do that.


Q: We rescued a 3-½-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. Turns out she’s a troubled, Jekyll-and-Hyde dog. When we’re walking her, she’s aggressive toward any dog who gets anywhere near us. My husband is at the point of giving up on her. Any advice? — S.S., St. Catharine’s, Ontario, CanadaJack Russell problems

A: “Some dogs are more reactive than others, and terriers are right up there, sometimes bordering on dramatic,” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz, of St. Louis, MO. “The technique (your dog is using) works; (she) gets aggressive, barking and all those antics, and you walk away. The other dog walks away, too. So, your dog does it again and again.”

Horwitz continues, “What you should do for now is to simply stay away from other dogs, so your dog doesn’t continue to practice this behavior.” She suggests that a dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques or a veterinary behaviorist could observe exactly what’s going on, then show you how to lower your dog’s level of reactivity.

As frustrating as this problem is, please don’t give up your dog. Sent back to a shelter — even if adopted out again — this pup’s chances might not be good.
Q: Our 2-year-old Morkie (Maltese/Yorkshire Terrier-mix) attacks people and other dogs whenever they come to our door, and when we take walks. He scratches (people), growls at everyone and has bitten people. Any advice? — S.R., via cyberspacePet expert Steve Dale advice about a Morkie

A: “It’s important to discontinue giving your dog any possible opportunity to do anyone harm, which may ultimately save his life,” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall. Meanwhile, keep your dog behind a closed door when people enter your home (preferably several rooms away), and when outdoors, your Morkie should be muzzled.

Overall, of Philadelphia, author of the “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats” (Elsevier, St. Louis, MO, 2013; $72.75), points out that the more your pet practices this behavior, the better he’ll become at it and his aggression could intensify, boosting the odds of someone getting hurt. “Don’t give this dog another opportunity to bite again. Get qualified help as soon as you can,” she advises.


anxious mini-schnauzerQ: My 13-year-old Miniature Schnauzer recently became a recluse, spending most of the day under the couch. Sometimes she comes out on her own, but sometimes she stays there all day. Our veterinarian is baffled, and prescribed valium, which doesn’t help. The dog’s appetite isn’t the same as it was, and until we began to cook chicken for her, she’d go days without eating. It’s sad; it’s like we don’t have a dog in the house. What are we missing? — B.B., via cyberspace

A: Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, an author of “Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat-Third Edition” with Dr. Wayne Hunthausen and Dr. Lowell Ackerman (Saunders/Elsevier, New York, NY, 2013; $94.99), says, “Anytime there’s a sudden change in behavior, first rule out a possible medical explanation. A thorough exam (should) look particularly at pain (from osteoarthritis to dental issues).”In “Decoding Your Dog,” Landsberg wrote the chapter on canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS),” the canine version of Alzheimer’s disease. Look for these signs:

  1.  Disorientation: Periodic confusion, seemingly forgetting favorite people, perhaps getting lost in the home the pet has lived in his/her entire life.
  2.  Changing interactions with people: Clingy dogs may become aloof, or vice versa.
  3.  Sleep pattern changes: Overnight, the dog may be restless, perhaps pacing or crying out. Also, the dog sleeps far more during the day.
  4.  Housetraining errors: Accidents occur without an apparent explanation.
  5.  Changes in activity level: Of course, older animals are less active, but often the thrill of life appears disappear from dogs who previously wagged their tails every waking moment.

“There are products that may help if this dog has cognitive decline,” says Landsberg. “The earlier you intercede the more likely you are to be successful in slowing and conceivably reversing the decline.”

Never force your dog from her hiding place, but try to coax her out with food or toys, Landsberg says. And reward play behavior. “It would be interesting to see what happens if you blocked off access to your dog’s hiding place,” he adds