Category Archives: Behavior Problems

Counter surfing – how to thwart it


counter surfuing

Counter surfing is a common problem.  Do you have a dog that likes to steal things off of counters or tables?  Here are 2 refreshing solutions to this problem.

Solution 1

Have the dog on leash so it cannot access temptations that will be used on the counter at training time.

Hang food over the edge of the counter.  I start with  something easy to hang over the edge so the dog can see it, like a biscuit, but after a session or two I switch it up so that all sorts of food or objects are hanging off of the counter.

The dog will likely strain trying to get the food.  Ensure the leash is not long enough for this to happen.  Don’t say anything.  Wait for dog to give up trying, and reward the dog when:

it stops trying to get the food.

it looks at the food and then looks back to you.  

Eventually your dog won’t even look at the food. It will just wait patiently for its reward for ignoring the food.  It helps to work with very high value rewards when working on this.  

Solution 2

This second method is simple and straight forward.  It is based on the fact that the reason dogs look onto the counters is because that is where all the good stuff is.  

First thing in the morning measure the dog’s food.  When the dog is outside relieving its self, scatter a line of the food on the ground along the baseboard of the counters.  When the dog comes in, it will not take it long to find the food.  Each time the dog is outside, magically make its food (not treats, just the measured portion of its meal)) appear along the baseboard.  Before you know it the dog will be coming in and checking out the baseboard instead of the counters.

How long each of these will take to eliminate the problem

How many times you will have to do this varies significantly based on the dog and how many times they have successfully gotten items off the counter in the past. Even the worst dogs show improvement within few weeks with daily training sessions.  In the meantime, it will be incredibly important to keep counters clean at all times until the problem is resolved.

Otherwise you will walk-in to find this!  Oops!

What is the DeadMan Test

play deadWhat is the DeadMan Test?

The deadman test is an important training concept that focuses attention on the desired behavior which clarifies the training process and reduces frustration of the person doing the training.  Behavior is described as something that is observable.  You can measure how much of it you have.  For example, the dog jumps on company for 2 minutes then keeps its feet on the ground or the dog lays down and stays in that position for 2 minutes.  

But the human tendency is to describe behavior in terms of what we don’t want.

• My dog should not pull on leash.
• The dog cannot jump on people.
• He will not chew things up.
• She doesn’t pay attention.

If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior. 

A deadman doesn’t pull on leash, can’t jump on people, will not chew things up etc.

We also have a tendency to label behaviors with moral descriptions. The dog is being naughty; the dog is being dominant; the dog is getting back at us; the dog is acting guilty.

These phrases fail to tell us what the dog is actually doing. And if we are going to observe, analyze and modify behavior, we have to know that.

You want a description of what you do want the dog to do.

• The dog will move closer to me when it feels the leash get tight.
• I want the dog to keep its feet on the floor when greeting people
• My dog will lay down and not change position until released
• When I call my dog, I want it to turn on a dime and run to me as fast as it can.

The deadman test does not allow you to define behavior as a negative or an absence of something. 

Attempting to define a behavior by what it isn’t fails the “dead-man test.” 

Behavioral descriptions that have the word not or a contraction with not (doesn’t,  won’t) usually fail the dead-man test. The dead-man test stops you from going down the road of focusing on what you don’t want which lead to emotions of frustration and anger towards your canine buddy.  

Instead the dead man test has you describe what you do want, so you have the option of rewarding that behavior.  If I have a dog that jumps on people, I can start rewarding my dog for keeping its feet on the ground when people are out of range (10 feet away) and I will strategically place my rewards low (ankle level) to help diminish any upward movement.  Using the DeadMan test will clarify what behavior you need to reward and reduce frustration by concentrating on what you want instead of what you don’t want.

Attention seeking behaviors

attentionDogs display attention seeking behaviors for many reasons but the most important reason is they want something from us.  We should be honored.  Out of all the other options, the dog is choosing me to play with, go on a walk with, cuddle with and to feed it.  Think of all those years you spent wanting to be popular and here it is.  You are the most popular person to your dog.

In addition, We should value and admire their clear communication.  Think of all those situations in which you just wish that person in your life would clearly communicate what they want.  Your dog does!

So Why don’t we appreciate attention seeking behaviors?

A lot of attention seeking behaviors involve the dog doing something we don’t want it to do like jump on people, bark, or act like a wild maniac. The solution to this problem is to teach it an alternative attention seeking behavior.  You can teach instead of jumping on me when you want petting or play, approach and sit or even approach and keep your feet on the ground.  But you do have to proactively teach it because that is not the natural way for dogs to seek attention.

In addition, many times the dog’s timing is off. The dog wants attention at times it is really difficult for us.  The solution is to set up routines in which the dog can expect all those delightful activities to take place.  We do have to meet their needs as a playful, social, and highly interactive being.  We also need to teach there are times in which I am not available (when I am sleeping, working in my office, on the phone).  Prevention strategies can be helpful in the beginning as your educate your dog on this concept.

What attention seeking behaviors does your dog engage in?

What behavior would you like to teach it instead?

What prevention strategy will you use when your dog may display unwanted attention seeking behaviors?

Click the Leave a Reply link to respond.  Of course I want to hear from you!

Trust – does your dog trust you?

trustWhen it comes to any relationship, trust is an essential part of the best, healthiest most enjoyable relationships.  

But what does the word trust mean to the relationship you have with your dog? describes trust as “the confident expectation of something”   Trust results in a sense of security.  The confidence you feel for your dog and its actions will only build with a combination of prevention and training.  Those are things you have complete control over.  So no matter how naughty your dog is, that trust can be obtained.

But what about the faith your dog has for you.  Are you trustworthy?  Does your dog have confidence your actions will not cause pain or fear or that you will protect it from harm?  

Building Trust

No one can explain the concept of building a trusting relationship better than Dr. Susan Friedman, so enjoy her video and then come back to finish reading.

Creating a relationship in which your dog trusts you is also something you have control over but it might take some work.  You will have to work hard at times in which you are angry, stressed out or just do not want to be reasonable.  These are the times in which our actions are most likely to deteriorate.  If you are in a position in which you think you may blow it, take a break.  Give yourself a timeout.  You can do this by gently and without ceremony or emotion put your dog in a crate or another room.  And of course seek training to learn better techniques for putting “deposits into your trust account” and avoid having withdrawals from the account.

When are you most likely to loose it and betray your dog’s trust?
I have to be extra careful when I am sleep deprived.  This is when I communicate less clearly, can be a bit grumpy and my less than charming self comes out.  By identifying when I need to be most careful, I can avoid situations that might cause a withdrawal.  When are you most at risk of behaviors that will cause a withdrawal from the trust account to take place?

Reward good behavior

reward good behavior“How do I get my dog to stop …”?  I get this question a lot.  The answer is reward good behavior. 

When I ask clients what they want the dog to do instead, they are silent. 

Then they say “I don’t know”.  It isn’t really that they don’t know, it is they have never thought about it from that perspective before. 

Teaching a correct behavior to replace the incorrect behavior is an essential component to any compassionate training program.  Ideally the behavior that is taught is one that is incompatible to the naughty behavior.  This allows you to reward good behavior at a time in which the dog can not display the naughty behavior.  When the dog has been given enough rewards for the correct behavior, it will no longer attempt the incorrect  behavior.

When our minds entertain the idea of stopping a behavior, we tend to think in terms of punishment, which is risky to our overall relationship with the animal.  But when we think in terms of teaching an incompatible, correct behavior and we reward the good behavior our relationship can stay strong and blossom.  Consider some of these options.

Reward Good Behavior

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 10.30.01 AM









Teach the correct behavior by either setting it up so the dog can offer the correct behavior and then rewarding the correct response or through systematic training trials where you lure the dog into performing the correct behavior and then reward it generously.  The end result will be the old naughty behavior will go away, the new delightful behavior is strong and the relationship you have with your dog has not been compromised to any degree.

Tell me how you have applied this concept by clicking the leave a reply link at the top.

What were the results?

Flea Control – what a bother

fleaAn animal that is itchy due to fleabites has a tendency to be either irritable or antsy.  I have seen aggression, excitability, and chewing problems reduced just by the elimination of the flea problem.  These poor, itchy dogs also have trouble following commands and cause their owners some sleep deprivation due to nightly scratching, chewing and licking.  

The Willamette Valley is a prime breeding ground for fleas.  Our climate (amount of rainfall and reasonable temperature) is conducive to their survival, as is most of the world.   The flea’s purpose in life is to keep populations in balance by feeding on the weak.  Those who possess weakened immune systems have more fleas and do not survive.  According to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article FLEAS: THE LETHAL LEAPERS.  “the flea dates back millions of years.”

The structure of the flea’s body enhances its chance of surviving on fur-bearing animals.  Its flat body helps it move through the fur with little difficulty.  Its external skeleton, protects it from the teeth and claws of its host, and has small combs and bristles to give the flea the extra clinging power.  The flea has a life cycle that involves 4 different stages of development.  The egg, larva, pupa and adult flea are the different stages of flea development.  It is the adult flea stage that most people see.  The other stages do not feed on our animals and usually live in your carpet and yard.

So how do we eradicate this tiny invincible creature? 

I do not believe it is possible to wipe the flea off the face of the earth.  Nor do I think it would be wise to try.  It is here for a reason.  Without them the balance that exists within the environment would be threatened.   On the other hand I have no desire to have them living in my home or on my pets.   Fleas can and should be controlled.   

If your pet is not on a nutritious food, its immune system will not be receiving enough nutrients to help it control fleas on its own.  A weak immune system will encourage more fleas to be attracted to your pet.  You need to work on nutrition before flea season arrives.  It will take a minimum of 6 weeks to see results due to dietary changes.  Continue to use a nutritious diet throughout the year to maintain a healthy immune system.

Try adding one of these to your dog’s food

Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics – Get a formula manufacture for dogs.  Add it to your dog’s food to increase the nutrients your can is getting out of its food.

Vinegar – Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the dog’s food.  This helps to make the skin unattractive to pests.

Vitamin C – This vitamin acts as an antihistamine.  You can use about 250mg. per day.

Evening Primrose Oil – When the flea bites your dog it injects saliva under the dog’s skin to keep the blood from clotting.  The dog’s body recognizes the saliva as a foreign substance and sends negative prostaglandins to the site.  This causes the itch.  Evening Primrose oil stimulates the production of positive prostaglandins to relieve the itch.  Give one capsule daily.

The safest Flea Control Product

Flea Go – This is a Boric Acid Powder that is applied to all carpet and upholstered surfaces.  I use it in my garage.  It dehydrates the flea as opposed to poisoning them.  

For more flea control information, speak with someone at your favorite veterinary office or if you want an alternative approach visit The Healthy Pet, at 2777 Friendly St, Eugene Or.  Their phone number is 343-3411.


When dealing with poisons, read all instructions and warnings first.   Should your animal accidentally be poisoned, consult your Veterinarian immediately.  If you cannot visit a veterinarian, call the Animal Poison Control Center.

Duplaix, Nicole.  “Fleas: The Lethal Leapers”. National Geographic May 1988

Pica – Eating non-food substances

pica.jpg My Dog Just Swallowed A …
Pica is the behavior of “persistent chewing and consumption of non-nutritional substances that provide no physical benefit to the animal” (Troff).  While most animals will occasionally chew or swallow non-food item such as rocks, dirt, wood, fabric or paper, other animals appear to crave or seek them out.  This behavior can be accidentally taught or be caused by a medical problem such as a nutritional deficiency, anxiety, boredom or compulsive disorder.  Because this behavior posses a medical risk to a pet a combinations medical/behavioral approach is best in treating the problem.

Nutritional and medical problems leading to Pica

It is critical to rule out or treat medical problems when dealing with Pica.  Food allergies, difficulty absorbing the nutrients out of the food or a diet that is simply lacking in some way can cause Pica.  Find a holistic veterinarian that places emphasis on using nutrition to resolve medical problems to council you on the best diet and supplements for your dog.  

A Lack of Mental or Physical Exercise
Dogs are bright intelligent creatures that need both mental and physical exercise to behave appropriately in human society.  When they do not receive adequate mental and physical exercise they relieve their boredom and may expend the pent up energy through chewing and consuming inappropriate items.  To avoid problems of boredom and excess energy rotate toys and chew items at least once a day.  Offer chew items for 30 minutes at a time, but offer them multiple times a day.  Increased stimulation will be provided if you feed all meals out of food toys instead of out of a bowl.  In addition, play with your dog at least twice a day and make sure your dog goes on outings on a regular basis.

Anxiety and compulsive Disorder
Some animals attempt to relieve anxiety and stress by chewing and consuming items that have no nutritional quality.  To successfully address this issue the cause of the underlying stress will need to be discovered and addressed.  If the dog has separation anxiety the treatment would be different than if the dog has and issue with another animal that lives within the house.  Professional help with training and possibly medication prescribed by a veterinarian in addition to addressing the cause of the anxiety or compulsion may be necessary to successfully resolve this issue.

A lot of Pica issues are simply learned at an early age.  A puppy exhibits normal, healthy but unwanted investigation behaviors with their mouth and an owner runs over and snatches prized items away from the dog.  Many dogs learn the only way to keep greedy owners from stealing things from them is to swallow the item.  To avoid this problem or to change an already learned behavior around, do training set up in which the dog has something safe (to big to swallow in its mouth) and teach the dog that dropping the items on command is a good thing and it will be followed by treats and play.

In The Meantime
In the meantime, the more we can keep dogs from swallowing non-food items, the safer the dog will be.  Some people will use a muzzle at times in which the dog is likely to swallow stuff.  Other people will doggie proof the environment to keep the dog safe.  Most owners find the best approach to this problem is to immediately address it through a multi-pronged approach of veterinary counsel, increasing physical and mental exercise, training and doggie proofing the environment.

Kristin Trott, Tiffany Snell,

Spaying & Neutering Benefits Behavior

spayingSpaying and neutering is not only important because of the pet over-population problem, but it also reduces frustration. Typically the dogs that show a change in behavior problems due to spaying or neutering are dogs that are frustrated due to hormones. The dog’s frustration is expressed as behavior problems. My clients find having their dog spayed or neutered does not reduce their dog’s energy level or change its personality, but that their dog is calmer, more relaxed, more attentive to them and in general behavior problems are reduced. These are all worthwhile reasons to have dogs spayed or neutered at the youngest age recommended by the vet. Well run studies also support these findings.

Dr. Karen Overall of Pennsylvania University states in her book Clinical Behavioral Medicine For Small Animals, male dogs that are intact are twice as reactive as neutered males, “the intact dog will react more easily, escalate the response more quickly, plateau in response at a higher level, …become less reactive at a slower rate and may return to a higher baseline state of vigilance” (280). Unfortunately they have the tendency to become hyper reactive to any stimuli in the environment. Hyper reactivity then becomes a learned behavior as well as a hormonal response. I see a myriad of behavior problems with dogs like this. They vary from, roaming, not coming when called, vocalization problems, destruction, and inattentiveness to owners. Overall also states, “removing hormonal fluctuations may make the dog more amiable to behavior modification” (112). Typically the only behavior problem we see due to a female dog being intact is aggression right before, during, or right after the estrous cycle.

If you want to avoid the arousal and behavioral symptoms of frustration that occur with dogs that have not been spayed or neutered speak with your veterinarian about the procedure and the age to have it done. The recommended age is going to vary considerably from veterinarian to veterinarian. For some people the operation to spay or neuter their pet at the appropriate time can be a financial burden. A web search with the words low cost spay and neuter Eugene Oregon will give you a couple of options.

Both well run studies and real life experience shows dogs that have been spayed and neutered make better pets due to less hormonal frustration. There is a reduced chance owners will be dealing with arousal issues, aggression, roaming and vocalization issues while enjoying the benefits of a dog that is more attentive to the owner.


Overall, Karen L. (1997). Clinical Behavioral Medicine For Small Animals. St Louis Mo.: Mosby-Year Book Inc

Preventing Problem Behavior

preventing problem behaviorBecause it can take a while to change a dog’s behavior, owners find these prevention tools critical to reducing the stress they are experiencing due to behavior problems. By preventing problem behavior from happening in the first place, the behavior in question is not accidentally rewarded which would maintain the behavior or cause it to get worse. The reason dogs engage in undesirable behaviors is because those behavior serve a positive function for the dog. If your dog urinates in the house your dog has immediate relief of bladder pressure. Therefore urinating in the house is to your dog’s advantage. If your dog jumps on a person, the person most likely gives the dog some type of attention. So jumping on the person is to the dog’s advantage therefore the dog will continue the behavior. Preventing mistakes does not eliminate the behavior problem. It just stops it from getting worse, by eliminating the opportunity to display the behavior and having the dog experience the rewards of the behavior. The combination prevention plus the behavior modification techniques we teach in class is what will give you success in stopping unwanted behavior.

In order to resolve behavior problems consider the value of using some of these products so the dog is no longer getting rewards from the environment.

If used properly a dog crate is a great way to prevent unwanted behavior. During the day a dog can be in the crate no more than one hour for each month of age and never longer than eight hours. So, a two-month-old pup can only be crated for a two-hour stretch. Then it has to be let out, have a chance to eliminate and exercise and then it can be crated again if necessary. At night the metabolism slows down and dogs over 12 weeks old should be able to stay crated while you sleep. When you plan to leave the dog in the crate longer than one hour it should first have a chance to eliminate and be exercised. The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up, and turn around, but you don’t want it to be so large that the dog can eliminate in one end and sleep in the other. The ideal time to use a crate is when you cannot supervise the dog and to aid in house training. If you need to leave your dog for a period of time longer than what would be humane, use a baby gate or exercise pen and litter box instead.

Baby Gates or Exercise Pens
Baby gates and Exercise pens are also used to prevent mistakes. They make it possible for the dog to move around more within the environment. They are helpful in keeping the dog from stealing the kid’s toys; restrict access to more valuable items, and sealing off more dangerous areas like stairs. The area the dog is baby gated into will still need to be either doggie proofed or the dog will need to be supervised.

Baby Gates and exercise pens are ideally used when the dog cannot be crated and you cannot supervise the dog. Be sure you provide a litter box for dogs that are not housetrained, don’t put paper down.

Tie Down
Using a tie down at times when you are supervising a dog makes it so they have some freedom, but they just cannot get into as much trouble. A dog also has a much better opportunity to learn consequence for jumping and playful biting if they are on a tie down. Tie downs should only be used with supervision. A tie-down is a specialized leash made of plastic coated airline cable no longer than 5 feet long. Tie Downs can be attached to a piece of furniture or a wall.

Smell Deterrents
Smell Deterrents are products that have a mild smell to us but are repulsive to the dog. You can spray these products on things your dog should not be putting in its mouth. It could be your dog is chewing thing up or playful biting.

Appropriate chew items
Chewing is a normal behavior. The problem is there are so many inappropriate things a dog can choose from. The more you satiate the dog’s need to chew by providing it with a variety of appropriate chew items, they less behavior problems you dog will have.

Preventing problem behavior from occurring does not resolve a behavior problem but it does make it so the dog is not displaying the inappropriate behavior at times in which the owner can not be consistent with training. This is really important because each time the has the opportunity to misbehavior the inappropriate behavior will be rewarded somehow making it more likely that the dog will misbehave in the future. So as you are waiting to get into a training class or working on training. Make sure you prevent your dog from misbehaving at times in which you can not train your dog.

Options for Problem Behavior

 options for behavior problemsOwners of dogs with problem behavior only have 6 options.

Option 1 – Do Nothing
Option 2 – Prevention without training
Option 3 – Training with prevention
Option 4 – Medication
Option 5 – Re-home The Dog
Option 6 – To Have The Dog Put Down

Regardless of which option or set of options an owner chooses, it is important to know there is not necessarily a right or wrong decision. Owners need to make the best decision based on what is happening in their lives as each situation differs.

Do Nothing

Doing nothing does not resolve the issue and it would be fair to say living with a dog that has these problems can be stressful and harm the relationship. It can also be expensive if the dog is doing any type of damage or poses a liability for the owner. When an owner does nothing, there is a reasonable chance that the behavior problem will get worse. The problem rarely stays the same or get better because there is a reason the dog is doing the behavior.

Prevention without training

Many owners choose to control the environment to such an extent that the dog never has an opportunity to get misbehave. For example with a dog that has aggression issues to strange dogs, the owner might never take the dog on a walk. If the dog is destructive when the owner is not home, the dog may be crated. Prevention ensures the behavior problem will not be displayed as long as these measures are in place. If the dog never gets upset, the behavior most likely wont get worse, but it also won’t get better unless the owner also does some training. When a person chooses prevention without training, there will be mistakes or times in which prevention cannot be implemented. At these times the dog will become display the undesirable behavior.

Training plus prevention

Successful training involves prevention as the learning is taking place. Training the dog involves giving the dog different associations than what it presently has and preventing it from practicing the inappropriate behavior. Training can be accomplished through group classes, private classes, leaning from books or videos. Once training has been completed, the owner only needs to maintain the new associations and prevention is no longer necessary.


There are times in which even with a rigorous training program, placing the dog into a new home is the best option. This might be the best option under circumstances in which quality of life or safety for the dog or the people could be immediately improved. This is assuming that the new home does not offer the same set of circumstances that compromises quality of life or safety. An example would be if a dog were aggressive to children living within the house. Sometimes the dog will be happier living in a home without children. When a person places their dog into a new home, they need to make sure the potential owner not only has a clear idea as to the dog’s problems, but also has an idea as to what it is like to live with such a dog. To do anything less than this is unethical. If aggression issues are the problem, re-homing the dog does not decrease the first owner’s liability even if there is a full written disclosure of the problem.


Some dogs have such high degrees of stress that prescription medications can bring results sooner if training is implemented. Keep in mind that medication does not resolve these issues; they just help make the process easier. It is best if these medications are prescribed by a veterinary behaviorist as they have a more in-depth knowledge of which medication would be best.

Putting The Dog Down

Sometimes, the best option for the circumstances does involve putting the dog down. Most people do not take this decision lightly, but in cases in which a dog simply is not safe or training will not be effective and quality of life will be compromised, this will be the only option. Because this is an emotionally wrenching experience for most owners, it is best that the owner speaks with multiple certified professional dog trainers and veterinarians in order to make the best decision. It is important that when the owner takes this step that they know they seriously looked at all the options and feel they made the best choose.

The Best Option

Regardless of the type of issue, each owner does have options for problem behavior but there are only six options to choose from. They can do nothing, control the environment to an extent that the problem does not exist, train the dog, use medication to reduce stress while implementing training, re-home the dog or have the dog put down. As an owner considers the options available they need to think about whether the quality of life or safety of the dog, the people involved or others will be compromised to an extent that an option should be ruled out. Speaking with multiple certified professional dog trainers and veterinarians may be helpful in the decision making process.