Michigan Humane Society

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Ask the Behaviorist: Unruly New Dog


Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org.

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

“We adopted a greyhound-doberman mix from the MHS almost two months ago. She was perfect for about two weeks… but now she is just way too comfortable! She knows how to sit, paw, sit pretty, spin around and lay down (only when she knows she’s getting a treat) but does not know what NO means, won’t stay down, or stop jumping/scratching you (in the face, anywhere) so inconsiderate! She doesn’t even care if she’s hurting you. She’s a year and a half so I’m hoping it will pass, but she is just so bad and does not listen. She has plenty of chew toys, has never chewed on shoes or anything, but – blankets/comforters are her favorite! She will totally destroy them until all the stuffing is gone and other than taking them away and sternly saying NO, I’m not sure how to train her. Anyone know how much dog training classes/obedient schools may cost? Help!”

Congrats on your new family member! I am a proud parent of an adopted MHS Doberman too! I just love mine. And yep, he uses his paws a lot as well. And because it hurts when he “whaps” us…we simply trained him to “whap” something else.

Here’s how we got there…first, we need to teach your girl that she must listen whether she sees a treat or not. The best way to do that is to vary the rewards. Find the awesome things she likes to do and make those rewards instead of using food treats. For example, my dog loves to run outside in the yard. I have a “That was Easy” button by my door. He needs to whap that button to go outside. So when he hits the button his reward is to go outside. No food involved.

When I want to put his harness on to go outside…he used to jump around like a crazy man…so we stopped putting the harness on when he was being a wild child. Now he has learned that the harness only goes on if he’s sitting nicely. His reward for being nice is to get the harness on to walk. No food involved, but the reward is still there. Once you teach her that rewards come whether she sees them or not…we’re on our way.

Next, instead of working on saying “no”…cuz she really doesn’t know what that means…we’d be better served to teach her what to do instead. Remember, she doesn’t know she’s hurting you – all she knows is that when she does one thing…something else happens. She only does things that work for her. Now you may not feel like she’s getting a reward for her crazy behavior but believe me, she is. Or she wouldn’t keep doing it. All we have to do is figure out the reward she’s getting, remove that and replace it with something else.

Like this for example: Her jumping is probably being rewarded by getting attention from you. Even a stern “no” and pushing her off or down is a reward. Because to her, you’re talking to her and touching her. Both things she likes. So…to get her under control, you can try putting her on a leash so she can’t bowl you over. Have someone hold the leash or loop it under some unmoveable furniture. Approach her. She goes nutty…walk away. Try again, and again and again (remember she’s got over a year practicing this behavior…she’ll need a bit of time and patience to unlearn it). When she keeps four feet on the floor THEN you can talk to her and pet her, etc. Anytime she launches herself at you or whaps you inappropriately, walk away. Don’t say a word. At the same time, whenever you “catch” her standing still or sitting…even if she’s just walking across the room nicely…talk quietly to her, praise her and pet her. Good things happen when she’s behaving. Nothing happens when she’s acting crazy.

What’s interesting, is that my dog loves stuffing too. He hasn’t touched one, single thing in my house except my pillows and comforters that have stuffing. I currently pick all that stuff up. Bedroom doors are closed, and all my pillows are picked up when I’m not home. I have some tricks in mind for retraining that … but first let’s tackle the obnoxious leaping and scratching behavior. One step at a time. Good luck! And welcome to the Doberman gang! It will be worth it!

Oh and for dog training classes, MHS works with the following folks: Ann Arbor Canine Coach, LLC – http://www.A2CanineCoach.com; Four Legged Rascals – http://www.fourleggedrascals.com; and Trainers Academy, LLC – http://www.woofology.com. Petco and PetSmart also offer group dog training classes.


2 thoughts on “Ask the Behaviorist: Unruly New Dog

  1. What does it mean when one dog grabs another dog by the scruff of the neck? Our seven-month-old Saint Bernard/Bloodhound mix has been grabbing our seven-year-old lab mix by the scruff of the neck. We recently said goodbye to the alpha dog of our pack – an 11-year-old German Shepherd – he was undeniably the alpha dog. Neither of the other two dogs seems to have much of a dominant personality and neither is the least bit aggressive, but I’m wondering if the pup is trying to establish dominance? The pup was just neutered. Thank you.


  2. I adopted a little Shih tuz mix maybe with Japanese chin , my problem is he pees all over he is neutered and house trained but he knows to go out but he will go in the house if we don’t jump up immediately to let him out , I had problems for awhile because my Great Pyr would mark the spot he peed on , now I had all new floors except my bed room and if I’m not on him he will pee in there and now I’m seeing pee spots on the new floors … I am thinking about crating him at night but it breaks my heart he had such a horrible start in life and he wants to be with me always so of course he sleeps with me but like I said if I don’t get him out right a way he will pee the problem is he won’t let me know he has to go … some time he will come up to me but the majority of the time he just goes with out a warning …


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