All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Territorial Dog Issues

Hi Marie!
I have a 4 1/2-year-old spayed lab/whippet mix. Ninety percent of the time, she's an absolute angel, but the other 10% of the time she's quite a handful. She is extremely territorial and fiercely protective of "her" people. When taken for walks, she tries to attack every dog that crosses her path. If anyone unfamiliar comes to our house, she has to be put outside to ensure their safety. She has a severe case of separation anxiety as well. If she's left outside alone for any length of time, she'll tear up all the screen doors trying to get in. But if I leave her inside unattended, she's prone to tearing up the furniture. I spent $1,300 on training classes, which taught her some basic commands, but did nothing to alleviate her fear of strangers or make her less aggressive. Someone suggested that she might benefit by having another dog for a companion. Perhaps a happy-go-lucky male would make her feel more secure. What are your thoughts on this? Any advice you can give will be greatly appreciated!
Kelly W.

Dear Kelly,
You have outlined a number of problems that would best be served over a period of three or four complete columns. However, I’ll give you some basic information to help get you going down the right path and I am sure you’ll be able to take it from there.

Let me answer your last question first. Do NOT get another dog for her until her behavioral problems have been resolved. She will either teach the new dog all her bad habits, hurt the other dog, or get hurt herself.
You should first deal with her aggression towards other dogs. I have found that the best way of dealing with this problem is through redirection rather than tightening up on a leash or shouting at the dog. The reason for this is that dogs pick up on their humans’ emotional tension and amplify it with their own defensive behavior.

Your dog is trying to understand your body language and vocalizations and interprets them incorrectly. To
avoid this miscommunication, carry with you a soda can filled with pennies. As any other dog approaches, shake the can just prior to your dog beginning to react. (You should have a sense of your dog’s comfort zone.) Follow this up with some other commands such as “shake, sit, rollover, etc.” The loud noise of the can interrupts your dog’s thought processes and resets her emotional reaction to the approaching dog.
Repeat as necessary.

In the beginning, you may have to immediately walk you dog away from the stranger to keep her from reacting. But with time, you should be able to hold your ground and keep her focused on you. The most important factor is that you should create the illusion that you are not concerned about any other dogs in the area.

Her aggression towards strangers is another problem. It either stems from viewing your
guests as threats, or her association of visitors with punishment (i.e., being put outside).
She needs to learn that all guests are welcome and that she is not being penalized for their
You’ll use your penny filled soda can for training away this problem as well. First, have everyone who lives in your household take turns going outside and ringing your doorbell or knocking on your door. As soon as they do this, your dog will most likely begin her reflexive aggressive reaction, to which you must immediately respond by shaking the can. Then, begin having “happy talk” with the closed door. Ignore your dog until she
settles down. Continue with the happy talk, open the door, and let your family member come in. Repeat constantly for 2 to 3 days.

When your dog has realized that no one bad is coming in, add a dog-knowledgeable friend to the mix. Then, add more, willing and well prepared participants until you have at least a half a dozen strangers visiting without incident, for 10 days straight. Try to avoid putting your dog out during any visits.

Finally, for separation anxiety, know that most dogs begin destructive behavior after being alone for 20 minutes. On your next weekend or extended period off work, place your dog outside for small increments of time, beginning with just 5 minutes and working up to longer periods from there. For the indoor destructiveness, follow the same procedure by leaving and returning repeatedly and increasing the duration of your away time with each try. Ignore your dog for 20 minutes prior to putting her out or leaving,
and ignore her again for 20 minutes when you bring her in or return from your away trip. The goal here is to teach your dog that being separated is really no big deal.

It takes time to accomplish this training, and you'll definitely need some help, but you can get it done.  Good luck!

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