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Ask The Behaviorist
Dogs: Dr. Karen Pryor answering questions
Please be aware that the following suggestions are
general advice and are not intended to be a
substitute for taking your pet to a veterinarian.
Posted February 6, 1998 | next set


I have four dogs, the smallest is 5 pounds and the largest is 50. My problem is with one of the middle dogs. George is an 18-pound Shih-Tzu. He was 6 months old when I got him and had been left in a cage most of the time so he had behavior and medical problems that needed to be dealt with. He got along well with the other dogs until I got the largest dog, Jojo, from the pound. George is very confrontational. He will walk into the room and just growl at Jojo until Jojo growls back and then I must separate them or they will get into it. As you can predict, Jojo gets the better of George and, even when George is losing, he will go back after Jojo after I separate them. I know that it has something to do with territory and that Jojo is so much larger. George is not bothered by the other two dogs who are smaller. Things have gotten somewhat better gradually in the 4 years I have had Jojo. I even got a fourth dog last year, a 5-pound Pomeranian. But George ignores him. I have been told that perhaps I should allow them to fight to establish who is in charge but George would get clobbered. I also know I need to establish dominance for the larger dog but, because I have one dog in a cart whose back legs are damaged, my order of taking care of the dogs and feeding, walking, etc. is regulated by that fact. Is there anything I can do to reduce George's aggressive and confrontational behavior towards Jojo? I should mention that this confrontational behavior is worse when I am around and I try to leave the room when it happens. That sometimes works, sometimes not.

(name witheld by request)

Response from Dr. Pryor:

So your little dog, George, picks fights with your big dog, Jojo. You always step in before George gets injured, because naturally 50-lb. Jojo could clobber 18-lb. George. It's worse when you are around than when you are not, and sometimes if you leave the room, it stops. And this has been going on for four years.

Well what fun for George! He can pick fights with the biggest dude in town, because his even BIGGER fairy godmother will save him if things start getting ugly. From George's standpoint there is no downside to this, it makes him feel very superior, and it sure helps pass the time and keep things lively.

I sort of like your friend's suggestion to stay out of it and leave the disciplining of little George to big Jojo. Jojo seems reluctant to growl back, so he probably is not a foolish or hot-tempered dog, and we know he is at least four years old, so he has the wisdom of maturity. I daresay that were Jojo allowed to finish an argument or two George would be wiser, and perhaps not hurt at all except in pride. Dogs have arrangements about matters like this, and it is unlikely to be a dangerous fight.

However, I can understand why you don't feel like letting that happen. How about this? When George starts growling, pick him up, pleasantly, and make George leave the room. He can spend 20 minutes in a crate somewhere else, can't he? So what if he yaps? When he finds out there's a new rule, that growling dogs are banished from the group, he may decide to give up the sport of baiting Jojo. Give George a treat when you let him out of the crate. And if an hour goes by when all the dogs are pleasant, give them all a treat; everything doesn't have to be negative.


Our large dog, Nagnu, lives on the Kenai Peninsula (Alaska) with my husband and me. Nagnu's problem is whining and chasing/barking at moose. Nagnu's typical day is spent on a long lead outside the house, roaming around the inside of the house (although he prefers to be outside where the action is), riding in the camper part of our pickup (the window between it and the front of the truck is always open, so he can have contact with us), and running free at one of many of his special places (fenced in airport, etc where there are no moose) He has "a thing" for moose. They are content to eat around our yard, and ignore Nagnu. Nagnu barks and charges them. Tonight I had to rescue him. One of the moose was within three feet of him and standing her ground. His barking frustrates the moose who are just trying to survive—to find food in the snow. One day I'm afraid Nagnu's going to annoy the wrong cow and get the greenie weenie. Furthermore, when we are driving, Nagnu whines continuously—he is always on alert—on moose patrol. Any suggestions for behavior modification will be appreciated. Thanks.

(name witheld by request)

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your large dog, Nagnu, has a thing for moose. I can understand that; I'd be pretty excited if a moose showed up in my yard, too. And Nagnu doesn't understand that an angry moose can and will do serious harm to a dog. It sounds as if you love your dog and want to do what's right for him. It also sounds as if you have a Nordic-type dog—husky, malamute, or related cross—and perhaps this is a very young dog, going through the excitable period of adolescence (from which some Nordic dogs never emerge, so that's not much help.)

There are several problems here. Nagnu is sometimes tied up outdoors. This is not a good way to keep a dog. No matter how long the line, the dog feels somewhat defenseless, and tends to become rather excitable and even aggressive. Nagnu would be better off in a stout chain link pen, where moose could not get him even if he did bark.

Also, NO dog is really safe left alone on a long line for anything to happen. What if another dog showed up and picked a fight? You SHOULD be prepared to run out and bring him inside at the drop of a hat, just as you would call in a child if a moose appeared, or a strange dog. Secondly, Nagnu whines continuously in the car. This is distracting and unpleasant. But scolding won't fix it; Nordic dogs are very forgiving; and they are designed to put up with hardship, so they pay very little attention to choke chains and other forceful methods of control. They respond beautifully, however, to "clicker training," or training by a "yes" signal when they do the right thing. Have a look at some of the free instructions at Nagnu needs to learn to come, to lie down, to wait for his ride to the park, and to be quiet in house and in the car (I'd put him in a crate, in the car, for driver safety if nothing else). You can shape these behaviors by rewarding the first tiny steps in the right direction. Once the dog learns to try to find out what YOU want, in order to get you to do what he wants, all of your difficulties with him will be much easier to manage. Good luck.


I have a chocolate lab, female who is 2-1/2 years old. She is constantly gnawing at her back section of her body, just along side her anel [sic].

She is also scratching her paws, both front & back.

I have taken her to the vet and they seem to think her anel [sic] glands are full. This is being taken care of with medicine, but she is still chewing at her paws. do you have any suggestions? I feel so sorry for her. Is there anything I can do to relieve her itching. Thanks in advance.

Ellen Simon
Little Egg Harbor, NJ

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your 2-1/2 yr. old lab is constantly itching at her back and paws. Your first step, to take her to the veterinarian, was certainly the right thing to do. You should also make sure she is free of fleas and mites, and that her diet is nutritious and varied. Some dogs have allergies; and some dogs get more skin problems as they age. Here again, your veterinary can help. That said, it's possible that an inactive, indoor dog, especially a young dog of a very active breed, like your Lab, has developed licking and gnawing as a sort of nervous habit, like fingernail biting. Owners sometimes exacerbate this by fussing over the dog when it licks or chews, thereby reinforcing the behavior even more ("Oh, the dog is chewing herself, I'd better take her for a walk!")

I'd suggest that a young dog like this doesn't need sympathy, she needs work to do. Find some activity for her that you can fit into your life. You may not want to take her duck hunting, which is what she was bred for, but just regular play dates with other dogs, or a long walk in a new area now and then, would help. Dog agility is a great sport for owner and dog alike, always trained positively, and available in almost any part of the country. You yourself don't need to be physically fit or an experienced trainer to take up this sport. Even one class a week, and some practice in the park, will give your dog something to occupy her mind. Or, look into the various programs for pets visiting hospitals and nursing homes. This would be a rewarding experience for both of you. Any kind of shared work will bond your dog more deeply to you, and you to your dog, and you may see all that itching disappear, as well.


I have a Belgian Tervuren male, "Kodi," about three years old. I also have three other dogs, two are malamute-shepherd mixes, and one is a black lab-springer spaniel mix. Kodi (short for Kodiak Bear), is hyperactive, and has this irritating snorting and "smiling," and "leaning" behavior when we are either with him outside or have him inside. These behaviors are making it very hard for us to enjoy being around him. If it wasn't for the hyperactivity and snorting behavior, the smiling would be cute. When he leans on us, you have to be careful not to fall over. Is there anything we might be doing wrong, or is there anything we can do to stop it? What about medication for the hyperactivity? He's 95 pounds and too big to be that hyperactive. Thanks for any help you can give.

Sue McHenry
Waldorf, MD

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your 95-pound Tervuren, Kodi, annoys you by sniffing, snorting, smiling, and leaning on you whenever you are with him. This is owner-trained behavior. Kodi probably enjoys being pushed away and spoken to appeasingly or WHATEVER you do when he snorts, smiles, and leans. Plus you have three other big dogs, so Kodi gets the most attention by being the most obnoxious. Manners is the answer, not drugs; Kodi needs to learn at least one behavior, and preferably three or more, that will pay off for him without driving you crazy. Get a noise maker, a Snapple jar lid or baby-food lid will do. Put all the dogs outside except Kodi. Snap the lid and toss a tiny piece of hotdog into Kodi's dish. Repeat until he Notices the snap. Now snap the lid any time he happens to look away from you. He will start moving away from you more and more. If he sits or lies down, Click. Do this for a few minutes, a couple of times a day. By and By Kodi will sit away from you if he wants attention. Great! Give him lots for that. He needs to learn things he can do that you DO like; then he'll give up the stuff you don't want.


We have a rescue basset hound, Bailey, who cries (bays!) when she is left alone with our other basset, Booker. For example, every night when they are put in the garage at bedtime, she bays. This is the reason we are her third home. We will never give her up, but for the sake of the neighborhood, what could we do about the baying? Thanks very much.

Barbara Gose
Riverton, Wyoming

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your Basset, Bailey, bays when she is left alone in the garage at bedtime, even though the other dog is there too. So, why not let her sleep indoors?


My dog will not let my husband near me. Everytime we embrace, she attaches herself to his leg in a sexual manner. If we make her stop this she growls (playing, I hope) and tugs on his pants leg. She continues this until he stops paying attention to me. We live in a RV so this creates a real problem with our intimate needs. We have a dog crate for her for these times but she whines and hollers so much there is concern about her bothering our neighbors as well as the distraction this creates. Please, please help us with this problem. Our kids finally grew up and left but now we can't be romantic because of the dog. If it helps any, I think she doesn't want me near him-he is her favorite.

Diana G. Blackwelder
Georgetown, GA

Response from Dr. Pryor:

Your dog is aggressive to your husband when he starts being romantic to you. When you put her in her crate she carries on something awful, which might upset the neighbors.

Just an idle question, but who is in charge here? Put the dog in the crate. Not at romantic moments, just right now. For five minutes. Let her holler. Let her out for five minutes. Now put her back in. Use the clock, I'm serious. Sooner or later she will stop yapping, if only to catch her breath. Yay! Jump up and let her out and give her a treat. Ignore her for a while, then put her back in the crate for five minutes. She is going to find out that you will let her out by and by and that you will let her out sooner if she is quiet. She will start being quiet more often. Now, when she is quiet, click or say good and treat her right in the crate. You are going to teach her that being in the crate and quiet is a good thing.

Don't be surprised if the yapping gets worse, at first. The dog is thinking "It used to work so well, how come it doesn't now? I'll yap harder, and scream, too." But if even this escalation makes no difference to your five-minute rule, by and by silence will increase. Practice this a little, twice a day, and gradually lengthen the time you leave her crated.

Next, any time she tries to give the human beings instructions, by growling, pulling on clothing, or being obnoxious in other ways, put her in the crate. She should learn to sleep in the crate all night, and to be in the crate if you have to go to the store. It's not a punishment, it's just life. You have yours, she has hers, sometimes hers involves the crate, and that's that.


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