Hi Reddit, Dr. Tammie King here and I am here today to talk about dog behaviour!
I have a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Zoology/Ethology and a PhD in dog behaviour/anthrozoology. I have been researching pet behaviour and human-animal interactions for over 20yrs.
I have previously worked in the veterinary industry and as an animal behaviour consultant, supporting pet owners and industry professionals. I am passionate about everything related to dog science, how we can better understand the human-pet relationship and improve pet welfare.
I have published scientific, peer-reviewed papers on the traits of an ideal pet dog in Australia and how dog breeders can select for beauty and behaviour. I have given numerous conference presentations on dog behaviour research and conducted many workshops to help people better understand pet behaviour.
Pet acquisitions surged in the beginning of the pandemic last year and it seems now that many are sadly struggling, which could lead to abandonment of pets. Research shows that one of the most common reasons for pet relinquishment is due to behavioural issues – but many of these can be prevented and managed with the right advice and support.
Has your pet started exhibiting any new behaviours during the pandemic lockdowns that they didn’t before? I’m here to help. Ask me anything about dog behaviour!
EDIT: Thanks so much for all of your great questions! I have to hop off now but make sure to follow me on Twitter until our next session!
My dog was clingy before my husband and I were furloughed and worked out of the home full time. Now, we've been home since March 2020. While my husband and I are not yet going back into work, we're concerned about how our dog will adjust. We are in the event industry so there is no real expectation for what going back into work will look like. What can we do to help her adjust back to being on her own during the day again? We think she's about four years old and she is a Chow, Shepherd, Rottweiler mix. We've had her since April 2018, so she had had about two years of us working full time. We've kept her on her walking, eating, and sleeping schedule but we know it'll be hard for honestly all of us when we're not working from home.
You are not alone in this situation. It will be very common for many people and dogs to adjust to new ways of living once people are able to spend more time out of their homes for work/leisure etc. Well done to you for thinking of your dog now and preparing her in advance. You're doing the right thing by maintaining a predictable routine of walking, eating, sleeping etc which will help your dog a lot. What you need to start doing is getting her used to you being out of the house more. I would start this gradually and build up your absences over time, making sure she is calm and comfortable throughout. I have written a blog on this very topic you may find helpful -> https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pets-pandemic-your-pet-ready-life-post-lockdown-tammie-king/ My colleague has also written a blog which may be useful: https://www.waltham.com/about-waltham/pets-and-the-coronavirus#keeping-pets-active
Do you think a dog's breed has an effect on behavioral traits like aggression (for example the common thought that pitbulls are more aggressive by nature) and to what extent? I've read a lot on the topic and it seems that among the average person and even dog experts themselves there is disagreement. Why is the answer not obvious?
Thanks for the good question! Short answer, yes. However, it’s complicated so that’s why it’s probably not completely obvious. We know behaviour is influenced by three main factors - 1) inherent temperament (genetics/nature) 2) learned experiences (nurture) 3) current environment -either internal or external (so hunger or whether it’s night/day for example)
With that said, of course a dog’s breed will likely have an influence on behaviour if they have been genetically selected for certain attributes. Now, here’s the complicated bit - just because you’re a certain breed (I.e Pitbull) does NOT guarantee that you’ll exhibit a certain behavioural trait (I.e aggression). This is exactly why breed specific legislation is ineffective in reducing dog bite statistics. Also, it is impossible to predict the exact amount of that trait that will be expressed. Basically, it’s not just genetics that influence behaviour. So many factors are at play. Yes, certain breeds might be predisposed to exhibit certain behaviour but they never express this due to their upbringing etc.
I hope that helps shed some light on the topic,
Hi Tammie! My husband and I have a sweet male beagle mix that is going to be six years old this year. He was a pretty normal puppy when we first got him, maybe a little on the shy side... Unfortunately, when we left the house for a few hours one of our water pipes burst in the same room he was confined in (this happened within a month of adding him to the family, so he was still a young puppy). The room was flooded and his demeanor changed to being more clingy and shy/nervous. We've tried a lot of things to make him more confident, but this is just how our boy is and we love him.
My question: Whenever my husband and I hug, our dog likes to move in between us... Why?
Also, whenever either of us are standing around and doing something (dishes, cooking, makeup, etc) our dog also likes to be very close to us to the point of touching or leaning on our leg. Why is this?
Sorry to hear that your pup had such a frightening experience. I’m sure that would have been quite upsetting for all involved.
Your question about hugging & your dog moving between you is not uncommon. It verbally happens as they dig also wants attention!
Dogs are incredibly social species & form close bonds with other dogs & humans, as well as other pets too! Your boy just wants to be near you. You also mention he’s a little bit shy & nervous so he may get reassurance being close to you when he might be feeling uneasy.
Are you aware of the research going on with dogs using press-able buttons that correspond to an audio recording of a word? I see videos of dogs making phrases out of these to indicate something and I’m curious if you have any knowledge on this?
Thanks for the question. I answered a similar question like this further up in the thread. You can find it here:
Is it good for a dog, if he is having a walk with his owner, to be pet by strangers?
I am really looking forward to getting a doggo in my life but I won't be able for a long time sadly. In the meantime I tend to interact with dogs I found in the street while with their owners. I mean, they are amazing, I can't help myself from wanting to pet them. I obviously ask first to his owner if he doesn't mind me petting his dog. Nevertheless, is it generally good for dogs or will it cause them issues in the long term?
The answer to this is, it completely depends on the dog! Some dogs love human attention, irrespective of who it is. Others, not so much. You’re doing the right thing checking with owners first but they may not always be good at accurately interpreting their dog’s body language. I see, far too often, dogs tolerating being petted rather than actively enjoying it. Therefore it’s your responsibility to monitor body language closely & react accordingly. Some dogs might initiate contact but then decide they’ve had enough. Be respectful of this & you’ll do no harm when interacting with dogs. I posted some helpful videos in response to another question about canine body language. Check them out. Well done to you though for considering the dogs’ point of view!
Hello! I have more of a silly one. My dog is a mini Aussie, and no matter how much water in her bowl she HAS to come drink bath water from the sides of the bath or off my skin when I’m bathing. Is she trying to help me in her little ways? Or does she like the minerals on my skin? Also! I wanna know if I’m right in this. When she just gets in bed for the night she’ll start playful grunting while on her back and shoving her face around in the blankets, then look at me with her belly exposed, then go back to playfully rolling. She’s not a super active dog because of lifelong joint problems so I always took these as her own little silly zoomies when she’s excited/wants to be pet/ play a little. Thanks for the AMA!
I suspect she likes the taste or the sensation of licking water from the sides of the bath or your skin. It may be nothing to do with thirst.
The behaviour you describe in her bed is joyful!
Why does my dog groan and moan when laying down for a nap?
As long as your dog is healthy with no underlying medical issues, I suspect they do it for the same reason we do. Contentment or just getting old :)
I have a 4 year old Akita. He is a rescue, been part of the family for 6 months. He was mistreated by his previous family (has old injuries). He is afraid of feet in certain circumstances, mainly when he is laying on the floor in a tight spot (spot is of his choosing, near where we are sitting) and has fear bitten once and has reacted aggressively on a few occasions (barred teeth, snapping but stopping at the foot) on a few occasions. Otherwise fitting in great, typical Akita, very loyal and protective. Other than time and patience, any suggestions to help with this?
I am sorry to hear your dog has had a rough past but it sounds like he is lucky to have a caring family now who are mindful of his behaviour. Aggression in most cases, occurs due to an individual feeling threatened in some manner. You have identified that your dog is afraid of feet. As such, it is important to be mindful of this when you or others are interacting with him. He is a big dog and safety should be a priority. It also sounds like he is prone to react defensively rather than avoid or remove himself from the situation (as you pointed out, being in a "tight spot" makes it difficult to retreat - so he is more likely to act aggressively in these instances). Try to set up the environment so he always has an escape route if he his feeling uneasy. Give him choice. In any case, he will show a number of behaviours warning you that he is feeling threatened, some of which you mentioned. This is actually great! Don't ignore these valuable behaviours. They are gold! He is communicating effectively and it is your job to listen and react appropriately to make him feel more comfortable. Do not punish him but acknowledge him and remove the thing (feet) he is feeling uncomfortable about.
Simultaneously, you can be implementing a desensitisation and counter-conditioning program to make him feel more comfortable around the things he fears. This can be achieved by pairing the fearful stimuli (feet) with things he loves like toys/games/tasty treats. Always start at a safe distance and be mindful of his threshold (the point where he is becoming uncomfortable), work at his pace. The aim is to change his underlying emotional state from scared to happy! Don't be afraid to seek help from a qualified behaviourist who can coach you. Good luck with your boy!
Hey Dr.King. My partner and I have a 16 year old dog who we believe is experiencing senility. He's fine and calm almost all day until the sun sets. After which he paces back and forth, barking almost non-stop from sunset until he passes out around 11pm.
We already give him all the attention he wants at night (I offer the affection and wait for him to come to me instead of chasing him). We take him for long walks in the early evening and a shorter one midway through his evening stress. We have been prescribed sedatives for him, which we would prefer to avoid and they also don't seem to make a difference for him.
Any advice on how to help him through the night?
Hi, thanks for the question. What a grand age your dog is! It is perfectly normal for senior pets to experience cognitive decline but it can be distressing for both pet and owner. It sounds like you have already had him vet checked. I would also make sure his vision has been checked as this could also explain the behaviour you describe. If the behaviour is directly related to cognitive decline it is important to keep him comfortable and in a predictable routine. Vocalisations can be a symptom of senile behaviour and they occur as the dog is often feeling confused. It will help to distract him as you are doing, going on walks and offering him a a favourite chew toy or long lasting treat in the evenings, as well as maybe some scent games. It may also be necessary to consider medication in future if behavioural strategies alone aren't helping. In which case, I would encourage you to consult a veterinary behaviourist who can help further.
All the best with your senior friend :)
What is the biggest mistake you see dog owners make when getting a new dog? What’s the most common issue you see?
Great question. I would say that the biggest mistake people make when they get a new dog or indeed even have a dog, is that they expect it to be "well behaved". What they are forgetting is that all animals "behave" and we are the ones labelling it "good" or "bad" - the dog is simply doing what works for him or her. This is fundamentally what behaviour is all about, it occurs because it serves a function. People need to be mindful of what behaviours they want to occur more frequently and reward/reinforce those when they occur. Don't just take them for granted. For example, the dog is laying down quietly on his bed, reward him! Many people just ignore their pet when they are doing "good" things but take action when they are doing "bad" things. If we can encourage people to swap this around we would have happier pets and people!
The most common behavioural issues tend to be those relating to fear, anxiety and aggression. These all generally occur when an animal is feeling stressed.
That ideal pet dog in Australia research you have done seems neat. Can you tell us a bit about it?
And what are your thoughts on the different sight hound breeds? Specially since greyhounds are becoming much harder to find on the usa.
Thanks for showing interest in my research. You can access the full paper here -> https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228353223_Describing_the_ideal_Australian_companion_dog
In summary, I was interested to know what the Australian public considered "ideal" in a pet dog. I conducted a nationwide survey which was also conducted in the USA and Japan (which showed some different results), and asked what characteristics people considered "ideal" in a pet dog. Interestingly, there were a number of desirable physical characteristics including "medium sized, short haired, healthy and neutered" but behavioural characteristics were considered more important. Things like "safe with children, doesn't escape my property, calm, comes when called, affectionate, housetrained, friendly and obedient" scored highly. It was also interesting to see that desirable characteristics differed significantly between men and women! Women preferred a calm, relaxed, easy going dog whereas men wanted an energetic, faithful, protective dog. I have grown up with sight hounds so I am somewhat biased. I am very fond of them. I wasn't aware greyhounds were becoming harder to find in the USA.
My dog often takes a few pieces of her dry food from her bowl in the kitchen and drops them in the living room. Why?
Hmm interesting question and I am not entirely sure without more info. Does she eat them after she takes them to the living room? It could be that the kitchen is a room where it may be busy during meal times so she prefers to snack elsewhere? She may have got attention from you or other household members in the past, which she found reinforcing, so she displayed this behaviour again. Maybe also there are other dogs/cats in the household and she might feel safer taking her food elsewhere.
What is important to remember is that behaviour ALWAYS serves a function to the animal, even if it may not be immediately obvious to us. :)
What are your top 3 behaviours that you wish dog owners would recognise and understand?
Nice question. I think it's difficult to pick just 3 but I would love for more dog owners to be able to recognise subtle behaviours and body language related to canine stress. I commonly see dogs displaying body language indicative of stress and anxiety but owners (and others) are oblivious to what the dog is trying to "tell them". If people were better at this then they could act accordingly and help their pets more, therefore improving dog welfare. Similarly it would reduce many negative dog-dog and dog-human interactions such as dog bites.
There are some great videos out there for anyone who wants to learn more. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00_9JPltXHI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bg_gGguwzg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bstvG_SUzMo
Hello! I have a 3 month old puppy (I was always going to get one around this time, it wasn't pandemic-related). And I have an older dog, as well. Right now, potty training is going relatively well, he sleeps most of the day in my office while I work but otherwise gets a lot of potty breaks when he's awake. He's done very well with crate training. I'm wondering when it'll be safe to leave him at home during the work day. I'd try leaving him for increasing increments of time, but other than work we don't really go anywhere (b/c of Covid). I want to avoid coming home to a bunch of potty accidents and I don't think he'll sleep all day since he'll have my other dog to play with. I'm assuming I shouldn't crate him the whole day, but wasn't sure if that might be an OK option at first. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!
Hi, thanks for the question and congrats on your new puppy!
Glad to hear toilet training is going well. I would advise getting him into a routine that he can continue when you need to leave the house. It sounds like you have done a great job with crate training and there is no reason why he can't be crated while you are out for short periods of time, as long as he is safe, comfortable and has access to water and toys to keep him occupied. It might also be good for him to be in another part of the house (at times), while you work from home, unless the office will be his place when you need to leave the house? This way he is not reliant on you being around and you can begin to extend the time he has between toileting. You may also want to consider a doggy-door/flap or putting him in a secure area of the house (laundry, utility, kitchen etc). He will learn over time to hold on and wait until he is taken to the appropriate toilet area. He is only baby so it takes time for learning and physical maturation. Just keep up the consistency.
Whilst you are toilet training and he is puppy, I would avoid leaving him with your older dog while you are out. It prevents the likelihood of toileting accidents, prevents any chance of negative interactions and teaches each dog not to rely on the other. This is helpful if one ever has to go away (i.e to the vet/kennels etc), the other won't be distressed. As he will also need to get used to your absence post-lockdown this may help further -> https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pets-pandemic-your-pet-ready-life-post-lockdown-tammie-king/
Hey Dr. Tammie! We adopted a puppy, which was advertised as a chow mix, of which I have had many. What we ended up with is a shepherd mix that closely resembles a Belgian Malenois. She is so smart and well behaved it is amazing. She's now a year old and almost full sized. She has a strong tendency to be vocal and demonstrate aggressive posture when there is a potential treat. Protecting the family is obviously a core behavior for her, but not really desirable. How can I get her to relax her vigilance without damaging her reason d'etre?
Hi there! Well, you certainly didn't get what was advertised but it sounds like you are very happy with her nonetheless. You mention she becomes "vocal and demonstrates aggressive posture when there is a potential (threat)" - Have you identified what the stimuli are that cause this behaviour? Is it consistent? In certain situations - inside/outside? This will be helpful to understand what might be triggering her behaviour. Nonetheless, there are strategies you can employ to relax more in these situations. Generally it helps to build up a great trusting partnership, be someone she looks to for guidance when she is feeling uneasy. Play games with her, teach her fun commands that she reliably responds to using positive reinforcement. That way, when she is in a situation she is feeling a bit "on edge" you can distract her with a game, a treat or ask her to display a certain behaviour, reward her, she has fun, learns she doesn't need to be vocal and she trusts you are there to support her.
All the best with her!
My service dog is obsessed with socks. Obsessed. He's a Very Good Boy otherwise but will always carry socks around and once had to have surgery to remove one.
We have worked with the trainer on several strategies- exchanging the socks for a toy, ignoring him, etc. Nothing works. Any advice?
This is not an uncommon problem (dogs who seek out household items to chew/play with), which can lead to medical emergencies (if the dog consumes items) as you have unfortunately found out. I have seen this many a time having worked in the veterinary industry! I would work on firstly managing the situation to prevent the unwanted behaviour occurring. So step 1) Prevent access to socks and 2) provide a suitable substitute to socks. Something such a food-filled dog toy. Hope that helps.
Does a wagging tail always mean a dog is happy?
Good question and the short answer is no. Dogs will wag their tails for a variety of reasons, happy yes, but also when they are feeling uneasy, stressed or threatened Happy dogs tend to have "soft" body language, be all wiggly, big low wags while stressed dogs will be stiff with tail upright & short sharp motions. It's important to look at the big picture - i.e. what is the rest of the dog doing, ears, eyes, mouth, body etc. That will give you a better understanding of how that dog might be feeling.
How can I encourage my dog to eat more? He routinely refuses his main meals and I'm concerned he isn't getting complete nutrition?
Thanks for your question. Is your dog a healthy weight? You can learn more about this here -> https://www.waltham.com/4-ways-understand-and-monitor-your-pets-normal-weight
If so, he may not need the extra food. As long as he is getting a balanced diet he should be fine and might just be very good at self-regulating his intake :)
I have a two and a half year old black lab. Super sweet and submissive girl in general. She is very attached to me (mom) and does listen well to me but my husband is definitely the ‘Alpha’ in her eyes. She loves to come lay on me and cuddle on my lap, it seems comforting to her. Is this just her pack mentality and wanting to be close, or is she trying to be dominant in some way? I should be clear when I say cuddle she will sleep on me (front, back, sideways) until she gets uncomfortable then move somewhere she can stretch out. She never does this with my husband only will lay beside him or at his feet on the floor (she does this with me too) I guess just curious if I am just her favourite or she thinks she ranks higher than me in our house? Thanks!
Hi, your Labrador sounds like a lovely girl. Interestingly, the whole "pack mentality" and "dominance" theory became popular in dog training following research studying captive wolves. These theories have since been discredited (by the original researcher) after it was shown that 1) wolves don't exhibit these social organisations in the wild - it's far more elegant than that and 2) dogs aren't wolves! I am sharing this as it is has unfortunately meant that a lot of outdated information and theories found their way into the dog training. This resulted in many trainers undertaking inappropriate methods in an attempt to modify dog behaviour.
So, my message to you is, your dog doesn't view your husband as Alpha, she will just behave in a way that is reinforcing. It may be that she is afraid of him so prefers to lay on you. It is not dominance. She likes you!
My dog howls a lot when I leave her alone. I work from home for now but she's obviously lonely/stressed by my absence. She doesn't have accidents or any other issues. How do I get get to relax when I'm not home?
The other question is my mother's dogs are excited to see be when I'm there but when they rush up to be they put their butts down low in a submissive posture. I don't really mind but it seems extreme (they do it so much that they kind of drag their butts). Is there a way to get them to chill out, that they don't need to do that?
Hi, thanks for your questions. It sounds like your dog is used to you being at home more often. If she was previously ok when you left her alone, some re-training should help make her feel more at ease. My article should help ->https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pets-pandemic-your-pet-ready-life-post-lockdown-tammie-king/
To your second question, it's difficult to fully understand what your mum's dogs are doing without observing their behaviour directly but I would suggest simply ignoring the dogs when you first arrive in the house and wait for them to display different body language/behaviour before you interact with them. It may also help to redirect their behaviour to something incompatible with "dragging butts" like going a fetching a toy or sitting on their bed etc. Hope that helps :)
What’s the best way to train a dog to not bark at people passing by? Our Aussie recently started barking at people on the sidewalk walking by our house when we are inside, and I’ve not had this issue before with my other dogs!
We’ve been telling him “No” and rewarding him with positive attention when he stops, but he stops infrequently so I’m not sure what else to try
Barking at people (&/or other animals) passing by their home is generally normal, territorial behaviour. Some dogs are more prone to this type of behaviour than others. The behaviour is almost always reinforced as the person goes away! It can also be due to boredom & the dogs learn it’s fun thing to do. You mention your dog has “recently” started exhibiting this behaviour so I’m curious as to what may have changed to cause him to start? Was it a change external to his home or within it? Also be sure he’s physically well. To rule out boredom issues, especially with a herding breed, make sure he is adequately mentally & physically stimulated with lots of games, walks, scent games, basic obedience etc.
Nonetheless, you can employ strategies to reduce this type of behaviour occurring. Firstly, it’s important to manage the unwanted behaviour to prevent him rehearsing it over & over, therefore making it more likely to continue in future. So, I would advise restricting access to that part of the house during training or placing a visual blocker (e.g curtains) - this is assuming he’s inside when he does it? If he’s outside, then restricting access to the front yard or making sure it’s controlled access when you’re present. You mention you tell him “no”. However, by this stage the barking has already happened. Instead, I’d suggest training a mutually exclusive behaviour like “on your mat & shhh” & pairing that with a tasty treat or toy or game when people walk by. That way he learns that when people walk by, he should go to his mat & get a treat. Dogs can’t bark while they’re eating or chewing. Be sure to train “on your mat” without people around to begin with so it’s a reliable behaviour. Then gradually introduce people. It helps to have a few friends you can call on to help you so you can stage people walking by in a controlled manner. The key is to make the new, more desirable behaviour, far more enjoyable to do than the old one!
There's a stray pup in my neighbourhood that was wounded when he stumbled on my street, I personally love animals so I decided to give him some aid as there was no vet nearby where I lived he was harsh at first and kept howling and trying to bite but eventually I managed to put meds on his wound (the wound was on his paw and deeply scarred), for a few days he kept howling at me whenever I left my home but within a few days of aid he could walk properly and suddenly started to be a good boy around me;like coming for pats and the breads I offered him and now is a good pup. Does it mean that dogs have trust issues too? Did he considered me a good person after his wound was alright? I don't get it. Please tell me.
Hi, well that was certainly brave and kind of you to help an injured dog. Often dogs (and other animals), can react aggressively when they are hurt or afraid so it is not surprising he was trying to bite you. Being a stray dog, it is unlikely he has had much exposure to people, so he was probably frightened and in pain. It sounds like his wounds are healing after your treatment so he will be feeling better. You also mentioned you feed him bread. This will mean he considers you someone who provides a valuable resource (if he is hungry), so he will want to be around you more frequently. I suspect he does think you are a good person :)
My 2 yo Doxie-poo is hit or miss on potty training. It’s almost as though he can’t feel when he needs to poop. He licks his pee as it comes out of him despite plenty of access to water. He also poos and pees in his crate even though he is let out to go potty right before bed. He’s such a good boy otherwise. Any thoughts?
Thanks for your question. Inappropriate toileting is a common behavioural concern. My first bit of advice is get him vet checked to rule out any underlying medical issue like a UTI or IBS. Once he has been given the all clear health wise, we can focus on modifying his behaviour around toilet training. In these cases, my recommendation is to go back to basics and pretend he is not toilet trained at all. Treat him like a puppy that you are teaching from scratch. It maybe he has never fully learned where is an appropriate place to toilet. This can occur more regularly in dogs who have been bred and raised in confined spaces prior to going to their new owners, or they haven't had sufficient learning experiences to understand what is expected of them. He sounds like a lovely boy so go back to basics and use positive reinforcement when he toilets in the "right" place - save his favourite treats for when he pees and poops outside. Make a huge deal about how fabulous he is when he does it and he will learn to hold on his pee/poop and cash them in outside for tasty treats! :) Simultaneously, restrict free access to areas where he is likely to toilet. Watch him closely or tie a lead around your waist so he is with you at all times during the training phase. Also regularly take him to his toilet spot, every hour or so and always after waking, eating, playing. This way you can capture and reward the "right" behaviour more often. You may need to let him out a few times during the night to begin with in order to prevent accidents. It won't belong before he understands. All the best!
I am really enjoying the videos on YouTube (Bunny is obsessed with poop!) that display humans teaching their fur-babies how to communicate via push-button contraptions.
Is this for real? Is this a research field that's up-and coming? Can my dog actually use their words (like what's depicted in the videos), or is something else going on?
Thanks for the really interesting and very hot topic question at the moment in the world of canine science! Owners teaching their pet dogs to "communicate" through touchscreens/buttons etc is becoming increasingly popular & scientists have questions too. Dog cognition research is ever growing and rightly so. A large number of studies have been conducted with the objective of finding more about how dogs think/what they understand etc. You can find out more here:
Specifically to your point about dogs like Bunny and Stella (as others have mentioned), to my knowledge no evidence-based, scientific studies have been conducted to examine whether these dogs actually "understand" words (their meaning etc) or are just responding due to operant conditioning. I am sure we will learn more in the near future!
My dog has happily slept in his crate at night for the last 7 years. This week he decided he no longer wants to sleep in his crate and will bark continuously until we let him out. I have cleaned the crate and all the bedding. Any idea what this means? Any suggestions on how to get him to sleep on the crate?
That's an interesting question. I suspect an event as occurred which has caused him to become concerned about being in his crate. Can you think of any changes or events that may have coincided with this behaviour? If not, it may have been something he heard, saw or felt that startled him and caused him distress. I would also suggest getting him vet checked in case there is an underlying medical issue which may have caused him pain.
If he has to sleep in the crate, first check it to make sure it is still safe and secure. I would suggest moving it to another place in the house if possible. Then act as if he has never seen a crate before. Desensitise & counter-condition him to being in there, gradually build up him voluntarily going inside the crate (baby steps. Don't force him) and pairing something really fun/nice with being inside the crate like a tasty treat or his favourite toy. Avoid closing the door straight away. He should feel safe and be in control of the session. I hope that helps!
We adopted a one year old dog from a shelter in Spain four months ago. He was neutered at seven months, and underweight when we got him, and comes with a lot of trauma (which we expected). His base behavior is submissive, his first reflex when meeting a human or a dominant dog is to lie down on his back, exposing his belly. That behavior has become much less frequent over the past four months, which I take as a good sign. He was claustrophobic, which also has become much better over time.
One thing that started happening fairly recently is that he growls at my partner when he approaches his crate or his space in the living room. It's not overly aggressive, and he accepts that my partner is close, but keeps growling. If I approach he turns on his side and almost goes into the submissive position, but no growls (he did growl at me in the beginning, when I had to get him into a car to transport him home, but not since).
We have tried the approach that my partner always brings him good treats, but the behavior has not changed. He takes the treats and eats them, and wants to be petted (he uses his paw and nose to indicate "more pets"). It also started happening on the living room carpet, where he prefers to lie during the day (he spends maybe 80% of time on the carpet, and 20% on his mattress). Yesterday, when I was out for a short bit, he refused to listen to my partner's order and started growling more aggressively when not allowed upstairs (which he never is unless we give explicit permission, and we have a gate at the bottom of the stairs).
I think this could be pack behavior, and our failure to properly show him the order in the pack which led to him being comfortable enough to initiate a power struggle whenever I'm not near. Is there something more we can try before moving on to contacting a professional?
Thanks for your question & how lovely you could give a rescue dog a much needed home. Firstly, I’d encourage you to read my response to an earlier question. -> https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/lw250c/i_am_dr_tammie_king_animal_behaviour_expert/gpfmy44/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf&context=3
In short, don’t think of this behaviour as a “power struggle” in the “pack”. Your dog is simply telling you he’s scared in certain situations. You’ve recognised it’s generally when your partner approaches. That’s good information to know. Also, if he growls & keeps growling when your partner is there, he’s telling you very clearly he’s feeling uncomfortable. Tell your partner to please respect that & move away. If he doesn’t, it’s likely the aggressive behaviour will escalate as the dog learns that growling simply doesn’t work to make the “scary thing” go away! A bite could follow all due to your partner not respecting your dog’s feelings.
All is not lost though, you’re doing the right thing having your partner feed treats. This will help change your dogs underlying emotional state from afraid to happy but I suspect you’re moving to fast & pushing your dog over threshold. Meaning your partner needs to to increase the distance between themselves and the dog. If necessary, throw high value, yummy treats from this distance. Where no growls should be happening. Over time the distance can be reduced, but only on the dog’s terms. Equally, there’s no need to “order” a dog. It should be a mutually beneficial relationship that is built on trust not dictatorship. I would encourage your partner to spend time ensuring a trusting bond is built, that way the dog will be more comfortable & more likely to respond to requests.
All the best with your dog!
Do you think dogs are body language experts?
Its been my observation that dogs can almost read intent of a person and react accordingly.
If someone is looking to steal or lie or just being a shady person I have noticed dogs being very wary around that person. As if the dog knows the person is hiding something.
And everyone who doesn't have ill intent seems to get a pass.
Thanks for the question. Dogs rely heavily on olfactory information to understand their world. Unlike humans, they have a vomeronasal organ situated inside the roof of their mouth that detects pheromones, they also have many more olfactory receptors than us. I suspect that dogs use their amazing sense of smell & may react differently to people who may be worried, anxious, stressed or under the influence of drugs etc. These people are likely to be releasing different pheromones/chemical compounds that we might not be able to detect but our dog can. We are a very visual species so tend to rely more on body language of another human to make judgements about them.
Dogs are also very good at recognising change so if someone “looks” different to what they are used to/had experience with, then this can elicit a behavioural change. For example, dog barks at a person wearing a baseball cap or backpack. This tends to occur as the person suddenly looks “different” to what they consider “normal”. That’s not to say dogs don’t use our body language, they do, but I suspect this is more learned. So they learn very quickly what precedes certain events. For example using hand signals as cues when teaching “sit” “down” etc. Then they receive a food reward etc. They learn to watch out for this cues in future.
Hope that helps answer your question!
About 3 or 4 weeks ago we adopted a dog who was abandoned when the owner moved. We think shes an australian kelpie mix, and weve been told shes two years old. Shes a very sweet dog, generally well behaved, though she has started testing boundaries more as she gets more comfortable with us.
One behavior that has been concerning me is she has a tendancy to use her mouth sometimes. She seems to do it playfully when she gets excited, and a few times if she doesnt like the way im handling her. Like if im taking her by the collar out of an area she where she isnt allowed. She hasnt bitten anyone, or caused any harm, but im worried that she might get mouthy with someone in public and it could be misinterpreted.
I am trying to use positive reinforcement as much as possible, but I'm a little lost on how to discourage a specific behavior like this. Reward her anytime shes not being mouthy?
Any advice would be appreciated.
Thanks for the question. It sounds like there are two separate situations here that you are trying to address. One is mouthy behaviour when excited & the other, when you grab her collar. I suspect there are also two different underlying emotions she is feeling during these events.
In the first instance it’s important to remember that dogs use their mouths to play. This is completely normal canine behaviour. It’s our responsibility to teach & guide our dogs what’s appropriate. So first decide what is acceptable to you. Are you happy with light mouthing during play or none at all? Once you’ve decided, it’s simply teaching her that if she plays too rough, the fun game ends. We tend to see mouthing increase when dogs get over stimulated, so during the training phase try to keep games together low key & use the opportunity to teach her mutually exclusive behaviours like “sit” or “on your mat” or “get a toy” this way you can reward these more appropriate behaviours. It also helps to play with an object like a tug etc to prevent the dog mouthing hands/arms. If you’re consistent it won’t be long before she is playing beautifully as she won’t want the fun game to end!
The second situation is slightly different. She’s trying to communicate with you that she is uncomfortable with you (& others) touching her collar. I suspects she has learnt that when you take her collar, she is removed from doing somethings she really wanted to do. It’s her way of telling you to back off & leave her alone.
Obviously there are times where we need to physically remove our dogs for safety reasons, but we can teach our dogs that grabbing at their collar can predict fun things too! To do this, practice grabbing her collar in neutral situations & pairing that with a high value, tasty treat. Repeat this at home in various rooms, over & over, over a period of days, until you notice her being excited when you grab the collar as she knows a treat will appear! Then build up to other parts of the house or in the yard, always release her afterwards so she begins to learn that when you grab her collar, she not only gets a treat but she gets freedom too. Get friends to practice with her as well in this environment & finally build up to being in the park etc.
How can I Keep my new puppy from destroying my house? I'm not sure if I want to crate train her.
A common issue. Firstly, it is important to better understand why your puppy might be "destroying your house" then we can develop an appropriate behavioural modification strategy. For example, it could related to boredom, teething and/or separation-related behaviour. Nonetheless, there are strategies you can employ to manage and reduce this behaviour. It is important to prevent your pup having access to the things you don't want destroyed so if you don't want to crate train you will need to provide a safe and secure area of the house when you are not there. Then, teach your pup what it is they can destroy! Provide him/her with appropriate toys etc so he/she has an outlet to express natural canine behaviour (chewing etc). My colleague has written a helpful blog which may help you further -> https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dorothy-diaries-how-i-learned-stop-worrying-love-my-dog-joanna-gale/
If you suspect it may be occurring due to separation-related anxiety, I have written a blog about this topic which may be helpful -> https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pets-pandemic-your-pet-ready-life-post-lockdown-tammie-king/
We have a 3 year old French Bulldog. She loves people and children. Does not defend her food or toys, no issues at all.
Her best friend is our neighbours male dog, they have play dates all the time, both indoors and outdoors. That works great.
One time she got out without us noticing, our children let her out (yey!) And she went to another neighbours to play with their dog, a young male. And they brought her back to us. When I came put on the porch and I petted our neighbours dog, she "attacked" him. Just to put him in place?
When we go on walks and she sees another dog she locks in an gets stiff, neck hair stands, but never growls or lunges unless the other dog does. Some dogs she bows to and wants to play after sniffing.
Is she protecting me and how should it be adressed?
Thanks for the questions. A lot of people assume their dog is protecting them when they observe their dog displaying aggressive behaviour/body language. However, it’s important to remember that aggression more often comes from a place of fear. It occurs when an individual is feeling threatened. That’s not to say she doesn’t see you as a valuable resource worthy of defending, but more likely is that she is a little bit worried about some other dogs. Also, from what you describe, she may also be in a state of conflict at times. She’s worried but also wants to be friends. I suspect with ongoing positive socialisation experiences with other dogs, she’ll learn how to relax a little more.
Hey there Dr.King! Thanks so much for this AMA, I appreciate your expertise.
I am a Registered Vet tech working in ICU/Emergency, within a large teaching hospital. Over the COVID-19 pandemic, there were periods of time where we were doing 'curb-side' medicine, meaning from the get-go, we were taking the pet directly from the owner to limit contact between humans. As you can imagine, this was incredibly distressing for pets and their pet parents. My colleagues and I were cognizant of this and tried our best to use Fear-Free handling methods. Do you have any tips for veterinary professionals in similar situations?
I am sometimes jealous of general practise Vets being able to (COVID pending) have clients in the examination room with their pet. Being that I work within the ICU - clients are almost never present as the animals' condition is too critical. Any tips are appreciated!
Firstly, thank you to you & your colleagues for the amazing work you do! It can be a very stressful, tiring, emotionally & physically draining job, where you’re not often appreciated for the hard work your doing.
Great question. Sounds like to me you’re already very mindful on how the environment the pet is in, can effect their behaviour & you’re employing techniques to reduce stress. Well done!
We know that veterinary settings (not just ER but GP too), can be incredibly stressful for pets. This coupled with pain, can compound this stress & result in animals displaying behaviour that can result in harm to staff, not to mention prevent a full diagnosis &/or appropriate treatment. My advice is to always consider the animal you’re working with as n= 1. Focus on this pet’s body language & behaviour as soon as you see it. Be mindful of your own & colleague’s body language, posture, tone of voice, clothing etc & how it may influence the pet. Also, the immediate environment, substrate (metallic, rubber, vinyl, concrete etc), lighting, acoustics, other pets, people etc. Intervene & alter the environment if possible, to alleviate stress. Most vet clinic settings are designed for humans not the pets (I.e. ease of cleaning, adequate lighting to see etc). It’s important to consider how these things may negatively effect the pets who are treated there.
Of course there will be situations where you have a fearful animal & they have to be restrained or you don’t have time to move slowly but I think there are still strategies staff (& owners where possible), can employ to make vet visits easier on the pet.
I’d also love to see more pet owners undertaking basic husbandry training in preparation for vet visits. Whether that be muzzle training, target training, physical exam, TPR etc etc.
I hope that helps answer your question!
I have an eight year old Yorkie Poodle mix and her whole life I've let her lick my face, particularly my nostrils. She likes the taste of boogers apparently. I let her do this because I see it as a sign of respect and love but my mom hates when I let her give me kisses in front of her. She thinks that it's not a good way to play with my dog.
Are puppy kisses a show of affection or are they just gross like my mom thinks?
It seems you have already identified what is reinforcing her behaviour... ;) I wouldn't say it is necessarily a sign of respect as you mention, like any behaviour it occurs for a reason. You have already highlighted a tasty reason for her, but dogs also lick as sign of affection too. They are social animals and young puppies will often greet older dogs in this manner. Often these behaviours can persist if they are continually reinforced. If you are happy with her behaviour there is no real reason for it to discontinue. Each to their own!
It sounds like this is matter between you and your mum. ;) Good luck!
My 7+year staffy has always chewed at her paws, so much so she takes the skin off sometimes and causes sores, We've tried putting socks on her and using bittering lotion - but she still does it. She's a rescue pup, so I don;t know if that's relevant. Vet has said it's just habit. Any tips you can give me to help her?
Yes, I’d agree with the points made above. It’s first important to rule out any underlying medical issues. Often excessive licking begins due to a medical issue, then it becomes habit. If this is the case, then it’s about preventing the behaviour occurring & providing an alternative to the licking behaviour. You could yet dog boots or a large Elizabethan collar to prevent her from licking. But also include another outlet for this behaviour like chewing/licking a dog toy filled with kibble/treats/peanut butter. Try scattering her food rather than feeding from a bowl so she has to work for her food. Habits/stereotypies can also occur out of boredom or stress, so make sure she is adequately mentally & physically stimulated, and nothing is causing her undue stress.
My 1 year old corgi has a great temperament most of the time but when we take him on walks he absolutely loses his mind when he sees a moving car. Barking, pulling on the leash, doing his best to run towards the car, etc. This is obviously a safety problem for him, us, and the driver of the car. He is highly treat-motivated and we can sometimes distract him from the cars, but we can't seem to get rid of that initial high-octane reaction whenever he sees the car. We think he's trying to herd the cars, not harm them. As soon as the car parks or he can't see the car anymore, he's fine.
I personally think he needs a training collar. Right now we have him on a harness that the leash attaches to on the top of his back. Do you have any tips to help us correct this behavior?
Hello! Thanks for your question. This is not an uncommon problem, especially in herding breeds. Please refrain from using a training/electric collar (if that’s what you meant).
I’d start by putting in a lot of foundation training, building up your dog’s responsiveness to your requests, training mutually exclusive behaviours to chasing cars - like focus on you or loose lead walking, make sure you are exciting to be around, play games of tug etc, find out what your dog loves! I suggest chasing games etc. Get a flirt pole & have fun with your dog. Add in requests during play & reward quick responses.
Avoid seeing moving cars to begin with & once you’ve completed foundation work as described above, employ the help of a friend & their car. Have your friend drive very slowly past & you practice the exercises you’ve been working on. Be careful not to go over threshold so your dog doesn’t practice lunging/chasing cars again. Take it slowly. The aim is make you & your new games, interactions together, more fun than chasing cars.
My roommate's dog is absolutely obsessed with a ball he has had since puppyhood (about 5 years now). My roommate says its normal dog behavior but I have my hunches, if its on the ground he will lay there and stare at it for hours, if its stuck under some furniture he will lay by the furniture until someone comes and gets it again possibly for hours. He's not possessive/protective of it outside of play but if it is ever out of reach he is distraught. Ball must also always be within line of sight. What's up with that? Single pet house hold, Mini-Schnauzer.
It sounds like more of an obsessive behaviour. It depends on whether we think this is causing the animal harm or distress. It wouldn’t hurt to try & incorporate other activities into this dog’s life to try & break this extreme fixating behaviour.
My puppy died, but she called for me before she passed. Do you think dogs have an inherent instinct of wishing to be cuddled with warmth before passing? Once I held my dog she passed away in my arms, I didn't know if it was coincidence or that she was jut holding it on for me. I'm still very heartbroken whenever I remember her.
I think this is really hard question to answer. However, we know dogs are an incredibly social species & form close bonds with their family members (dog, human or otherwise). I’m sure she appreciated you being close to her during her passing. Sorry for your loss.
My pup, a rescued 4 year old Weimaraner, who I had before I met my wife, only chews on items that belong to my spouse. She has never chewed anything that belongs to me. Any clue why that might be?
I wonder if there is an olfactory cue that causes her to seek out these items & potentially a taste she enjoys? You could test it by your wife using or wearing one of your items for a while to see if your dog begins to chew those too. :)
My friend Big Al says dogs can't look up, is this true?
Haha. Big Al is somewhat correct. They can move their heads up to look up, but their eyeballs don’t have the same upward range of motion that we do.
To what degree can dogs understand human speech or key words?
Hi, thanks for doing this! I have a two year old heeler mix I adopted as a 7 week old puppy. Since she was about one year old she started having odd bathroom habits. She's completely potty trained and whines at the door when she needs to go and we go on a walk. We'll also take her without her indicating she needs to go if it's been longer then I think she should wait. We haven't had a yard she could be off leash in since she was seven months old. So she just won't go sometimes even when it's been long enough that she should have to, like in morning. Yesterday she only went to the bathroom once even though she was walked five times. Most days we have these bathroom issues she urinates at least twice though so yesterday was on the more extreme side. She'll be great about going potty for weeks and then suddenly we'll have a few bad days scattered over a week or two and then she'll get back to normal which is going three times at most a day. I know her diet may be contributing to it, she has never had much interest in food so now she has a very particular diet to get her to actually eat but some days she'll only eat a few bites and she doesn't drink much on those days either. She's a healthy weight so my vet has said that's not an issue. She gets very distracted outside at times by children, loud cars or cats, if she sees one there's not much chance of her going so we try again a bit later. I'm afraid she's holding it for some reason and that it's very bad for her health, it honestly stresses me out so much, but my vet has said that if she has to go and has plenty of opportunities to do so that she's fine and just doesn't have to. Do you agree or should I see another vet? Thank you again for doing this and I'm sorry for how much I rambled.
Thanks for the question. Just to clarify, are you referring to urinating or defecating or both? Also, when you say “bad days” what do you mean? She toilets inside or not at all? Also, has this behaviour been occurring since she was 7 months old?
Hi! I have a question.
Have 2 shibas, one from breeder and one rescue (both males). Rescue shiba has food aggression, but it is definitely better than when he came to us. Probably obvious that he has been mistreated previously. Got him at 7 months old.
The problem is at night, when we are sleeping. Younger (rescue, 1y) startles awake and starts growling and wants to attack our older dog (4y). Our only option so far has been to build a little fence, so they are separated but still in the same room (very small apartment, looking for a bigger one). This problem happens rarely when the "fence" is up.
What might cause this? And how should we move forward from here? Trying to find a specialist, but it has been difficult (small country)
Hi, thanks for the question. Firstly, well done on managing the situation to prevent further issues. I’m impressed. I’ve seen this type of behaviour before & generally it occurs after a dog is startled awake. It often appears they are behaving in a manner like they’re under attack, when in fact the other dog is doing nothing to provoke them. I suspect they wake & feel very vulnerable, act defensively to protect themselves from the perceived threat.
I’d be inclined to keep doing exactly as you are & when you can, provide them with more space between each other to prevent further issues & build up confidence in the younger dog, so he learns there’s nothing to be afraid of during the night. It’s important to prevent further negative interactions as the older dog may begin to retaliate.
My Corgi who is 4 years old now is the most sweetest and gentle dog. She rarely barks and loves all people and strangers. However, she seems to have developed this weird behaviour of protecting the bedroom. When me and my wife are brushing our teeth for bedtime our dog will go into our room and lay on her bed. One of us will finish in the washroom and head to the bedroom. When the last person finishes in the washroom and heads to the bedroom, she starts barking and starts running towards the person as if she was going to bite off their ankles.
What can be causing this and how can we prevent it?? It’s definitely causing her stress and scares the bejesus out of us as well. Thank you for your time!!
Hmm, I’m not entirely sure without getting more information about the situation. I’d be curious to know is it always the same person? Does it happen anywhere else? How long has it been happening? Can you think of a change that occurred when it first started? Has she has a recent vet health check? Is she asleep immediately beforehand? If not, what is she doing exactly? What do you do when she displays this behaviour?
I have a 6 month old puppy and a friend has an 10 month old puppy and I just met my friends puppy “Billie” recently. I was really taken back about the way he is training his dog and he’s getting info from dog trainers. The puppy is a lab and is an absolute nightmare. They never let it off leash as it “needs to be trained first to respect commands”. They don’t take it to any dog parks for socializing as their trainer feels that it’s a place where dogs will ignore you so that not good. Not being pushy, I didn’t want to be critical, but the dog seems so desperate to run, be social and get exercise it was a hard day. Any recommendations for books on how to train a puppy?
What a nice friend you are to want help your friend & his pup. Try these books: - Before & After you get your puppy - Ian Dunbar - Perfect puppy in 7 days - Sophia Yin - Wag The science of making your dog happy - Zazie Todd - The perfect puppy - Gwen Bailey - The other end of the leash - Patricia McConnell
That should get him off on the right foot :)
What are your thoughts on the prevalence of kennel training high energy or companion breeds for the purpose of leaving them home alone 8hours a day during the work week?
Do you mean crate training? I don’t think any dog should be crated for extended periods of time. Especially the duration you state. One of The Five Freedoms (minimum standards) of animal welfare, is that animals should be “free to express normal behaviour”. I’d say that being contained for long durations would prevent this, therefore posing a welfare concern.
I am not against crating or kennelling but it’s important that dogs in any environment are provided with adequate mental & physical stimulation. This will differ, depending on the individual.
Do you have any advice for correcting digging behavior? We have a husky that loves to dig within 10 mins of being outside in the yard. We’ve tried putting poop in the holes she’s dug, spraying the fence border with pepper, etc and tried to wait till she digs and correct her but nothing has seemed to stick. What would your (series of) approach(es) to correcting this?
Thanks for the question. Firstly, I think it’s important to point out that this behaviour is completely normal canine behaviour. Rather than suppress it, which as you’ve said, hasn’t yet worked, why not try to allow it somewhere you choose? My advice is to create a special digging pit zone for your Husky. Get a large plastic baby paddling pool or similar, or dedicate part of your backyard. Fill it with sand & place toys & tasty treats/chews inside. Then encourage your dog to dig & find the items. If you make this the most appealing area to dig, she’ll seek this place out rather than the rest of the yard.
Simultaneously, please make sure she is receiving adequate mental & physical stimulation to prevent similar behaviours related to boredom &/or attempting to escape.
Why dogs are licking air when they are anxious?
Thanks for the question. We need to remember that behaviour always serves a function, even if it might not be be completely obvious to us.
Excessive air licking can occur if the dog is suffering from a compulsive disorder. This is something that a veterinary behaviourist should assist with. Dogs also air lick every now & then, especially when having the base of their tail scratched.
It also occurs, as you say, when some dogs feel stressed or anxious. I’m not sure the exact reason why but I suspect it helps distract them &/or makes them feel more relaxed in situations that elicit stress. Perhaps similar to humans chewing their fingernails.
Is it true that dogs are drawn towards “kind” people, such as children and adults with a gentle nature? I always here that theory but is there science to back that up?
I’m not aware of any specific scientific studies on that topic. Dogs respond to those who are respectful of their needs & don’t place them in circumstances they feel uncomfortable. I’d say young children aren’t very good at reading dog body language & often misinterpret signals (there are studies about that). They often behave erratically or unpredictably. Therefore, dogs often feel uncomfortable around children.
My greyhound will grump/growl at me if I leave my hand on him without petting. Like just place it and not doing anything. Any suggestions on how to break this habit?
Hi. Thanks for the question. It sound like your Greyhound may not like your hand still on him. Does he stop when you start petting him or do you think he prefers you don’t touch him sometimes? It is important to be respectful of what he’s trying to communicate.