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Ask 3LD: Puppy Chasing Cats, Choosing a Dog Trainer, and a Dog Suddenly Becoming Obnoxious

Catman and his plucky sidekick, BiteYourFaceOff Girl.

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“My puppy is bothering my cats and I’m having serious doubts.”

Hello,

We have a 5-month-old Catahoula/pit bull mix. We’ve had her for three months and I’m at a place where I’m incredibly sad. I don’t know whether or not to give her back to the breeder. We really fell in love with her over time, but her prey drive to our two cats and one kitten isn’t getting any better.

I’ve been training any time I see her watching them, teaching her to “leave it.” I don’t think she’s getting it, she will only listen if I have treats. We can’t even actually allow her to walk freely around the house because of it. Even training her on leash through the house, she does a play bow to our cats and tries to chase them. She even barks at them and makes them run away.

Maybe we should give her back? Maybe she’ll be able to just freely walk around with a different, much happier family? It makes me feel sad and guilty to give her back because of the time we’ve spent with her. She really does seem to show she loves us, but at the same time she does stuff that makes us very unsure.

Another thing we’ve been trying so hard with is leash pulling. We’ve tried a lot of harnesses and collars, and it hurts us when she pulls. She doesn’t listen to us in public. She gets overexcited. We really can’t tell if things are going to get worse or better? I don’t know what to do anymore.

Thank you,
H


Hey there,

Dogs showing prey drive/predatory behavior toward cats can be scary, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for finding a cat-hunting dog a new, cat-free home.

BUT! And it’s a big but: I don’t think this is predatory. Something you said was an important clue: she play bows at the cat before she chases. Predators don’t bow to their prey.  Puppy probably sees the cats as potential playmates. This is actually a good thing. She isn’t afraid or aggressive, nor does she literally want to eat them. This will make life easier for you, in the long run.

I’m in a similar situation. I have a seven-month-old lab mix, Hazel. And I have a cat, Violet. Hazel does the same thing as your puppy. She’s huge and too rough and Violet hates her. I’ve had Hazel for four months, and I haven’t done much cat-manners training yet. Mostly because I’ve been lazy about it, honestly, haha.

[Editor’s note: HA. HA. More like, it’s because Hazel is the second puppy I’ve raised in less than a year, and it’s been great, but repeating all this puppy nonsense after I just went through it with River is starting to feel like I’m stuck in a time loop episode, repeating the same events over and over again and I just want to take this one loop OFF and have a hilarious montage scene, ya know?]

So far, I’ve taken a management approach: Hazel is never allowed access to the cat. She’s either in her pen or behind a baby gate when Violet is around. If I want to give Hazel some free time in the house, I put Violet in another room.

Soon, I’ll start cat-manners training with Hazel. I’m going to follow the guidelines described in this article.

Re: “Maybe she’ll be able to just be freely walking around with a different, much happier family?”

Probably not, because no five-month-old puppy has any business walking freely around a house. Even one with no cats. They’re too young, too untrained, and can get into too much trouble. (And it’s not like Hazel is sad and deprived. Trust me, she has tons of fun. She just isn’t allowed to go wherever she pleases)

Everything you mentioned, from the cat rudeness to pulling on leash, sounds like normal puppy behavior. But I know that doesn’t make it easier to deal with. Normal puppy behavior can be really annoying!

Your puppy, like all energetic puppies, needs some impulse control training. It’d probably be a big help to talk to a trainer in person, for a private consultation or a class intended specifically for older, obnoxious puppies. It’s important to get the right trainer, though. Someone experienced in using reward-based methods to teach impulse control. 

[“H” wrote back, saying that they’d indeed be hiring a trainer. I sent them recommendations for trainers in their area. For those of you following along at home, there are resources for choosing a trainer below]


“My 9-year-old dog is being a pain in the ass! Help!”

I’ve had my Belgian Malinois/Shepherd since he was seven weeks old. He is nine now. He just started being very “in your face” and obnoxious for about the last two months. We just went through Hurricane Irma and it has been very stressful here in Florida!

“Diesel” has always been pretty much calm. Lately he tries to get out the door every time I am leaving. He wants to sit in my lap every time I sit down (he weighs 125 pounds!) If I sit down at the table or desk, he comes up under my arm and tries to put his nose right in my face. He does do the [stress signals] lip licking, yawning, stretching and shaking off. I don’t know what he could be stressed out about that would cause this much behavioral problems for him. He has always had a thing about chewing his feet and being sensitive when you touch them. He’s had X-rays and ultrasounds etc., without negative findings. 

I don’t know where to start to help him. The hurricane stress has quieted down in the last week/ten days, but he seems to be just, if not more obnoxious. I hate getting annoyed with him, but I don’t know how to figure out what’s wrong. He sleeps in our room, on and off our bed all night and seems to sleep very sound.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

-A

First of all, A, I’m glad you’re alright and I hope Irma didn’t cause too much damage for you.

Poor dog… something has gone wrong for him. My initial thought was, well, hurricane, but then I fired up my handy critical reading skills and realized you said this has been going on for two months, which means it started a while before Irma. There is a good chance the hurricane stress exacerbated his problem. Or maybe the hurricane is a red herring in this tale. Anyway:

When was his last vet visit? You said you’ve had testing done for his foot issues, but it’s not clear from your email when that was. If it was before all this, the first step is a thorough vet check. That’s the first step when any behavior problem starts out of the blue. Many health problems manifest first as behavioral: hearing or vision loss, age-related cognitive dysfunction, etc. There could be a lot of age-related reasons for this.

If he gets a clean bill of health:
maybe something in your life changed enough to throw off his daily routine. Maybe he’s not getting as much exercise as he used to. Or maybe it’s a random new insecurity. Dogs develop random phobias all the time, a hazard of living in a human society that they don’t understand. When she was about seven, my dog Friday became utterly terrified of the sound of hiccups. Hiccups! Why? No clue. Maybe someone hiccuped at the same time as she stepped on a thumbtack or something.

Unless it’s a matter of not enough exercise (in which case, exercise more), the cause doesn’t matter. So “Diesel” is exhibiting a lot of reassurance-seeking behaviors. What do you do about it?

Know that it’s okay to comfort your dog. People sometimes worry that if they pet a dog who’s scared, they’ll reinforce the fear, but that’s not how it works. Emotions can’t be reinforced the same way behavior can. If Diesel, displaying stress signals, comes up and tries to lean against you, you can give him a pat and a soothing word.

Train and reward a more polite behavior. In this case, I’d teach him to lie down on a dog bed or in a crate, if he doesn’t already know this cue. Then you can keep his bed/crate near wherever you’re sitting and send him there instead of your lap.

Let him chew away his anxieties. A bully stick, beef knuckle bone, or a frozen Kong stuffed with peanut butter or wet food makes a great pacifier. It also keeps him occupied and therefore less obnoxious. Send him to his crate, give him a Kong.

Work on a training exercise that teaches dogs to be okay by themselves: Put Diesel in his crate or in a room blocked off by a baby gate. Give him a “pacifier” and leave the room. As long as the dog is quiet, return every few seconds with a treat. End session after about ten minutes. Gradually increase both the length of the session, and the time between treats.

Play training games or mental stimulation games. To give him something to focus on and rebuild his confidence.

Good luck and let us know how things go.