Updated: 6 days ago
My dog Quinn can be sweet, loving, funny, and well behaved. He can also be a jerk. No, that’s not official trainer speak, that’s just me as his Mom using a word to describe Quinn at his worst.
What makes him a jerk?
Quinn has decided he doesn’t like the neighbor next door when the guy sits on his deck. The neighbor isn’t moving, speaking or looking in Quinn’s direction, yet Quinn will race back and forth, hackles up, barking his head off.
Quinn doesn’t like strangers touching him. He’s a very cute dog and people always want to pet him. For the most part it’s ok as most people ask, but when I see small children, I get worried they’ll come running up.
Quinn doesn’t like strange dogs, especially dogs 35lbs or bigger, and has hatred towards specific breeds. It makes hiking a bit stressful when I see people walking their own dogs down the trail in our direction.
It can be really difficult living with problem dog behavior like Quinn expresses. I can’t ever relax when we’re out for a walk because I have to be vigilant to make sure that if I see someone coming, I can get Quinn set up to not react. Sometimes I really love him, and sometimes it takes a lot of mental work to love him, because there are times I really don’t like him much.
Working with Quinn’s problem dog behaviors
Yes, I’m a trainer and I have worked on all of these behavior issues with him. We worked on a super-duper outstanding recall so that if I’m inside and he’s barking at the neighbor I can call him in. It took some work as initially he was too amped up to be called away from the fence.
If I’m sitting outside with the dogs, and he barks at the fence line, I call him and do a treat scatter in the grass. The act of looking for food in the grass and using their noses is calming to dogs. After he’s done looking for the food Quinn will often head back towards the fence, at which time I repeat the process. After a few repetitions of this Quinn will lie down next to me, and periodically I’ll toss him a few treats for making good choices.
I didn’t work on getting him to allow strangers to touch him. I don’t like strangers touching me, and I don’t see that he should have to tolerate it. I did work on training him to be calm if we’re close to people he doesn’t know, so that I can have a conversation with people when we go on walks. This is much better than when he used to bark at them. Part of it is that Quinn knows I won’t let people touch him, so that makes him more comfortable in those situations.
The dislike of other dogs that don't live with him was a bigger issue that took longer to work through. When I use the word “dislike” I’m pretty much understating the problem. When Quinn was younger the sight of another dog in the distance was enough to cause him to bark, growl, and try to drag me closer. As the other dog got closer Quinn would lunge and air snap. There’s no doubt in my mind that were he able to get closer he would have done damage.
For the most part, if you and your dog met us on a hiking trail today, you wouldn’t see any problem dog behaviors from Quinn, as long as you kept your dog 10 feet away. I say for the most part because every now and then Quinn has a regression and will lunge and air snap. It’s a reminder to me that I need to keep the training going.
Quinn’s problem dog behavior causes
What caused Quinn’s jerkiness? I hate the saying “It’s all in how you raise them”, because Quinn was well socialized as a puppy to both other dogs and people of all ages.
I suspect his behavior is partly genetics, and partly developmental. Quinn came to me from a rescue on a transport van from Kentucky at 12 weeks of age. I don’t know where he was prior to that, but stressful experiences as a very young puppy, and a stressful nine-hour van ride could certainly have triggered an inability to be able to deal with brushing off occurrences that were stressful or even frightening.
A lot of the ways I handle Quinn’s problem dog behavior issues is through management. If I see another dog coming our way on the trail, I will often do a treat scatter off the side of the trail. It keeps Quinn turned away from the other dog, helps calm him down as he searches for the treats, and associates something he likes with strange dogs.
If the other owner and dog are going to pass too close to us for Quinn’s comfort, I’ll step off the side of the trail to give everyone some space. On a few occasions I’ve had clueless owners start to approach us, presumably to let the dogs greet each other. And on these occasions, I will step between Quinn and the approaching dog, and tell the other owner that my dog is not friendly and to please not come any closer.
The issue Quinn has with strange people is less of a problem, unless I’m going to have people over at my house. Luckily, I’m a hermit, and this very rarely happens!
Management for behavior problems
When I have contractors come out, I simply put Quinn in the bedroom so that the contractor and Quinn won’t interact with each other.
Recently however, I had friends coming over to visit. These friends were from out of town and we had planned on their being here for several hours. This visit occurred in the middle of summer, and my bedroom is cooled off with a window air conditioner that doesn’t always keep the room cool enough. Partly because of that, and also because the visit was going to last for several hours, I did not feel comfortable confining Quinn to the bedroom for this particular situation.
Crating Quinn was an option I briefly considered and then discarded. The room with the crate is in a traffic area from the living room to the kitchen and bathroom. Given his issues, I felt crating him in the room where it’s normally kept would make him feel cornered without any options to escape.
I finally decided to gate Quinn into my home office. It is located right off the living room so he could see us, but big enough to give him space to retreat if he felt the need. The only problem was that the room isn’t one Quinn chooses to go into. For many years it was gated off with no dogs allowed, and when I removed the gate Quinn continued to avoid going in there.
It would not have been fair to confine Quinn in a room he’d almost never spent time in, and even worse one he didn’t have a positive association with. I needed to work on getting Quinn acclimated and feeling comfortable in that room before my guests arrived.
I placed a comfortable bed in the corner of the room, armed myself with treats and called Quinn to me. He was more than willing, but too worried about the slipperiness of the laminate floor to feel confident enough to enter. This despite the fact that it is the same exact floor in the room he had to cross to get to the home office. But to Quinn this was an unfamiliar floor and he found it scary.
I went and got a yoga mat, put it down as a runner and tried again. Quinn tentatively stepped on the mat, recovered his confidence and slowly walked into the room, following the trail of treats I placed in his path.
Over the next day I worked with Quinn getting him to come in and out of the office and go to his dog bed and lie down. Once Quinn was comfortable with all of this, I added the gate to the doorway, initially with me in the room with him, and then with me on the other side of the gate. I gradually increased the amount of time the gate was up, and then I started giving him a frozen food stuffed Kong to enjoy while in the office with the baby gate up. This whole process ran over the course of 4 days.
Right before my visitors were about to show up, I asked Quinn to go into the office, gave him a Kong, and had a container of treats at the ready.
I was really nervous about the visit, despite the fact that I’d prepared and put into place a management plan that would keep Quinn feeling safe, and that would keep my guests safe. I honestly thought that when strangers entered my house Quinn would explode into a fit of alarm barking. To my complete amazement he did no such thing. Quinn was quiet and remained on his bed, even though he could see my guests and could hear us talking. Once he finished his Kong, I occasionally tossed treats in to him to reinforce his calm behavior.
Management of problem dog behaviors can be successful, as long as there is planning involved. The worst thing you can do is to try to implement management as a last-minute solution. And as you can see by my explanation of using management with Quinn for when my friends came to visit, management doesn’t always mean the absence of training. Good management involves training to make the management successful, even if that training doesn’t resolve the behavior issue.