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Episode 303 - The Goat Slayer

“Sometimes the only way to rehabilitate a dog is to find another family. I try to avoid this at all costs, but there are cases when it seems like it’s going to be inevitable.”


Q&A with Cesar

Cesar, my dog is a biter too. He bit my sister and two other dogs. How can I rehabilitate him?

The first step is to determine why your dog bites. There are five main reasons: possessiveness, fear, pain, maternal instincts, and prey drive — although since your dog is male, we can eliminate maternal instincts. If your vet has ruled out any pain that your dog is hiding, then we’re down to possessiveness, fear, and prey drive.
If the bites happened when your sister or another dog was trying to take a toy or treat from him or was getting too close to “his” stuff, then you need to work on his possessiveness. To do this, you need to create boundaries for all of the dogs in the household and claim territory for yourself. You control when your dog can enter this territory. Also train your dog to wait when you put the food bowl down and not approach it until you give the command.
Dogs that bite out of fear are a bit trickier to rehabilitate and take a lot of patience. During the process, all of the humans involved need to give the dog his space and not approach him. Meanwhile, take him on pack walks with the other dogs as often as possible, starting with the dogs on the outside — him on one side and the other dogs on the other — and the humans in the middle.
Prey drive is probably the least likely cause, but may have been the reason if your dog suddenly bit a human or dog that was running by, and the bite was more playful than aggressive. In this case, make sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise to wear him out and lower his prey drive. Also engage him in activities that satisfy his need to chase or herd, like playing fetch or running an agility course.

My dogs hate the neighbor’s cat. Should I try to socialize them, or this is a normal behavior? My family can’t agree on this. What do you say, Cesar?

Your dog doesn’t hate the neighbor’s cat. Rather, the cat represents something unknown and unusual. You don’t mention the circumstances of when they’ve met, but in residential areas, a dog frequently meets a cat when the cat intrudes on the dog’s territory by coming into the yard. Since the cat is an invader, the dog’s instincts tell him to chase it away — but the dog would do the same thing to any strange animal coming in, whether it’s a squirrel, a raccoon, or another dog.
Of course, when a cat sees a dog, its natural instinct is to run away and this just triggers your dog’s prey drive. The good news is that dogs and cats can be socialized. I have plenty of fans who have both kinds of pets in the house without any issues. In fact, since they are not pack animals, cats tend to wind up in charge of the dogs anyway because cats are very good at claiming their territory for themselves.
The key to making the socialization work is to make sure that your dog is in a calm, submissive state for the meeting. If the dog is overexcited, the cat will react to that energy and try to run away or defend itself. But if the dog is calm, the cat will be less leery, and the two animals should be able to check each other out without triggering negative instincts in the other. The ideal is to have the cat be calm and assertive while the dog is calm and submissive. This will make the cat feel safe and in charge while the dog will see the cat as a leader instead of something to eat. Although you’re not trying to create a pack at home with both dogs and cats, you can use some of the same steps to facilitate socialization.

Cesar, my mother’s little dog has the run of the house. He gets away with everything just because he is a lap dog. It’s super annoying! What advice would you have for us?

My first bit of advice would be to get him off of your mother’s lap! People frequently have bigger problems with smaller dogs because they treat them like cute little plush toys and don’t let them be dogs. You’ve probably seen it happen plenty of times — when someone is walking a little Shih-Tzu and it starts to bark, their first instinct is to pick the dog up. All this does is tell the dog, “Bark at everything and you’ll get attention.”
People are reluctant to discipline small dogs because of their size and cuteness, but these dogs need the same rules, boundaries, and limitations as every other breed. With your mother’s dog, everyone is going to have to agree to not reinforce unwanted behavior by giving the dog attention or affection, and teach him the rules of the house by being consistent in enforcing them. Only reward the dog when he is being calm and submissive; correct or ignore him when he’s misbehaving or trying to tell you what to do.

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