Need a Cesear Milan Dog Whisperer

Updated on July 15, 2014
D.D. asks from Pittsburgh, PA
11 answers

It's not really that dramatic, but I do need some dog advice.

My inlaws have a small dog. The dog is generally a nice, happy, fun dog. My kids love him. But he clearly has dominance issues with my youngest son. On a previous visit, he has sometimes tried to hump him (dog is neutered, and I know this is a dominance thing). He snapped at him (only once, but that's 1 too many times and now we limit their direct contact). and on this visit, my son left a pair of underpants on the floor and the dog peed on them. We discipline the dog for each behavior, but he just comes up with a new dominance-related behavior. He only does any of these behaviors with my youngest son.

How do we establish a better pack order to stop this behavior? I

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answers from Boston on

This is a problem because your in-laws are not training the dog. The dog thinks it is the boss and is not receiving constant correction by the owners. Unless you live with them, you cannot do this.

The dog is learning that Behavior A is no good, so he goes to Behavior B. Then he gets disciplined for that (and I'm not sure if you mean punished or corrected - they aren't the same) so he goes to Behavior C. He's trying things and all he is learning is what is NOT okay, but he's not learning who is boss (not him!). So that's what you are seeing - he just goes to the next dominance behavior instead of learning that he's not dominant.

The dog needs training - which usually means the owners need training. It doesn't have to be Milan/Dog Whispering techniques. Some people love him, but many vets and animals shelters advise people NOT to follow his techniques. I think the most important thing is to find a philosophy the family agrees on, and follow it. The dog needs consistency, so it understands where it stands in the "pack" (the family) and that is NOT top dog!

The problem is that YOU are disciplining the dog when you visit, but then time goes by and the dog does something else with the owners. There is no consistency. The grandparents need to be on top of this dog all the time, correcting it.

We rescued a dog with some nipping problems - mostly food aggression (from having been in too many shelters) and some with people bending over her (from having been abused, and from having been picked up, stuck in a crate, and abandoned several times). It took us 10 days to get rid of the food aggression, not by punishing, but by training. She had to wait for her food, sit and stay when we put it in the bowl, until we gave her the "release" cue that it was okay to eat (usually about 20 seconds but she got the message). We slowly, slowly built trust in her about the petting and being approached/bent over behaviors until she could be more trusting and understand this is a new life for her. She had to learn which toys were hers and that just because something was on the floor didn't mean it was a chew toy (pencils and pens seemed to be the big temptations but now she ignores them).

I imagine that any trainer would start with basic commands and walking the dog on a short leash. Then it would progress to others walking the dog in the exact same manner, finally going down to your son. Same commands, same expectations, same restrictions. The dog will learn that everyone else is the boss and not him. I know you are limiting contact due to safety, and that's wise. But you cannot do anything unless and until your in-laws get on board and decide this is a behavior they want stopped. Have them invest in good dog training, either at the house or at a center, that REQUIRES the owners to learn the same techniques and put in a practice schedule after class and over time to reinforce that the behavior requirements do not change no matter where the dog is. They should take the dog into other situations (traffic, crowds, new neighborhoods, other dogs, etc.) where the same rules apply. This is better for your son, for other visitors, and for the dog.

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answers from New York on

Since you only see them 1 weekend a month I'd say that your inlaws need to put your child's safety first and either short leash the dog when he's around the children or put him in gated off area to keep him away from your youngest. He sees your son as being a lesser member of the pack and that's dangerous for your son.

I have 4 grandchildren and they are a priority over my dog. It he's being a jerk then he goes out on the back deck during their visits. Their safety trumps my dog's usual good lifestyle every single time.

Have your husband tell his parents that throwing up their hands and giving up with this stuff happens isn't solving the problem. Let him tell them what he'd like to happen when the children come to visit and let them know that if things don't improve then your son's safety is more important than visits including the dog.

Be firm. Communicate clearly before the next visit. Then the ball is in their court. Personally if I only saw my grandchildren one weekend a month and my dog was a problem I'd kennel the dog.

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answers from Milwaukee on

D. had good advice, but sometimes it's not possible to train for behaviors that aren't exhibited outside of the problem situation. In other words, how do you teach a dog to behave properly, when they do so unless/until you son is present?

I don't know how old your kids are, but very often dogs will either see them as an equal or lower in the "pack". My dad went through this with my stepbrother when he & my stepmom started dating, my SB was 10 at the time. The dog would treat him like an equal, and therefore respond Inappropriately (snap/growl on 2 occasions instead of submitting).

The way we were able to handle the situation & get past the behaviors was to have my SB give the dogs some basic commands, such as sit, stay, etc. he did it in the form of training "tricks for treats". So that way, if the dog behaved, my SB would be the one to reward her.

This helped to reestablish the hierarchy between the dog & my SB, and was especially useful, as the dog didn't see him more than once a week or so, and he was the only one who elicited the behavior issues.

Now, one thing we did NOT establish was reprimanding the dog. That was reserved for the adults (who were always present).

Give this a try, and if there are specific things the dog does when you are not there, perhaps identify those & ask your inlaws to correct that type of behavior when you are not there.

Good luck! T. =-)

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answers from Dallas on

Your in-laws should be the ones reprimanding the dog when he is not doing what he is supposed to do because THEY are the leader of the pack. You are not in the pack so the dog does not respect you.

We have always had dogs and I don't need a doorbell because they are protective when someone comes over. The one thing that still works for every guest who comes into the house... they give each dog a treat. After that, no barking, no bad behavior.

Now, for people (strangers) who stop by to solicit, etc... I let the dogs bark like crazy and if I am asked if they will bite, I say yes. When whomever was at the door is gone..I reward the dogs.

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answers from Boca Raton on

I love my little mini-schnoodle so much it hurts. But I would NEVER let her take precedence over a grand-child (gasp!) or any child for that matter who enters my home.

Your in-laws need to be more proactive imho. The dog needs to be behind a gate when you visit, or they need to work on training the dog better.

I would ask them if it's possible to let your youngest be the only one to give the dog a treat (when you guys are over).

If they're not willing to work on this I'd cut down on my visits until my youngest is a little older and bigger. When small children are snarled at by dogs it can scare them off dogs for life. And dogs are such wonderful creatures! It's sad when that happens because of humans.

Good luck.

PS: It also sounds like the dog has little-dog syndrome which is the fault of the owners most of the time. Humans let little dogs get away with stuff that big dogs would never be allowed to do (because little dogs are so cute and fluffy and tiny). That confuses the dog (who is still a DOG - not a baby) and they start showing aggressive traits trying to assert their will.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

YOU can't really do anything about it. Your in-laws have not established themselves as pack leaders, so the dog thinks he's alpha. The only thing you can do is ask them to keep the dog crated, penned up in another room, or outside when you are there with your child.

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answers from San Francisco on

It's a day-in, day-out thing, training a dog. Especially a dog who's a little older. When we got our puppy, my first call was to the best dog trainer in our area. She wasn't cheap, but she knows what she's doing, and I wanted to give our puppy the best chance to be a good companion to us. She came to our house for the first 4 sessions, in part because he was still getting all of his vaccines, but also because she wanted to see how we interact with him, and what issues we were having around the house with him. It doesn't really help if your dog behaves perfectly well at PetSmart, but is a terror in your own home, right? :)

Anyway, the crux of the training was this: our puppy wore a 3' training leash at all times. Basically, this was a dollar-store leash that we cut off at 3' and from the time he leaves his crate in the morning until he goes back in at night, he wears this leash (we remove it if he is going to be unattended, of course). We have a short list of behaviors that we correct for (yours may be different): 1) Running away from us/Bolting, 2) Play biting, 3) Jumping, 4) Inappropriate barking. Whenever he does any one of those things, we intercept the activity with a sharp, "No!" accompanied by a quick jerk to the leash. If he persists in the bad activity, another, "No!" accompanied by 3-4 increasingly sharp jerks on the leash. It doesn't take long for a dog to get with the program, especially if he's a small dog.

Likewise, the dog should be trained and rewarded for good behaviors, too. For instance, sit, down, walking nicely on the leash (no tugging or walking ahead), stay, etc. We did not ever use food rewards, only praise and petting the dog. In other words, he is doing these things because he wants to make us happy - he is the low man on the totem pole, and he knows that because he is sharply corrected every time he does something we don't like, and is praised when he does what we ask.

Really, your in-laws have to want to do this. It's a lot of work. If they don't want to, there's not much you can do about it, but since this dog has displayed aggression toward your child, the dog should be crated when your kids are there, preferably in a quiet room away from where the kids are.

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answers from Columbia on

We adopted a very high energy, high dominance border collie. She was absolutely NO fun for the kids until I took her to training classes with a real trainer. What the trainer taught me was so ridiculously simple that I laughed. I thought it couldn't possibly work with her. But it DID. So here's the secret...

In order to secure your son's place in the pecking order above the dog, you need to do some deference exercises with you and the dog, and then with him and the dog. Simple as that. Yes, the dog needs training. Deference is the NUMBER ONE most important part of training. It is the part that makes the dog stop being a bully, listen, pay attention, and want to please. A dog who does not offer his people deference is a menace and a danger, flat out.

Here's an easy deference exercise for you to try:

Hold a chunk of hotdog in your hands. Close your hands up so he can't get it, no matter how hard he tries. Lean over and let him smell your hands, and stay in that leaned over posture. Don't say a thing, just look at his face and wait. He won't be looking at you; all his attention will be on getting that treat. He'll probably lick your hands, nose at them to try to get the treat, and paw at them. Don't open your hands. You're waiting for ONE specific cue: Eye contact. Eye contact is showing deference; asking YOU for permission to get that goody in your hand! As SOON as you see eye contact, no matter how fast it is (as long as it's REAL eye contact), say "GOOD BOY!" and immediately give him a bit of the treat (not the whole thing). Then go back to holding the rest of the treat so he can't have it and do the exercise over again. Deny access to the treat, wait for eye contact/deference, praise, treat, repeat. Do this exercise for about 5 minutes at a time. Don't wear him out too much on it.

Do the exercise with him every time you come over for several days before you work on it with your son. It's important that you not expose your child to a deference situation with a dominant dog unless the dog already defers to you. So during those visits, you might still have some issues with him and your son...but it's most likely that even when he's just learning to defer to you, his behavior will improve.

After you've worked through some deference exercises, I very much suggest that everyone in contact with the dog do them too. And that they require deference (eye contact/dog asking permission) before they give or do anything for the dog. Dog wants to be fed? Eye contact before the food is given. Dog wants out? Eye contact before the dog is allowed through the door. Dog wants up? Eye contact. Etc. Etc.

Deference is where it's at. It's the training secret that everyone with a dog should learn if they want any other training they do to be successful. So there you go!

Best of luck to you.

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answers from Washington DC on

if it's not *his* people disciplining him, it's probably just making the problem worse. in his doggy mind, you're the ones showing up with a puppy he needs to dominate, then being mean to him for doing his job.
if your in-laws are not willing to train/discipline him, i'd say it's up to them to make sure the dog stays away from your son. surely their grandson is important to them, right?

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answers from Richland on

Who is the alpha? I mean who trains the dog. I trained our dog, I was the alpha and those dogs did nothing unless I gave them permission.

What I am saying is the only one who can stop this is the alpha. If grandma is the trainer she needs to send a clear message that she will not tolerate this.

Dogs are quite easy as long as you always keep in mind they are pack animals and see you as part of the pack.

Kind of have to ask why is your son leaving underwear on the floor of his grandparent's home? First, gross! Second to a dog he is marking.

Think like a dog, you won't need a book.

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answers from Washington DC on

If you think this is too much and they will not change it, you may want to change who gets "trained". Perhaps tell your ILs that you (and your son) are tired of the dog peeing on the limited clothing he brings for these visits. Or being humped by the dog. Or being snapped at. Even if they don't see this as a problem, you do, and it has come to the point where it ruins visits.

If my mother's dog did this, I would tell her that either she gets her dog trained and takes me seriously or visits would be much more limited til either she did or the dog passed on.

You might consider calling the SPCA local to you to ask their behaviorist if there's anything your son can do during these limited visits to be a good person to be around from the dog's POV, but I really suspect that the dog is jealous of the youngest human pack member getting more attention or being in his territory.

What does your DH think about all this?

FWIW, I am not a fan of Ceasar. I am much more a fan of Victoria Stilwell's behavior training.

ETA: If the dog does this in your home, it sounds like the dog is re-establishing the pecking order every visit and starts with the youngest i the pack (lowest on the pole). If my mother brought a problematic pet with her, I would ask her to start finding a dog sitter so that the dog is home where he is comfortable and not messing up my house or bothering my kids.

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