We have a miniature Schnauzer puppy who is now almost 6 months old. She seems to have developed a pretty severe fright of loud vehicles. It might have originated when a garbage truck recently drove down a street we were walking on. She already disliked garbage cans (I have no idea why), and this episode is the only trigger I can think of for her fear of noisy vehicles. Now when I attempt to walk her, she can’t get home fast enough and keeps trying to turn around during the stroll, especially if a loud car or bus goes by. This is a real problem, because we live on a busy street and we walk on neighborhood sidewalks. Can you help?
—Melissa Vare, Indianapolis, IN
Your dog desperately needs strong leadership when she is frightened by loud noises. This is accomplished by redirecting her, making sure she remains focused on you. This will actually calm your dog. Tell her to heel and keep your pace slow and steady. When she begins to walk ahead of you, slightly jerk your leash straight back, not straight up. Do not pull or try to hold her from going in front of you. Just give the leash a quick jerk and then release. The moment she begins slowing down to equal your pace, give her calm verbal praise as you continue to walk. Walk her daily as often as you possibly can. This will help to improve her behavior faster. If she tries to turn around while walking, softly jerk and release her leash as you continue moving forward. Do not stop walking or wait for her to catch up. The key point is timing. The moment she looks at something she fears, that is the moment to correct her. You may feel sorry for her, but a dog does not understand this emotion. She sees this as weakness, and you must be a strong leader. The more she is exposed to and works through the issue of loud noises, the faster the problem will disappear.
In the past six months or so, my 5-year-old Chocolate Labrador began a strange habit. Prior to eating her dinner, she appears to need some sort of affection or acknowledgement. She refuses to eat and comes to us very sheepishly looking like she wants us to pet her. We tell her “good girl” and pet her and tell her to go eat. In the beginning, a few pats would do it. Now it’s sometimes a 10-minute ordeal. She will go to her bowl, come back to us, go to her bowl, come back, etc. Finally, after a few rounds of telling her she is good and giving her some love, she goes to eat. She eats twice a day, and this started with evening feedings only. Now she does it for a.m. and p.m. feedings. Any clue what’s going on here?
—Dawn Schneider, Chicago, IL
What’s going on? Your dog is training you! First, take her to the veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. And remember that the worst thing you can do is to reward her unwanted habit. When you give your dog affection, you are nurturing her state of mind at that exact moment. So no affection after you put down her bowl of food. If she has not eaten within half an hour, remove her food bowl. She may not eat well for a while, but I have never heard of a dog starving herself. Break this routine at feeding time, and your dog will quickly end her unusual behavior.
—Alex Brooks, founder and operator of the Alex Brooks Midwest Canine Behavioral & Socialization Center in Des Plaines, IL, has been training dogs since the late ’70s. He also donates his time and expertise to training dogs in shelters