Dogs with issues
April 6, 2011 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Where should I begin to deal with these dogs' problems? Is there a good order to this? Do any of these things appear to relate to each other?

I am now caring for two shelter dogs, one a terrier (9 y/o, neutered male, ~15 lbs, was obviously once a well loved pet), the other a small chow mix (~3y/o, neutered male, ~25 lbs, stray).

The terrier's problems:

Not totally housetrained. He marks, indoors. (As opposed to just needing to pee and doing it inside).

Massive separation anxiety. Left alone in a room, or in a car, he starts barking, and doesn't stop. The past two days I've left him in doggie daycare when I've had to go work, and could probably afford that for a while, but I definitely can't afford it forever.

Freaks out in the car. Acts like a pinball on speed. This is not such a problem, but it freaks out the other dog and makes him get aggro.

The chow's problems:

Aggression. He snarled and jumped at the terrier when the terrier was freaking out and getting in everyone's face car. He also snarrled and jumped on the terrier while the terrier was eating. He didn't bite or try to bite though. They are now separated in the car and when they eat, and are supervised all the other times they are together. They play together well at all other times.

Humping. He occasionally tries to hump the terrier when they are running around getting riled up. He doesn''t hump anything/anyone else but the terrier doesn't like it and I don't want it to turn into a fight.

Skin problems. He's missing about half his fur from what I was told were probably allergies. It seems to me that the first thing to do is try an elimination diet. Or, is it necessary to go to a vet, without trying that first?

Lunged after a passing rat. Not a problem in and of itself, but there is an outdoor cat here, and it makes me not want to let him off the leash around here just in case. Is there a proper procedure for testing whether he will chase a cat? The cat makes himself disappear whenever he knows the dogs are around.
posted by Ashley801 to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Take both of them to the vet. Address the same issues you wrote here. A vet will be able to better help you with said issues. He/she will know best. Also, ask you vet for a recommendation for a dog behaviorist.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 4:33 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd hit the vet for the allergy question and a behaviorist for the rest. And honestly, I have occasionally given the behaviorist/trainer suggestion but never used it until now, when I've got one coming this weekend to deal with some crisis issues after a move. It turns out she's extremely reasonable (we were imagining hundreds of dollars) and feels like she can get us most of the way to what we need in one one-hour session, maybe with a touch-up after a couple of weeks.

Yes, it is possible that allergies might be contributing to behavior/anxiety. You could certainly begin switching them to a less-allergenic diet; going to a wheat-free food is probably the easiest first step.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:42 PM on April 6, 2011

Agreed about taking them to the vet. Also, have them check for UTI's. They can cause inappropriate peeing.
posted by TheBones at 5:09 PM on April 6, 2011

As far as the behavior is concerned I'd listen to/read one of Cesar Millan's books. They've been lifesavers for me. I couldn't believe the differences it has made.
posted by no bueno at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2011

Are you fostering through a rescue organization, or the SPCA or another shelter? Why are you dealing with two problem and incompatible dogs at once, if you don't have special training to do so? Does your rescue group have any advice or does the shelter have a behaviorist they work with?
1.) Crate train them both, impeccably. If you don't know what that means, learn about it, read the archives here, or ask a behaviorist.
2.) Clicker train them both. See above - learn about it and it will get you through lots of great training.
3.) Do not let skittish dogs, who have zero recall ("come here") response, off a leash, in an area which is not very tightly closed off by a fence. There's no way you can tell whether he'll lunge after a cat right now, or some other thing, or get spooked. There are ALWAYS dog foster parents saying they didn't think the dog would bolt, when it turns out they'd never trained the dog to come in the first place. Skittish and anxious dogs can bolt at anything - sounds, sights, scents, the unknown. This one is easy. Not off the leash unless he's in a fenced yard (and I mean FENCED - high, low, no gaps anywhere, not the piddling little fake white fences that are 2 feet high).
4.) No dog park for these guys right now.
5.) What kind of food has the dog been eating? Specific brands and protein type matter. Was he on Science Diet or some fake thing like that?
6.) You have to use positive training, a ton, and crates, to deal with the separation anxiety. There are also doggy pheromones that some people use, but I haven't had a ton of luck with them. There are also drugs, if the dog continues to bark, but you're nowhere near that at the moment -- only to be tried after a very lengthy and thorough training plan, not just someone telling the dog to be quiet. There are exceptions to this advice but I don't think it's fair to start without any kind of actual training.
7.) You might need to exercise them separately a bit. Different walks or different playtimes.
8.) I'd actually suggest removing the food bowls, and having the dogs earn ALL of their food, one piece at a time, for good behavior, with clicker training and in general. The dogs will become much more motivated and trainable, and it's not "cruel" - dogs really love positive training and get so much confidence and ability to adapt, which is what they both need.

I have more advice but that's probably a good start.

If you're in over your head with these two dogs, don't be afraid to ask for help or tell the shelter you've taken on too much. You don't want these guys to get worse by being in a stressful or unsafe environment; it's not your fault but I have seen foster parents initially take on too much and be unable to really deal with the needs of the more screwed up dogs. (I say that affectionately, as both the foster and permanent friend of lots of screwed up little guys!)
posted by barnone at 7:23 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

And there are belly bands for marking. Make sure you're cleaning the marks with enzyme cleaner and not vinegar or something like that.

Cesar Milan is not a great option for new (all) dog owners and it can get you into dangerous situations. Seriously dangerous for you and the dogs. I don't have time to get into the details, but there are MANY, including notions like "pack leader" and "alpha roll" and other nonsense. There are many other proven, safe, effective, fun, and lasting alternatives.

I've listed tons of other trainers and books in the past - here's one comment with many of them there.

See this previous comment of mine with an example of better training.

Previous thread on crate training. The key is to build it up, slowly, and use training, and cover it, and try different crates if needed, and don't rattle the crate to make him be quiet, and learn to treat or open the door when he's quiet and not whining, and not to be in there for too long, etc.
posted by barnone at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Always crate your dogs in the car. It's dangerous to have them loose.
posted by grounded at 8:46 PM on April 6, 2011

Really late to the party but hopefully this will still be helpful: Your terrier in the car sounds like the Jack Russell terrier I dogsit sometimes. I can't take her in the car unless she's crated. It's dangerous, stressful and damaging to the car's upholstery. I use the crate for the car, for sleeping at night and also when she is left alone in the house or cannot be supervised. Terriers generally need a LOT of exercise and plenty of mental stimulation. How much are you walking/running each day?

It sounds like your Chow is getting frustrated with your terrier and trying to impose his own order. It also sounds like you have a lot of chaos going on right now. Do you have a set schedule for the dogs for eating, peeing and sleeping times? This, along with a clear and consistent enforcement of rules will help a lot.

Some dogs have a very strong prey drive. It may be that your Chow can be trained to ignore small fleeing animals on command and it may be that he can't. In either case I would not let the dog off leash around a cat for the time being.

Getting two dogs settled in can be a full time job for a couple of weeks. The dogs need to be watched basically every second they are out of their crates in the house so that rules can be demonstrated and any missteps corrected before they become a part of the dog's routine.

Have you called the shelter where you got the dogs? It's not clear to me if they are foster dogs or dogs you adopted but either way, many shelters either have training resources or can suggest local trainers/behaviorists.
posted by tinamonster at 12:42 AM on April 8, 2011

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