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Pet Dog Training Tips From a Dog's Point of View

Submissive Urination

Q. Dear Lilly,
This is a very embarrassing question. Frequently when my humans come home all excited to see me, I widdle on the floor right in from of them! The same problem happens when anyone yells at me for doing what comes natural, like digging or chewing. My humans don't understand why I do this. Can you help? Shyly yours, Blackie

A. Dear Blackie,
This is a very common problem, and a symptom of what is called submissive urination. Or, it could be a physical problem. Best to check with the vet in case it is physical.

To help solve this problem, have your human lessen the amount of eye contact with you. I say this because looking into a some dogs eyes can set off this response. When the human is the dogs leader, submissive urinating can be the method a dog is demonstrating submission. This is a natural response and one that humans should take care not to get angry about. That only makes it worse.

When a new person comes into the house, the stranger might be perceived as the leader. So guests should be asked to avoid eye contact and to PLEASE ignore a dog until settled down. Once calm, still have the guest avoid direct eye contact or at least only give slight glances.

Same goes for when humans are training. Slight glances, soft happy tones, not loud instructions or commands. Teach the dog to slowly maintain eye contact while you are smiling and softly praising while giving treats for sits, downs, etc.

The key is for the human to avoid direct eye contact or to turn the head to one side. This is much less threatening. Be patient, Blackie, you'll build your confidence with a patient human at your side. Then you'll grow out of this need to show submission.

A Dog's Prayer

Q. Dear Lilly,
It's sad to see that some dogs just aren't included as members of the family. Would you please share this poem by Beth Norman Harris called "A Dog's Prayer?" Thanks. David Harris

A. Dear David,
I would love to share this lovely poem you sent!

"A Dog's Prayer" by Beth Norman Harris

Treat me kindly, my beloved master, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.

Do not break my spirit with a stick, for though I should lick your hand between the blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me with the things you-would have me do.

Speak to me often, for your voice is the world's sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footstep falls upon my waiting ear.

When it is cold and wet, please take me inside, for I am now a domesticated animal, no longer used to bitter elements. And I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth. Though had you no home, I would rather follow you through ice and snow than rest upon the softest pillow in the warmest home in all the land, for you are my god and I am your devoted worshiper.

Keep my pan filled with fresh water, for although I should not reproach you were it dry, I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst. Feed me clean food, that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by you side, and stand ready; willing and able to protect you with my life should you life be in danger.

And, beloved master, should the great Master see fit to deprive me of my health or sight, do not turn me away from you. Rather hold me gently in your arms as skilled hands grant me the merciful boon of eternal rest -- and I will leave you knowing with the last breath I drew, my fate was ever safest in your hands.

Puppy Mouthing and Biting

Q. Dear Lilly,
I was just adopted by a human family with two children. Being an 8 week old springer spaniel, I love to play. The problem is that my new family doesn't know how to play like my litter mates. We pounce and bite and chase each other. How can I train my humans to play properly? Jake

A. Dear Jake,
Slow down now boy! Humans like to play too, but you have to learn to play easy with them. They don't have fur to protect them. Best to learn how to play rough with a toy rather than bite delicate human skin. If you are lucky, your human family will teach you how to fetch and play tug a war. They are very good at playing those kinds of games. Don't worry, you always get the toy before they do. humans are kinda slow. They'll probably try to get you to bring the toy to them!! Go ahead and do it, that will make them happy and maybe they'll give ya a treat! Wags, Lilly


Puppies playing in a litter spend much of their time biting and grabbing each other with their mouths. This is normal puppy behavior as they play together and learn to establish a pecking order in their litter. When a puppy is adopted into a home, the puppy will continue to play bite and mouth the humans and other animals in the "new pack". Within two weeks a dog introduced into a new home, will establish itself within the new home pecking order. Knowing that puppies need to play, romp and learn to socialize, we, as their benevolent leaders, need to socialize our dogs and to teach them appropriate play behavior. This is the first step to becoming the "top-dog" in the human pack.

If dogs are not trained young, they will continue this behavior into adolescence and adulthood. They still can be trained in the same manner, but may take longer to learn new behaviors. In this case, more patience in needed in order to change these obnoxious and dangerous habits.

Dogs communicate with using body language, eye contact, growls, yips, whines and yes BY BITING! Humans who learn dog behavior and understand it will respect the fact that almost any dog could bite given reason. For example, if a child runs up and grabs a dog by the ears or tail, or falls over an unexpecting dog, we wouldn't be surprised if the dog reacted. But how?

Training a puppy "bite inhibition" teaches the dog to grab and release without damage. If not, the dog may bite causing significant injury.

Think about how puppies tell each other when one is biting or hurting. So every time the puppy touches you with its teeth, say "AH,AH" or OUCH" in a sharp tone of voice. This will probably not stop the puppy from mouthing, but over time should result in softer and gentler puppy biting. If understood properly, the pup might come back and lick in apology.

Sometimes, if the tone is not correct, the pup will escalate the play and go more for the hands, arms, legs, feet, etc. If this happens, freeze and turn your back. Taking away all attention, gives a strong message of disapproval in dog language. Put hands out of reach or move away, if puppy still does not respond, or put the pup in her crate for a time-out.

Rough play with a puppy will also cause rough play in return. So remember when playing, make your touches light or soft. The harder you touch the pup, the harder it will touch back. Avoid rough and tough hand games if they cause the puppy to get overexcited. Use a toy for hard play that the pup can bite and pounce on. When playing tug of war, make sure that you always win! This reminds the pup, who is the leader in the household. It may look cute to see her prance around with her reward, but this demonstrates dominance too!

To teach a puppy NOT to mouth, or grab food from your hand is simple. With a small handful of puppy kibble, offer one piece as you say "take it" in a soft tone of voice. Then close the rest of the food in your hand and say "off" in a firm tone of voice. (If the puppy bites the hand to try to get at the food, say "AH AH"). When the puppy has not touched your hand for 2 or 3 seconds, say "take it" and give the puppy one piece of food. This teaches the puppy that "off" means not to touch. Practice this before every meal for at least 2 or 3 minutes.

After a couple of weeks of the above training, this is how to handle puppy biting or mouthing:

a. Unexpected mouthing (you don't know the puppy is going to mouth, until you feel the puppy's teeth):

Say "AH" AH" or "OUCH!"

b. Expected mouthing (you see the puppy getting ready to mouth you):

Say "OFF" before the puppy can mouth you. Give a toy to mouth. If you don't have time to play, give the pup a time-out in her crate with a tasty chew bone.

The foremost puppy training authority acknowledged in this field is Dr. Ian Dunbar. Most all puppy kindergarten classes are designed using his widely accepted methods. Many classes accept pups as young as eight weeks of age with proper vaccinations. The classes are designed to socialize a puppy as well as train. For books and videos by Dr. Dunbar, contact: James & Kenneth Publishers at (510) 658-8588 in Berkeley, CA. Ask for The Sirius Puppy Training Video and the Sirius Puppy Training Manual (how to teach a new dog old tricks).

House Training

Q. Dear Lilly,
I have a female boxer that is nine and a half weeks old. I have had her since she was 6 weeks old and I still can't seem to get her house trained. What can I do? Sincerely, Brian Berryhill

A. Hello Brian,
Your puppy has to learn from you exactly where to go. You must go with him every time. Don't expect that leaving him outside, that he'll know what to do. Also, don't expect him to tell you when he needs to go! You take the responsibility to take him out when you know he most likely needs to go. Puppies need to relieve themselves after eating, sleeping, playing and chewing. Usually every couple of hours until they are 3 months old. Do you walk him around or do you go to the same exact spot (close to the house) and wait until he goes? A dog learns very quickly that the walk is over after they relieve themselves. I recommend to take the dog, to a spot near the house, give a command, to go potty (or whatever) and then just stand there like a post and let him sniff, for five min. maximum in order to go #1 & #2. If not, crate him for about 15 min. and try again. Puppies don't usually relieve themselves in their bed.

After the pup has gone, praise, treat and then take for a walk and play. Start this routine first thing in the morning when you know he has to go. Only reward for going outside. Ignore completely for going in the house. Do not reprimand and do not let him see you clean it up. Hang a little bell at the door to go out and ring it before opening it. Then teach him to sniff it and ring. He'll learn to ring to go out, just from the repetition.

Next, feed breakfast and dinner on a schedule. Dog should go potty within 30 min. after eating with one bowel movement for each meal. Rarely should he skip a bowel movement on a regular schedule and consistent diet. You'll learn exactly what times he poops and pees. He should be able to hold it for 8 hours overnight once he is over 4 months old. I would only withhold water, while you are away. He should be sleeping then anyway. Hope this helps. I think that if you could train him within 1-2 weeks using this method. This training method uses positive reinforcement. By making a big deal out of going outside, he'll learn the command and will go (if its time) when and where you ask him to! In other words, lots of reward and praise for going potty in the right spot and no praise or reward for going in the house - also, no punishment for it could make the situation worse, as the dog only learns to go when you're not looking. If he goes in the house make sure to clean with a urine scent eliminator like "Nature's Miracle."

Good luck, Lilly

Jumping Up

Q. Dear Lilly,
I am a Labrador Retriever. I have lived in my home for three years. My human, Gene loves me a lot, but whenever she comes home, I will get so excited that I will jump up and lick her on the face. But instead of greeting me, she will just point her finger at me and shout "No jumping!" Is it wrong to do that? There doesn't seem to be any other way to greet her. "Tramp." Singapore

A. Dear Tramp,
I know you get excited when your human comes home (don't we all?). Its like a big adrenaline rush. In fact your probably reacting to Gene's adrenaline rush when she sees you at the door all happy she is home. Humans tend to make a very big deal before leaving the house and upon their return. If they treated us more casually, like any other member of the family, you would probably not get so excited. And remember Tramp, people like it when puppies lick their face, but not always when adult dogs do it. It's o.k. though is Gene teaches you to "gimme a kiss" - but only when she asks!!

Perhaps if instead of jumping up you could sit or stand to greet her. Do you know those commands? In other words, if she asked you to sit before getting any greeting, you might learn that she could ignore you and go about her business unless you sit. By ignore, I mean no eye contact, speaking or touching until you sit. After a few days of ignoring when she first comes home, you'll learn to settle down and sit real quick. Sometimes it takes a week or longer if Gene is consistent. But you sound like a smart retriever. Also, Gene might want to raise her knee up gently to prevent you from jumping on her. No dogs like jumping up on a raised kneecap. Paws on the chest are much more fun. You big guys can cause a back injury. Let me know if any of these ideas have worked after about a week.

Good luck, Lilly

Destructive Chewing

Q. Dear Lilly,
I am a 60 pound female lab mix who just got a new home with James. When James is home I play with my toys, but when he is gone before I know it, I'm chewing on anything which isn't nailed down like the molding or things I find on the table tops! James gets angry with me when he comes home. Help! "Angel" Norcross, Georgia

A. Dear Angel, Here are a few tips which might help James understand your need to chew:
  1. Chewing wooden objects could be linked to a diet deficiency, so check with your vet regarding diet and to check for evidence of worms.
  2. Chewing can also be evidence of boredom or lack of mental stimulation. Daily exercise of running and fetching could help especially before James leaves the house.
  3. Have James put you and your toys in a safe area of the house until you learn to only chew on your things. If you were left alone with hollow beef shin bone stuffed in the center with liverwurst, cheese or peanut butter, you would have something really scrumptious to keep you occupied while alone. If most of your toys and bone are put away when James comes home, they'll seem more interesting when he is gone.
  4. Ask him to take you to a local pet-dog training or agility class. A well-trained and exercised dog has more confidence and less stress!
Let me know how it goes and remember, chew BONE! Lilly

Barking at Other Dogs

Q. Dear Lilly,
Help! My dad thinks that I hate other dogs. When I see another dog when we're out for a walk I lunge and pull my dad so that we can go over to visit. I bark and bark and bark, but he doesn't understand that I just want to play. Dad is concerned that I might bite the other dog. What should I do? "Sparky". Keene, New Hampshire

A. Dear Sparky,
This kind of thing happens all the time. My brother, Bandit-Boy, has a similar reaction sometimes. Maybe, if you didn't go nuts, and acted more relaxed and sociable when you saw another dog, your dad would want you two to meet. I know this isn't easy, especially if you aren't socialized and don't have any regular dog play mates. Humans are fun to be with, but sometimes it's good to be with other dogs. You didn't mention your breed and age, so I don't know if this is a wild adolescence phase that you're going through. Try jumping up and down in place and wagging your tail without the barking when you see another dog. Meantime have your dad read the following info about socialization.

Keep on jumping,


Much of the so-called "unprovoked aggression" dogs exhibit toward other dogs--and people--originates from poor social skills on the part of the dog. Dogs do not automatically know how to get along well with individuals outside of their nuclear family. It is up to their owners to give them supervised opportunities for making friends and developing a confident, outgoing personality.

All dogs need socialization--lots of it--to become well-adjusted members of society. In the ideal situation, pups from the age of five weeks onward are exposed to the company of others, first their mother and litter mates and their breeder, and then their new family when they are adopted, and continuing steadily with enrollment in a puppy-kindergarten class before the age of 12 weeks, where they have the opportunity to play with other pups and people while learning basic manners. Socialization, ideally, continues through adolescence and into adulthood.

A well-socialized dog will show a confident, outgoing, trusting attitude. They will feel very little need to act aggressive with other dogs, because they trust in their ability to communicate and work things out between them without needing to fight.

Of course, a dog's motivation to be aggressive with other dogs is influenced by many factors including, but not limited to, issues of sex and sexuality, breed, territoriality, and past history--such as whether they have ever been attacked by another dog. Generally speaking, neutered animals are less motivated to fight with other dogs.

While it can't resolve all instances of dog aggressiveness, nor make up entirely for a less-than-ideal puppy hood, structured socialization with other dogs can go a long way toward alleviating the stress many dogs feel when faced with strange dogs, thus removing much of the motivation for fighting.

UNDERSTANDING NATURAL GREETING RITUALS: When two dogs who are off-leash on neutral territory meet, they will approach each other and engage in a greeting ritual. This ritual will include some or all of the following:
  1. a stiff-legged approach with posturing to make the dog look larger--head high, ears forward, hackles raised, tail held stiffly erect OR posturing to make the dog look smaller (generally in the case of young puppies)--head and tail lowered with crouching and/or groveling movements;
  2. sniffing each other, first the head/ears and then circling to sniff the genital areas where the "identity scent" is strongest;
  3. parting from each other in order to scent mark on a nearby object in the case of males, or on the ground in the case of bitches, and sniffing where the other dog has marked; and
  4. rejoining each other with more sniffing and posturing, possibly including one dog placing his chin or paws on the others' withers or back, or mounting.
  5. If one individual is clearly more dominant and the other willing to accept it, the dogs may go their separate ways, or play together. If the dogs are closely matched and both strongly dominant, they may engage in a fight to determine who will be Alpha. If they do fight, it will involve a lot of noise and drama but seldom any real injury to either party. It ends as soon as one dog surrenders to the other.
When people get into the act, the greeting ritual often gets distorted. A tightly held leash can alter the dog's natural body language, and a nervous owner may telegraph their fear to their dog. And should a fight break out, by yelling and rushing into the fray many owners inadvertently escalate what otherwise might have been a short and harmless scuffle into a serious fight.

  1. Ask the owner of the other dog if it is friendly with dogs. Only proceed if the answer is yes, unless you are working with a knowledgeable dog trainer.
  2. Allow the dogs to approach, sniff, and circle each other, keeping slack in their leashes and avoiding tangles. Encourage the dogs with a soft, happy tone of voice.
  3. If your dog hangs back and presses against your legs, move away. He will be less inclined to be defensively aggressive without you there to back him up.
  4. Do not allow one dog to jump up on the other. Puppies may do this in their youthful enthusiasm, but it invites retaliation by the other dog. Use your voice tone and leash to control jumping. Praise for polite behavior and "AH, AH" for jumping before sniffing and getting the o.k. from the other dog to play.
  5. If the situation looks tense, call the dogs away from each other for a treat, or toss a ball, or walk away entirely if it is safe to do so. Fights are much less likely when the owner is not nearby.
  6. If one dog is fearful, it can be helpful to hold the other dog still in the stand or down position, and allow the fearful one to approach their hindquarters and sniff without the threat of being attacked. This builds confidence.
  7. If the dogs accept each other and you are in a safe place, you can proceed to the next step of dropping the leashes and allowing the dogs to play, remaining ready to separate the dogs if the play becomes too rough.
If a fight breaks out you have two choices: walk away and allow the dogs to settle things themselves (hard to do, but often a wise choice), or separate the dogs, being extremely careful not to reach near the dogs' heads, as they will not recognize you and you may get bitten. To separate the dogs, each owner should grasp their own dog's tail (or hind legs, in the case of tailless dogs) and elevate its hindquarters. As soon as the dogs loosen their grip, separate them. This is the safest approach, as dogs cannot reach around to bite very easily, and most lose their steam quickly without the driving power of their hind legs to fuel the fight.

When encountering loose dogs, it is necessary to keep your cool and act casual--if you panic, so will your dog. In the vast majority of cases, if you allow the dogs to interact without your interference, they will successfully do so. Of course, if you have a small dog, it may be prudent to pick it up for its own safety.

Pulling on the Leash

Q. Dear Lilly,
I am having a hard time training my human, Kim. I'm a ten-month old chocolate lab who loves to take walks on the leash. Kim knows this because I've been pulling her out the door and down the street every since I was 12 weeks old. I wouldn't pull her except that she walks so slow and I'm anxious to get going. Why does she act upset when I do this? "Jake". Brattleboro, Vermont.

A. Dear Jake,
I know what you mean, my human walks too slow too. I think they all do. Maybe if they had four legs, they could go faster. Try sitting while your human goes out the door first. That would be the first step. Practice sitting or waiting to go in and out of the door after her ten to fifteen times to get the hang of it. Then I would recommend that you learn some self-control by taking a training course in your local community. You probably weigh about 70 lbs and could injure your mom by pulling too hard when she isn't prepared. I've seen big guys like you walk nicely on a retractable leash or long line because it gives more opportunity to trot and run while the human walks. Add to that a gentle leader head collar or a no-pull halter and voila, you have more fun and mom isn't taking a risk of injuring her back. Here's some tips for your mom from my mom. Good Luck, Lilly


  1. The dog is a "leader" (dominant). A leader leads. This type of dog feels it is her/his duty to be out in front.
  2. The human holds the leash so that there is always some pressure. The dog will naturally resist against this pressure and pull. The more the handler pulls, the more the dog resists, escalating the problem.
  3. The dog knows that it is going someplace FUN and pulls in anticipation.
  4. When the dog is in a new area, desire to investigate causes her/him to forget normal manners and pull on the leash. This may also happen when there are certain distractions, such as other dogs in the vicinity.
  5. Some dogs will learn to heel perfectly when in a controlled environment such as training class, but revert to pulling whenever out in the "real world".
  6. Dog needs a lot more exercise.

The first thing to be aware of is that the dog must never be allowed to continue walking, or standing, with the leash tight. If the dog gets overexcited whenever the leash is put on, practice putting the leash on several times each day without going anywhere. Perhaps let the dog wear the leash around the house for brief periods. Do this until s/he is more calm about having the leash put on.

Next, if the dog charges off at the beginning of a walk, simply stand your ground until s/he stops. If s/he goes to the end of the leash and leans into it, wait until dog looks back to you, then do an about turn, making you the leader. If you have a habit of "choking up" on the leash, you will have to become very aware of your tendencies, and retrain yourself to stop YOUR pulling or holding the dog in place. ALWAYS INSIST ON KEEPING SLACK IN THE LEASH. When your dog is back at your side, praise and give a treat or toy as reward. To begin, practice with short sessions on-leash in the house when there are no distractions. This helps the dog to focus on you and will help you to maintain patience and consistency.

If your dog thinks s/he is the leader, you might have to first work to establish yourself as the leader in your dogs eyes before resolving this problem.

Another strategy is to thwart your dog by changing direction every time your dog goes out in front of you. It may take twice as long to get where you are going, but at least you are in the lead. An alternative would be to stop every few paces and sit your dog. These are all gentle, non-confrontational methods of retraining a pulling dog. If your dog is anticipating and pulling from excitement when you walk to the park, or head for the car, have your dog sit every few feet to regain control. Or you might try varying your routine and your route.

Make yourself more interesting to your dog by carrying some treats with you like boiled beef liver, cheese or your dog's favorite toy. Occasionally give a treat or toss the toy, remembering to use lots of praise whenever your dog is paying attention to you and walking without pulling. In this way you will be using your walks as a time for building greater rapport and by having fun together.

It is not necessary to make your dog heel perfectly when you are out for a casual walk. Use a command like "walk free!" whenever you take a walk with your dog. The only rules for this exercise would be that your dog should stay "more or less" on the same side near you so that you are not getting tripped up by the leash, and that s/he must NEVER lean into the leash and pull (if s/he does pull, stop dead in your tracks or reverse direction. Otherwise, sniffing, looking around, and eliminating are all permissible while walking free.

To help a strong rambunctious dog calm down for a walk, try using a head halter, prong training collar or a specially designed no-pull halter along with a 16 - 26 ft. retractable leash. This combination most certainly will make the walk more enjoyable for the dog and safer for the human children and adults!

Finally, make sure that your dog is getting sufficient daily exercise. A long walk on a short leash is fun, but dogs need to run. If your not a runner, teach your dog to fetch. Or find another doggie playmate so they can exercise themselves playing tag and tumble until their tired out! A well exercised dog can focus more easily on you!

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Grooming Problems

Q. Dear Lilly,
My name is Geronimo, every vet's nightmare. I am 4 year old unaltered male Airedale terrier with a curlycue tail. Mom puts that muzzle on me when I go to the vet, because I guess they are not amused by my attitude. However, I am still fierce -- It takes 4 people to hold me down for my exam. I really am a sweet guy - I just don't like people probing, poking, brushing, etc. I weigh about 60 lbs. but I am much bigger than my size -- it's all about attitude. Anyhow, now mom wants to try grooming me herself with a clipper! Please help! Geronimo

A. Dear Geronimo,
Gee Geronimo, sounds like you've never been handled! That's an important part of training and socialization. If someone would have groomed and handled you a little every day when you were a pup, it wouldn't be so hard to handle you now that you're such a big, tough guy!

Do you think you could stand still long enough to lick a large dab of peanut butter off the refrigerator door while your mom gently brushed you? Ask her to do this every day so that you can look forward to being groomed for one or two minutes. No mouthing of hands or brush or your mom will say "AH AH" firmly and point back to the peanut butter spot and tell you to go back to that. Hope that your mom stops brushing before you're finished licking and that she brushes very gently.

Once you're able to stand still and enjoy it, mom should start letting you hear the sound clippers make while she coos happy sounds and gently touches you without any cutting hair. Always have mom let you see and smell the grooming utensil before using it. The key is short frequent sessions which will gradually expand to longer sessions and one day, viola, you're clipped! Bet you'll look handsome too!

Hope this helps. Lilly.

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