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Ask the Vet: Punishment After Misbehavior Ineffective, Instills Fear in Dog

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: When Dobby, my roommate's family dog, visits us, he sometimes gets into the trash. My roommate says scolding him after I find trash on the floor is not effective. Is this true?

Yesterday, I found Dobby knee-deep in trash on the kitchen floor. Even though I didn't yell, Dobby rolled over and showed his belly, so I'm sure he knew what he'd done was wrong. How do we deal with this problem?

A: Your roommate is correct. Scolding Dobby after he's raided the trash only confuses him -- he has no idea why this crazy human is yelling at him -- and that makes him fear you.

I suspect Dobby rolled over in submission not because he knew what he'd done was wrong but because your eyes widened and your body stiffened, and he's learned that such behavior is followed by punishment.

To stop Dobby's unwanted behavior, catch him as he's starting to investigate or dig into the trash. Immediately distract him by tossing a toy across the room or taking him outdoors.

Better yet, prevent Dobby from getting into the trash by blocking his access to it. Store your trash can in a cabinet, and, if you have to, add a childproof closure to the cabinet door. Or place the trash in the pantry and keep the door shut. Or, if the trash bin must be in the room, choose a design with a dog-proof lid, perhaps one with a latch.


That way, Dobby can resume being a good little house elf -- er, dog -- who is praised for his good manners.

Q: My elderly cat took many medications for several diseases. He died a year ago, and I am finally getting around to throwing out his drugs. What's the safest way to do that?

A: Thank you for thinking about safety -- human, animal and environmental. The best way to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs is to deliver them to an organization that will see that they are safely incinerated.

Many organizations provide this "take-back" service, so choose the one most convenient for you.


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