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My Pet World: Don’t discipline dogs; train them to change behaviors and Fourth of July tips

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

We inherited a rescue dog. We have no other dogs right now, so we agreed to take her. She’s a good dog but very skittish and barks constantly when she's outside. I’m hesitant to discipline her, like our other dogs, because she's so leery. So far, she’s way more agreeable to my wife, but even my wife can't get her to stop barking without praising her somehow. It seems wrong to praise her for barking, but we don't know what to do. I am at a loss on how to deal with this without making her more afraid.

–G. Washington, Las Vegas, Nevada

Dear G.,

You don’t have to discipline her. You can use positive reinforcement to change her behavior. Start with some basic obedience training to build her confidence. Training teaches her you are in charge and she must look to you for instructions. If she lets you lead, she will relax more and not feel the need for the constant alerts (barking) when out in the yard.

Of course, training takes time and you can’t let her bark incessantly in the yard. So, you will need to interrupt the barking by clapping your hands or using a Pet Corrector (a can of compressed air) to get her attention. Then call her over to you. When she responds, ask her to sit, then use a reward word, like “Bingo,” and give her a treat. Training her to “come” when called helps to interrupt the barking.


Another option is to go outside with her. Dogs often bark less when their owners are present. Hopefully, as she adjusts to her new home, she will bark less and be less skittish.

Dear Cathy,

I have an 11-pound Chihuahua, a 22-pound terrier-mix, and an 80-pound lab puppy and a very large backyard with young sapling trees. All three are white or blonde. Sometimes my Chihuahua, Taco, goes off on his own, sometimes 30 to 40 feet away from the others. Is he safe from birds of prey? Does his color help? Is the terrier-mix safe? I have seen falcons and hawks in the area.

–Casie, Tampa, Florida


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