I have a seven-year-old female golden retriever. She is great with other dogs when loose, but when I walk her on a leash, she barks aggressively at them. She used to be fine, but her behavior changed when she turned four. I had her on a leash, and a stranger let their loose dog run up to her, raising its hackles, which she didn't like. Ever since then, it has been an issue. Any suggestions to rectify this?
— Emmy, Killingworth, Connecticut
What you’re describing is leash reactivity. Leash reactivity occurs when dogs who are generally friendly react aggressively to specific triggers while on a leash. The most common trigger is seeing another dog, but it can be other things. Many leash-reactive dogs feel insecure and overcompensate through aggression, which may be what happened with the loose dog. Dogs with leash reactivity need better impulse control.
You can build your dog’s confidence by training your dog to heel, respond to her name, and always look at you while walking on a leash. But I think you will see better results by working with a trainer who specializes in leash reactivity. They will observe your dog's leash reactivity and help you develop a step-by-step training plan. The good news is a dog can learn not to be leash-reactive.
We have a cat who will be 16 years old in August. In 2020, she got sick and spent five days and received more than $4,400 worth of treatment in the hospital. She recovered but since has quit using the litter box. I have tried various products to entice her to use them. We're getting older, and it's getting harder to bend down to clean he messes up. Do you have any suggestions?
— Scott, Delray Beach, Florida
When a cat stops using the litter box after an illness, it's often because they associate the litterbox with "the illness" and so avoid it so as not to get “sick" again. To help your cat transition from illness to wellness, it sometimes helps to buy all new litter boxes and relocate them, so they are not in their usual places. Change the litter to something similar in texture but a different brand and add a litter box attractant to encourage her back to the box. I also recommend trying a feline pheromone collar or plug-in or an over-the-counter calming supplement if you think she is feeling anxious around the litter box. If the problem persists, talk to your veterinarian about medication and rule out another health issue.
Our German Shepherd barks like crazy for no reason. It's bad enough when there is a reason, like when a mail carrier comes around. Training seems to last only until tomorrow's visit by the mail carrier. Is there any help?
— Doris, New Hyde Park, New York
Protecting their humans is what dogs do, and barking is their way of warning you of impending danger. When the mail carrier approaches the house, your dog warns you. They are also warning the stranger to go away. When the mail carrier walks away, the dog gets affirmation that the barking helped and repeats the behavior with others.
But dogs also bark when they smell something in the air, things you and I can't see. My dog will often bolt out the door with his nose in the air, barking furiously. He may detect odors from a fire or another animal or person who may be nearby. To our limited senses, they are barking at nothing, but trust me, with 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared to about six million in ours, they are barking at something.
You can't prevent your dog from barking, but you can teach them when to stop. Train your dog how to “sit,” “stay,” and “come” using a clicker or reward/marker word. Once your dog understands the clicker or marker/reward word marks the behavior you want and that a reward will follow, begin training your dog to stop barking on command.
Start where there are few distractions to set your dog up for success. When your dog barks, make a loud, short-staccato “shhh!” sound. Your dog should stop barking for a few seconds. In that short window, click the clicker or say your dog's marker/reward word, like Bingo, so your dog knows he did something right and will receive a treat as a result. Be consistent with this training; over time, your dog should learn to stop barking at your request.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)
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