Hello, San Tan Times readers! I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Susan Smith with East Valley Dog Training (a division of Raising Canine, LLC) and I’m a dog trainer and dog behavior consultant living in the San Tan Valley. The San Tan Times and I have decided to do a weekly column on dog training and behavior problems. This will be a question and answer column, so please send any questions you have to STT@EastValleyDogTraining.com. The column will be published every Monday.

In addition to dogs, I can answer some basic questions on other species, as well. I am very knowledgeable in training and the foundations of behavior and specialize in dogs. However, some concepts work across species and I have some basic knowledge of cat, parrot, and horse behavior.

Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted. If you are implementing the suggestions given and do not see a change in behavior within a month, please contact a professional trainer for an in-depth consultation.

Our 4-year-old Akita-Pitbull-mix never seems to slow down. He takes almost daily walks for a mile or so, and runs around in the back yard playing Frisbee or fetch a lot, but he never gets tired and is always up for more. It is to a point to where our 5-year-old female Pitbull tries to avoid him. He also chases flies or a laser pointer or shadows to the point where he runs into the wall because he is so focused on whatever it is. He is a constant licker and if you do push him away he will either pick a different person to try and lick or he will lick the wall or furniture. This one just seems strange to us because I have never had a dog do this at his age but he still squats to pee. We had him fixed when the vet said that it was time, and he is so tall that he regularly pees on his front legs because he is squatting. Sincerely, Matt

Matt – there are several issues here, so I’ll address them one at a time.

Physical Exercise: This is a young, active dog and, although it seems like he gets a lot of exercise, it may not be as much as you think. Walks are great for dogs, but for a dog of this size, a walk isn’t exercise. It’s great mental stimulation, but not physical exercise. As to the backyard fetch games, this may or may not be enough exercise. This dog should probably have a minimum of 30 minutes of solid aerobic exercise per day, keeping in mind the Arizona heat. Dogs do not cool themselves down as efficiently as humans, so they need lots of water and the ability to rest when necessary.

Mental Exercise: In addition to physical exercise, dogs need mental exercise. Especially if the family is gone all day and he only sees you in the evenings and on weekends, it’s almost a guarantee that he’s bored. Rather than going into detail here, if you go to this link, https://eastvalleydogtraining.com/2019/06/17/mental-physical-stimulation/, there’s a blog post on different types of mental stimulation for your dog. Incorporate what you can, adding more when possible.

Impulse Control: Another problem may be that this dog does not have any impulse control. This is not unusual – we see it a lot in pet dogs. Your dog many need to learn how to control his impulses and wait to get what he wants. There are many impulse control exercises you can practice with your dog – here’s a short list:

  • Wait before eating
  • Wait before going out the door
  • Sit politely while you put the leash on for a walk (and wait to go out the door)
  • Perform a behavior before getting something he wants, such as attention and petting

I could go on, but basically, anything that requires the dog to wait or do something prior to getting something he wants requires impulse control.

Although we don’t think of our dogs in the same way we think of kids, there are a lot of similarities. Young kids have to have downtime – naps, quiet time coloring, and so on. Dogs need this, as well. If your dog is crate trained, you can put him in his crate with a favorite toy, and let him relax for an hour or so. If he’s not crate trained, you can confine him to a specific area, or even tether him. Do this once or twice a day, on a regular schedule and reward him (with praise and yummy treats) when he’s being calm. In time, he should learn to settle down and relax on his own. Once that happens, he no longer needs to be contained. If he’s crated during the day while the family is at work and school, this may not be what is needed – in this case, he’s probably excited to see you and has had more than enough downtime, but still needs practice on impulse control.

Dogs tend to be most active early morning and early evening, so these are good times to play with them. Mid-day and later evening are good times to practice impulse control. Unfortunately, your dog’s most active time is also the time that is least conducive to playing with him – there’s work to get ready for and dinner to get on. Do your best, and enlist the kids!

If your female were older, I’d be more concerned – older dogs have a right to live in peace. But, if you practice some of these impulse control exercises, hopefully, it will transfer to her situation, as well. At the very least, you’ll be able to call him away and she’ll have some relief during his downtime.

Fly, Laser, & Shadow/Reflection Chasing: As to the fly, laser, and shadow chasing, I would put an immediate stop to this behavior. It can become a problem if allowed to continue. Flies will be the hardest, but if he starts chasing a fly, call him to you, ask him to lay down, and keep him down – or put him in his crate or on a leash. Get rid of the laser pointer – my guess is that the only reason he’s chasing it is because you’re playing that game with him. He’s probably chasing reflections, rather than shadows, but regardless, cover those up. I used to have a reflection chaser and it generally came from predictable things – light reflecting off a plate when I was doing dishes, light reflecting off my watch, the sun coming in the window, etc. For things like the plate or watch, just be aware and move the item so it doesn’t reflect. For the sun, if it is indoors, put a chair or other object over the reflection so it’s no longer there or block the dog from that room – if it’s outside, just stay on top of it and call the dog off the reflection or shadow.

If you do this consistently, you should see a change in the behavior – eventually, it should go away entirely, but this may take quite a while. If you are consistent about preventing the behavior and don’t see a change within six-to-eight months or can’t call him off, it could be an obsessive-compulsive behavior and you’ll need to consult with a veterinary behaviorist. You do need the dog to come when called – if you don’t already have a reliable recall, this is something you might work on. If he doesn’t have a reliable recall, don’t expect to be able to call him off while he’s engaged in the behavior – you’ll have to work on his recall while he’s not preoccupied doing something else.

Licking: All of these behaviors – chasing, bothering the other dog, and licking – probably have their root in a lack of impulse control and boredom. However, once a behavior starts, it can become a habit, which it sounds like might have happened here. This is another situation where you need to simply not let it happen. Set some parameters – perhaps it’s okay to lick your feet, but not your hands, arms, and face, and when you tell him to stop, he must stop. Or, if you don’t want him to lick at all, when he starts, insist that he stop and don’t let him go to another person or the wall – tether him, put him in his crate, or use some other management technique, being sure to reward him when he complies.

Squatting: I don’t know your living situation, but it’s not unusual for male dogs to squat, so I wouldn’t be worried about it. Behaviors such as lifting a leg require a stimulus. That stimulus is usually the smell of another dog’s urine on an upright surface, such as a tree or fire hydrant. If your dog is not exposed to this type of stimulus, he may just never learn to lift his leg. I’ve seen Spaniels, who hunt in fields of brush (rather than trees) who never lift their legs. There’s not really an upright surface available and they just never learn to do it. It’s really not anything to worry about.

If you’re really concerned about it, find someone with a male dog who marks, and follow them on a walk, allowing your dog to smell where the other dog has marked. This may be the stimulus he needs to start lifting his leg.

Rewarding Good Behavior: Anytime he refrains from doing one of these behaviors when he normally would have, reward him big time! When there’s a reflection or shadow and he doesn’t chase it, reward him. When he does approach you and doesn’t lick (when in the past he would have), make sure he knows you appreciate his self-control: give him a treat or an ear scratch and tell him he’s a good boy.

This sounds like a lot to implement all at once, and it is. Pick the behavior you most want to address, work it until it’s under control, then move to the next one. You may find that your work on a prior behavior is already having an effect on the next behavior. Also, if everyone in the family can get on board with the training, that’s great. If not, you may have to implement some management when those who are not able or willing to train are with the dog and you’re not – this will speed the learning process. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

Susan Smith, CPDT, CDBC is a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and author. You can contact her through her website at https://www.EastValleyDogTraining.com.