Back To Basics

Help! Where’s my pyrfect dog?

Pyrs can be challenging, but if you have one, you already know that. They are dominant, very intelligent (you think they’re “stubborn”) and have “selective hearing.” Many people are disappointed when their rescue dog doesn’t seem to be the “perfect dog.”  A perfect dog needs a perfect owner, and how many of us can claim that title? A well-behaved dog doesn’t come that way right out of the box: it takes time, patience and following proven training methods to produce that social, loving dog. Like children, dogs crave consistency and a simple set of rules.

While we always advise consulting a trainer on behavioral and temperament issues, here are some of the most common problems we’ve seen, and possible solutions that have worked for many new Pyr owners. Many of these items are covered in the materials adopters receive with their adoption contract from NGPR: the Your New Rescue Dog (YNRD) booklet and Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) training. Two online resources include Dr. Patricia McConnell’s website (she has owned Pyrs herself) and a trainer who has worked with many Pyrs, Roman Gottfried.

My dog had an accident in the house (or lifts his leg indoors to mark); I was told he/she was housebroken!

Many dogs seem to “forget” their housebreaking training when they arrive in a new home and will need a refresher course in their new environment. Any new dog needs to be taken out often upon arrival, and shown the new place in this strange new territory to “do their business.” Pyrs are so predator-wary that a few may refuse to use a new outside location until they are certain it is “safe.”  Find out as much as you can about the dog; some dogs, although you have walked them on leash and they didn’t do their business, may not be comfortable doing their business with a new person and want their privacy in an outdoor kennel or yard.

Reward and praise the dog when he goes where you would prefer. Some people use a verbal cue to associate with the act, as when seeing-eye dogs are commanded to “Park!” (a verbal cue that is usually known primarily to the blind owner or their family). Be patient with a young dog. A general rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold it the number of hours equal to their age in months plus one, i.e., a two-month old puppy can hold it for three hours. There also are commercial products designed to attract a new dog to the desired bathroom area. A helpful guide to housebreaking a puppy may be found here.

Older dogs can be housebroken using basic puppy housebreaking methods, but here is a helpful article to reference on housebreaking adults.  Be consistent, patient, and use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior. Feed meals on a set schedule, and take the dog out an hour afterward or whenever you see she will need to urinate and defecate. Never leave an un-housebroken dog unattended unless she is in a crate. And don’t punish your dog when he/she makes a mistake. We believe in crate training, which is especially helpful in housebreaking. You can refer to this link.

My new dog growled at my resident dog!

Your new dog may smell your last dog’s scent in the house and in an effort to make it his own, try to scent mark those areas. A sharp verbal correction (Eh Eh! or NO!) and an immediate exit outside to the appropriate area is needed. Use a belly band if necessary. When a dog arrives off transport, they are very stressed and physically tired, as described in Your New Rescue Dog. They usually need a lot of sleep the first few days, and also space from other pets and children and all the friends and family who are eager to meet the new “baby.”

Please follow the instructions on introducing your new dog in the YNRD booklet. The time you take to follow these steps will be worth it. Separate them by pressure gates if necessary for the first few days. USE YOUR CRATE as a safe place and “den” for the new dog. Exchange blankets or towels with each other’s scent so they can become acquainted with each other’s scent. Each dog should be on a leash indoors and out at first, so you can separate them at the first sign of nervous behavior. Watch for a tense, closed mouth that may be moving forward at the corners; if you spot that look, immediately make sure there is more space between them, even if that tense dog is wagging his tail. Many times, the cause of aggressive barking or growling at the other dog is based in fear. Imagine it from the point of view of the dog, who has come a long distance to his new home, not knowing if it is to be his forever home, another temporary stop along the way, or simply a place he will be abandoned or mistreated. He doesn’t know the pack order yet, the house rules, and who controls the resources (that should be YOU, by the way).

Learn to recognize the facial expressions and body language that signal fear or possible aggression. Click here or on the image for an enlarged version of the body language chart above. The following links also provide guidance on facial expressions and body language. You can also read about how your dog will use calming signals to communicate with you and how to respond.

(NOTE: While growling can make a new owner nervous, remember that it is also your “early warning system” that the dog is upset. If a dog is punished for growling, they may learn not to growl, and go straight to the bite. This is an issue that needs to be addressed with a trainer who can observe your dog in the specific situations that provoke growling, whether they are based on territorial possession, or fear, or something else.)

As pack animals, dogs usually work out the pecking order between themselves eventually, but it’s up to you to manage the environment in order to facilitate this. To ensure a peaceful “negotiation,” go back to square one of the new introduction instructions in our Your New Rescue Dog booklet. The time you spend on the initial introductions will pay off tremendously in the long run.

He/She chased the cats!

Your new dog may have been fine with a cat or cats at the foster home, but these are not “his” cats, they are strange, new and interesting cats. Always keep a dog on leash when introducing it to your cats; again, more specific instructions are included in Your New Rescue Dog.

Keep the dog on a leash for the first few days or longer, and when not on leash he must be in a crate or securely gated off room while the introduction process is going on, which can take weeks. No ifs, ands or buts. No free roaming for the dog unless the cats are safely hidden away. You MUST keep them separated in the beginning. Cats who run from the dog mean this will take longer. Dogs tend to chase cats who run, though a kitten may not know to be scared and come right up to the dog, which means you have to have the dog on leash in case he decides the new kitten is “dinner.”

See pages 5-6 in the Your New Rescue Dog booklet on our basic advice on how to introduce them. You may want to take a towel the cats have slept on or been rubbed with and put it in the dog’s crate so she can get used to their smells, as well; then exchange towels so they can each get acquainted with the smell of the new animal without the stress of physical intimidation. The basics of dog and cat introductions are covered here. This video on dog and cat introductions is helpful, as well as this PDF on living with both cats and dogs.

Managing separation anxiety

This is a fairly common problem with rescue dogs, and it can range from distress barking to outright destruction. When you get your new dog, you probably have arranged to be at home 24/7, at least for the first couple of days. Eventually, you may be returning to work, and he may be shocked to be left for so long. Start slowly. Take your car keys and walk into the garage and come right back. Try walking out of the house for five minutes and come right back inside, to get the dog used to your coming and going with no fuss, no big deal. Work up the time gradually; get in the car and drive to the end of the block and come back. Drive a little further, but if the dog has been destructive while you’re gone, then scale back the time until he becomes calmer and is reassured that you are coming back and all is well. Training suggestions may include:

  • Leave the dog with a Kong toy stuffed with frozen peanut butter and kibble—anything that will take at least 20 minutes to finish. Make sure the dog is in his “safe space,” usually either a crate or small room.
  • Devise a different “exit strategy” to differ your routine every time you leave the house.
  • Leave “olfactory” comfort items of worn t-shirts with your smell on them in the dog’s crate or resting area when you leave.
  • Put on relaxing music; many vets recommend a calming CD such as “Through a Dog’s Ear,” available here.

The ASPCA has many behavioral help documents available on their website, including one on Separation Anxiety. The Humane Society of the U.S. offers this advice. The Whole Dog Journal has published articles on this topic and on how to relieve symptoms. Depending on the severity of the problem, separation anxiety can be dealt with by methods including counter-conditioning, desensitization and in extreme cases, medication.

If you have a behavioral (or health) problem with your dog and obtained your dog through rescue, please contact the adoption coordinator who handled your application.  They should be able to steer you in the right direction for getting help. The advice contained in this article is meant in no way to substitute for consulting with your veterinarian or a certified trainer.

Part II of this article in the December newseltter will cover other issues, including resource guarding, dominance and counter-surfing.