Right now I have seven foster dogs, and each one has a different issue. In fact, I believe I can fully discuss any dog behavior problem and potential solutions based just on my experiences with these seven dogs. I’m not saying I will fix the issue, of course. Just that I’ve identified the issues and am fully aware of them. And that I’m hoping these dogs get adopted quickly so their new families can work on these issues and I can go save another dog with issues and identify those issues in order to match that dog up to a family who is willing and able to work on those issues. But until they’re adopted I will do my best to work on their issues in order to make them more adoptable. So I can go save more dogs with issues and work on those issues. It's a vicious cycle, but I keep telling myself this makes me a better trainer. But since these dogs usually get adopted before their issues are fully resolved, it’s possible I’m fooling myself. Either way, I have seven foster dogs with issues and lots of opportunity to learn from them.
A great resource for dog owners and foster parents is the ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist. They cover a wide array of issues which I may actually be experiencing all at once!
The first area of behavior they cover is aggression issues. This includes things like aggression, mounting behavior, and predatory behavior. I’ve memorized several of the articles in this section, like the one on mouthing and play biting, thanks to Ziggy the Adoptable Dog. My current foster dog with aggression issues is Gucci. He feels threatened by dogs who are bigger than him, and he handles this by barking, lunging at them, and showing other aggressive behaviors. He also often mounts dogs that are larger than him and humps them to show them he is tough. This could be because he was given the name Gucci by someone before I got him and he’s been trying to stop the other dogs from laughing at him. Whatever the reason, it’s a problem that caused him to leave two different foster homes and end up at my house (The House of the Misfit Dogs) so he could learn to get along with dogs who are larger than him. Now to be fair, his second foster home was willing to keep him and work with him, but I fell in love with him and volunteered to take him. We could perhaps adopt out Gucci as an only pet and warn the owners to keep him away from dogs that are bigger than he is. Except that Gucci only weighs four and a half pounds, so every dog is bigger than he is. And once he learned that big dogs are not so scary, he actually enjoys playing with them. So now Gucci the Maltipoo is running around my house with all the other dogs, including two sixty-pound pit bulls (they’re only thirteen times bigger than he is), and doing well most of the time.
Occasionally he gets back into his bad habits of barking and attacking other dogs, or humping other dogs, and he gets a time-out in order to calm down and remember that big dogs are his friends and he is not the one in charge. He’s doing great and I wish every behavior problem was so easy to fix!
The second section of their website deals with general behavior issues such as digging, chewing, jumping up, and escaping from the yard. Several of my foster dogs have these issues. Pandora, my newest foster dog, is a deaf Boxer. With her issues, I think she deserves a post of her own, but for now, I will just say that although she only weighs around 45 pounds, she can jump over a fence without a problem. This includes four foot wire fences, five foot concrete fences, and six foot wood privacy fences. My solution to this is to try to move her to a foster home who walks her dogs because she doesn’t have a fence. If that doesn’t work, I’ll settle for taking her out on leash and/or using a tie-out at home and entering her in dog agility classes where she can use her athletic abilities for good instead of evil.
Jet is another foster dog who has some general behavior issues. She is actually a very good dog, except no one ever taught her that body-slamming is not the best – or the only – way to get attention. She is only a year old and she just loves to jump. We’re following the article’s advice and working on her not jumping up on people. Again, I could very well have another agility champion in the making!
The third section of their website deals with vocal issues like barking, howling and whining. I'm fortunate that I live in the middle of nowhere and have no close neighbors to complain of the barking, howling and whining. Most of my dogs are usually quiet, but right now I have a little Chihuahua named Blondie who is very fearful. She deals with her fear by barking loudly whenever she hears people, or thinks she hears people. I'm trying to find her a home with a hermit in the mountains who never has visitors.
The next section of their website deals with chasing issues, like cars and kids and cats. I will soon be memorizing these articles because Pandora wants to chase everything. I also have one brave cat who lives with me in the House of Misfit Dogs, and he is often subject to dogs who like to chase cats. For the most part I don’t try to train this “prey drive” out of them if it’s just cats and not excessive – it is easier to place them into a home without cats. My cat has several places he can go that is a “cat only” zone away from the dogs. But yesterday my foster dog Eeyore (deaf pit bull) was out in the front yard on a tie-out while I searched the grounds for my missing car keys (again). He saw a cat and took off after it. There was nothing I could do since I was too far to reach him plus he’s deaf and couldn’t hear me, so I just had to watch in horror as he ran full-speed after the cat, until he reached the end of the tie-out. At that point he flipped up into the air, did a somersault, and landed on his back. At the same time, the wooden banister support for the front porch steps came crashing down (that’s where the other end of the tie-out had been attached). Eeyore got up immediately, looked for the cat who had disappeared, and then looked back at me like “Did you see that?!” and came running back to me with a big smile. He seemed to think it was great fun, but we won’t be doing that again!
Eating issues is the next section, and that sounds like an easy section. But it includes things like counter-surfing and food guarding. Eeyore is another poster-child for this section. He does both! And I have to say, teaching a deaf dog not to counter-surf is a huge hassle, because you can’t yell or clap your hands to get their attention when they’re searching the counters for food. You actually have to get up off of the couch where you were comfortably surrounded by loving affectionate dogs and go to the kitchen counter to get the dog’s attention and give them the hand sign for off and redirect them to something else. In the meantime the affectionate dogs were startled by you scrambling up off of the couch and immediately go into overdrive mode (what?! What’s wrong?! Why are you moving?! What am I missing?! Let me run around in circles and bark and get all wound up because you moved!!!) Untrained deaf dogs are not conducive to a quiet evening at home.
Fear issues are next, and these are some of the hardest for me to work with. Both Blondie the Chihuahua and Annie the Beagle mix are afraid of strangers, and the only way to get them over that is to have them meet lots of strangers in a positive way so they learn that strangers aren’t so scary. Since I am busy with work and live so far from civilization, I don’t have the chance to work with them during the week. That means adoption events or sometimes other events on weekends are their only chance to learn to get over their fear of strangers. Separation anxiety also falls into this fear category, and I’ve been learning a lot about this problem thanks to Eeyore. I even bought a book and had a professional trainer work with Eeyore to get him started on the right track. He’s now sleeping in his crate at night with me in the next room, and staying there for short periods of time when I’m home without going crazy. Progress is slow but so rewarding to watch him learn that he can be in a crate and away from my side without the world coming to an end.
The final section of the website deals with house-training issues. Some dogs are easier to house-train than others. Apparently Basset Hound mixes named Gus are one of the most difficult to house-train. I blame this mostly on the fact that he is really good at looking innocent and sneaking away when no one is looking so it’s very hard to catch him in the act. One of the articles teaches you how to train your dog to ring bells in order to let you know when they need to go out. The great people at Poochie-Pets sent me some PoochieBells to try out and I absolutely love them. The dogs use them all the time to tell me if they want to go out, and the new dogs seem to pick up on how it works from the fosters that have been there awhile, so I don’t even have to train anyone how to use them. Basically they all learn that the bells must ring before the door will open, so if they ring the bell, that makes me open the door. Even the deaf dogs have figured it out, although they can’t hear the noise, they know that nosing at the bells makes me open the door. These bells were sent to me back in January to review, and since I am an awful blogger who never got around to reviewing them, the dogs have had eight months to do their best to destroy the bells, and I fully expected them to not last more than a month or two. Eight months later the PoochieBells are still in excellent shape and appear that they will last forever! If you’re looking for an option to bell-train your dog, definitely check them out.
That completes the list of my current foster dogs and their current issues. Although I am sure there are dog issues out there that I haven't yet encountered (although none come to mind), at the moment I’m getting a lot of practice with a wide variety of issues! On the plus side, all of my recent fosters that didn't have issues have been adopted, like Sadie the deaf Catahoula Leopard Dog and Brittany the Anatolian Shepherd mix and Pablo the deaf Boxer/American Bulldog mix and Kiwi the Chihuahua mix and Leah and Leo the Chihuahua puppies and even Joey the diaper-wearing Chihuahua (who does have issues). Even Ziggy the dog with more issues than any dog in the known universe has gone to a foster-to-adopt home and so far hasn't been returned! So there is a lot to celebrate, and hopefully more adoptions coming soon!