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You can now also include a link to a video version of your question (or footage of your dogs' issues), and Victoria may feature your question in an upcoming 'Ask Victoria' web video series episode. If your question is training-related, be sure to include as much background info as possible while keeping it brief – it’s more helpful for others to be able to read your (short) question along with her answers.
If you need immediate training help, look for a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer in your area, check out the 'Ask Victoria' web video series, or search the extensive Positively forums or for your issue before posting your question to the wonderfully helpful and informative people there – chances are someone else has had the same problem before you. You can also book a phone or Skype consultation with a Victoria-licensed expert VSPDT dog trainer as well. As always, however, Victoria recommends seeking the help of a qualified positive-reinforcement trainer.
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Favorite IMOTD Episode
Question: Victoria, what has been your favorite episode of It's Me or the Dog so far, and why is it your favorite?
--Phyllis McEachern, Columbus, Ohio
Answer: I get asked this question a lot so I should have developed a better answer by now, but I'm afraid I haven't. I've shot over 100 episodes of It's Me or the Dog since the show began in 2005, and while there have been a couple of epiosdes that have really tested my patience, I've enjoyed working with almost all of the owners we've had on the show. I've even become good friends with several of the families from the show, including Holly Firfer (my podcast co-host) and Dannee and Camille from the first US episode ('Boxed In').
So in terms of picking a favorite, it's hard to do because there are so many different things I've loved about so many different episodes. I had a wonderful time working with the lovely Shelton family and Junie B ('Boys vs Girls'), and they've become good friends. It's great to see the change in Junie B, as she's now far better around men and great around the men in the family.
One of the most fascinating cases I've come across was Max the Gordon Setter in the UK, who suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder with lights and reflective objects. It was a very unique problem which was really fun to try and solve, and the end result after working through my training with him was fantastic - a truly changed dog and a testament to the power of positive reinforcement.
The PAWS Atlanta episode ('The Unadoptables') holds a special place in my heart, as I had been trying for years to help the shelter turn the corner in terms of its facilities and overall appearance. To have been able to convince Lowes to donate over $300,000 to the shelter was more than I ever could have dreamed of, and the wonderful people there continue to do great and much needed work in the Atlanta shelter world.
I could go on and on, but those three represent the diversity of episodes I've filmed and a few of the reasons why they're so special to me. The new season of It's Me or the Dog in NYC starts in one week (Jan 8th), and I'm pretty sure that if you ask me the same question after this season airs there will be a whole new set of favorites to choose from. Be sure to tune in!
How To Stop Your Dog From Jumping Up
Question: Victoria, how do I get my dog to stop jumping up on guests every time someone new comes into the house? It started out as an annoyance and now the problem has escalated to the point that I dread having visitors over. Please help!
--Randy McClure, Portsmouth, Maine
Answer: This is a classic example of why it's important to nip problem behaviors in the bud. People often think it's silly to hire a trainer for relatively small problems, but those problems can quickly get out of hand as you're finding out.
Most dogs jump through sheer excitement and because it is an effective way of getting attention, while others might jump because they feel uneasy when someone new comes into the house.
The best way to stop your dog from jumping up is to ignore her while she is in the act of jumping. Each time she jumps up at you, turn your back. Do not look, talk or touch her at any time and fold your arms in front of you so that you become boring. When she stops jumping, wait for three seconds of four paws on the floor and then reward the calm behavior with your attention. If she jumps again, repeat the exercise. While doing this training you might find that your dog jumps even higher to get your attention. This is known as an ‘extinction burst.’ The jumping behavior that has previously got attention no longer works so she tries harder, but persevere with the technique because eventually she will give up! Your friends and family members need to treat your dog in exactly the same way so that she learns through consistency.
If your dog is jumping on guests because she cannot contain her excitement then it is wise to manage your environment by not allowing her to greet people when they first come through the door. Keep your dog behind a baby gate and when she is calm, walk her up to your guests and train her to sit in front of them. Not only are you giving her something to do while greeting, a dog that is sitting cannot jump, which you and your guests will appreciate!
Question: I think my dog is suffering from separation anxiety, but I'm not sure. He always gets pretty nervous when I'm about to leave (following me everywhere, panting, yipping), and when I get home after being gone for awhile, he seems like he's never stopped freaking out. I'm sure he's not in that state the whole time I'm gone, but I still can't help thinking he's going through a tough time. How can I be sure and what should I do to help him?
--Phillip Hammond, London, UK
Answer: Separation anxiety is one of the most difficult behavior problems to deal with in dogs because successful modification relies on owners being present at all times during what can be a long training process. Dogs and humans have a mutual need to form social attachments, and while dogs may suffer from a little separation distress at times, most learn to cope with an owner’s absence. However there are some dogs that become anxious when left alone and exhibit some or all of the classic signs of that anxiety, including excessive vocalization, pacing, whining, panting, inappropriate toileting and destructiveness. These dogs have an inability to settle and cope when left alone and this causes major concern for owners.
Treatment for separation anxiety depends on the severity of the disorder and must be tackled on many levels. Daily exercise should be complemented with an obedience training program that allows a dog to learn new obedience commands centered on impulse control and problem solving. This helps to activate the learning part of a dog’s brain which in turn deactivates the emotional center of the brain responsible for the anxiety.
It is much easier for a dog to cope with an owner’s departure if the owner makes little fuss of the dog when leaving. The same is true when an owner returns. The less attention that is given to the dog during departures and returns, the less a dog’s anxiety will be reinforced. Leaving lights and a television or radio on during an owner’s absence will also help make the transition to an empty home easier.
Try putting on a coat and exiting followed immediately by a return – that way the coat doesn’t always mean the owner is going to leave for a long period of time. Constant repetition over a number of days helps to desensitize the dog so that departures no longer trigger a response. Leaving a dog with appropriate activity toys to chew on is also crucial, but be sure to give the toy to the dog a few minutes before you depart.
The first step, though, is making sure your dog is actually anxious. Set up a video camera and record the dog’s actions while she is alone. This will give you a more accurate picture as to the cause of the behavior. Good luck!
Akita Doesn't Like Strangers or Being Groomed
Question: We have a 22-month old Akita and he hates being groomed or bathed – he snaps and snarls. He is adorable in every other way at home but he’s not great with strangers – he bares his teeth if they want to pet him. He has never been hit (I know this as we have had him since a pup) but it is unnerving when out on walks when people he doesn’t know come toward him to say hello. Most people we have met have been dog owners and understand.
--Karen, North Wales
Puppy Mill Rescue is aggressive towards men
Question: Hi Victoria! I love your show! I have two mini Australian shepherds. My female Alice was rescued from a puppy mill. She is very territorial when it comes to men. The second a man comes near her she begins barking non-stop. I’ve tried my command leave it, ignoring her, giving men treats to entice her, but nothing has worked! How do I get her to be more comfortable around men? Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you!
--Lauren, Norman, OK
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The rescue of 180 Chihuahuas sparks a larger conversation on how to transition dogs from crisis situations into homes.