What’s Up With Dogs Shredding Paper?


Whether it’s a roll of toilet paper or a pile of junk mail, many dogs enjoy shredding paper just about as much as playing with a toy, what gives? For a good reason, several dog owners have granted their dogs the nickname of “Shreddy” or “Confetti”due to their abilities to shred things into pieces. Sure, watching a dog shred paper into pieces can be quite fun, but it might not be too much if it involves your homework, your daily newspaper or some important documents and you must then pick up all those minute pieces! Of course, you can train your dog to help you pick them up, but if you don’t make the activity rewarding enough, most dogs will just abandon the room and leave you on your own cleaning up the mess,

A Matter of Sensory Enrichment

Dogs in general, but in particular, puppies and young dogs, are often on the lookout for novelties or anything that provides them with some level of sensory enrichment. Just the mere sensation of holding paper in their mouth may feel rewarding, but there’s often more to that.

Mail can be interesting because it’s covered in a variety of scents and bubble mailers may be fun to pop and then shred into pieces. Paper rolled up in a ball stolen from the waste basket is fun to pat, mouth and chase and toilet paper roll is fun to unroll and then shred.

Tearing paper into pieces fulfills a dog’s ancestral need to eviscerate and tear apart prey animals. Even though dogs are domesticated, they have inbuilt motor patterns reminiscent of the old days when they were hunting and paper may fulfill a dog’s needs to grab, bite, shake and dissect.

A box of tissue paper may therefore be fun to “tug” with and grab to empty it of its contents, which obviously will be then mercilessly torn apart. Paper dishes are fun to hold on to and “kill” with several head shakes. All of these paper-related products are extremely inviting to your dog, unveiling the the “tissue paper predator” in your dog who can’t help himself but jump into the whole fun and rewarding activity of shredding paper to pieces.

Did you know? According to Forrest Wickman the popular excuse “my dog ate my homework” possibly originates from as early as 1905, when a clergyman pulled his clerk aside after a service to ask him whether his sermon seemed long enough. The clerk reassured  him that it was fine and of the right length, when the priest relieved said “I am very glad to hear you say that because my dog got a hold of my sermon and ate some of the last pages.” Soon, the saying got quite popular and become the infamous excuse used by countless students when they failed to turn in their homework.

 A Word About Boredom

As seen, tissue paper, toilet rolls, newspapers and paper dishes are appealing to dogs, but they may be particularly appealing to bored dogs in search of something to do to keep occupied. And for those attention-seeking dogs, picking up some paper from a wastebasket or stealing a roll of toilet paper may be a way to grab their owner’s attention when they are feeling bored and socially deprived.

A word of caution though is needed here. Many people are aware of the popular adage “a tired dog, is a good dog.” This saying is often misinterpreted, giving people  the misled notion that “If I exercise my dog enough, he’ll be good for the rest of the day.”

No, exercise will not automatically grant your dog a halo over his head and magically transform him into a dog who says “no, I won’t shred this tissue paper, cause all my energy has been drained.”

Just as you would enjoy doing crossword puzzles or read a book after going to the gym, your dog is entitled to still feel like shredding paper after going for a hike. Shredding paper can actually be a relaxing way to end the day and most dogs do it when they are comfortably lying down. Sure, exercise may cause your dog to calm down and want to sleep more, but don’t expect exercise to cause him to become apathetic and disinterested in his surroundings, that’s a depressed dog or a sick dog, not a tired dog!

Warning: while your dog may just have fun shredding paper, consider that if the paper has remnants of something tasty on it, your dog may feel compelled to ingest it. There are countless stories of dogs ingesting napkins with pizza sauce or cupcake wrappers.

Creating a Nest

Owners of pregnant dogs may witness their dogs shredding paper and other objects to pieces as whelping day gets closer. This behavior stems from instinct; mother dog is simply replicating what she would have done out of a domestic setting, which is building a maternal den.

Basically, when getting ready to give birth, a dog’s ancestors would have dug up a place to raise their puppies so they were safe, warm and dry. Puppies, being altricial, are born in a pretty much helpless state; basically, they are deaf, blind and unable to regulate their temperatures, so the use of a den was a good choice to up the pups’ chances for survival.

Even as today, mother dogs still retain the instinct to build a den. Owners of pregnant dogs often observe how, as the birthing day nears, their dogs are prone to start digging on couches, sofas and in closets and shredding cloth or pieces of paper for the purpose of building a maternal den.

These behaviors are referred to as “nesting behaviors” and they are reminiscent of when the puppies were kept safe in a den until they reached about 10 to 12 weeks of age. Past this age, the pups would then start using their dens less and less and rely more on special rendezvous areas that can be compared to open-air kindergartens.

Did you know? The instinct of creating a nest, isn’t necessarily a sign of pregnancy. False pregnancy in dogs may also evoke nesting behaviors in intact dogs who recently went into heat but didn’t get pregnant.

Tips to Stop Dogs From Eating Paper

Help, my dog shreds paper and eats it, what should I do? Some dogs unfortunately take shredding paper a step further and end up also eating it. Obviously, this is not good as it may cause digestive upset and even lead to a blockage, which can lead to costly surgery.

The best option to stop a dog from eating paper is to simply shut the bathroom door, invest in wastebaskets with lids and keep tissues out of reach, in places that even a jumping dog can’t reach. Think of your puppy or dog as a toddler who is crawling around and at risk for getting into things he shouldn’t have.

Providing interactive toys that can be stuffed with treats can help provide mental stimulation; however, just because your dog has a fun chew toy, doesn’t mean that he’ll ignore a tissue paper that just fell on the floor!

Studies have shown that dogs are attracted to novelty and even when presented with new toys, their interest tends to wane after a few seconds. So on top of keeping paper out of reach, it’s worthy training your dog the leave-it and drop-it cue just in case you ever happen to accidentally drop something he shouldn’t have. Teaching your dog to trade the paper in exchange for a tasty treat can also come handy when he gets a hold of other things.

Last but not least, for those die-hard paper shredding dogs, it’s worth mentioning the behavior to the vet. In some cases, medical problems or nutritional deficiencies may cause a dog ingest non-food items.

“Tiny chunks of paper are not likely to do harm. But, if a whole piece of paper was eaten it definitely could act as a foreign object and cause an intestinal obstruction.”~Dr. Marie

Photo Credits:

Flickr, Creative Commons, Mackenzie Black, Eggroll CCBY2.0
Flickr Creative Commons,John Davis, ali ripping tissue paper CCBY2.0
Flickr Creative Commons, Jim Larrison, Sleeping in the Closet, CCBY2.0
Flickr, Creative Commons, Rusty Clark – poodle-bob in a basket CCBY2.0

What’s Up With Dogs Chewing Through Drywall?


Dogs may chew and eat the oddest things, and the behavior of dogs chewing through drywall can certainly be classified as one of dog’s most peculiar behaviors. Why would a dog chew through drywall? It might not make sense to us, but when we see things from a dog’s perspective, chewing and even eating the drywall, may start to make sense.. Well, perhaps we should say, it becomes a tad bit more understandable. If your dog is chewing through drywall, you may be wondering why he does that, and how to fix it. So what’s up with dogs eating through drywall, and dogs chewing up the baseboards or pulling off wallpaper? And most of all, what can be done to stop your dog from remodeling the whole house?

Busting the Boredom

Let’s face it: dogs have teeth and those chompers just happen to be in search of something to chew on. In the great outdoors, dogs often find handy things to chew on, perhaps a branch, a little twig or some bone some other animal left behind, but in a domesticated setting, dogs often don’t have much assortment of things to chew on.

This lack of sensory enrichment leaves a vacuum for fulling this natural desire to chew.

Then one day, it could be your dog happens to be sitting next to the drywall, bored and with nothing else to do, and he may happen to casually lick the corner of the wall, and next thing you know, he’s chewing on it.

In this case, chewing on the drywall provides sensory reinforcement, in other words, it just feels good. And when something feels good, dogs will want to experience it over and over, so soon the habit puts roots and next thing you know, you’re walls will start looking like Swiss cheese!

Dealing With Anxiety 

A dog chewing through drywall isn’t always a bored dog, sometimes the behavior may stem from anxiety. If your dog is anxious about noises in general or scary events such as thunderstorms or construction workers drilling holes in an apartment nearby, he may experience intense anxiety and fear.

If your dog is in a small room or if he hides in a closet, his panic may cause him to dig or chew the drywall in a desperate attempt to escape the threatening situation.

Another common anxiety trigger in dogs is being left alone. Dogs who panic when their owners leave a room or the home may scratch at doors, chew windows and drywall in hopes of being reunited with their owners.

“I’ve seen them go right through windows, and chew through doors, drywall, even chain-link fences, breaking off their teeth and nails. They get into such a level of panic that they just aren’t thinking.” ~Stephen Blake, holistic veterinarian

Searching  for Critters 

Is your dog staring intently at walls and sometimes sniffing and whining in the evening? Most likely your dog is not sensing the paranormal and hunting for ghosts, rather, it’s more likely that he’s sensing the presence of some nocturnal critter who is likely living in your house.

What critters may be making themselves at home? It can be mice, snakes, lizards, crickets or even termites. You might not detect them, but your dog with his powerful sniffer and sensitive ears can, and chewing through the drywall may be his attempt to get to them.

Keep in mind that critters may be hiding in your attic, under the deck, in the garage, in a closed closet and inside the walls.

Grabbing Some Attention

Some dogs may resort to chewing things in hopes of getting attention. Dogs who are bored or enjoy social interaction with their owners and feel socially deprived, may resort to all sorts of behaviors in hopes of getting their owners to interact with them. Sometimes, bored or socially deprived dogs will even try things that lead to negative attention such as being scolded or pushed away just for the sake of getting their owner to stop watching television and start interacting with them.

So if chewing through the drywall gets your attention (and it certainly does!), this moment of brief attention, even if of the negative type may reinforce the wall-chewing behavior. And if you fail to provide attention immediately, your dog will likely chew for longer in hopes of eventually getting it (extinction burst). Not always though the attention has to be of the negative type though. If your dog is bored and every time he chews on the drywall, you play with him to distract him or take him on walk, next time, he may chew in hopes of play time or a walk.

Dealing with Pica

In some cases, chewing through drywall may be a sign of pica. Pica is a condition where dogs become attracted to eating nonfood items like rocks, wood, drywall, socks, and coins. Basically, affected dogs will eat objects that are not considered part of a normal dog’s diet. It is still not well understood what exactly may trigger pica. Is it boredom? A health problem? A behavioral one?

Some theorize that it may stem from nutritional deficiencies; however, no nutritional studies have ever backed up this theory. Also, with most of today’s current commercial dog foods being balanced and complete, it’s  unlikely for dogs to have nutritional deficiencies, explains veterinarian Dr. Heindel. 

It could happen though that dogs remain stuck in an “oral phase“from when they were puppies, she adds. Other possible causes are underlying digestive disorders or  metabolic disorders, which explains why it’s a good idea for owners of dogs fixated with eating nonfood items to start with a vet visit to rule medical conditions out.

“Dry wall contains gypsum which is a mineral congomleration which includes a large amount of calcium sulfate. Very similar to bone! So, some dogs will chew dry wall because they discover it is like bone. Have the blood tested. You might find a low calcium level.” ~Dr. Ralston

Tips to Stop Chewing Through Drywall

As with many other dog behaviors, it’s important to go to the root of the problem and tackle the underlying cause. A vet visit may be a good place to start just to ensure there’s nothing going on in the health department.

With health issues ruled out, then it’s time to roll up sleeves and put on an investigative hat to pinpoint the problem. This is best done with the help of a professional, even because certain underlying causes of chewing the wall may require professional intervention as tackling these issues may not be easy.

For instance, if your dog chews through drywall because he is anxious, you will likely need to get help from a professional to implement a systematic desensitization program. Whereas, if there are critters in the wall, you will need to enlist the help of a local exterminator.

Bored dogs, or dogs in need for attention, benefit from being provided with more exercise and mental enrichment. Provide several safe chew toys of different textures for sensory enrichment and don’t forget to rotate them to keep a sense of novelty. Chewing dogs should be blocked from gaining access to the drywall area while the dog is trained to learn that other behaviors garner attention such as calmer, more desirable behaviors garner attention. With energy drained, the introduction of interactive toys and attention provided only when desirable behaviors take place, the drywall will become less and less attractive over time.

What’s Up With Dogs Walking in a U-Shape?


Among the variety of odd things dogs do, a dog walking in a U-shape is one of those behaviors that make us wonder what on earth may be going in Rover’s mind. As with any odd behaviors in dogs, it’s always important to evaluate whether the behavior is one of those things dogs do in certain specific contexts or if perhaps it’s a behavior that may stem from an underlying health problem and that therefore warrants a trip to the vet. As usual, behaviors that are unusual for a specific dog, and that start out of the blue, should raise a red flag.

 A Greeting Behavior

Some dogs will curve their bodies when they are greeting you such as in the morning or when you come home from work. With the head and butt facing you, ears back and tail wagging, your dog is likely celebrating your return and letting you know you’re special.

This U- shape walking is just temporary and in context with these greetings and other happy moments. At other times, the dog walks normally.

Why does the dog assume this typical U shape?  Most likely it’s the dog’s way to present both his face and anal area for inspection as a sign of friendship or in more technical terms, a willingness to engage in affiliative behavior. As we have seen in a previous article, dogs engage in different dog greeting behaviors, and often these entail mouth and rear end investigations.

A Sign of Apology

Dogs cannot tell each other “excuse me” or  “I am sorry” the way we do. Instead, they must rely on their body language to prevent misinterpretations and potential conflict.

Well-socialized dogs are often pretty good in resolving conflict, sending and acknowledging messages that have a pacifying purpose and  show an intent to not cause harm.

It could therefore happen that an incident takes place that could potentially appear as a challenge and lead to misunderstanding, when it is not.  In this case, the dog may adopt active appeasement signals to prevent possible conflict that could lead to aggression. A dog may also assume such signals with the owner upon noticing signs of the owner being upset or angered.

Walking around in a U-shape, C-shape or banana shape may be therefore a dog’s way to send an “apology” or calm down another dog or owner. Typically, the dog approaches in a crouched posture with the ears back and tail low and between the legs (Shenkel 1967). The tail wag may involve the whole rear end area. If with another dog, the dog may also nudge his muzzle towards the other dog’s face and give several brief licks geared toward the mouth or lips. According to Shenkel these appeasing signals are reminiscent of the days when dogs were young pups engaging in infantile food- begging behaviors.

Medical Conditions

A dog who in walking in a U- shape or a dog walking in a curved C-shape can sometimes be suggestive of a medical problem. For example, a dog who walks curved may be experiencing back problems, such as IVDD, a progressive deterioration of the discs in the spine, but it could also be a sign of a dog with some digestive issue or even gland problems.

If your dog is suddenly walking in a U shape with an anrched back and curved body  and it doesn’t seem like it’s part of greeting behavior or an appeasement signal, please see your vet to determine if there may be something medically going on.

Dogs can be quite stoic in not showing signs of pain, and the only signs of dog pain we may see at times is limping or an unusual posture.

“When a dog arches the back the way your dog is doing is because of pain either in the abdomen (belly) or in the back (pinch nerve or pulled muscle)”~ Dr. Peter


  • Schenkel R. 1967 Submission: its features and function in the wolf and dog. American Zoologist  7. 319-329
  • Aggressive Behaviors in Dogs, James O’ Heare, 2007 Dog Psych Publishing Ottawa Canada p 86.

Photo Credits:

  • A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. “Steve” Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s Up With Dogs Standing Over Other Dogs?


Watching dogs interact can provide a lot of insights into the different ways dogs communicate, and among the variety of behavioral displays, a dog standing over another dog can be one of those behaviors that has many people wondering what it means. Is the behavior of a dog standing over other dogs a sign of trouble and therefore one of those behaviors that require intervention? Is it play? As always, when it comes to dog behavior there are no rules written in stone as there are so many variables. Let’s take a closer look into the behavior and see what the experts in the field say.

A Closer Insight

Video by Eric Gilbert
Snippet from Video by Eric Gilbert

What exactly is a dog who is standing over other dogs doing? Many dog owners describe it as a dog who places himself perpendicular to another dog in what is often referred to as a “T posture.”

Along with positioning himself perpendicularly at a 90 degree angle in respect to the other dog, the dog may also attempt to place a paw on the shoulder of the other dog, or perhaps rest his head or chin on the other dog (chin-over).

You can sometimes see these fellows literally standing on tiptoe when they do this as if trying to seem taller and imposing. Some dogs will stand over other dogs that are lying down with their neck arched over them.

“The perpendicular or T posture is where one dog stands with his or her head or neck over another dog.”~Karen Overall

teeing-offWhat Does it Mean?

Veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall in the book “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats” defines the perpendicular T posture assumed by a dog interacting with another dog as an interaction that is involving social challenge. When a dog postures in this way, he gets in the other dog’s way and limits the other dog’s room for maneuver. Dr. Overall lists the “T posture” as  an agonistic behavior that is likely to have an aggressive component.

What exactly are agonistic behaviors? According to Roger Abrantes, agonistic behaviors include all forms of intraspecific behavior (within a species) related to aggression, fear, threat, fight or flight. Behaviors that yes, are functionally related with aggressive behavior, but that yet fall outside its narrow definition.”

On a lighter note, sometimes standing over may be just part of a dog’s way to attempt to control a situation, perhaps because of an underlying sense of insecurity. This posture is sometimes seen in adult dogs dealing with hyper pups as a way of trying to gain control of the pup’s rambunctious behavior.

This type of posturing  can also be part of a dog’s play behavior repertoire and can even be seen in young puppies. According to Overall, standing over with the head arched is a behavior that can be seen among litter mates considering that learning the ABC’s of agonistic behavior is a normal part of puppy development.

“Standing over another dog who is lying down… This is a blatant way of saying “I am bigger, taller and in charge.” Adult dogs often stand directly over puppies to make it clear that they are still controlling any interactions with them.”~Stanley Coren

Is it Dominant or Aggressive Behavior?dog-snow

Is standing over in dogs a sign of dominance? Is the dog standing over the other dog dominant? Many people wonder about this and sometimes heated discussions arise around the usage of the term “dominance.”

Dominance is not a personality trait, reminds us Sophia Yin. It’s a relationship between animals so to determine who has priority access to resources such as food, sleeping areas and mates (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993).

Social hierarchies do exist among domesticated dogs  (after all, even humans live in a hierarchical world, think president, vice-president etc.) but among dogs, the structure tends to be fluid. A dog may therefore show more “assertive”  behaviors in one encounter with a dog and act more “deferent” in the next, depending on what’s at stake, explains Pat Miller.

The term dominance should therefore not be used lightly. According to  Karen Overall “It would be inappropriate to assume that agonistic behavior alone defines a dominant-subordinate relationship or a pack relationship. Terminology affiliated with packs, pack behavior and rules about social organization within packs is unduly simplistic and should not be used uncritically.” It would be incorrect therefore to imply that a behavior such as standing over means that the dog doing it is “dominant” and the dog being subjected to it is ‘subordinate.”

Is standing over aggressive behavior? When it comes to agonistic behaviors, there may be components of outright aggression, but there also may be certain signals and displays which are meant to avoid aggression from happening in the first place. Unless there are actual injuries occurring, more likely there are ritualistic displays at play rather than overt aggressive ones. In other words, don’t be so fast in placing labels on dog behaviors! Notice how Roger Abrantes in the quote below is careful not to say “dominant dog” or “aggressive dog”, but rather  mentions “dominant behavior” and aggressive behavior to prevent labeling/ascribing personality traits.

“Dominant behavior is situational, individual and resource related. One individual displaying dominant behavior in one specific situation does not necessarily show it on another occasion toward another individual, or toward the same individual in another situation… If any of the parties incur injury, then the behavior is aggressive and not dominant.” Roger Abrantes

Preventing Problems

A direct face-to-face meeting of two dogs who do not know each other can trigger conflict at times. It’s important to learn the signs of trouble before things escalate. A safe distance often can provide a better outcome. Dogs should be prevented from rehearsing “standing over behaviors” which can turn problematic and risk becoming overtime default behaviors used in all encounters with other dogs. In the video below you can see an interaction that involves “standing over” and how things escalate from there. What precipitated the “snark?”Did the leash exacerbate things? Or did the brown dog make a move that was just too much to tolerate? In other words, could this have been avoided? As always, readers are free to share thoughts in the comment section.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is manifesting concerning behaviors towards other dogs, please consult with a behavior professional.



  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, By Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
  • AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals, retrieved from the web on December 11th, 2016
  • The Pet Professional Guild, Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Training retrieved from the web on December 11th, 2016
  • Roger Abrantes, Dominance—Making Sense of the Nonsense, retrieved from the web on December 11th, 2016

What’s Up With Dogs Growling When Moved Off the Bed?


It’s that noise that every dog owner dreads, a deep guttural growl emitted the minute your dog is pushed off the bed, but what’s really up with dogs growling when moved off the bed? Why are they so grumpy about it? It often starts with you asking your dog “politely” to get off the bed, and then, trying with a firmer “I mean business” tone of voice.  Since your dog gives a deaf ear and decides he doesn’t want give up his “throne,” you are then forced to use plan B and grab his collar to get him off or even give him a push, and out of nowhere comes that growl. What’s going on? Is Rover acting like a bully? Here’s a little guide on what’s more likely going on from Rover’s perspective.

dog-bedThere Are Always Two Sides of the Story

You might have heard about your friend who has been cheating on her husband or your co-worker may have told you how her boss hurt her feelings, but before making a judgement, have you heard both sides of the story?

This seems to have become a forgotten practice. Failure to hear the whole story from both points of view, failure to gather factual information and failure to distance oneself so to remain emotionally detached, may often lead to a rushed, inaccurate judgement.

Situations of he said/she said are particularly challenging especially when the other party happens to be a dog.

The dog not only cannot talk to provide his version of the story, but he happens to speak a totally different language and all that dog owners often hear is that  final”grrrr” which is perceived as the ultimate proof of the dog’s stubborn nature and reluctance to got off the couch.

“Why can’t I remember that not once have I ever seen a coin, whether grimy copper or bright gold, that had but one side.” ~Andrew Levkoff,

From the Owner’s Perspectivedog-off-bed

Owners often describe the dynamics about a dog growling when asked to move off the bed as such: So I was walking through door and found Rover on my bed. I am not really too keen about having him sleep on the bed. So I first asked him nicely to get off. When I said “off” the first time, Rover ignored me. So I said “off” in a more serious tone of voice, leaning over him and pointing near his face. At this point, he even turned his head the other way and then yawned!

So since he was acting stubborn, I decided I had to push him off the bed. When I pushed him it was like trying to move an old piece of furniture, he wouldn’t budge. So I pushed harder, and he growled at me! I got scared and therefore stopped pushing him and left. I was afraid he was going to bite me!

So I let him be and now I am here asking for help because I am afraid of my dog growling at me when I ask him to get off the bed! Not only, now he also growls at me if I even come close to him when he’s on the bed! He’s telling me that he owns the bed! How do I deal with such a stubborn dog?

From Rover’s Perspectiveget-dog-off-bed

Let’s take a closer look at what Rover may be silently telling the owner before the infamous growl. Here’s his version.  So I was sleeping comfortably on the couch. I like to stay on the couch because it feels comfy and my owner has allowed it in the past. Now here comes my owner telling me “off.” I tilt my head wondering what that means. It almost seems like she’s trying to say “woof?” Next, the owner says “off” in a more serious tone and looms over me in an intimidating manner. That was quite scary!

So I started getting worried. What does “off” mean? It’s not like I was doing anything bad. I was just laying there! Is my owner in a bad mood today? I tried sending her some calming signals such as yawning or turning my head in hopes of calming my owner down, but this seemed to escalate her behavior.

So next she comes near him and starts pushing me. I don’t like that, I was never touched in such a way before. My ears are back as I try to make myself invisible as much as I can. But the pushing continues. Finally, I had to tell her “I don’t like what you are doing, please stop.”  I think she got the message as she left the moment I growled. Pheeewww… that was really odd and scary! Glad it’s over. Now, I can try to relax and hopefully go back to snoozing. I guess if she comes back and comes anywhere near me, I might have to remind her that I didn’t like her intimidating approach.

A Better Understanding 

Now that we heard Rover’s story, we have put some important pieces of information together and have noticed that the two sides of the story don’t match. While in real life, dogs cannot talk, a video of the episode or observing the interaction is often worth a thousand words; however, it’s often not safe to do so. However, from an accurate descriptions with details of Rover’s body language we can get gather pertinent information as to what may be going on. While the owner is convinced that Rover is acting stubborn and wants to claim the bed, Rover is telling us a different story. Let’s take a closer look.

No Idea What Off Meansdog-on-beds

First of all, Rover often has no idea of what “off” exactly means. When dog owners are inquired about it, turns out their dogs were never really trained to respond to the “off” cue. We often assume dogs will naturally understand certain words when told in a firm manner, such as telling the dog “off” or telling the dog ” no!” but it’s not like that.

Words like “no” or “off,” unless given a meaning through training, don’t provide enough information of what is asked of them and often just convey the message that we are in a bad mood. These words often result in a dog who feels confused and compelled to send calming signals left and right such as yawning, walking away or turning the head which are often interpreted by dog owners as a further sign of ignoring the owner and being stubborn.

After repeatedly hearing “off” and then being pushed away, there are chances that Rover starts to think that “off” is a bad word. Since dogs live in a world of associations, soon the word “off” therefore becomes a negative cue, a predictor sign that the owner is upset and something unpleasant is going to happen (being pushed or grabbed by the collar).

dog-growling-bedPlease Stop That!

While the owner perceives the growl as the dog wanting to remain on the couch and “not giving up his throne” Rover is often not growling because of an intent to stay on the couch, but as a way to stop the owner from acting intimidating. Indeed, as soon as the owner leaves, the dog feels relief. In this case,  for those interesting in learning how dogs learn, negative reinforcement is at play. Basically, the behavior of growling is rewarding because it feels good when something negative (the owner’s presence) goes away. Let’s provide a practical example of this.

Imagine working for a customer service department. An angry customer swings by and tells you he is angry because a TV he just bought is not working properly, but has no receipt and demands his money back. You act apologetic about it telling the customer how sorry you are  (just like a dog sending calming signals to an angry owner) and explain that it’s against company policy making a return with no proof of purchase, but this only angers the customer more.

So you go to plan B. As for social etiquette, you certainly cannot address him as your instincts would like to (telling him to go away and stop pestering you, it’s not your fault!) as that could get you fired, but you tell you will give him the customer support hot line number to see what they can do. Since this works like a charm in calming the customer down, soon telling customers you’ll give them the customer support number becomes your preferred, default method of dealing with angry customers and making them go away. Ah, so much relief!

“Whereas the owner thinks the dog is growling to stay on the couch, the dog may actually be growling to get the owner to stop threatening it. “~Lore I. Haug

The Importance of Careful Assessmentsdog aggression

Understanding the dynamics that trigger certain dog behaviors is important and can make a difference on the outcome of the choice of behavior modification. This is why it’s important to hire behavior consultants who take a factual approach paying careful attention to what is triggering the behavior and refraining from being lulled by certain labels that are  given to dogs. Statements such as “My dog is acting like a bully” or “my dog is being stubborn” not only blur what may be truly going on masking the real dynamics, but also risks hurting the relationship between owner and dog.

Data obtained from collecting the dog’s behavioral history along with factual information obtained from interviewing the owners and possibly, observing a video of the problem behavior when safe and feasible to do so, can help behavior consultants attain a quite accurate description of the problem behavior and develop effective management strategies.

Implementing behavior modification based on faulty, non-scientific approaches can yield more problems down the road than bargained for. If a dog trainer using aversive dog training techniques and adhering to unscientific, narrow-viewed beliefs was not paying attention to gathering factual information and was hired for such a case, he or she may have believed that the dog was truly stubborn and trying to challenge the owner and may have suggested implementing a correction,under the form of a collar grab or a a scruff shake  every time the dog refused to get off the bed.

This approach could seem to be working in the first few trials, but then the owner may notice that Rover now appears more stressed out than ever and now growls every time he’s touched by the neck area such as when the owner reaches out to pet him or to put the collar and leash on. This is because now the owner’s mere touch has assumed negative connotations. From bad to worse!

” While punishment may temporarily inhibit the aggressive response, stifling a growl, over time punishment often intensifies a dog’s reaction and escalates his aggression or anxiety. Punishment also damages your relationship of trust with your dog, as your interactions become less predictable. When you use force-based techniques, you increase the risk your dog will show aggression—and bite.” ~Mikkel Bekker

dog-sleep-growlingOther Possible Motives 

Of course, dogs may behave in certain ways for various different reasons, and there’s never a cookie-cutter explanation for all. If it were that easy, there would be manuals with step-by-step guides on how to fix dog behaviors  just as those handy-man manuals tackling how to fix a leaky faucet making it feasible for everybody to do it.

For instance, a dog may be growling because he’s actually really protective of the bed or couch, but not as to the materialistic “owning the couch” as many people may believe.

Dogs do not place value on objects in the same way we do with jewelry, watches or cars. When they act protective of items there are more likely items linked to the dog’s survival and  fulfilling associated needs as the need to eat, sleep and feel secure.

So growling when somebody comes near a dog on the bed is perhaps more like  “I feel safe and comfortable here”  rather than “This bed is all mine!  I am king of the house,  now go away and go sleep on a mat, you subordinate owner!”

In some cases, it could be that the dog has mobility issues or is not feeling well and the presence of the owner, along with being asked to move away, has been associated with the pain. Stressed dogs who go on the couch or bed in a quiet room to escape from rambunctious children may perceive the couch as their safe haven and by growling they may be putting a virtual”please do not disturb sign” in hopes of preventing further pestering. And of course, dogs should never be disturbed when sleeping!

Regardless, sometimes looking for the exact cause may be time consuming and there are sometimes risks for misinterpretations no matter how hard one tries to find the ultimate motive, so at times it just helps going straight to fixing the issue. How can an issue as this be tackled? It often takes a multi-faceted approach by managing the dog’s environment so to prevent access to beds, couches and sofas if the dog tends to growl when on them which makes him rehearse the problem behavior. Providing the dog with a suitable replacement sleeping area such as a comfy dog bed is a great alternative. Get the best dog bed you can and make it extra appealing by giving a chew toy or long-lasting treat like a stuffed Kong while on it. Also, training the positive off cue may come handy just in case the dog manages to get on the couch despite our attempts in preventing access to it.

“Aggression is caused by cumulative stress that pushes a dog over his aggression threshold. We’re all grumpier when we’re stressed.”~ Pat Miller


  • DVM360, The Facts About Growling, by Mikkel Becker, retrieved from the web on December 8th, 2016
  • Clinician Brief, Growling in Dogs, retrieved from the web on December 8th, 2016

Interesting Canine Behaviors That Start in the Litter


When puppies are in the litter, along with their siblings and mom, they are learning the essence of what it means to be a dog and there are several interesting canine behaviors occurring at this time. From when they are born to the day they are fully weaned and sent to their new homes, puppies grow both physically and mentally at a steady and fast rate. Most of us will miss out on witnessing these developmental marvels, but here’s a brief introduction of several interesting canine behaviors occurring during this time. These canine behaviors derived from the interactions of siblings and siblings and mom can be categorized as epimeletic, etepimeletic and allolomimetic.

newborn-puppiesEpimeletic Behaviors

When we talk about epimeletic behaviors, we are basically discussing the natural tendency of providing care to others. Nurturing, care giving behaviors therefore fall under this category.

Born blind, unable to hear and unable to regulate their temperature or eliminate on their own, puppies, belonging to an altricial species, are pretty much in a helpless state and rely heavily on mother dog for survival. Fortunately, most mother dogs are drawn to their puppies and provide them with constant nurturing care during their first days of life.

These care-giving behaviors from mother dogs are largely influenced by the effect of hormones, especially prolactin, responsible for fostering protective behaviors and playing a role in stimulating the milk let-down process, explains veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman.

Want some examples of epimeletic behaviors carried out by mother dog? Here are some of them. Licking the pups vigorously after being born, cleaning them up from remnants of afterbirth and severing the pup’s umbilical cord. Attending to distress calls of pups who are hungry or cold.

Grooming the puppies and licking the puppies’ rears to stimulate urination and defecation. Lying down besides the pups and nudging them to encourage them to nurse. Protecting the pups from harm and carrying them around. Regurgitating food for the pups when they’re being weaned ( a process sometimes still observed in some mother dogs).

idea tipDid you know? Mother dogs tend to pick up puppies and carry them around keeping their whole body in their mouth with feet dangling down, versus cats who carry their kittens by the skin, explain John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller in the bookGenetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog.

Etepimeletic Behavior in Puppiesmother dog

When we talk about etepimeletic behaviors, we are discussing about the natural tendency of soliciting attention from others. Care seeking behaviors therefore fall under this category.

Born in a pretty much helpless state, it’s important for puppies to get mother dog’s attention quickly when the need arises. These care soliciting behaviors are important for the pup’s survival considering that puppies are very vulnerable, especially when out of a domestic setting.

Fortunately though, in a domesticated setting, with the help of the breeder, puppies have a higher chance of surviving when dealing with problems and even many runts of the litter survive.

Want some examples of etepimeletic behaviors carried out by puppies? Here are some of them. Emitting distressed calls when cold or hungry or  when being separated from mom and siblings. Tail-wagging with tail low, pawing, jumping and licking mother dog’s face and lips to greet and solicit her to regurgitate food for them (some mother dogs still do this, during weaning!). Following mother dog closely for protection.

dog tipDid you know? Etepimeletic behaviors aren’t limited to young puppies! Some of these infantile behaviors are often retained past early infancy in a dog’s interactions with humans and other dogs and become part of a dog’s behavior repertoire often because they have a history of  reinforcement or they have been inadvertently reinforced by owners. Examples of etepimeletic behaviors retained into adulthood include attention-seeking whining and barking, emitting distress calls when separated from owners, as often seen in separation anxiety, begging at the table to be fed and facial licking.

Allelomimetic Behaviorssocial-dogs-running

When we talk about allelomimetic behaviors, we are discussing about behaviors that puppies exhibit as they go through social stages of development. Once their ear and eyes open and puppies becomes more mobile, they will start discovering more about the world around them.

According to John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, allelomimetic behaviors include doing things that other animals in the group do “with some degree of mutual stimulation.” The onset of these behaviors tends to occur when puppies are around 5 weeks of age.

Synchronizing behaviors may have provided adaptive advantages as working in unison may have been helpful in the past in hunting down large prey or relying on each other’s alertness to flee away from a predator.

Want some examples of allelomimetic behaviors carried out by young puppies? Here are some. Running together, eating together, investigating things together. Lying down together and waking up together, grooming each other as well as barking or howling in unison. Interestingly, this tendency seems to also cross species and it may persist into adulthood. Its not unusual to witness dogs engaging in behaviors they see humans do. A classic example is when owners are alerted by something and dogs are quick to catch their alertness. How many times after all, have you noticed your dog react to verbal cues that denote a state of alertness such as when you say ‘What’s that? Who’s there?'”

dog tipDid you know? Running after a child is more likely to be allelomimetic behavior more than hunting or herding as many dog owners assume, suggests Roger Abrantes, ethologist and PhD in Evolutionary Biology



  • Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, By John Paul Scott, John L. Fuller, University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Ethology Institute of Cambridge, Does Your Dog Show Allelomimetic Behavior?, retrieved from the web on Dec 4th, 2016

Photo Credits:


What’s Up With Dogs Eating Socks?


Is your dog eating socks? Let’s face it: dogs eat the oddest things and it’s therefore no longer surprising hearing about dogs eating socks. Veterinarians are much familiar with phone calls from distressed dog owners claiming with a sense of urgency: “My dog ate a sock, what should I do? ” The problem with dogs eating socks goes beyond owners looking for socks gone missing; rather, a dog eating socks may encounter some serious health problems which can easily amount to some hefty veterinary bills, especially when dogs are repeat offenders and have turned eating socks into their favorite hobby. So what’s up with dogs who swallow socks?

dog-stealing-sockDogs Stealing Socks for Play

Socks are pretty much boring items that lay around the home, but dogs are smart enough to learn that, at least from their owner’s perspective, they must have a strong meaning.

If Rover is bored and has a strong desire for some attention or play, all he has to do is grab a sock and take off with it. At that point, the owner who, was moments prior acting boring, “activates” himself and starts looking at him, talking to him and perhaps even chasing him in his favorite game of “keep away.”

Then as the owner is very close, Rover figures out that perhaps the safest place to keep the sock safe is stored inside his belly. Going, going and gone! Gulp! And off to the vet Rover goes when he develops a painful belly.

idea tipTip: dog owners should avoid playing “keep away” games with their dogs as this only reinforces the behavior of taking off with prohibited objects. Dogs should instead be trained to voluntarily swap objects with their owners using a“trading-game“. Dog owners should consult with a trainer to learn how to master this exercise so that their dogs are more likely to relinquish objects in exchange for something else rather than taking off with them.

Dogs Guarding Socksdog-with-sock

On a more serious note, some dogs ingest the sock because of a tendency to act protective of items they perceive as valuable. Items perceived as valuable include toys, bones, food and even socks may be added to the repertoire of items to be protected.

Dogs who resource guard tend to manifest signs of increasing stress as a person or dog comes closer to their items. So in the case of a sock, these dogs may stiffen, lower their head towards the sock, growl and even threaten to bite if they feel threatened enough.

If a dog perceives socks as valuable, he may even ingest them so that no other dog or person can gain access to them. Typically, these dogs ingest them the moment they notice a person or other dog has interest in them, or they might just ingest them as they find them scattered around just to keep the sock out of reach from others.

idea tipTip: Keep socks out of reach and implement behavior modification with the help of a professional. Look for a behavior professional who can guide you on teaching your dog to swap objects with you and who uses desensitization and counterconditioning and other force-free techniques for tackling resource guarding behaviors.

dog thirstDog Eating Socks due to Pica 

Dogs who eat socks may also be suffering from a condition that is known as pica. Pica is the the tendency to eat non-edible objects such as rocks, socks and other items. The underlying cause of pica may not be fully understood, but there may be chances that affected dogs may be suffering from a behavior disorder (triggered by boredom/anxiety) or some digestive problem, metabolic disorder or other underlying medical condition.

Pica may therefore be used loosely to depict the eating of non-edible items which can be due to a variety of possible causes, at least until a clear diagnosis pinpoints an exact underlying cause.

One may think that a dog with pica may be interested in eating just about anything, but generally dogs affected by pica exhibit a certain selectivity over the items to ingest. For instance, some dog are fixated over eating rocks, so if socks are exclusively on your dog’s favorite menu, do not exclude pica as a possibility.

idea tipTip: if your dog seems obsessed with eating socks, it’s always a good idea to see the vet so to exclude the possibility for medical problems. You really cannot effectively tackle a behavior problem if it’s stemming from an underlying medical condition,

” Most pica, if exhibited by dogs who are past puppyhood, involves  extreme focus on and selectivity of ingested objects. These behaviors are not normal and can become sufficiently intense that the dog disregards other activities.”~Dr. Karen Overall

What Happens When Dogs Eat Socks?dog-sock

What happens when a dog eats socks depends on the size of the dog, the amount of socks eaten and several other factors. In a small dog, eating socks is more concerning due to the ratio difference between the size of the dog’s digestive tract and the size of the sock.

A sock can easily cause an intestinal blockage in a small dog. The sock clogs somewhere in the digestive tract and doesn’t allow any food to make its way through.

What dog eating socks symptoms should one expect? Soon, the backup of food causes vomiting, the dog develops abdominal pain, nausea, lack of appetite, diarrhea, straining and perhaps also lack of bowel movements in the case of a total blockage.

In the case of a blockage due to a sock, the dog must be cut open, the vet fetches the sock and then the dog’s abdomen is sown back together. This invasive surgery is of course not good for the dog and on the owner’s pocket.

veterinaryMy Dog Just Ate a Sock What Should I do?

At the vet clinic, we often got these phone calls from distressed owners “My dog ate a sock, what should I do?” The most important question at this point was: “How long ago did your dog eat the sock?”

If the owner responded that the dog ate the sock in the last hour or two, we would then talk to our veterinarian and report back with instructions on how to induce vomiting with the correct dosage of three percent hydrogen peroxide based on the weight of the dog.

If the dog ate the sock and two hours passed, we would then tell the owners that that they had two options: if the dog was large, they could have taken a wait or see approach by keeping an eye on the dog for any concerning symptoms, while also monitoring whether the sock was vomited back up or being passed in the dog’s stool. Our vet also sometimes suggested to feed a high fiber diet in the meantime to help the dog pass the sock.

If the dog was on the smaller side though, we would caution the owner about the risks for blockages and told them it was best to bring their dog in so he could be x-rayed and possibly undergo an endoscopy to get the sock out, which is less invasive than an actual surgery! And of course, the third option when all these things failed, was surgery.

Usually when a dog is obstructed from ingestion of an item such as a sock the dog will experience vomiting or diarrhea. So, if you are seeing these signs then it becomes suspicious it is obstructed and you are going to have to get her seen. If not, my one suggestion is to feed her a high fiber diet…use canned pumpkin added to a canned diet (we need the moisture of a canned diet.)”~Dr. Joey

warning cautionWarning: never try to make your dog throw up using your fingers! This not only doesn’t work, as dogs have a different gag system, but also frightens your dog and puts you at risk for a serious bite!

dog-eating-socksStopping a Dog From Eating Socks

Stopping a dog from eating socks is important so to prevent a dog from getting sick or having surgery, and owners of dogs who are die-hard sock eaters must consider that with repeated surgeries things get more critical each time.

But how can one stop a dog from eating socks? While dogs have shown the capability of making a connection between a behavior and a consequence, this does not happen with ingesting socks because there is a too long delay between eating socks and the development of a belly ache and the discomfort associated with the surgery.

So don’t expect Rover to get wise up and learn from the whole sock-eating experience.

Providing the sock-eating dog with plenty of activities such as walks, play and interactive games can help keep his mind off of socks. Leave around plenty of fun toys that can be stuffed with treats and goodies, so that socks are less appealing.

All dogs who tend to eat socks should also be taught a solid leave it and drop it cue practicing with other objects that the dog doesn’t normally ingest, so, should the day arrive that the dog is about to grab a sock, he can be told “leave it” and if he manages to have the sock in his mouth, he can told “drop it.” These exercises should be practiced often holding refresher courses. However, these exercises work best as a “back up” for a strict environmental management plan.

An environmental management plan means that you keep those socks always out of reach. Treat those socks as if they were bottles of chemicals around a toddler. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to keep your dresser locked up, it just means that you’ll have to make a commitment in keeping those socks always out of reach. It’s isn’t really that hard once you make it routine. When you take your sock off, they must go either in the closed dresser or in inside the washing machine, with the door closed. Skip the laundry basket as Rover can easily fetch socks from there if you happen to leave it around. Basically, leave no room for error, the biggest drawback with management is lack of compliance; as is, eventually someone in the family drops a sock or forgets a door open.

As seen, stopping a dog from eating socks requires a multi-tiered approach. Plan A is to keep socks out of hand. Plan B is to keep your dog exercised and happy through walks, play and interactive games. Plan C is to have a solid leave it and drop it cue in the case Rover happens to manage gaining access to a sock no matter all the precautions taken.

idea tipDid you know? A 3-year-old male great dane won the 2014 X-Ray Contest held by Veterinary Practice News. After repeatedly vomiting all day, x-rays showed a severely distended stomach with a large quantity of foreign objects. Once exploratory surgery was started and the dog was opened up, the great dane was found to have ingested 43 and 1/2 socks! Talk about socks gone missing!

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as substitute for professional behavioral or veterinary advice. If your dog swallowed a sock please consult with your vet.

Vet explains how to induce vomiting with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Always discuss with your vet first for dosage and safety considering that some ingested substances are dangerous to have brought back up!


  • Pet Place, Pica, retrieved from the web on November 24th, 2016
  • Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, by Karen Overall, retrieved from the web on November 24th, 2016

Photo Credits:

Flickr Creative Commons, Bev Sykes Sox! CCBY2.0
Flickr Creative Commons, Taro the Shiba Inu, taro shiba & artengo socks, 11, CCBY2.0
Flickr Creative CCommons, John Lester Sock Retriever CCBY2.0

Tips for Dogs Scared of Stairs


For us humans, stairs are just made out of series of steps meant to connect two floors, but for dogs, stairs can be perceived as obstacles that can also be a tad bit intimidating, especially when it comes to small-breed puppies who were never introduced to stairs before. If your dog is scared of stairs, you may often see him struggle with the desire to be re-united with you and the fear of going up or down all those steps. This can lead to approach avoidance behaviors where one moment he seems really motivated to go up or down, and the next, he backs away. Fortunately, there are several options to help dogs conquer their fear of stairs.

dog-stairsWhy are Dogs Scared of Stairs?

Dogs tend to be fearful of the unknown and this is an adaptive instinct that back in time turned handy as it prevented dogs from getting themselves into risky situations.

Perhaps the puppy you got came from a breeder who may have failed to introduce the puppies to stairs before, sending them out to their new homes without this experience or perhaps you have a rescued dog who lived in a one-story home for most of his life.

Regardless, the fact is that we perceive stairs as a series of steps to be taken one at a time, while dogs see stairs as a huge, big obstacle. When they look at a stairwell from the top, it may look like a giant steep cliff and when they look at it from the bottom it may look like an insurmountable obstacle.

Dogs therefore have an instinct to avoid things they are not familiar with. Even in the sport of agility, if you attend the first classes, you may notice how most dogs (other than the occasional Mr. Confidence) are very cautious around the obstacles and need days or perhaps weeks of training to learn how to climb an A-frame or run confidently through tunnels. For a good reason agility courses are often recommended for dogs who need a boost of confidence. Overcoming this initial hesitancy can do oodles to help tentative dogs better develop their self-esteem.

So back to your dog, those stairs are a just another big obstacle that he is naturally wary about. On top of that, consider that dogs are not used to using their paws to walk up and down steps as most of the world they have encountered so far was always flat, therefore, they might not realize exactly how they must use their feet to climb and descend a flight of stairs. Proper paw placement is therefore an additional criteria they must get accustomed to.

But My Dog Was Never Scared of the Stairs Before!dog-scared-of-stairs

Sometimes, dogs may develop new fears and phobias even towards things they were accustomed to before. A dog’s ability to learn is never static, it is always prone to changing due to the plasticity of the dog’s brain. So just as your dog can learn new behaviors such as a new phenomenal trick, he can also learn to avoid things if for some reason he perceives them as threatening.

What may have triggered though this new fear?  Why is my dog afraid of stairs suddenly? Why won’t my dog go down stairs anymore? It could be due to various factors.

It could be that your dog tripped and stumbled, it could be he heard a scary noise as he was climbing the stairs and has started to associate it with the stairs, it could be the stairs led to an unpleasant situation such as being scolded or being given a bath (if the dog hates baths), or it could be that your dog has developed pain somewhere and walking up and down those stairs has become something he dreads. At times, vision problems may also cause a sudden fear of stairs.

As a general rule of thumb, every time a new behavior develops seemingly out of the blue, it’s a good idea to evaluate with the help of a vet whether pain or some other medical problem may be a factor.

carrying-dogShould I Just Carry the Dog?

When a dog is intimidated by an obstacle that prevents him from joining his family, he can get quite frustrated and this often leads to whining.

The puppy owners at this point will feel very tempted to just pick him and carry him over the stairs. As much as this seems like a great solution, in the long run, it will put a dent in teaching the puppy or dog to climb the stairs. Why?

For the simple fact that the puppy or dog will have learned that by whining, his owners will promptly come to his rescue and airlift him over the stairs. And if the owners do not tend to his requests promptly, the whining will often get louder and longer, and pet parents may then rush to his rescue just to avoid hearing the relentless concert.

The end result? The puppy or dog will give up even trying to use the stairs because he has found the solution that works best for him: “If I just whine my owners will airlift me over the scary obstacle. ”

Should I Just Pull Him Up or Down?pulling-dog

Another thing dog owners are often tempted to do is to take the short cut and try pulling the dog up or down the stairs using a leash. The concept after all is not totally unsubstantiated, considering that dogs are used to following us around when they are on leash. However, if the dog is scared of the stairs, a tug on the leash in this case will likely result in the dog putting his brakes on and categorically refusing to climb or descend.

And if you are thinking about physically pushing him, consider that this can even result in a defensive bite. Fear is fear, and by forcing an animal to confront it in a forceful manner, risks leading to more fear and even mistrust.

After all, how would you feel if you were terrified of water and somebody was trying to talk you into diving from a platform? The mere thought of this would have likely only exacerbated your fear, and on top of that, you likely won’t longer trust the person when he asks you to climb the platform.

puppy-steps-stairOne Step at a Time

To help your puppy or dog overcome his fear of stairs you’ll literally have to take it one step at a time. Desensitization is a behavior modification process where you gradually work on making your dog less sensitive to a certain stimulus or situation, by systematically taking a step-by-step approach.

On top of desensitization, you also want to add counterconditioning, a behavior modification process where you work on creating positive associations with the stimulus or situation, so to change how your dog perceives it.

The goal is basically to have the puppy or dog learn that stairs are nothing to fear, and that great things happen there. Following is a step by step guide on helping your puppy or dog conquer his fear of stairs.

Three Steps for Dogs Scared of Stairs

  1. Approach the stairways and make great things happen there. Place a treat or a favorite toy on the first step and lavishly praise any attempt to get it. When your dog gets the treat or toy make a big deal out of it, praising and playing with him.
  2. Next, place a treat on the second step and do the same. Once your dog steps up the first step to gets the treat or toy on the second step, turn and go down that step praising as you play together.
  3. Repeat the same process, going one step at a time using higher value treats the higher you go, until you reach the top of the stairway where your dog gets a jackpot of treats (several treats at once).

Some Troubleshooting Tips

Make great things happen when your dog climbs up or down.
Make great things happen when your dog climbs up or down.

Avoid speeding through the process, slow and steady wins the race! If your dog seems at any time frightened, go back to a step where he’s more comfortable and gradually build from there.

Once your dog is comfortable going up, it’s time to practice going down from the top, as to dogs this may feel like a totally different experience.

At times, some dogs benefit from watching another dog going up and down steps with confidence. Once they watch this dog go up and down with no problems, they are tempted to try for themselves.

For particularly challenging cases, where a small breed puppy is reluctant to even go up one step, you can skip the stairs for now and practice getting the puppy to climb over a big book such as a dictionary. Once he’s confident, you can move back to the stairs.

Alternatively, some dog owners have had good success by using a target stick or their hands as a way to get their dogs to move up a step. If your dog is familiar with targeting, use your hand or target stick for your dog to target with his nose and click and reward with high-value treats for every sign of progress he makes.

Keep up the training on frequent basis by making enjoyable things happen when he goes up and down the stairs, such as put his bowl of food at the top or bottom of the stairwell, give him a new toy right after he comes down the stairs or clip his leash on to go for a funtastic walk.

Dogs Scared of See-Through Stepsstep

Some dogs are not scared of the actual steps, but of seeing through them as often seen in the steps found in porches and decks. These may seem confusing to the dog and he may be hesitant placing his feet on these steps. Who can blame these dogs after all?

Placing a blanket over these steps (making sure the stairs still keep their shape so your dog knows exactly where to place his feet) may make them appear less scary to navigate. With time, the dog will become more confident walking over them and gradually the steps can be uncovered by the blanket a bit at a time until you can totally remove it.

Did you know? In some cases, dogs are not scared of the steps much, but they are more worried about the surface. If the steps are not carpeted, you may try placing down some rubber matting or traction strips so to offer better traction.

Must watch: Dogs Scared of Stairs Video Compilation


Dogs’ Fight or Flight and Other Stress Responses


When dogs are stressed, their bodies are bombarded with hormones and neurotransmitters that trigger what are known as the four F’s of stress: the popular fight-or-flight response, and the less known fool around and freeze responses. Being aware of these responses and their effects on dogs is important, but equally important is managing the dog’s environment so that he is prevented from experiencing these negative responses in the first place. Because yes, a little bit of stress is normal when coping with the ups and downs life randomly throws out at dogs, but too much stress, especially if it’s the intense, recurrent type, can have an overall negative impact on a dog’s health and overall well-being.


scared dog fight or flightStress Responses in Dogs

Just like us, when dogs are stressed, they release noradrenaline, adrenaline and cortisol. These neurotransmitters and hormones cause a variety of physiological changes meant to provide a quick boost of energy in hopes of getting the dog quickly out of trouble and up his chances of survival. These are times where there is little time to think, as one must act quickly.

Physiological changes in stress responses in dogs include: increased heart rate and breathing rate, increased blood pressure, increased muscle tension and increased blood flow to muscles (allowing dogs to sprint into action), increased blood clotting (to prevent excessive blood loss), increased glucose levels (for a quick burst of energy), dilated pupils (to allow dogs to see with more clarity) and lowered threshold for aggression (caution, dogs may bite more easily when stressed!)

idea tip
Did you know? The fight and flight response was first described by American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon in 1920. Canon also developed the concept of homeostasis from the earlier idea of Claude Bernard.

The Flight Response in Dogs scared-dog

As the term implies, this response depicts fleeing to avoid a threatening stimulus or event. It’s avoidance behavior at best. Dogs may cower, move away, attempt to hide.

Examples include dogs hiding when a thunderstorm rolls in, moving away from a scary open umbrella, pulling on the leash to escape from something perceived as scary.

The flight response can be considered adaptive considering that fleeing can heighten the chances for an animal’s survival, possibly preventing himself from sustaining injuries.

 “Fleeing is an excitatory response to fearful arousal that is typically elicited by high levels of fear or the close presence of an intrusive threat.”~~Steve Lindsay

dog-fight-responseThe Fight Response in Dogs 

As the term implies, this response depicts a defensive response from a dog who will use aggressive displays in hopes of removing the threatening stimulus.

Dogs may lunge, growl, snap and attempt to bite. Examples include dogs who snap when they are cornered, dogs who lunge at other other dogs, dogs who attack other animals they perceived as threatening.

The fight response is also adaptive considering that it may be used when the animal cannot escape a confrontation and is forced to protect himself.

“Fear elicited fighting occurs in situations involving intense fearful arousal and where flight is blocked by the threatening target.”~Steve Lindsay

Freeze Response in Dogsdog-discipline

As the term implies, dogs will freeze when presented with a threatening stimulus or situation.

In dogs, we may see the freeze response when they stop doing things such as when they are reprimanded or stand motionless upon hearing a noise or noticing at a distance an animal or other stimulus that they may fear.

The freeze response is considered adaptive, considering that in the wild, upon spotting a threatening stimulus, remaining motionless allows the animal the opportunity to evaluate the situation and possibly, avoid detection from a predator considering that motion cues in a freezing animal are non-existent. It’s basically “playing ‘possum” or in other words, feigning death.

“Freezing is an inhibitory response to fearful arousal that is typically elicited by low levels of stimulation or a distant threat.”~Steve Lindsay

dog rolling after bathFool Around Response in Dogs

Sometimes, when dogs are under pressure, they may engage in behaviors that may seem out of context. It’s a similar reaction to coping mechanisms seen by some people who inappropriately tell a joke at a funeral.

In dogs, the fool around response includes acting plain silly such as jumping, performing play bows, playing and acting over the top at times when they are feeling stressed. For instance, a dog at the vet’s office who starts rolling on the ground or bites the leash in play, may be trying to transfer the focus off of one situation and onto another.

When dogs behave this way, their stress is often not identified as it’s not straightforward as a dog who is shaking or growling. Some dogs are labeled just as acting plain silly, or worse, they are reprimanded for being stubborn.

” I don’t know how many dogs came into my office like bullet trains, and ricocheted around my office for a few minutes before they settled down. Their owners would often say “Oh, he’s so friendly” as they leaped on top of me, my desk and my computer. I always saw them as frantic, and was reminded of how I can begin chattering like a mockingbird when I’m nervous.” ~Patricia McConnell

A Matter of Choicesdog-snow

What makes a dog choose to fight over flight or some other response? Interestingly, dogs don’t always follow a distinct pattern when it comes to freezing, fleeing, fighting and fooling around. There are specific circumstances that may play a role on whether a dog will be making a subconscious choice of one over the other.

These “chosen” survival reaction may therefore be based on the dog’s overall health status, speed, temperament, memories of past experiences, availability of support etc.

For instance, a mother dog with puppies is more likely to engage in fight considering that flight is not an option because it would mean leaving her vulnerable altricial puppies on their own. An older dog or an animal not feeling well, may as well choose fight rather than flight due to limited mobility or weakness.

Sometimes, breed can also play a role. Some breeds of dogs were selectively bred for having less or more resilience compared to others and their response to stress may reflect that. For instance, beagles may freeze almost to the point of catatonia; whereas, small terriers may respond to fear by barking and running around the fear-eliciting stimulus, explain Jon Bowen and Sarah Heath in the book “Behaviour Problems in Small Animals: Practical Advice for the Veterinary Team.”

dog blanket sleep sickWhat Happens After? 

It’s the ultimate goal of the body to return to a state of normality, what is known ashomeostasis. After enduring an episode of acute stress, the dog’s body will therefore work on reaching again a state of balance or equilibrium. This is when the dog “shakes off” the stress so to relax tight muscles as his breathing rate gradually goes back to normal and his heart rate slows down.

After the fearful event is over,  ideally, the dog’s body should work to resume a state of normalcy where dogs will be willing to resume eating, drinking, sleeping and playing again and go on their lives (at least until another fear-eliciting episode takes place!)

However, what happens with dogs who are exposed to chronic stress? If the stress continues for some times, burnout may occur as the body starts getting exhausted and this can have negative effects on the body.

Intense and prolonged stress can affect the immune system and cause a host of problems such as skin disorders, digestive disorders and even shortened life spans, explains veterinary behaviorist Gary Landsberg.  A dog’s ability to learn is often affected and dogs may endure in disrupted sleep patterns. Some dogs remain in a perpetual state of hypervigilance and have a hard time relaxing even when nothing is happening. Because of these effects, it’s important to reduce stress in dogs and enlist the help of a qualified professional before they become chronic.



  • Neurobiology of the Parental Brain, edited by Robert Bridges, Academic Press; 1 edition (July 29, 2008)
  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Etiology and Assessment By Steve Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; Volume One edition (January 31, 2000)

Photo Credits:

  • Michael Gil, Discipline!, No Dogs were harmed in the taking of this picture! CCBY2.0


What’s Up With Dogs Whining in the Car?


If your dog is whining in the car, he may likely have a love or hate relationship with the car and this can largely depend on what happens when he goes on a car ride. Will the destination be the dog park or the dreaded vet or groomer? Will your dog get to go on a hike, play with his friends, visit dear Aunt Mary or will he be poked  and prodded with needles or drenched in soap and water and then exposed to a scary hair dryer? Your dog won’t know for sure until you make that turn that’ll confirm him what’s going to happen next. The lives of dogs are often filled with certainties and uncertainties which can sometimes lead to bouts of anxious whining.

dog-whining-in-the-carIs it Stress or Eustress?

Whining in dogs in the car may be triggered by the anticipation of something the dog dreads or the anticipation of something he looks forward to doing. Yes, because stress can be of the positive or negative type.

You might be familiar with these different types as you may have experienced them at some time. If you hate going to the dentist, you might have felt some anxiety in the past as you drove yourself there. Most likely you had all sorts of negative thoughts populate your mind such as “what if it’s painful? what if the dentist is rough?”

On the other hand, you may have felt very excited when you were getting ready to go on a cruise you have been wanting to go on since you were a child. Your heart may have beaten faster as you thought about the wonderful experience. You may have therefore oriented all your energy in making plans so to make the most out of it (eustress, the good stress)

Dogs unlike humans don’t engage in self-talk and therefore they are spared from all those often irrational “what ifs” us humans bombard ourselves when in anticipation of something worrisome.

Dogs however are known for associating one event with another, something adaptive that must have played a role in sparing them from dangers, “This ability to anticipate and thus prepare oneself for imminent events, gave animals that were able to do so an edge over animals that could not, and so classical conditioning evolved” explains Jean Donaldson in the book “Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker.”

Dogs, like us, are also prone to eustress, and may whine in anticipation of something they look forward to doing. Being masters in keeping an eye on their surroundings, dogs soon learn to pay attention to certain tip-offs suggestive about what will happen next.

“Visits to dog park result in activation of HPA axis or possible“eustress.” ~Hekman et al. 2014; Ottenheimer et al., 2013

Dogs Excitement Whining in the Car dog-whining-from-excitement

Whining in the car can be excitement based if the car ride meets certain criteria that have established in your dog’s mind. For instance, if the percentage of car rides to the dog park are higher than the percentage of rides to the veterinarian (like you go the park twice a week and at the vet once a year), your dog will more likely be whining in anticipation of meeting his friends there and having a blast.

If the predictability is not that easy, as you take your dog in many different places, your dog may rely on other tip offs such as the route you take.

Yes, dogs have demonstrated the uncanny ability to learn that a specific turn takes him to the dog park, while another one takes him to the groomer or some other place. You can literally see them whine in anticipation when you take that turn for the dog park and the whining may build up from their until you pull into the parking lot and your dog bounces off the car rushing towards his pals.

Now, here’s an interesting phenomenon, worth of mentioning. While your dog may initially whine when you take that turn to reach the dog park, you may notice at some point that he may also start whining earlier and earlier. So your dog may therefore whine before turning, then he may start whining on the street that leads to that turn, and then you may notice him starting whining  even earlier such as soon as he enters the car, which equals to a dog whining non-stop for the whole trip. Quite an annoying affair to many dog owners.

idea tipHow to Reduce it: Avoid getting your dog all revved about the car ride by saying things such as “Hey, Rover, let’s go on a car ride!” in an excited tone of voice. Just act matter of fact. It also helps to bring your dog along for many boring, unproductive car rides, so that their proportion beats the trips to the park. This should help tone down the excitement after some time as your dog loses interest.

Dog Anxiety Whining in the Cardog-whining-in-car

A common mistake many dog owners make is to take their dog on car rides only when going to the vet, the dog groomer or being dropped off at the kennel when they are going on vacation. If the dog perceives these activities as unpleasant or downright scary, it’s normal that the outcome will be a dog who hates car rides!

These dogs will therefore be panting and anxiously whining for the whole car ride in anticipation. Other signs of stress that may be seen include yawning, lip licking and shaking.

A typical “modus operandi” of a dog who is anxious about the destination of a car ride is that his signs of stress tend to fade on the way home. Most dogs recognize visual cues suggesting that they’re nearing home under the form of landmarks, smells and even cues given off by their owners who relax as well. Some dogs may even snooze on the way back home!

idea tipHow to Reduce it:  If you’re dealing with a particularly challenging case, start with short trips. Walk your dog a block away and then have someone pick you up, and then drive you straight home. Do this several times. If your dog is willing to eat, provide some tasty treats during the duration of the ride. Then progress and start bringing your dog along for brief car rides to happy places where your dog has a good experience. Drive to a park where you get to play together, bring him along to buy dog food (if the store welcomes dogs) or go on a hike. With the proportion of happy places being higher than the “bad places”, your dog should start associating car rides with good experiences. Calming aids such as DAP sprays and veterinary recommended supplements may also turn helpful.

Note: If your dog ever drools or appears at any time nauseous, consult with your vet. There are chances your dog is whining because he’s getting car sick. This can be remedied with some anti-car sickness medications from your vet.

Dogs Whining Upon Seeing Stimulidog-anxious-in-the-car

Not all dogs whine in anticipation of something, some will whine when they detect certain stimuli. Many dogs are driven by visual scenery, they’ll therefore be vocalizing a lot when they see a person, a dog or some other animal from the car window.

Some dogs may also whine in response to certain smells or certain sounds.

For some dogs, this is the result of lack of socialization. These dogs may have not been socialized enough and they feel vulnerable in seeing people or other dogs when on car rides. Generally, these dogs also react this way as well on walks.

Some others may whine/bark out of frustration, they may want to meet other dogs and they end up whining because of car door and windows acting as a barrier. These dogs generally tend to whine as well on leash or when they see other dogs behind a fence or window.

And then there are dogs who are simply excited by all the novelty they encounter when in the car. All those new sights, smells and noises overstimulate them, which leads to.. you guessed it, a bout of whining!

idea tipHow to Reduce it : Dogs who whine in response to visual stimuli may benefit from a visual barrier. As the saying goes “out of sight,. out of mind.” Using a crate and covering it can help reduce this type of whining. Some dogs may further reduce their whining if they’re given something else to do such as a chew toy that’ll keep them occupied.

A Word About Cratesdog-harness-car-seat-belt

Many people are reluctant to use crates for their dogs, but using a crate in the car is different than using a crate in the home. In the car, a crate  is for safety and it prevents a dog from rehearsing anxious behaviors such as pacing back and forth from one window to another.

A crate (or any other form of restraint) can therefore make a difference in the further development of a state of anxiety.

Also, a dog in panic may cause an accident and should the driver ever have to hit the brakes suddenly, a dog risks becoming projectile which can be very dangerous.

In some states, there are legislation requiring animal restraints in moving vehicles, and dog owners can be cited for improperly transporting an animal. Even if it’s not illegal, a loose dog can become a distraction to the driver.

A special word about older dogs: Senior dogs may have a hard time balancing themselves when owners use the brakes as they may have joint problems, and at times, they may be affected by inner ear problems that cause dizziness. If your dog is a senior that has been fine in the car most of his life and now is whining, you may want to see your vet to rule out medical problems.

And of course, young dogs can also be prone to medical problems so any changes in their behavior  should always warrant a vet visit too.


  • “Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker” by Jean Donaldson
  • APDT, “Best Practices” in Off-Leash Dog Parks: Do They Exist?” by Lindsay R. Mehrkam University of Florida . retrieved from the web on October 30th, 2016. Dogwise Publishing (April 1, 2008)
  • Exploring the dog park: Relationships between social behaviours, personality and cortisol in companion dogs,
    Lydia Ottenheimer Carrier, Amanda Cyr, Rita E. Anderson Carolyn J. Walsh. Department of Psychology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, A1B 3X9, Canada.


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