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Canine Behavior/HELP!! My husbands dog is making me crazy!


My husband and I rescued a female doberman mix when she was 6 weeks old. She was very sick when we got her. She had sarcoptic mange, demodectic mange, all kinds of worms and extremely high blood sugar. She is now 8 months old. She is weighing in at around 80lbs. She is a very energetic puppy and is very playful. My husband loves that she leans on us and puts her paws around our legs, as if to hug us. I have read that is a sign of dominance. She is extremely head strong. She refuses to come when called, no matter what treat we use. Unless she is ready to come, she just wont. She is very irritating to our 6 year old mastiff mix. She is constantly in her face licking her teeth. Our mastiff mix is.normally extremely mellow but she growls at the doberman to warn her but the doberman wont back off. She is making our even tempered mastiff mix very cranky. She is highly destructive. In the past week, she has shredded 2 very expensive bras, ripped up one of my daughters shirts and all her underwear, and tore up 4 of my oven mits. She is always jumping on my 9 yr old son and biting at his clothes, now most of his.shirts are filled with holes. She refuses to potty train. I take her out regularly, about once an hour (I am a stay at home mom, so I am able to do that) and I leave her outside for at least 30 min. She immediately comes back in and poops and pees in my floor. What's worse is, after she poops, she will pick it up and scatter it all over the house, including covering my couch with it! And finally, she was laying in my bed with me and I leaned over her to kiss her goodnight and she shot up and bit me in the face! I have 4 kids. My youngest is 9. I have been telling my husband repetitively that she is not the right fit for our family, yet, he refuses to let me find a more suitable home for her. I am at my wits end. I have had dogs my whole life. I have rescued for the last 8 years and have NEVER had a dog that was this bad. I truly feel that there is something not right about this dog. Am I being unreasonable?

Thank you for your question. You clearly have your hands full and are feeling rather out of your depth. I will address each of your concerns in turn. But first, I must ask - have you enlisted a professional trainer at all to try to help you teach this dog some house manners?

So this dog came to you with some serious health issues, which can in turn effect behavior. It may also have interfered with early efforts to train as you dealt with her high blood sugar. The mange may have made her itchy, painful and irritable, which could in turn also affect her ability to focus and learn when she was younger.

1. Leaning and pawing:
The first thing to understand about this is that it has nothing to do with a dog's effort to try and be in charge. As it happens, dominance is a vastly misunderstood concept that scientists now understand doesn't really play any kind of role in the dog-human relationship. Even if dominance could be an issue between a dog and human, we have opposable thumbs. We have primary access to the food behind closed doors and to the outside and to all the good stuff, which makes us dominant by default in this relationship. Most importantly, the reality of the dominance theory is that it was based on non-related captive wolves. In the wild, wolves live in family groups. The dominant pair are dominant by default because they are the parents to the rest of the group. They nurture, comfort and protect their young. The set boundaries, but they don't do it in an overly aggressive manner as that would result in unnecessary injuries and death and would risk the survival of the species.

So, what is your dog doing when she leans on you? She's seeking contact. It may be out of a desire for comfort, it may be a sign of affection (akin to a hug), it may be a solicitation for attention. If you look at her, push her off you, tell her to stop... then you are giving her attention for leaning on you. From her perspective, leaning works well to get you to interact. Another example: My dog yesterday had an unfortunate encounter with another dog who snapped at his face while they were greeting. My dog was startled and frightened. He yelped twice as he moved away and then promptly sat down with his bum on my feet, his back against my legs and looked up at me. Was he trying to dominate me? No. He was seeking comfort and safety/security in that situation.

Why she's leaning may have different motivations in different contexts, but I can assure you that she's not trying to be the head of the household.

This is true also of the pawing. Puppies paw because it's an instinctive behavior from their nursing days to get the milk flowing. When they paw at us when they're little, we smile at them, hold their paw gently, play with them, pick them up and otherwise interact with them. So your dog has had nearly 9 months of being told that pawing is an extremely effective way to get your attention and interaction. She does this behavior because it works for her. . . The best way to teach her to stop pawing her is to make a point of engaging with her - stroking her, telling her you love her, starting a game or offering a belly rub or outing - when she's NOT pawing you. If you go out of your way several times every day to acknowledge her when she's just near you in a relaxed manner, but not actively soliciting attention, and then when she does paw you, you simply get up and walk out of the room without a word or a glance in her direction (stay out for 30 seconds before returning to engage her in a calm and loving fashion), she will quickly learn that pawing makes you go away, but being quiet and calm near you gets your attention.

Wrapping the paws around the leg is usually an attempt to practice mating behaviors (part of mounting). Again, this falls under normal play behavior, though it is considered rude or inept play behavior. She hasn't learned that it's rude, and she has learned that she gets attention (especially good attention from your husband) when she does it, and so she continues to do it.

2. Refusing to come when called. The key to teaching a dog to come when called is this:
NEVER, EVER punish her when she gets to you. If you've ever scolded her or struck her or isolated her in punishment when she came to you when you called, then she will be far less likely to come the next time.

Also, you must practice in low-distraction settings and pay out big time when she gets to you. Payment is not just a bite of kibble. But rather a whole bunch of her very favorite treats given one at a time in quick succession (jackpot - think of the quarters flowing out of the slot machine!) while also making a happy fuss over her - telling her what a rock star she is for coming when you called and what a great dog she is! If she enjoys it, include petting and stroking or a game of Tug when she gets to you.

You must be the most exciting thing in her environment in order to succeed in this skill. So start with zero distractions and as she shows proficiency, build up to small distractions (e.g.a toy sitting halfway between you and her, or a person she knows standing off to the side), and continue to build in small increments (e.g. person tossing and catching a toy or singing near by or another dog sitting or lying down near by). If what she's engaged in is super exciting to her, you will be less likely to successfully get her to come when you call unless you've built up that skill slowly with lots of different distractions. My dog will come off a squirrel, but I wait until that squirrel has reached the tree. If the squirrel is still 20 feet from a tree, my odds of a successful recall for my dog are significantly lower than if the squirrel is just 2 feet from that tree. And, I have a couple of times, had to turn and run the other way so my dog could chase me - I'm now more exciting than a squirrel who is going up a tree. And when he gets to me, we have a party.

It's not terribly difficult, but it does take practice and we want to reward her based on her performance. In other words, once she's coming really well in no distractions, if she suddenly hesitates, praise her when she gets to you, but don't treat her or play with her. Try again. If she comes faster, then increase the reward experience. When she comes super fast on the first request, it should be like winning the lottery. If she does a recall with some distractions and you were only partly confident that she would recall at all, make a HUGE deal over it because that was super difficult for her. And be aware that as you increase distractions, your expectation will need to go down initially - give her more time, more practice so she can build up that skill with the added distraction. Ideally, you will start this game ON LEASH. That way she can't wander away and you have a way to help her do the right behavior by gently pulling her to you if she doesn't come on her own.

There are a few leash games you can play - the first couple are short leash games where she's moving with you as you move away with the Come command. In these games, you will stand facing your dog while she's in a Sit position facing you. Tell her COME! in a cheery voice and then move a few steps backward. Show her the treat at her nose level as you come to a stop. Once you stop moving, take the treat away and wait for her to Sit. When she does, reward with the treat and repeat the exercise. After a few times showing her the treat, try without showing her the treat. If she sits when you stop walking (without the lure of the treat), praise and reward her with either several treats given one at a time in quick succession, or with a higher value treat (e.g. cheese instead of kibble). The two variations of this game are Lateral movements - to your left and to your right. So now your dog is moving with you in 3 directions and being rewarded for stopping and sitting directly in front of you.

You can also do a long-leash game (I prefer a 20 foot leash for this). Allow her to wander away from you, or as she's distracted by something, you can wander away from her. After a moment, and when you think she'll be successful, tell her COME! in a cheery voice. If she comes to you immediately - HUGE PRAISE and big reward. This should last at least 10 seconds of giving treats and love and praise or a tug game if she likes that. If she hesitates, but comes after a moment (without help from you), praise and give a medium value treat (e.g. her regular kibble). If she doesn't respond at all, you can gently rein her in with that long leash. Once she gets to you, thank her for finally complying (but do not treat). Reset and try again. This way, she'll learn that coming fast the first time you call brings the best rewards, but dallying around gets her nothing.

3. Licking your mastiff
Continually licking another dog's mouth/face is sometimes referred to as groveling. It's an active submission behavior. She's trying to be friends with the mastiff and is doing an appeasement behavior. It's just gotten a little out of control. After she's licked 2 or 3 times, try telling her "Enough" in a firm, but not angry tone and then redirect her to another activity - a toy, a game a long lasting chew such as a bully stick or antler or marrow bone or Kong stuffed with a goodie (you can also stuff food into the Kong and freeze it).

Your mastiff is communicating beautifully with the puppy by growling a warning of "give me space". If the puppy isn't heeding that warning, then your role is to help her succeed by redirecting her to another activity. This way, the puppy learns that the mastiff's growl means it's time to stop and the mastiff learns that you've got her back and she'll never need to escalate her communication to something more physical to make her point.

4. Highly destructive
Puppies and adult dogs can be very frustrating when they're finding their own means of entertainment. Destroying things is fun for the dog in part because it's just fun to tear things apart. But also because it surely begins games of chase/keep away with her people. In this situation, there are two things we need to do. The first is management. She shouldn't have ready access to those things. When I've had puppies, shoes were in closets behind closed doors. Panties (lots of dogs LOOOOOVE the panties!) were in the hamper which was in a closet behind a closed door or in a closed drawer if they were clean. If we leave things on the floor or other easily accessible places, we have to expect that our dogs will get into them. So management is the first order of business - don't give her the opportunity to practice the bad behavior.

The second part of this is to introduce just one or two toys that will be Tug toys or Chase toys. keep them out of reach of her, but bring them out a couple times every day and invite her to play with you with those toys. When that game is done, put the toy away until the next game time. If she does manage to get a forbidden object, don't chase her. Instead, go the other direction. Head to the kitchen and get a bit of chicken or cheese or hamburger and then call her from another room in the most inviting voice possible. "Fifi... you want a treeeeaaaat?????" Make it exciting. If she arrives without the forbidden object, treat her and go get the object. If she arrives with the object, then just wait until she puts it down. Once she's dropped it, give her the treat and remove the object and commit to keeping those items out of her reach.

NOTE on playing TUG - tug is a GREAT game. It's interactive and increases the bond between dog and person. It teaches impulse control and we can use it to practice several other skills (see video link below). But there are a few rules that we need to comply with.
 * If you feel teeth, drop the toy and look away from your dog. The game ends if we feel teeth on our skin - even if it's only incidental contact.

 * Let her win at least 50% of the time. If she never gets to win, the game is no fun for her. If she gets to win at least half the time, you'll increase her interest in playing with you. Letting her win means you let go of the toy, but stay engaged in the game - looking at her, smiling, talking to her, etc. Some of the time when you let her win, you can trot away from her. I'll say things like, "Oh no... what ever will I do now??? I don't have the toy anymore...." as I'm moving away from my dog in a happy, playful bounce. The dog will likely chase after you and try to give you the toy so the game can continue. This will also help improve her recall if she has a forbidden object. In fact, if she does have a forbidden object and you call her to you and she comes, trade her for an approved tug toy. She'll learn that bras are not going to get a game of chase or tug, but the approved toy will.

In the video link below you see me practicing with both my dogs. We include an auto-sit (sitting without having to be told to do it), Wait while I toss the toy, Focus (eyes back on me and not the toy), Get it and Bring it. I don't show in this video that I do let my dogs win at least 50% of the time as this video was put together specifically to show building in obedience skills into the high energy game.

5. Potty Training
A dog doesn't refuse to learn to potty train. But it is sometimes very hard for a dog to understand the rules - where is the right place/wrong place to go. If we are not very clear in our education it can confuse the dog. You indicate that you put her out for 30 minutes and she goes potty when she comes back in. Have you tried going out with her so you can see when she goes and then praising her and rewarding her for going in the right place? When I potty train, I want to be present for nearly every single potty. It's on me to have the dog in the right place at the right time so I can see it happen and, more importantly, so I can tell the dog how great I think it is that they did it there (in the right place). This also teaches the dog that it's safe to potty in front of you and this is important. If you don't go out with her and she does her business outside sometimes and you're not there to tell her it was wonderful, and then other times she goes inside and you yell at her or scold her or any other punishing thing, then what she learns is not that it's bad to potty inside, but rather that it's dangerous to potty in front of you. So she'll still go inside, but instead of doing it in the middle of the room, she'll hide behind furniture or slip off to some area of the house that isn't used much. So it's important that we're with her for as many potties as possible so we can be clear that going in front of us is safe and rewarding. This way, if there's an accident in the house and you catch her in the middle of it and tell her 'NO' she'll better understand that it's about location and not about your presence.

Also, you can only scold her for a potty accident if you do so WHILE she's going. If you only see it after the fact - even if it's immediately after the fact - you will not be punishing her for going potty. You'll be punishing her for whatever she's doing when you scold her - sniffing her potty, coming to love on you, playing with a toy, etc. If you find it after the fact, all you can do is clean it up and commit to better supervision and more timely potty breaks going forward.

Cleaning it up should be done with a product like Simple Solution Pet Stain & Odor Remover . I've had great success with this product. It has a friendly bacteria in it whose sole purpose on our planet is to eat/digest the enzymes in urine and feces that make it smell like urine and feces. This is crucial because her sense of smell is far superior to ours. It's not enough that we can't smell it anymore, we must be sure that she can't smell it anymore either. The Simple Solution in conjunction with a black light so you know where to clean will go a long way toward helping the potty training process - combined with better supervision while she's out so you know when she has gone.

There are 2 books that I highly recommend, both of which walk through really nice potty training protocols as well as some other house manners training that you'll probably find very helpful.

Sophia Yin's Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy off Right

Ian Dunbar's, After You Get Your Puppy

6. Playing with her Poop
If I had to guess, she's playing with her poop because she sees you get very excited/animated about her poop when you find it. It's become a high value toy for her and so she's playing with it. Dealing with this will be much easier if you're able to be outside with her when she goes potty so you can see it happen and praise her and reward her either with treats or a game out there where she went so she learns that pooping is good, but the poop isn't the toy.

Once she's pooped outside and you praise/reward/play with her, send her inside and pick up the poop and put it away so she won't be tempted to play with it the next time she's out. Also, by putting her inside, she won't see you engaging with it and will lose its value to her.

Conversely, if she poops inside and you find it, engage her in some other activity out of that room and clean it up when she's not around to watch you.

7. Biting you in the face
This is clearly a concern. I don't know the circumstances other than you were both on your bed. Was she sleeping when you leaned over her? Dozing? Was she chewing on a toy? You may have startled her and she reacted in fear. Did she break the skin? Did she seem actually angry when she did it? Did she seem sorry afterward or did she even seem to realize she'd overstepped her bounds? Is this the first time she's ever snapped at you or anyone else? This issue will take a bit more discussion and I'm happy to continue the conversation with you if you want to followup with a lot more detail about this incident and any others if she's ever snapped/bit anyone else (and the circumstances surrounding those incidents as well).

Overall, it sounds like you have a high-energy dog who has not had any education in how she's supposed to be behave. She's been left to her own devices and is doing behaviors that work for her to get her needs met (entertainment/play, attention from her people, etc).

I would encourage you to read through the two books I recommended and also enlist the aid of a local professional to you. Pick a trainer who is committed to using force free, positive reinforcement methods. They should be able to explain to you why they use the various tools they use and why they don't use other tools. They should be able to educate you about how dogs learn and the best ways to communicate your needs to your dog so that you are working together as a team and not working against each other.

You can search for trainers in a number of places.

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT):

Association of Professional Dog Trainers:

Ask your vet or other local vets for trainers that they like who are force free/positive reinforcement trainers.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to increase the amount of exercise - both physical and mental for this dog as it sounds like she's bored and trying to find ways to entertain herself. There are a number of puzzle toys that both your dogs are likely to find fun. They should play them separately (in a separate room from each other) to avoid conflict over high value items.

Some toys are rather independent such as the Kong toys. Others are more interactive with you because you'll supervise and refill the compartments after she empties them. I use such toys for meal time with my dogs. They eat about half their meals in ways that are outside their bowl. This is part of their daily enrichment and provides mental exercise for them.
You can search under pet supplies for "Interactive Puzzle toys for Dogs". You'll get pages and pages of options.

There are also games you can play with both your dogs such as nose work games. This is essentially hide and seek with food. I lock both my dogs into one room and then set up the food hide in another room. then I say the name of the dog whose turn it is, invite that dog out of the room they're confined in, let them find the food and then return them to the confinement room to set for the next dog. They take turns back and forth. Dinner like this, for my two dogs takes between 15 and 45 minutes depending on how many rounds I do. The more rounds, the more fun - of course. Below are links to 3 videos that will teach you how to play these games with your dog from first introducing it to the more advanced "out of the box" game that my boys play.

I hope some of this can help ease your mind and give you some guidance on how to address the various issues you're having. I can't tell you if this dog is just not a good fit in your home, but I'd hesitate to suggest giving her up until the family has at least tried to teach her how she should behave in the home with the help of some professional guidance (at least the books listed above, if not an in-person trainer).

The family does need to agree about some basic rules such as whether or not she's allowed to lean or paw. If your husband really enjoys it, he can put it on cue and then only allow her to do it when he's asked her to. This will limit the dog's inclination to do it randomly to just anybody.

Please feel free to followup with more details about the bite incident if you'd like some more detailed commentary on that. Also if you have any questions or need any clarification about any other information in this response. It can be hard when you feel out of control and have a communication breakdown with your dog. It makes the whole relationship stressful. But with a little guidance and practice, I'd bet that you can see a dramatic improvement in her overall behavior and thus feel more comfortable with her in your home.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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