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Canine Behavior/Two Out Of Control Male Dogs


QUESTION: My husband has a 12 yr old shitzu ( worst case of " little dog syndrome" that you will ever see ~ and a 4 yr old neurotic bichon who has severe anxiety/separation complex.  Neither will listen as my husband is inconsistent in what little " dog training" they've had.  He has only taught them to sit before
eating and undermines whatever training I've accomplished.

They were not socialized properly ( 4 yrs ago) and have become jealous, competitive, and demanding of attention.  Worse, the little one has started marking in the house - sometimes in front of my husband.

We have them crated to avoid using the house as a toilet.  But my husband refuses to walk them - play catch - and gives them 2 min of his time every day. He will not allow them outside alone for more than 5 minutes and has made them so neurotic/obsessive that now they lick the floors, compulsively.

My question..  What makes a happy dog?  My husband thinks throwing cookies at them is the answer. I have tried getting through to him - that they are being neglected.  They are his dogs ( I married into them..  and own a cat of my own). Why does he think this is my responsibility when HE wanted the dogs? I have never owned a dog.    

I can't let them to continue marking in the house - I have pillows on all the furniture to keep them off - and they are constantly underfoot.  I am going nuts.  Please help.  What can I do???

Thank you

ANSWER: Thank you for your question. It's one that a lot of pet owners don't really know the answer to. So here goes...

A happy dog is one who has sufficient physical and MENTAL exercise, affection, human social contact, all of their basic needs for food, water and shelter met so that they feel secure that they are not going to starve, freeze, overheat or dyhdrate.

The thing most people miss is the MENTAL exercise. It's not enough to feed and water dogs. It's not enough to put them outside to potty and then crate them all day. In fact, being crated for more than 6 hours at a time is considered abusive to dogs. And they should spend more than 50% out of ever 24 hour period OUTSIDE a crate.

If your husband wants to keep these dogs, then it is on him to walk them or at least play with them in the yard and house for a couple hours per day. This does NOT have to be 2 consecutive hours (120 minutes straight). It can be 2 minutes here, 10 minutes there. In fact, that's a better way to do it - to have a 20-minute play session a few times per day, plus love/cuddle time plus feeding and training time and you'll easily spend sufficient time with the dogs over the course of the day.

Mental exercise is not achieved by sitting in an empty crate or even by being put outside for a half hour at a time. It requires that the dog is having their brain stimulated. There are lots of ways we can do this - walks off property allow the dog to engage his nose and see the world. It's like reading a book or watching a good movie along with the physical exercise of walking. When I walk a dog, I don't want or allow the dog to drag me down the street or continually cut me off by crossing back and forth in front or behind me. But, the walk is for the dog. So if he wants to stop and sniff a particular bush/tree/mailbox, I let him. If he tries to drag me to it, I'll turn us around and walk away and approach again with a bit more gusto so that the dog gets to the good sniff spot on a loose leash, rather than dragging me to it.

You can also achieve great mental stimulation by training. If basic obedience is too boring, train tricks. Dogs love being engaged with their people. And so long as you're using positive reinforcement to teach the skills, the dog will have fun and so you the person doing the training. There are also food dispensing puzzle toys - some that require supervision because you only put a kibble or two into multiple compartments and then when the dog successfully gets all the goodies, you can reload the puzzle. Others are more independent that can be loaded with the dog's entire meal and once he knows how to use it, can be left essentially unattended while he enjoys the challenge of getting his dinner.

One of the most popular such independent toys is a Kong, which can be easily enjoyed in the crate. Others include the Kong Wobbler, Tricky Treat Ball and dozens of others.

Having long lasting chew options available such as marrow bones, bully sticks, antlers, Nylabones can also help to occupy the dog, which may minimize the compulsive licking that you're seeing. That compulsive licking is likely a stereotypic stress behavior.

There's a lot going on in that house with the behaviors you've mentioned and it's not possible to address them all in this forum. But the crux of your question is "what makes a dog happy."

Right now, I can say that your husband's behavior and lack of interest in the dogs is not helping them. I don't know either of you, nor what's going on in your worlds, but it almost sounds like there may be some underlying emotional issues (stress, depression, etc) or health issues that may be affecting your husband's current position/behavior regarding the dogs. I'd encourage an open and honest discussion about his health. Encourage a checkup and an open, honest discussion with the doctor.

If there really is nothing going on, and he's just not interested in being a proper caregiver to the dogs, then the very best thing you can do for those dogs is either embrace that they're your dogs now. But understand, that unless he gets on the same page regarding rules, training, routines, etc. the situation will not improve. The other option is to find the dogs homes (either together or separately) where they can get the care that they deserve.

I'm sorry if this has come across as a bit harsh, but it's not okay for anyone to relegate dogs to life in a crate without sufficient and appropriate minimal care, and if the minimal care needs can't be met, then the human must rehome the dog. Dogs are as social, if not more so, than humans. 20 minutes per day of proper contact is as detrimental to a dog as it is to a human who is in isolation in a prison cell.

I hope this helps to shed some light for you and your husband. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance. Good luck.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Do you think the marking in the house is due to stress or
insecurity on the part of this bichon? He has huge separation anxiety and is in constant competition with the 12 yr old shitzu who "runs the house".  Your advice is excellent - and I appreciate your help more than you could know.

ANSWER: I'm sorry for the delay in responding to your followup question.

Urine marking is a totally normal part of the canine behavior repertoire. Both males and females will do it. Some dogs will mark only when out on walks, while others mark only in their house or yard. Some dogs will mark in both types of locations.

The triggers for marking can vary as well. From the ASPCA website:
"Something New in the Environment
Some dogs urine mark when they encounter nonresident dogs in their environments or smell urine left in their environments by other dogs. A dog’s environment may encompass his home, his yard, the route he usually takes when on walks, friends’ homes he regularly visits, and parks or other locations he frequents.

Social Triggers
Exciting social situations can trigger urine marking. Some male dogs only urine mark when in the presence of female dogs (especially if they’re in heat), and some urine mark only when interacting with other male dogs. Some dogs only urine mark when visiting homes where other dogs have urine marked before. Other dogs only urine mark when they become highly aroused and overstimulated in social situations. These dogs often mark nearby objects, people or other dogs.

Some dogs urine mark when they experience anxiety. Anxious dogs might deposit greater amounts of urine than dogs marking for other reasons. They might also urine mark on spots that aren’t vertical surfaces. A number of events can cause anxiety and trigger urine marking, including the presence of new objects, furniture or luggage in a dog’s environment, the departure of a resident from a dog’s home, a new person moving into the home, and conflict between a dog and people or other animals in the home."

In your dog's case, my guess is that we're looking at anxiety as a trigger. Conflict in the house doesn't have to be between the dog and the human. It can be between the two humans as well, and the dog is feeling anxious about the tension in the house.

Try to think back to when the marking first began - what was happening in the house? Were there fights? Changes in the work schedule? Illness? This could be the originating trigger.

That the Bichon has done it directly in front of your husband, could be very telling about where his anxiety is stemming from. Especially if the dog was marking the floor or other horizontal surface, rather than a vertical surface. Based on your description of your husband's lack of interest in the dogs and his seeming resentment of their presence, I'm not surprised that one or both dogs is demonstrating ongoing anxiety about the current living environment.

And yes, it could be a facet of the separation anxiety as well. Especially if he's getting punished when a urine spot is found. The very worst thing we can do when dealing with anxiety-induced urination is to scold or otherwise punish the dog for doing it as this only increases the anxiety surrounding the whole process. In that situation, the dog urinates out of anxiety about being alone, then the owner comes home and scolds him for something he had no control over. The dog learns that the owner's return is dangerous to him because he gets in trouble (lots of conflict because he's unhappy being alone and scared for the humans' return). This leads to an escalating cycle where the dog has anxiety at being alone and urinates out of that fright, then also has increased anxiety at the anticipation of the human's return which can lead to more urinating.

Assuming this is anxiety induced (given that he has other clear anxiety-triggered behaviors), the best way to handle it is to pretend nothing has happened when you find a potty spot. Don't say a word to the dog, don't even clean it up if he's in the room. Wait until he's elsewhere and then clean it up with a proper cleaning product such as Simple Solution Pet Stain and Odor Remover , which has a live bacteria that destroys the enzymes in the urine that make it smell like urine.  If you catch him in the act of marking, you can disrupt him with a single, sharp "No" and then direct him outside in your sweetest, most inviting tone, "Let's go outside and potty". Go out with him and stay out with him for at least 10 minutes. If he pees at all - offer quiet praise, "good pee" while he's going and then as soon as he's done, make a big, happy fuss over him right there where the potty happened. This way, we do two things. First, we make it abundantly clear where the right place is compared to the wrong place. Second, we make sure that we're present when he goes where we want him to and that he learns that going potty in front of us (in the right place) is highly rewarding.

A lot of people just put the dog out, but don't join him. In that circumstance, the dog learns that going in front of his person is dangerous because he gets in trouble. But he doesn't make the connection that it's about WHERE he's going, and then we end up with a dog who will go for the hour-long walk (or supervised play time in the yard) and not go, then come back inside and go to a closet or little-used room and pee there. This is because he's not learned that peeing inside is bad. He has only learned that peeing in front of his person is dangerous. So if you catch either dog going in the wrong place, you can give a scold to interrupt the process, but then you must go out and stay out with him for at least 10 minutes to give him a proper chance to finish and have a treat party with him for going where he should.

Although you indicated that this has been an issue for a dozen years, that doesn't rule out a medical or psychological condition contributing to it. Without a proper exam by a doctor, it's not possible to know that with certainty. If you decide that these dogs are going to stay in this home, I strongly encourage you and your husband to find a way to be on the same page - reduce the stress and anxiety for the dogs, commit to routines and schedules and to meeting the minimum needs for social contact and mental stimulation as well as the other basics of food, water, physical exercise and climate controlled environments. It's great that you're willing to embrace the dogs as your own, but if the other human in the household is undermining you at every turn, it does no favors for the dogs...

As in my first response, I'm sorry if my comments sound a bit harsh, but as my role is to be an advocate for the dogs, sometimes blunt is the best way. Sugar coating can allow for misinterpretation. I hope this information is helpful. I wish you luck in whatever decision you make.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you, Jody.. The problem is more with the Bichon marking on the corners of the furniture.  I can't know what else he's done on the carpeting in the past - but when I moved in the house 2 l-/2 yrs ago after marrying the owner, the house smelled like a toilet.  The
Bichon was never propery trained. Before he came, the Shitzu never had issues with urinating in the house. Pottying or marking.

My husband tries but has ADHD and is easily distracted. I stress the importance of consistency but he has a lot of stress in his life right now and the dogs are not high on his priority list as they are on mine.

I am going to take most of the responsibility for these dogs because I know they deserve better than they are getting. They deserved to be played with - exercised - and not ignored.  I asked for consistency in training and will not get it so I am left to my own devices as much as I plead.

For 12 years - the older dog was left alone in the house for 10-12 hrs a day.  I would never get a dog if I knew I would be away that long.

We do disagree over the dogs ~ maybe the anxiety of the bichon is that he knows we are in conflict with this inconsistent training.  He is a VERY intelligent dog ~ very sweet ~ loves to play and has learned to be so dependent on the shitzu. I thought it was unhealthy for dogs not to have ANY independence -- causing the bichon to be glued to my husband like VELCRO.  
I am sorry to bother you with this ~ and I don't think you are being harsh in the least. I asked your advice and I respect the truth.

My husband doesn't resent the dogs ~ he loves those dogs ( in his way) by throwing cookies at them and is highly overprotective but he doesn't understand dogs need rules/ and feel more secure if they have them.

I wanted my husband to take the lead as the "head of the pack" but he is too ineffectual.  Inconsistency has destroyed any hope of these dogs listening to him.  He doesn't use commands.  The bichon jumps up on him all the time ( and other people)..  But he will just whine at him
instead of making his command clear.  So irritates me. I think this Bichon is neurotic/insecure because of my husband's over possessiveness and not allowing him to be 5 seconds out of his sight.

He just cannot say no to these dogs.  What is especially sad is that they have both showed me that they can learn..  and learn fast.  Just a shame that I can't get through to my husband so he can understand how he is damaging these animals by lack of training.   I know those dogs would be so much happier if they knew their limits.

Thank you for all your advice ~ and thank you for listening.

You should pick up a couple of books to help you start working with the dogs. Once your husband sees a few skills clearly trained, it may be easier for him to then ask for those skills and get a reasonable reply.

With ADHD he may lack the patience to teach the skills initially, but when he sees the dog has learned (or is learning) the skills, he may end up a bit more on board.

A couple great books to start with are:

101 Dog Tricks: Step-by-Step Activities to Engage, Challenge and Bond with Your Dog , by Kyra Sundance.

The book walks you through with pictures as well written descriptions. It's fun tricks, but many require the foundation skills of things like Sit and Down and Come. It's a great way to begin working with your dogs. Train with the dogs separately (in a room away from the other dog) to minimize distraction. Once both dogs demonstrate they can do a particular skill, then you can start working with them both together. Be aware that when they begin to work together, you may see a fall off of their prowess initially because of the added distraction.

Also note, not all dogs will be able or comfortable doing all skills. I have one dog who is very uncomfortable at the idea of rolling over, so we leave that trick to the other dog and instead, when I ask this dog (the one who doesn't like to roll over), "Who's a good boy?" He'll wave his arm as if to say "I am!" So see what the dogs are comfortable doing and then build on those behaviors to create tricks on cue.

Another book you might find helpful - for more of the basic obedience stuff is
The Power of Positive Dog Training , by Pat Miller

This book covers how dogs learn, the pitfalls of punishment and the benefits of positive reinforcement, it covers some basic manners commands as well as some potty training assistance.

Clicker Training For Dogs: A Beginner's Guide , by Stuart Roberts

These would be a good place to start as you begin to take over the care of the dogs.

As for the marking the corners of the furniture and that he was never properly potty trained - that's probably the crux of the issue - that he just isn't actually potty trained. In which case, it's not a marking so much as just going potty. Potty training, especially in an older dog who has a great deal of practice at going where we don't want him to, is likely to be a bit tedious, but it's well worth the effort to obtain the rest of his life going in the right place.

I use a 90-day guideline in that the dog must be accident free for 90 consecutive days before can call him "potty trained." This means that if on day 86 he has an accident, the clock starts over for another 90 days...

I have a 3-part blog which will help you get a good feel for how to potty train him. They can be found here:
You Too Can Potty Train Your Pooch (Parts I, II & III) can be found at this link, along with a blog on nutrition and one on separation anxiety

Along with getting a 32 oz bottle of the Simple Solution and a 1-gallon refill, invest in a portable black light. The major pet stores will have them as well as places like Best Buy and Radio Shack. After dark, with the lights off, run the black light over the surfaces about 4-6 inches above the surface. Urine will fluoresce under the black light. This will tell you where to spray the Simple Solution. Saturate the carpet or furniture in those areas, and make sure that you saturate an area about 10%-15% larger than the stain you see so that we are certain we're getting the urine all the way to the backing. Let it sit for about 20 minutes and then blot up the excess moisture, but allow it to air dry. This gives the bacteria time to work its magic. If there have been repeated pees, you may need to do this 2 or three times a few days apart in order to really rid the area of the smell.

If it's truly just everywhere, then you may need to consider re-carpeting the entire room (or house) - complete with new carpet padding underneath. When they have it down to the sub-floor, spray the entire area before they lay the new carpet padding down as this will get any odor that's on the sub-floor. Remember, it's not enough that you no longer smell the urine. We need to make sure the dog no longer smells it, and his sniffer is about 100,000 times more sensitive than ours, and a whole heck of a lot closer to the floor!

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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