Canine Behavior/Eating


QUESTION: I rescued a Australian Shepherd from a shelter and I had her for a couple of weeks. She's shy and afraid but I established a routine with her. She's crate trained, stays in her crate all days and only comes out to relieve herself then comes right back inside the house and stays there. Recently, the last three days she stays outside all day and doesn't want to come in even to eat. She eats her food lat at night like around 9:00 instead of 5:00. She goes outside until its 11:00 when I let her in for bedtime. She has changed her routine and I don't know what to do next.

ANSWER: First: GET RID OF THE CRATE, completely.

Second:  create a safe area in your home with baby gate across the doorway (least expensive if purchased at Walmart).  Put a soft bed, water, and a safe toy (Buster cube dispenses a portion of food as the dog rolls it around, you can demonstrate this to your dog).  An Australian Shepherd is a natural herder: rolling the ball for food will satisfy (initially, we'll work on more later) her need to "Herd" and will be immediately rewarded by food.  Make her food as high quality as you can afford.  I suggest you ask the veterinarian (but no prescription diet unless she has other conditions).

Third:  Do not allow her outdoors alone; put her on long training leash AND GO OUT WITH HER.  As she squats to pee, and before she stops, softly praise.  You will soon recognize the time(s) of day she needs to urinate and defecate; be certain to take her out on long leash at those times.  If she has an "accident" In the house, IGNORE IT.  Confined to her "safe" room (most likely the kitchen), it is easily cleaned (do not use clorox or products containing clorox).  Do this out of her sight.  You can save paper towels used for this in a plastic bag and put them in the spot you see she has chosen to urinate (most dogs have a selected spot), for the scent.

Fourth: if you were confined to a crate all day and then free outdoors, you wouldn't want to come back into the house either.

Fifth:  A couple of weeks is no time at all; the dog is "fearful" (as you describe her) so we can assume she has been neglected, abused (possibly) or is simply unable to habituate to your household.  If she was at the "shelter" (I assume you mean municipal kill shelter) she was most likely dumped by her former owners.  This breed is not a casual companion; they are remarkably intelligent and need a "job".  It may take several months for you to see the true temperament of this dog.

Sixth:  Read about positive reinforcement training.  I suggest you go to Dr. Ian Dunbar's website, "" where you will find a plethora of articles and free training videos.  Be certain to follow ONLY those by Dr. Dunbar.  

Seventh:  Feeding once a day is not sufficient; this dog must be fed twice daily.  In her "safe" room, put the bowl of food down and LEAVE THE ROOM.  Give her fifteen minutes to consume her food; do nothing, say nothing, just stay out of her way.  At the end of the fifteen minutes, casually remove the bowl without making eye contact or saying a word.  Replace it at the end of day (9PM is far too late).  Put her on the strictest schedule your life allows: AM and PM.  She will not starve herself; although she may go a few days without eating, she WILL eventually begin to eat.  Be certain the portion of food is what she requires for healthy body weight; again, your veterinarian can help determine this.

Finally:  I want you to learn to read dog body language:

When you perceive the dog is hesitant or fearful, do not coax her, do not offer food as a bait to bring her forward; ignore it. When she is clearly relaxed and responsive, train "sit", using high value food reward (bits of string cheese or chicken hot dog):

She may have already been "trained" to do this: START OVER with a DIFFERENT WORD (use another language, if you know one).  She'll catch on very quickly.  Once she does, ask her to "sit" before taking her out (and food reward when she does) and before going back indoors (food reward, again).  Within two weeks, you can stagger the food reward for going out and coming back in.  Use FOLLOWUP FEATURE for instructions on how to do that.

Don't be a drop out!  I ask many people to use FOLLOWUP FEATURE to report how their dog is progressing and about 75% never do.  I can help you make this dog the best companion you've ever had.

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

QUESTION: I tried to get rid of the crate but it seems that she prefers the crate more than the bed. It is still early for toys as she ignores them. The YouTube video, the article, and the by Dr. Ian Dunbar are very helpful so thank you very much for those links. She has also gone back to eating at the timely schedule of 5:00 PM, I tried the morning feedings but that didn't work out so well so its back to night time feedings. I'm now starting leash training which seems to be helpful for her behavior.

ANSWER: Put the soft bed INTO the crate and always leave the crate door open.  Some wire crates will allow you to actually remove the door.

As for toys: if a dog is not introduced to toys in early life, a dog might ignore any and all toys; this could also change.  Avoid rawhide; it isn't healthy and can cause serious digestion problems.  You can try the Buster Cube or any such "toy" that dispenses food if the dog rolls it around with her nose.  You can demonstrate it in her sight: simply roll the ball, allow some kibble to fall out, and leave the room. She will either learn to use it (because it is fun and self rewarding) or not.

Keep following Dr. Dunbar; there are so many links to articles pertaining to problem behaviors in dogs.  Be certain it is from him, or one of his graduate students.  Leash training is wonderful since the dog experiences the leash not only as a physical restraint but, more importantly, a psychological reassurance.  Keep going and let me know how you do.

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

QUESTION: This is a followup, in the following month she is slowly coming about. She loves to walks, loves to socialize in the park, and she is beginning now to pay attention to toys. However, she started to break out of her routines of taking care of her business at night and in the morning, she refuses to go out to go do her business. I kind of think that she's doing this because she's gotten to a point where when she wants to go out to do her business she will do it on her time when she's ready and not stay on routine. Correct me if I'm right or wrong on this theory, secondly as I stated, she likes to go for walks and enjoys thoroughly but she resisted and fights going out at first and she cowards when the process begins. What should I do or if you have any suggestions on what should I do on this matter.

Please answer these questions so I can better understand what is suddenly occurring here.

1.  When did she begin to "break out of her routines" long ago?  Did she begin cowering immediately or because you were frustrated (understandably) at getting her out the door to do her "business"?  Describe as best you can: think about it, try to pinpoint the manner in which this started.

2.  When she refuses to go out to "do her business"...what do YOU DO?

3.  When she cowers, what do YOU DO?

4.  Is there another door you can use to take her out just for routine elimination?

Can you insert a photo of this dog in your answer?  Breed type might be important.

Something is going wrong; something has frightened her around her elimination processes.  You may not have anything at all to do with this, it might be a former owner. Let's try to closely examine the entire scenario:  keep a notepad for the next day or two, make notes about what she does, when, how, and what you do.  Then send your response (photo would be great but if you can't do that, it's ok).

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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