Q: My dog just goes nuts whenever I try to put his leash on. He jumps, paws and bites my hand which really hurts. Sometimes he gets the leash and acts like he’s killing a snake. He has always hated being petted unless he thinks it’s his idea and he never listens. He digs up our garden and all of our plants. What can I do?

A: The first thing to do is locate a professional dog trainer who uses positive methods so he or she can evaluate the situation and set you up on a behavior modification program. Make sure your dog is healthy, of course. You’ll need to use classical conditioning to change the way he feels about the leash and operant conditioning to reinstall a leadership program through positive means. It sounds like he runs the house.

You can find a trainer that uses only positive training methods in your area through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.APDT.com) or The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (www.NADOI.org). Interview each trainer until you find one you want to work with.

That being said, here are a few tips: Please exercise common sense and safety!

RE: the leash… Adults only do this and if it becomes unsafe, do not continue. Wait for the trainer.

  • Get your dog used to your hand coming toward him without the leash. Touch him with your other hand AS THE TREAT GOES IN HIS MOUTH. Repeat 5 times and then end the session. Repeat two to five sessions. It’s important he’s getting the treat a split second before you touch him and that the touch lasts a second or less.
  • Show him the leash (about a foot away from him) and simultaneously give him a highly-valued, yummy treat. Repeat 5 times and then end the session. Repeat several sessions. (Leash/treat, leash/treat, etc.)
  • Now when you think he’s ready, add touching him with the leash AS THE TREAT GOES IN HIS MOUTH. Repeat 5 times and end the session. It’s important he’s getting the treat a split second before you touch him and the touch lasts a second or less. Do this 10-20 sessions over a few days or a week.
  • Now, say “stay” and touch him with the leash for one second. THEN give him the treat.
  • Gradually add two touches before giving the treat, then three, etc. Don’t go too far too fast.

This process may take several weeks, so until this routine takes hold, one person can be feeding him while you put the leash on when you really have to walk him.

You can also teach him to lie down and stay. Gradually teach him to relax in a down position (massage helps) and then introduce the leash in baby steps.

You can bring out the leash whenever you feed him and associate it with his dinnertime. Just bring it out, lay it on the floor, and then put his bowl down.

Also, if it doesn’t traumatize him, let him drag a shorter, light-weight leash around all day (supervision is very important with this to avoid accidents or injury). Doing this will get him used to wearing it and it will then lose some of its significance. It also serves as a protector as you can simply pick up the shortened leash and attach it to his regular leash when taking him for a walk. In this way you avoid bringing your hand close to his teeth.

Regarding the digging, etc. … he’s bored. He needs to learn new games and get structured exercise with you instead of on his own. The Dog Whisperer DVD, Beginning and Intermediate Dog Training for Puppies and Dogs will help.

Wish I could be more help, but a trainer can really show you the light at the end of the tunnel and there are many things you can try.

Recommended Resource:

The Dog Whisperer DVD, Vol. 2 for Puppies and Dogs focuses on solving many problem dog behaviors.
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