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Written by Lisa Hartman   
July 2009

Because that’s what dogs do. Any more questions?

The readers of Biscayne Times and “Pawsitively Pets” have spoken! So this month I am answering your questions on behavior and problem-solving. Below are two of the e-mails I received recently. The first is from Sharon O., who asks:

Hi, Lisa. Here’s a question I have pondered for a while: My dog yawns a lot, and often times it seems to me, inappropriately. She yawns, yes, when she is tired, but also when we are in training class, when we are driving down the street, when we are about to pull into my sisters house -- replete with children and dogs and more. I suspect that yawning in dogs is a lot of things: boredom, excitement, tension. Is this correct? And is there negativity in it? Am I doing something wrong so that she feels she needs to yawn so often? Or am I just a very boring person looking for an excuse? Thank you for the opportunity to ask!

Thanks for writing, Sharon. Great question! I am sure you are not a very boring person, so stop worrying about that.

Yes, dogs yawn for a variety of reasons, but they mainly yawn from being tired or bored or because they are under some sort of stress. Yawning is considered a “calming signal,” or a stress signal, as is lip-licking, shaking off, looking away or ignoring you, and sneezing. It is a signal that the dog is stressed, or she could be using yawns to calm something or someone in her environment. Without meeting with your dog in person, it would be hard for me to say for sure.

Try to be aware of what is going on in her world. For example, if you are in a training class that uses harsh or primitive techniques (leash pops, physically holding dogs down on the floor on their side, prong collars, and so on), it will be stressful. In fact just being in a class for an hour with other dogs and owners is already a lot to deal with for the animal -- and human. Maybe you need to work a little farther away from the other dogs.

Riding in the car may be exciting for her, or maybe the vibration of the car makes her a bit queasy. Perhaps she knows she will soon be near your sister’s little kids. Kids are scary for most dogs, with their squealing and quick movements. Children should be taught to give dogs their space. In any case, she may be involuntarily telling you something.

I have noticed that certain breeds seem to use some signals more than others. For example, Dalmatians seem to shake off and sneeze more. I watched almost every Dalmatian do this at the Dalmatian National Specialty show before their “down and back” routines (trot away and toward the judge). I have not seen any data yet about breed-specific signals, it is just my observation. My Dalmatian seems to favor the “look away/ignore” behavior if he is not learning a new trick we are practicing, even when trained positively. Sometimes it is just too much to think about for him, or I may not be rewarding his tries enough to keep down his frustration.

Another note about training classes. I have witnessed a number of dogs in group-training classes stuck in a Catch 22: The dog is obviously stressed about practicing “heel” or some other command the owner is barking at him, so he looks away and yawns. The class trainer tells the owner the dog is not paying attention and to correct it, usually with a leash pop or yelling. The dog is now more stressed and looks away/yawns even more, or stops to scratch himself and is corrected/punished again. It’s a vicious cycle.

Does your dog have allergies or some trouble getting air for some medical or structural reason? This too could possibly make her more apt to yawn.

Of course, you may just need to add a nap into her schedule.

Deborah Q. asks: I understand why dogs mark outside, but why does my male dog mark in the house?

Deborah, I am sorry for your problem. Dogs mark for a variety of reasons -- to mark territory, to say that “Rocky was here” because there is already another scent there. Your dog probably doesn’t see a reason to discriminate where he performs this natural behavior. And while unaltered males are the predominant markers, many neutered males and their female counterparts can keep up with them. (My little Crested female learned marking by watching her big brother.) House marking also happens a lot when two males live together. The bottom line is, dogs mark because that’s what dogs do.

But marking outside is one thing, while marking inside the house is quite another. Yuk! You will have to address the problem from different angles. First, you need to get rid of the scent already in the house. They say vinegar is one of the only things that works well. If the dog has marked on carpeted areas, this will be a bit trickier to clean. But it must be done.

In addition, you must be around to catch him and stop him before he marks. Each and every time. Usually saying a quick “Ah ha!” or sharp “Hey!” will suffice. But you must always be supervising him so you do not miss an opportunity to stop him. On the flip side, you must manage him during times you cannot watch. Crating him so he does not have the opportunity to mark would be a good idea. If you have two males in the house, the same applies for both. Supervise all interactions. If they are not neutered, you may want to think about doing so, as this many times takes the edge off and also curbs a variety of behavior problems, including dog-on-dog aggression and reactivity.

Have a training or behavior question you would like answered? Write to me. Your question may just show up in this column!

 

Lisa Hartman is head dog trainer for Pawsitively Pets. You can reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or www.pawsitivelypetsonline.com.


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