Ask the Trainer


Q: My dog is afraid of the bathtub. How can I get him to behave for baths?

A: According to Kera Wilhelmsen, CPDT-KA ABCDT CTDI and AKC CGC evaluator, of Paws Abilities Dog Training, the key to resolving fear issues is to change the association your dog has with the scary thing.

Wilhelmsen recommends making the bathtub a safe space for your dog with a no-slip mat on the bottom and a towel on the ledge. “If your dog doesn’t want to go near the tub, start by doing fun things
in the bathroom, such as playing or
feeding meals.”

Once your dog is comfortable hanging out in the bathroom with you, Wilhelmsen recommends short training sessions where your dog receives good things from the bathtub itself. Start with the outside ledge and work up to having your dog climb into the tub. She recommends lick-able treats such as dog-safe peanut butter, applesauce, baby food or canned food, all of which can be smeared on the tub directly.

Finally, Wilhelmsen recommends introducing the water—first with your dog outside the tub, then in. She advises to “get your pooch wet by starting with the paws, then the legs, then their behind, slowly making your way up their body towards their head. Treat after each body part. Finally, you can incorporate shampooing. Add some good scratches, rinse, and you are done!”

Q: My puppy growls when I stick my hand in her food bowl! What do I do?

A: Lauren Engle, of Paws Abilities Dog Training, says that this is a complaint she hears regularly from puppy parents. “It’s a common misconception that you need to put your hand in your dog’s food bowl to prevent guarding. In fact, doing this can actually increase food guarding in some dogs.”

Engle says that the hand-in-bowl advice fails the anthropomorphic test. It wouldn’t work with any other mammal, so why do it to our dogs?

“Imagine if someone were to come up to you and start playing with your food,” she says. “You would most likely be upset. You may even react aggressively if that person does it on a daily basis. Now imagine if that same person came by every day and set a piece of chocolate on your plate. You would most likely start looking forward to that person coming by during every meal.”

Instead of sticking your hand in your pet’s bowl during mealtime, Engle recommends that you practice enhancing their meals by adding something wonderful to their food, like a special treat or a spoonful of canned food. Use something that your pup likes better than their regular diet. Much like with the bathtub advice, your goal is to change your dog’s association from feeling uncomfortable to feeling happy. Soon your dog will welcome you near their food, since it always predicts good things.

Q: Why doesn’t my dog come when I call him?

A: Katie Kelly, CPDT-KA ABCDT, of Paws Abilities Dog Training, says that dogs don’t come when called because they either haven’t learned to “come” with distractions, or the cue is not special to them.

“If the dog doesn’t come when called, this means we have to continue training. ‘Come’ is our most important cue, so it is important to treat it as such.”

When Kelly teaches her dogs to recall, she uses high-value rewards, such as special treats or favorite toys. She recommends practicing two to three times a day and providing multiple rewards after each successful recall.

Kelly also emphasizes that you should only say the word “come” once. “It is important to get your dog to come to you the first time you call, especially since this cue could be used in emergency situations. If my dog doesn’t come when called the first time, I’ll encourage the dog to move towards me through other means. Most often, I’ll run away from the dog and encourage the dog to chase me (as opposed to me chasing them!).”

Once your dog has a rocket recall inside, Kelly recommends that you take the training outside and practice there. “Using a long leash will give your dog some freedom to roam the yard, yet still allow you to maintain control of their allowed distance.”

Sara Reusche CBCC-KA CPDT-KSA CVT, is owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training.