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dog charmer

The Dog Charmer: Housebreaking Zeke

The Dog Charmer

Housebreaking Zeke

Dear Dog Charmer,

I adopted Zeke, a very active poodle mix in January. He is not my first dog as I am 73 and had dogs most of my adult life. I cannot seem to house break him. I am growing tired of walking him, and failing; at least once every couple of days he either poops or pees in the house.

I fenced in a patch of grass and he will not go down there and pee, unless I carry him and even then he just stands and looks at me. Sometimes he pees on the wooden porch which I can live with, but I cannot stand a dog who will spend his life peeing in my house.

I take him for a long walk after breakfast and after supper. The other times I put him either on the front porch or in the backyard. At night he is crated because he can’t be trusted not to defecate. On two or three occasions, he actually pooped in his crate and covered it up with his blanket. I am on the edge of bringing him back to the shelter. Although the thought greatly upsets me.

Pat and Zeke

Dog Charmer: Dakota is smart, but the woods distract him

Dog Charmer:
Dakota is smart, but the woods distract him

We have a beautiful and smart six-month-old male Rottweiler named Dakota. He is really good with the basics of sit, lay down and stay. We love to go hiking and the goal is to be able to take him off leash. He loves to be out in the woods. How do we get him to be more attentive to us when walking? We need him to come back to us quickly when called and greet other dogs and their owners with manners. He comes now but sometimes we have to go to him and get his attention again. We would like him to respond without us going to him.


Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Terrier Afraid of Everything

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
Terrier Afraid of Everything

We have a 7-month-old Boston Terrier, Maggie, who is fearful of everything including me. She loves me but is afraid if I talk too loud or move fast. Also big-time stranger-danger to anyone new. We also have a 10-year-old Boston, Chloe, who is the best dog, loves everyone and is so laid back. I want Maggie to be happy and not in fear.

If I put a Thundershirt on her, she just sits or lays around like a lump. Most of the time she is a happy dog with weird issues. How do you get a dog over fear? We will love any help you can offer.

Thank you,

David Pollack

Dear David,
Mike Tyson was quoted in, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” When I read this I immediately related it to dogs. Like the overly confident boxer who gets hit and loses some self assurance, it’s always easier to take the totally uncooperative, overly confident dog and convince him that there are rules that apply to him, and life is better when he cooperates. Trying to take the totally unconfident, insecure, anxious dog and make him confident is much more difficult. Try turning a chicken-heart into a braveheart!

The key is nine words, which I repeat a lot. “Been there, done that, seen that, no big deal.” I had a couple that moved from rural Alabama to midtown Manhattan with a German Shepherd that they described as afraid of nothing, till it got to NYC. First exposures to an elevator, an ambulance siren and the hustle of NYC streets and I met a dog that was described as totally non-aggressive, that was now threatening its owners in its refusal to go out. I had to con the dog into a basket muzzle and drag him into the elevator and through the lobby to get him out. Pulling and dragging I got him off the avenue into a quieter side street and into Central Park, feeding him pieces of chicken every time his tail came out from between his legs. We were out for over two hours, the muzzle was long off and he was slowly but surely adapting to this busy new environment.

David, Maggie needs to be exposed to as much of the world as possible, receiving special treats whenever she shows some guts. The last thing you want to do is tell her it’s okay and give her a treat when she’s cowering because a car backfired. That would be rewarding the fear response! Rather, when she’s cowering, keep moving while acting upbeat to distract and redirect her, and offer her treats when she’s not cowering. Having Chloe with you on walks may start to help, as Maggie will be aware of Chloe’s indifference to the “scary stuff.” By exposing Maggie to more and more of the world with special treats and nothing biting or hurting her, she will become more confident and get into sniffing for gossip instead of reacting fearfully to everything.

I’d also suggest you get the Adaptil plug-in diffuser, and try an Adaptil collar, I’ve seen them help on occasion. You might want to talk to your Vet, or find one who’s into CBD. I’ve seen that work too. With Adaptil, and possible CBD, I’d take off the Thundershirt and just use it for new places and new experiences. Also, play loudly, get her used to your quick movements in play with treats. Stay very upbeat, and be patient with the attitude of “There ain’t nothin to be afraid of here.”

Good luck,

Dog Charmer Tom

Letter by Katie Huntington

Letter by Katie Huntington

I just wanted to say how much I’ve been enjoying the “Dog Charmer” column that Tom Shelby writes for All Otsego. My husband and I have a rescue dog of our own, and it’s been really helpful to hear other people’s experiences and Tom’s advice for them. I had a question that was answered one week, and Tom gave some wonderful feedback that I hadn’t considered before.

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: How do I stop nipping when I encouraged the behavior?



Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
How do I stop nipping when I encouraged the behavior?

Dear Tom,
We have a two-year old, 17-pound Cavapoo with a bad owner: me!
Since she was a pup, we have played rough, wrestling and playing “dodge the nips” with my sleeves and forearms. We both have had a blast. Because of social distancing during the worst of the pandemic, this aggressive play at home was not a problem. But, predictably, as our socializing has increased she wants to play dodge the nips with friends and strangers approaching to pet her. However well intentioned this behavior it is not welcomed by most!
What can we do?
Concerned pet owner

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: My Yorkie won’t go upstairs

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
My Yorkie won’t go upstairs

Hi, Mr. Shelby:
I recently adopted a sweet little nine-year old Yorkie named Abbey from Susquehanna SPCA. She speeds up my front and back porch steps with no problem, but refuses to climb the 15 steps to my upper floor sleeping quarters (both hers and mine!)

Come to find out, her previous owner had a one-floor home, and when they often visited the owner’s sister’s home, Abbey was prohibited from going up the stairs to the second floor. She apparently was trained well to stay on the first floor. Fortunately, a few years ago, we had a stair lift installed. So, now I give Abbey a ride up at night and down in the morning, with her shaking all the way. I think our choices are:

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Dog is depressed over death of companion

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
Dog is depressed over death of companion

Dear Tom,

We have two goldens, Chloe, 6, and Bonnie, 14½. They have been together since Chloe was a puppy.
Sadly, Bonnie died suddenly this past Wednesday. Along with our anguish and moping about, Chloe seems to have picked it up also. She seems very flat.

Is this normal? Can you suggest anything we can do or just wait it out?

Appreciate your comments,


The Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: How to help an anxious new puppy stay home by itself

The Dog Charmer
by Tom Shelby

How to help an
anxious new puppy
stay home by itself

Dear Tom,

She came to us at 12 weeks at the start of pandemic lockdown. Well, I know it’s my fault for taking her everywhere with me, for putting her in her crate at night and staying until she settles, etc.
With three adults in the household, she focuses on me ALL the time. If I go out without her, she’s a mess till I return.

How can I help her to stay alone for a few hours without losing her mind?

Sadie is an 18-month-old Havanese.

Marty DeLaney

Dear Marty,

You’re so right in referring to Sadie as a pandemic puppy!

You’re not alone. I was writing and telling people at the beginning of the pandemic, “Get out and get the puppy used to being alone.”

My guess is that 40 to 50% of the (hopefully) post-pandemic questions I’ve been getting have to do with separation anxiety.

The first thing I’d suggest is that you start making Sadie less dependent on you by asking the two other adults in the house to help. If they feed her for a couple of weeks instead of you, and take her out for occasional walks it will broaden her worldly view. You’ll always be her sun amongst many stars, but decreasing her neediness for you will make her more confident, which is exactly what you want, and a good start.

It would be great if the other two adults in the house called her from time to time and when she arrived, she got a treat. Sadie will appreciate it, too.

Henceforth, when you leave the house, de-emotionalize leaving and coming! If you appear
sorry to go or overly excited to return you’re emphasizing the separation.

Your goal is to make Sadie happy to see you go because that’s the only time she gets fantastic treats, like a hollow marrow bone with chicken or ham wedged in the middle of the bone. Remove it when you get home! The best toys only happen when you’re not home. Then there’s exercise.

I’ve been saying it for many years, “A tired dog is a well behaved dog.” In my book, “Dog Training Diaries,” aside from my crazy experiences and stories, the dos and don’ts of separation anxiety and aggression are given a great deal of attention.

Good luck,

The Dog Charmer

Cooperstown author Tom Shelby will be answering pet owners’ questions on training
their dogs. E-mail your questions to

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Stories from a working dogs life

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
Stories from a working dogs life

My two working dogs were Michelle and Mike, both Dobermans. Michelle found two people alive and some not alive. Mike tracked a woman 11 miles. They were search and rescue dogs.

Readers, as you’re reading this you are dropping about 40 thousand dead skin cells a minute. You and I have about five million olfactory cells in our noses, Michelle had more than 200 million.

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Owner worries because rescue dog does not play

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
Owner worries
because rescue dog does not play

Hi Tom,

I recently adopted a rescue dog who is very well behaved, affectionate, listens and responds well and has learned a few new tricks, but has two issues: she does not know how to play, and she wants to be outdoors all the time. If you try to play ball she will watch the ball go past her but not chase it. She doesn’t seem to know how to play with any toys. She never picks up a stick, never carries anything in her mouth, and won’t play tug or squeak her toys, although she uses one stuffed animal as a pillow in her bed.

At the dog park she loves to run with the other dogs but has no interest in retrieving whatever they are chasing. She loves to be outdoors but when she is inside she just lies on her bed looking sad or nudges us to go out for another walk.

How can I help her have more fun?

Dear Ellen,
Affectionate, well behaved, with no accidents ain’t bad when I consider that half of my 800 appointments a year were for real “problem” dogs. But I get where you’re coming from, Ellen. You’re obviously a dog lover and sensitive to your dog’s lack of enthusiasm for play in life.
She seems depressed and it’s depressing you.

Assuming that it’s not something medical, it seems clear that her perhaps deprived upbringing did not include any of the usual play antics of most dogs.

You haven’t said how long you’ve actually had him because I’ve seen adopted dogs take more than two months until they became comfortable and trusting enough to relax and “come out” and start being themselves with play. My own poodle, Paula Jean, hardly wagged her tail for two months after I adopted her at age two.

Tom Shelby,
The Dog Charmer
Cooperstown author answers pet owners questions on training their dogs. E-mail your questions to

So forget about the stick and the ball and try this. Let her know you have a treat size piece of meat in your hand and tell her to sit and stay. If necessary have someone hold her on a leash as you back up, acting a little silly to keep her attention. Then, with her seeing you do it, bend down and place the meat behind a chair leg, or whatever. Then go back to her and with great enthusiasm tell her “Go Find!” as you release her. If necessary, take her there on the leash, but don’t show her where it is, let her find it. She will.

With success building on success you’ll be able to tell her to stay, step into a nearby room, hide the little piece of meat, come back and tell her, “Go Find!” She’ll love the game.

I trained two of my dogs to find missing people, and when my kids were young and had friends over that was their favorite game. Hide and seek with the kids hiding and the dog seeking.

Ellen, very important, success building on success, with her finding the meat treat before she loses interest because it’s taking too long to find. Good luck and thank you for being an adopter.

Tom Shelby

Cooperstown author Tom Shelby will answer any pet owner’s questions on training dogs.
Email your questions to

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