DigitalDog Answers

The Dog Questions You Send
and our humble response woof.
Digital Dog receives so much email, questions and queries that we can't post them all. In fact, we've not been able to post all of the ones we wanted to on this page so we are adding on! Check out some of the other concerns we've fielded via the links below:

A New Dog Needs Structure

Changing the Name of Our New Companion

Mommy Syndrome

Pottytraining Challenges

Anxious and Aggressive Mix

Dog in Search of a Social Life

Out of Control Adolescent

Who Says a Great Guy is Hard to Find?

Q. Dear Digital Dog,

We LOVE Phoenix, our 2 year old collie mix, and we've had her for about 6 months now. When we adopted her from the rescue she seemed very well mannered. Now, her housetraining isn't reliable and she's even taken to chewing things when we are gone. She didn't used to do this and it only seems to be getting worse! Please help us, we don't want to take her to the shelter.


Scared in Chesapeake

Ans. ~ Hello Scared,

Yes, this would seem pretty scary. Especially for Phoenix, as her chances in the shelter would be pretty slim. For the good news, take a deep breath and relax. This problem is rather easy to address for all that it won't be fixed overnight.

Digital Dog rather wishes you'd mentioned how long you were gone everyday, but neither that nor the fact that she didn't used to do this are critical in determining a good approach to fixing it.

First, crate Phoenix when you cannot supervise her. The first part of ending the behavior to is prevent it from being reinforced (ie her doing it again and again). Additionally, when she is crated, she will learn to relax if only because there is little else to do. Keep in mind, that its very unfair to expect a dog to be crated for long periods of time. So if at all possible, make sure someone is available to let her out every 4 hours or so.

When she is let out of the crate, our first destination is outside to potty! Appropriate performance means praise from you. If she fails to eliminate after a few minutes, take her back in and crate her again. House privs are for those that aren't imminently going to have an accident! Odds are she will be very reliable as it tends to be puppies that get distracted when outside who don't go immediately.

Done properly, that is, she is let out often enough and given adequate exercise, Phoenix will learn to crate easily and very willingly. This will help build confidence as will the regular routine you will be establishing and the praise she earns when she potties outside while supervised.

Now that you have a situation that is under control, she isn't pottying in the house or destroying possessions, you can begin to give her some house privileges, but only under very close supervision. She can undo alot of what she's learned in 5 minutes with a tennis shoe. Praise her for staying close to you, even consider a tether (leash around your waist attached to her) if feasible, as a way to keep her close and under your influence.

By gradually increasing the house privileges and watching for her relaxation while loose in the house, you can graduate to stepping outside to check the mail or to the car to get something while she is loose. If progress deteriorates, you will need to go back a couple steps to help her regain the stability you are seeking.

As you can see, its not complicated, but does require some focus from you. For many people with busy lifestyles this can be the challenging part, but easily worth it if you consider the repercussions.

Odds are, that if Phoenix did well with similar freedom in the past that she can gain the confidence to do so again. More than likely, she was stressed by the transition to a new home and picked up some undesirable behaviors (as a person might chain smoke or bite their nails) as a way of coping.

Please let digital dog know if this advice helped!

Q. Dear Digital Dog

Our family just got a wonderful puppy! The breeder emphasized the importance of socializing and we want to do everything perfectly and want to get started right away.

What do you suggest as the first steps?

Superpup in Omaha

Ans. ~ Dear Superpup,

Your breeder was correct. Socializing is critical for most breeds. Many dogs stand little hope of being suitable companions without it.

First, you didn't mention Superpup's age but any puppy under 12 weeks (or prior to its immunizations being in place and effective, ask your vet if you aren't sure as it is based on how old they were when they first started their shots and if the schedule was kept up) needs to be protected from outside environments that could spread disease. So no neighbor dogs to play with or park visits or trips to the wonderful super petstore before then! Overall health is important as well since socializing is stressful and could compromise a dog that is already less than 100%. So be certain that vaccinations are in place, that the dog is in good weight and energy and free of any parasites prior to beginning.

Essentially, socializing is exposing the dog/puppy to new sites, sounds and experiences so that they are better able to assess new situations in the future. Imagine a Neanderthal man in the middle of a busy city intersection, the noises, lights and images would all be very foreign, scary and put the man on the defensive. The same happens when your dog is forced to deal with situations that are completely unfamiliar. Creating a list of options for socializing the puppy can be helpful. Everything from the homes of friends and family, to parks, playgrounds, shopping centers and pet superstores should be included. Encourage your dog to visit new people. Should the dog act unsure, just ignore them until they sort things out. Most critically, each experience needs to be positive or neutral. Either will help in developing confidence. If it takes three or four days before the puppy will walk up to the fire hydrant, that is ok! To force the puppy to the fire hydrant would be detrimental as it would impact their sense of trust in you and their sense of fire hydrants being scary. Sounds a little nuts? Well look at it from their point of view, they see this scary fire hydrant and think something bad will happen. Then you get upset and force them over to it! They were right! Something bad DID happen.

In addition to different places, look for different things, umbrellas, lawn furniture, fences, mailboxes, picnic benches, everything is new to them and their view of it is different than ours. Enjoy the process of seeing them evaluating their world.

Certainly, meeting lots of people is valuable perhaps most especially those that are different, deep voices, big, heavy or slight people with squeaky voices, those that move differently, perhaps due to walkers or canes and of course those in wheelchairs will all help your dog recognize that the differences don't influence the safety. At the same token, meeting people in groups, other dogs, cats and other animals should all be part of the curriculum.

Finally, don't overlook basic obedience as a great tool to utilize during socialization as both a way to reinforce the obedience and build confidence and trust. For example, the puppy that has a pretty good idea of sit/stay can be asked to do so when approaching a new, maybe slightly scary, experience. Being allowed to just sit and soak in what they are seeing, helps them cope with the stress and learn that they can look to you for input as to the safety of new experiences.

DigitalDog expects to have a full, 12 part socialization curriculum online in the next few months! Look for it!

Q. Boy, I would like to know WHERE you got your information? How can a dog be a watch dog-{yes, excellent,very territoral and protective}and in the next line under protection be {no}????

I have lots of experience with dogs, this stuff is all bunk.

Calling Your Bluff

Ans. ~ Dear Calling:

There's a big difference between a watch/guard dog and a protection-trained dog. Most people misuse the terms or confuse the distinctions between a personal protection dog and a guard dog. Many dogs will exhibit territorial behavior which can include barking and biting strangers that approach either the owner or their territory. In many cases, these dogs make the decision when to bite and who to bite on their own without training because genetically they are bred to be territorial and protective. Unfortunately, they often bite the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong circumstances.

A personal protection dog is genetically bred to contain behavior drives such as prey, territory, and defense. In personal protection training, we encourage these drives, and simply teach the dog to exhibit those behaviors under the control of the handler. A properly trained personal protection dog is a very confident, social dog that will very rarely bite under the wrong circumstances. See the next letter for a great example of an owner's misunderstanding about this difference.

Q. Dear Digital Dog:

I just visited your site and to say the least, I am unhappy by the blatant misinterpretation you represent as factual in several of the breeds you list. My first problem is with the comments you make regarding AKITAS:

Protection -- not suitable -- you should visit my son's house and see just how unsuitable these dogs are....or better yet, approach my daughter-in-law and I while we are walking one of her bunch!! I don't think you would call them unsuitable for protection then!!

Akita Granny in Ann Arbor

Ans. ~ Dear Granny,

People should not be on the street with loaded, unapproachable dogs! I appreciate your need to feel protected and walk safely, but you must share your sidewalk with children, elderly people, and other people with dogs. A sound dog should allow a friendly person to approach them. They may be standoffish or aloof, but under no circumstances should a dog attack or exhibit aggression towards a non-threatening circumstance.

The millions of bites that occur every year (unfortunately many of the victims are children) are because of dogs that are not properly socialized or are encouraged to exhibit aggressive behavior when approached. Unfortunately, this gives owners a false sense of security and confidence while walking their dog. This type of dog may protect the owner if attacked, but cannot tell the difference between a friend and a foe. There is no similarity between the uncontrolled barking and aggressiveness of the dogs you describe compared to a sound, well-socialized personal protection trained dog.

DigitalDog encourages you to visit your local police K-9 unit or observe schutzhund training to get a sense of an appropriately socialized and trained dog that will protect the owner without menacing the neighborhood.

Do you have a question for Digital Dog? While we can't guarantee that our advice will work 100% of the time for 100% of the dogs and their people, we do find that the approaches offered have been helpful to us in most situations. Write us at