The Old Trainer: Dogs just protecting territory

January 4, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: My two Shih Tzu mixes, Sidney and Snowman, get along with everyone they meet. I have never seen them bark at anyone, but every day they lay by the front window and when the mailman comes, by they bark like wild dogs as long as they can see him. Why are they doing it and how can I stop them?

-- Anita, Merced

A: Sounds like the boys are having fun. All dogs enjoy barking at the mailman. They learn what time to expect him, they hear the barks of other dogs in the neighborhood marking his progress, and they get to engage in protecting their territory. It is a nice break in a boring day.

Not to make light of the subject because the Postal Service estimates that 3,000 carriers were bitten last year. Many by dogs.

To stop the barking, be ready at the time you expect the mailman. Allow them a warning bark, then grasp them by the muzzle and say, "no barking." Do it each time they bark.

Be firm in your command, but pet them and love on them when they stop. Remember, in their minds they are protecting you.

Your goal is not to stop them from barking, but to allow them to warn you and protect their territory, so make sure you praise them when they bark and when they stop.

Dear Old Trainer: My vet told me that Nick, my 5-year old German shepherd, is so overweight his health is at risk. I try to walk him 10 blocks a day. What else can I do to help him lose weight?

-- Tyson, Sacramento

A: You can do a lot. Nick gains weight for the same reasons a human does -- he is eating too much and not exercising enough. For Nick to be healthy, you have to feed him less and exercise him more.

Walking 10 blocks is meaningless to Nick. It is the equivalent of a human getting off the couch and walking to the kitchen and back. Nick has to have more exercise than that, and he needs it every single day.

Take him to the dog park and let him run for an hour. Find an open space and throw a Frisbee or a ball for him until he is tired. If you are not a good thrower, use a tennis racquet and hit the ball as far as you can. Best solution of all, walk several miles a day with him. It will change Nick's life and yours for the better.

Nick is eating too much. Feed him once a day, no more than one-half cup food for each 20 pounds he weighs.

If you give him treats or table scraps, subtract that amount from the volume you give him at dinner. Make sure his food contains at least 25 percent protein.

You should be able to feel his ribs, but not see them. Do not ignore the warning from your vet. Nick's health depends on you.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to:

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