Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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Dog Gone Problems,
Hi! My Goldendoodle Nala’s food and water bowl is located in our laundry room. Nala is so people- and action-oriented that she only stops to eat late at night when the house is peaceful and quiet. Thus, the room is very dark in there while she’s eating. It has no natural light either, so even during the day it’s quite dark.
I told my husband I felt bad for her and asked that he install a motion detector light. Problem solved, right?! Nope! Now my pup is scared of it and will not go in the room at all unless I physically walk in with her and show her all is okay. This has been going on for months and I’ve tried several tactics.
She will sometimes just lay outside the door frame and wait until I notice and go walk her in. Yes, I could remove the light but it’s actually quite helpful to the family, too, since we’re always in and out of the dark laundry room with items in our hands. Do you have guidance for how to help her get over this? Thank you!
You didn’t mention it, but I'm guessing you leave food out in the bowl all day long. This is called free feeding, and it often reduces a dog’s interest in eating.
After you eliminate her fear of the light, I'd suggest you start building in breakfast time when the action in the room is paused for 15 minutes to give her a chance to eat. It's not super healthy for a dog to only eat once a day, and dogs can easily dehydrate in the summer.
To help Nala get over her fear of the automatic light, I'd suggest you help her see that light as an indicator of something good about to happen.
While practicing this exercise, it's important the area around the room is calm and there aren’t any distractions. You can also set her up for success by exercising her before practicing. Make sure she gets 10 minutes of rest after exercising before you start.
I'd start practicing this at dusk, so the light turning on is notable but not as jarring as when it's completely dark. First, get some super high-value treats she loves. My go-to is chicken liver with a strong scent. Then sit on the floor near the laundry room and call Nala over. Get as close to the room as you can while Nala will sit and take a treat easily. Make sure she is facing the doorway to the laundry room. If she does not want to sit or refuses the treat, you are too close.
Once you find the proper distance, have a helper stationed near the laundry room activate the light. Give Nala a treat and then have the helper activate the light immediately AFTER the treat goes into her mouth. Repeat this three to six times until she is totally relaxed and at ease watching the light go on.
The next step is to reverse the order. Have the helper trigger the automatic light and, as soon as it goes on, give Nala a treat. If she gets up and moves away when the light comes on, you can back up and practice a few more times by treating first and then activating the light. Or you can move farther away and continue treating after the light goes on.
The key is that Nala is completely relaxed and doesn't move away when the light comes on.
Once you find a distance where Nala can sit and get a treat after the light comes on, repeat this with 10 treats at this distance. Each time when you finish, take Nala out for a walk or spend five minutes in a heavy petting session with belly rubs, scratches behind the ears or anything else she likes.
The next time you practice, sit a few inches closer to the laundry room and repeat the process. After the first two to three times of practicing, stop treating before the light comes on. Only treat after the light is activated. If you have good timing, this will condition Nala to associate the light coming on meaning that she is about to get a treat.
I'd recommend practicing three to six times a day for a week. I'm betting by the end of the seven days that she is comfortable going into the room on her own.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest:
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest
These are the very good dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest. All are up for adoption as of March 10. For more information on the adoption process and to see all dogs available for adoption, visit nehumanesociety.org/adopt.
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