Bichon Keeps Scratching Neck… Is it Physical or Behavioral?

I have appreciated your advice in both your book and your

My male Bichon is a very good dog, gentle yet playful, minds
well, and treats me as the pack leader. He comes when I call,
goes in his crate at night with only one “kennel up” command
and is a general all around good dog.

One problem that I have been unable to break him of is scratching
his neck area to the point that it bleeds. He knows that he shouldn’t
do this and quits immediately when I say something to him. I have
taken him to the vet on three separate occasions.

He has received an antihistamine shot, been treated with Cortaid and
anti-itch spray, had flee treatment, bathed with hypo allergenic
shampoo and conditioner, been given a special diet, and none of this
made any difference. The last visit to the vet he prescribed a mild
tranquilizer coupled with hormone treatment. He quit scratching almost
immediately but he was somewhat lethargic. I cut out the hormone
treatment and cut his tranquilizer in half, under advisement of the vet.
He now scratches only moderately but I am hesitant to increase his
tranquilizer dosage back up to where it was. Also, I don’t see any end
to this form of treatment. As a trainer I wondered if you had ever
encountered this before and whether you had any recommendations I
might try other than the tranquilizer. In my opinion this just masks the
problem and does not fix it. I would appreciate any suggestions you
might have.


[Adam responds:] “No, this is most likely a physical problem not a
behavioral one.”

“You might try finding another vet to get a second opinion and see
another approach to it. My question would be: Why is he scratching?
It’s not the collar, is it?”

[Gordon replies:] Since he started scratching (about 3 months ago) he
has not worn a collar. One vet shaved his neck area and it shows no sign
of any irritation. I believe it to be something psychological and the vet (I
have seen two) tends to agree with me; ergo, the tranquilizer. In any
event I do appreciate you responding.

[Adam:] You might look into anti-anxiety drugs, if you feel this is the
case. Have your veterinarian call around and find out. Prozac-type drugs
will probably work better than just tranquilizing the dog.

Puppy Socialization: Are You Asking Too Much Of Your Dog?

Puppy Socialization: Are You Asking Too Much Of Your Dog, Or Perhaps Too Little? You simply cannot expose a puppy to too many new things – people, places, and other animals. (Common-sense, applying here.) And yet this is one area where puppy owners undo the good work of many reputable breeders. When a puppy is not continually exposed to new things, her social development stops – and in many cases regresses.

The goal is a confident, outgoing dog, not a shy or aggressive one. The way to accomplish this is through socializing. We ask a lot from our dogs, a lot more than their wild cousins need for survival. Wild dogs and wolves need to learn to live in harmony with others of their pack and as important members of their ecosystem. They know their own family, and they don’t have to get along with members of other packs.

No one ever asks them to live in peace with other predators, such as mountain lions, and the only relationship they have with prey animals is when one of them becomes dinner. Wild dogs and wolves know the seasons and the smells of their environment and know that it’s prudent to run when anything unfamiliar turns up. Contrast that picture to what domesticated dogs are expected to endure with good grace.

Born of a dog mother and raised among dog siblings, we ask our dogs to form a family relationship with members of another species. We ask them to live peaceably in this strange family, and we expect them to be docile with humans who are outside their pack. We ask, too, that they remain able to get along well with others of their own kind, both in the family and at such events as dog shows. We ask, further, that they abide the presence of a competing predator – the cat – and ignore the presence of what any wolf knows is good eating, although we call them pets: rabbits, birds, and other smaller animals. Although a wild dog or wolf never gets too far from his home turf – except in cases of human interference – we ask that our dogs be as mobile as we are.

We take them when we walk to the store, we put them in our cars when we go on vacation, we place them on airplanes when we move across country. Dogs are genetically predisposed to have more potential to become part of human society than wolves or coyotes, and some breeds within the family of domesticated dogs find doing so easier still. Compare the easy companion ability of a good golden retriever with the suspicious nature of breeds developed to protect livestock, for example.

So, part of it’s genetics, but the other part is you. Get your puppy out! (Just be sure you supervise him and do not allow him to go near feces or trash). Your local veterinarian should be consulted with first, as there are some areas that may be receiving excessive parvo outbreaks.

Dog Cowers, Crawls and Urinates When Boyfriend Comes Home…

A year ago, my boyfriend of 18 months moved in with Nikki (6 years-old) and I. Nikki seems to love Michael, and Michael is definitely the Alpha. Michael treats her well, although a bit rougher at play than I do.

She has a slight problem with being able to hold her bladder when you first get home. Of course, I have adapted to that, and will go through all the necessary measures to insure she doesn’t urinate in the house. I’ve never had a very hard time being able to control her when she’s not on a leash. I like to take her with me when mountain biking. She loves to run along beside me without a leash and never lets me out of her sight. She has always had a little bit of a cautious temperament….meaning, when introduced into new environments

She is shy, intimidated and insecure; all of which fade as she gets used to the new environment. I think that this temperament has actually worked in my favor with training as she is typically VERY easy for me to control.

In the last 18 months or so, I have watched Nikki become more and more timid and submissive. When she is called or when she is approached, she cowers, tail between her legs, crawls towards you and urinates. Sometimes it just a sprinkle, but most times it’s quite a lot. For this very reason, when we moved from our apartment into a new house five months ago, Nikki had to become an outside dog. Michael and I have been working with her inside the house, only on the linoleum. Nothing we are doing is working. She is never scolded for the submissive behavior/urinating, but she knows she is not supposed to go potty in the house and she retreats even further into submission. She is very human-like in that I can actually see the worry and fear on her face. And sometimes she just trembles and whines a lot. I took her to our Vet. who says she is in perfect health and saw no apparent reason for the change in behavior.

My first question is….. how did we get to this point? And before you ask….No, Michael doesn’t mistreat her. Nikki’s submissive behavior is still apparent when Michael is not around, although not as extreme. Have you seen anything like this before? And, how can I possibly correct this behavior when even speaking kindly will invoke a submissive reaction in her? I’m truly out of ideas and it breaks my heart to see her this way.

I’ve lost many nights of sleep worrying about what could be causing this behavior change and trying to think of new ways to boost her confidence. Can you offer any guidance or direction? HELP!!! I WANT MY DOG BACK!!!!

– Dena.

Dear Dena:

You are right… there really isn’t a lot you can do about this behavior, as it is purely a result of poor genetics. And there’s nothing you can do to overcome genetics.

You are also correct in identifying this as submissive urination rather than a general housebreaking issue. And thus you should not correct her, as she really has no control over it.

I can give you some tips to smooth out some of her “rougher edges”… but there’s nothing that’s going to transform her into the picture of an outgoing, exuberant dog. Let me restate: You are having this problem as a result of poor breeding and/or poor genetics.

Here are some things you can do:

  1. When Michael holds her, he should never let her go UNTIL or UNLESS she calms down. DO NOT reward her behavior by letting her go, simply because she throws a fit. TEACH HER that the world is not falling, but do not coddle her. Simply hold her until she stops squirming.
  2. Do not feed her from the bowl… let Michael feed her by hand. Please be aware that she may not eat for a couple of days. DON’T WORRY… she will not starve herself. This technique, probably more than any other, will work wonders!
  3. Let her in the house… in fact, in the same room… while your are watching television. Both of you should completely ignore her. Let her get comfortable simply being around Michael.
  4. Michael should take her away from the house and begin doing obedience exercises with her. A group class would actually be good for this as it’s likely that all of the other stressors in the class will cause her to move closer to the ONE THING she is familiar with… Michael.

Best of luck to you. Keep training and be consistent.

Stop Dog Barking – Dog Barks Continuously While Owner Eats…

Dear Mr. Katz,

I have a two year-old female Boxer named Amber and a six year-old female St. Bernard named Crystal. My question is regarding the Boxer, Amber. Whenever my husband and I sit down to eat dinner, watch TV, or when company comes over, she incessantly barks at us. She doesn’t want to play with her toys and nothing can distract her from this barking. We try to correct her in a deep tone, but she only gets crazier; i.e.. jumping up, biting our clothes. From reading your book, it seems that she needs a motivational correction, such as her training collar. As of now, we do not leave it on her, except for when she is being walked. Should she be wearing the collar when we are home and she’s in the house at all times? Can you please make any suggestions to correct this behavior so when we want to relax or have guests over, it’s pleasant. She gets plenty of exercise and tons of attention. I’m not sure what to do. Thanks in advance!!


Dear Christine:

Remember the section on the pinch collar? And the emphasis I placed on how you will teach your dog to become, “collar-smart” if you only use the pinch collar during walks?

Remember the part about consistency and how the dog MUST receive a negative association with ANY unwanted behavior? And how just saying, “NO!” without attaching an association to the word will NOT produce any results? If not, please go back and re-read… it’s in there! J

“But Adam… the dog has since eaten the book! Please just give it to me, plain and simple!” you say…

Okay… here it is: Your dog must be wearing the pinch collar and the tab ANYTIME you are with her. If you were a canine rather than a human you wouldn’t need the pinch collar as you’d just go over to your dog and give her a nip on the neck.

Let’s recap: When she barks you need to tell her, “No!” and then give a firm tug on the leash. If she continues to bark, then either:

  • Your correction didn’t have any meaning to her…


  • She’s testing to see if you’re going to correct her for barking THIS TIME just like you did LAST TIME. If your correction is motivational then you’ll only need to do this two or three times before the problem stops forever.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.