My husband and I have dear friends who live in Sacramento. We would like them to visit us often, but that is not possible because of arrangements that have to be made for a dog/house sitter or kennel. Their dog, Jasper, is a medium-sized rescue dog who spent many months on the street.
My friends say that he marks his territory in other than his own home. He can also find and eat anything he can smell — toothbrushes, lipstick, lotion, even things in zipped up suitcases. Is there a way to train Jasper not to do these things if our friends bring him for a visit?
The marking is likely behavioral, but the obsessive eating problem may be a symptom of a medical condition, so let’s take them one at a time.
The reason I suspect the marking problem is behavioral is he only does it outside his own house. Frequent urine marking is primarily a stress or anxiety related problem and is typically not an issue with dominance. The behavior is more common in males, but some female dogs will mark.
It’s quite common for a dog to mark when they come into a new environment or into another dog’s house. The quickest solution is to use a Belly Band. These are tight fitting abdominal bands that fasten with velcro. For many dogs, this will totally inhibit the marking behavior.
To begin to teach him not to mark in a new environment, they should keep him on a leash to control the situation. Do not allow him to roam freely. Let him adapt to the new setting with his owner as his security blanket. A positive reinforcement basic manners class would also help both your friend and Jasper build confidence, which will help with the marking.
The second problem is more concerning and I suspect there could be an underlying medical issue. I consulted with Dr. Wendy Robinson, a local veterinarian who specializes in holistic medicine. According to Dr. Robinson, the problem could be behavioral, but it could also be a condition called Pica, which is the consumption of non-food items, and could be secondary to a medical condition or nutritional deficiency.
As a first step, your friends should get a full blood panel run on Jasper. Once the blood work is done, a nutritional analysis would be the next step. Dr. Robinson has just started using a fur analysis test for this purpose. With this information in hand, they can make targeted changes to Jasper’s diet.
Gut health is vital to overall health and with the hundreds of dog food options available, it’s hard to know where to start to correct nutritional problems.
I’m so happy that Jasper found a good home and hopefully they can all visit you in the future.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.