We have a three-year-old Chiweenie (Chihuahua/Dachshund mix). As a puppy, she was abused and kept in a small cage. We brought her home at eight months old. When we put her down on the floor, she took off running around the house and was so excited she ran until she collapsed. We are still having trouble keeping her from bolting out of the yard every time the gate opens and are afraid she will get hit or hurt. What can we do to get her to stop? We have other dogs, but they don’t try to leave the yard; only Mollie does this. Please refer to me as
— Mollie’s Mom, Muldrow, Oklahoma
Dear Mollie’s Mom,
Mollie’s confinement as a puppy might have contributed to her initial need to run around your house, but I don’t think her current energy levels are related to her confined puppyhood. My guess is, her previous owners had a hard time managing her energy too and may have kept her confined because of it. It’s not uncommon for pet owners to give up on high-energy dogs. These dogs need people, like you, who are willing to find gentle ways to manage their enthusiastic personalities.
Here are a few things that might help.
First, high-energy dogs need a lot of exercise. Backyard time does not count. In a multi-dog home, dogs might play with each other – and that helps, but they often don’t expend enough of their reserves. You can learn to play games with Mollie, like fetch, or take her to the dog park where meeting new dogs and running around can help. The simplest thing, however, almost any pet owner can do for their dog is take them for a walk twice a day for at least 20 minutes each time. (Work her up to this time if she is not used to the activity.)
Second, begin shaping calming behaviors by rewarding your dog for standing still, sitting, and laying down. Use a training clicker (available at pet stores) to “click” and mark the behavior as soon as it happens, then give your dog a treat. Mollie may get a little excited at first and break her calm behavior when you click, but eventually, she will learn the “click” means a reward is coming for the calm behavior. Once Mollie understands what the click means, you can pair words like “chill out” or “calm down” with the behavior so you use words to .
Finally, begin training “wait,” which is also a calming behavior. Put food on the floor in front of Mollie and ask her to “wait” or “leave it.” Hold a treat in your hand, which will make her sit still in anticipation. When she “sits” and “waits,” click and give her the treat from your hand. Then pick up the food from the floor. (Never let her eat food off the floor.)
“Wait” training with food can shape other behaviors, like waiting at a door or gate. Put a leash on Mollie and ask her to sit as you open a door or gate. If she breaks the sit command, close the door/gate. Repeat this training for several weeks until you can open a gate or door, walk through it, and she remains sitting on the original side.
If you are committed, you can re-shape her behavior over time, which may take weeks or months. Until then, supervise her outside and make sure she has an ID tag and microchip, just in case.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal