Pet World: Training shy lab to be less aggressive when guests arrive

Photo by Helena Lopes


By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency

Dear Cathy,
We recently adopted a rescue lab mix. He is very shy when he first meets people with his tail between his legs. Lately, when someone comes to the house, he gets a little aggressive by barking at whoever comes over. I've tried to stop him and had people offer him treats. Any other suggestions? 
-Mark, Seaford, New York
Dear Mark,
If your dog is naturally timid, but is a bit aggressive with barking when people visit, it can be a form of fear aggression. Reducing your dog's fear by letting him know good things happen when people come over is a good place to start.
You mention asking visitors to give your dog treats. This is a good idea, but two things. First, make sure you are not rewarding bad behavior by giving him treats when he is barking full throttle. Second, make sure your visitors don't approach him or try to pet him when he is barking, as it only will upset your dog more.
Instead, meet your friends outside your home and give them a handful of really smelly, high-value dog treats. Then step outside with your dog on a leash, keeping at least 10 feet away from them. Ask your friends to toss the treats one at a time toward your dog the moment he stops barking. If he barks again, ask them to stop and wait for the moment where he stops barking before tossing another treat. If he settles down quickly, keep talking to your friends while walking slowly toward the house, tossing treats on the ground along the way. With each subsequent visit, your friends should be able to stand a little closer to you, although six feet is standard in these days of COVID. Your dog just needs time to get used to your friends – and these days dogs must learn to get used to friends wearing masks.
Another strategy is to place him in a wire kennel in the room you usually spend the most time in and where you visit with guests in your home. He will bark for a few minutes but should eventually settle down when he sees there is no threat. Let him sleep/rest in his kennel during a few visits with a new friend and introduce them on the third visit, but only after he has settled down in his kennel. This gives your dog a chance to build trust with your friends over time.
Dear Cathy,
I recently adopted a feral six-month-old Snowshoe kitten. I was given a report which stated she had been treated for a urinary infection. A few days later, I noticed some thick, yellow gunk on the floor near the litter pan. A few days after that, she let me pick her up very briefly, and then sneezed and a whole lot of this gunk went spraying all over. I have tried all week to get her into a carrier, but she goes ballistic. She bit me so bad, I had to be placed on antibiotics. She stopped eating over the last 24 hours. No drinking either. I have tried all the suggestions, but nada. How can I get her to the vet? 
-Patti, Nashville, Tennessee
Dear Patti,
If she will let you touch her, reach down quickly and scruff her neck. She can't bite or scratch when you scruff her neck, and then you can put her in the carrier. A carrier that opens from the top is the easiest to use with an unwilling cat. Then let the vet staff know she is feral, so they don't get injured trying to get her out of the carrier.
Another option for the future (when she is better and eating again) is to buy or rent a humane box trap for this purpose. Put a very smelly, high-value food in the trap. When she goes into it to eat, the trap door will close behind her, and you can take her in the trap to the vet's office.
If you want to eventually socialize her, sit near her while she is eating maintaining a distance she will tolerate. Each day, inch a little closer to her. Eventually, if you can sit right next to her, you can try to train her to accept petting. This training will help when you need to take her to the vet again because you will be close enough to scruff her.
Once she is clear of this infection, make sure she gets spayed as well.
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 [email protected]  Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.