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Ask AKC
with Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson with Jinx
Lisa Peterson with her Norwegian Elkhound Linx.

Dear Lisa: I have a 6-month-old Brittany Spaniel that I am having an extremely difficult time raising. She is sly and devious. She steals things from the cupboards and kitchen table and takes them outside. She sits down and faces the house and waits for us to try and retrieve the item. She will run around us in circles. She thinks everything is a game. She will not come – ever! She backs up and then after we walk away from the door she will bolt in. She is a smart dog. She heels and sits well. She just refuses to listen. She gives us sly looks out of the corner of her eye. I've never seen anything like this before.We have an 11-year-old Brittany. I have had this breed of dog since I was a kid, as my dad raised them. That's over 50 years! Any suggestions for this pet to stop all the antics? – Sly Puppy

Dear Sly: One of my co-workers is a Brittany expert, having bred them for 25 years. I asked her for some breed-specific tips that might help you rein in this feisty puppy.

Here’s Andrea Jordan Lane’s Advice: This kind of behavior means it is time to spend some serious one-on-one time with basic training (coming when you are called) and learning to respect the leader. It should be done on a leash. One of the hardest things to do is to resist the temptation to scold the puppy for stealing when he finally comes when called. He won’t forget that. Despite how angry you might feel it is very important to praise them when they come on their own. He needs to know that coming is what gets him the attention he is looking for. Another easy trap to fall in to is to call him only when you want to lock him up or put him on a leash.

As natural-born hunters and explorers, Brittanys don’t like to be restrained, so if you always call your dog to put him on a leash or in his crate, it will reinforce the fact that he doesn’t like to come. Be sure to alternate calling your dog to you to play or to be rewarded with love and attention. My dogs also know the word “cookie” better than their own names. When I find that they are ignoring my calls it only takes a high pitched question of “cookie?” and they come running. The idea is to teach them that coming to you is a positive experience.

To Catch a Thief
The stealing part should be treated separately. It takes catching them in the act and a well-timed delivery to correct them. If you don’t catch him in the act, call him to you (after you’ve taught him that command), reward him for coming and ask for whatever it is that he stole and replace it with something he is allowed to have. Don’t scold him when he gives it up either. The only time it is effective to scold for stealing is when you catch them in the act.

These next steps aren’t really about training the dog it’s about training yourself. Remove the risks for temptation. If you know your dog likes to steal things off the counter then remind yourself to push things on the counter back or put them away. And if you can’t focus your full attention on a young Brittany then he shouldn’t be trusted loose in the house. He should be crated or confined to “his” area. Mentally, most Brittanys are puppies until they are at least two. A young Brittany has a difficult time staying focused on one thing for very long. After all, there are butterflies to chase, birds to point, worms to dig up and “Oh! What’s the neighbor doing?”


Dear Lisa: We have a 6-year-old female Boston Terrier. We arevery happy with her, but she has this habit of wanting to scratch the couch cushion or when riding in a car, she will scratch before laying down. How do I break her of this? She has put a hole in the car's fabric which is very frustrating. Do you have any suggestions? – Scratchy Sassy

Dear Scratchy:What you are describing is called “nesting” behavior and is usually seen in females that are about to whelp a litter of puppies! They dig and paw at the ground or in their whelping box shredding newspapers getting ready to give birth. This behavior is triggered by hormonal changes and can be seen in false pregnancies or at certain points in their heat cycle. But since your pet is older and has been doing this for a while, I doubt she’s about to have puppies! So, why the nesting?

I’ve seen this behavior in one of my male dogs too so there must be some other reason beside a shift in female hormones! I have noticed dogs do this when they are outside and preparing a nice area to lie down in the dirt, especially during the summer time when it’s hot out. They will paw at the ground and dig it up until they reach the cool earth underneath. Then they will circle around a few times and plop themselves down in their newly excavated area. My dog also dug (or used to) on my leather chair and made a nice mess of it. He did it when no one was home. This behavior appears to be a “prep to lie down” ritual that dogs like to engage in. The only way I stopped the behavior was to remove the chair. But he still does it on the carpet occasionally when he wants to lie down. I wouldn’t try to change this natural behavior since it will most likely continue when nobody is around to modify it.

Nails, Nails, Nails!
The best solution is to take away her fabric shedding tools! Those toenails! By keeping her nails trimmed nice and short and, more importantly smooth, she will not have the ability to rip the fabric. With short, smooth tidy nails she will be making a scratching motion with her pads instead of her long sharp toenails. By using a nail grinder rather than a clipper you can create smooth surfaces that won’t rip or dig into your car’s fabric or couch cushion. You could also cover the sofa with a sheet or blanket to protect it and travel with her in a crate or carrier in the car.


Bark Back ~

A few suggestions from readers regarding keeping those dog pads soft and supple:

Dear Lisa: I always enjoy reading your question and answer column. A reader asked what to put on paws to help prevent dryness and cracking. I have a working Newfoundland who is active (and often wet!) all year round. I swear by a product called "Musher's Secret." It has a food grade wax base that is completely non-toxic. "Musher's Secret" helps with both cold as well as heat exposure including road salt. It also keeps my dog's paws in supple, healthy shape year round. Keep up the good work! – K.L.

Dear Lisa: I use a product called Musher's Secret on the pads of my dog's feet. Booties may also protect the pads. – N.G.


Lisa Peterson, a long-time owner/breeder/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds, is the AKC Director of Communications. If you have a question, send it to Lisa at askakc@akc.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions we cannot offer individual responses. Read previous columns here.