Ask AKC with Lisa Peterson


May 2007

Dear Lisa: We have a 22-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. We just adopted an intact 7-month-old Standard Poodle. We have had the puppy for four days now. At first everything was fine, but the past two days the "Berner" has been getting rough with the puppy when they play. We are afraid the puppy will get hurt. We scold the Berner to stop, but we don't want him to think he is being punished and not loved since this new guy came on the scene. Do you think we should have the puppy neutered? Maybe this would solve the problem! --- Playing "Ruff"

Dear Playing: All responsible dog owners should consider spaying or neutering their family pet if they do not intend to breed or show in conformation events. However, neutering the Poodle won't curb the behavior of the Berner. But with two males in the house it would be a good idea to have them neutered before they become fully mature males.

What you are dealing with is a new member (the puppy) coming into the pack and upsetting the hierarchy of the house. Since the Berner was the first dog, he is simply displaying his dominance over the recent arrival, which is normal behavior. Because there is such a size and weight difference between the puppy and the adult, it would be wise to keep the two dogs separated for now and not let them play together until the Poodle grows up a bit.


Seniority Counts

The best way to approach your problem is to reinforce to the Berner that he is still the number one dog in the house. Feed him first, play with him more, and give him the attention he is seeking. But whatever you do, please don't scold the Berner as that will tell him that you have selected the puppy as the new head hound.

If, for example, you are petting the puppy and the Berner comes along for some TLC, immediately turn your attentions to the Berner and ignore the puppy. This behavior on your part will go a long way to helping the Berner welcome the Poodle when you eventually put them together again.

As for keeping them apart, you might try an ex-pen to keep the puppy in temporarily. This would keep him safe from the big guy, yet they will grow accustom to each other while in the same room. Or keep both on a leash when playing and if things get too rough, remove the puppy by gently leading him away with his leash. Do not say anything to the Berner.

As the Poodle grows up in the coming weeks, you can let the two get acquainted off-leash, yet supervised. There may be little spats of growling or snarling to establish the pecking order in the home, but this is normal. Once that is done they should be best buds.


Dear Lisa: I have a wonderful two-year-old neutered Doberman Pinscher with whom I would love to compete in obedience. We have trained with our dog club and privately since our big boy was about 5 months old. He is exceedingly high energy, which is good for obedience however he makes a loud, whining noise whenever he is very excited. His inappropriate vocalization is usually provoked by seeing another dog and riding in the car. He rarely whines at home. Your advice to curb this would be greatly appreciated. --- Dobe Lover

Dear Dobe: Your dog seems to be over stimulated and gets excited in certain situations. You are wise to note what triggers his whining, seeing another dog or riding in the car. It will be important for you to stop this behavior before you take him in an obedience trial as the judge will penalize him for such noises.

What you might try is to get your dog used to all the things that trigger this excitement to the point where they are so common place, he ceases to whine.

Every day take him in the car for a ride or go to a dog park, or play dates with other dogs. At first, just ignore his whining behavior. If it's really annoying to you, use earplugs for your protection. Start by letting him sit outside of the car and see if he whines there, if he doesn't, praise him and place him in the car. If he does whine, give him a command such as "quiet" to let him know this behavior is not acceptable.


Small Steps Add Up

Some dogs will need further reinforcement such as a spray bottle. A quick squirt and "quiet" usually will do the trick. The next time you say "quiet" he'll get the message pretty quick and you won't need the spray bottle. Do the same when he meets other dogs. Put him in a sit-stay and reinforce that he should not make any noise when he sees another dog. Praise him when he is silent. Once quiet, let him be introduced to the other dog.

As with any program to change behavior, move forward in small steps, praising the correct behavior, and ignoring the unacceptable behavior, going back to successes where he is good before moving forward. Little steps of progress will add up to giant leaps of permanent change. Just be consistent and have some patience. Just like with our own bad habits, it takes a while to establish new ones. Your dog is looking to you to let him know what is right and wrong.


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

(c) 2007 The American Kennel Club, Inc.