Dear Lisa: I have a Labrador Retriever that is almost five-years-old. He is great with my 14-month-old son and has never shown any aggression. The only problem is that when I have food, he is so fixated on me and the food that he doesn't pay attention to what is around him. This has caused him to knock my son over many times (or bump him and almost knock him over). I only give him dog food in his bowl and never feed him from the table or anywhere outside of the kitchen. How can I get my dog to pay more attention to what is around him so he doesn't inadvertently hurt my child?– Rambunctious Retriever

Dear Rambunctious: Labs are notoriously happy dogs with those wagging tails that can clear off a coffee table in a single swipe. Dogs don’t know what the consequences of their actions are like humans. Therefore, the dog doesn’t think he’s harming your son. He just cares about paying attention to who has the food. Your son is at an age where perhaps he’s not strong enough or his ability to stabilize himself isn’t mature enough to withstand a thump from your Lab.

Retrain the Response
In order to protect your son you have to retrain the Lab not to react that way every time food is around. By allowing him to continue this behavior you are actually reinforcing it and communicating to the dog that it’s okay. Before the next time you get food, select an area in the kitchen away from the action and ask him calmly to sit and stay. Then when you go to open the refrigerator for example, calmly ask him to sit and stay in his new area. If he does this to your satisfaction, then reward with a tasty treat and lots of praise. Each time he begins to get excited ask him to sit and stay in his area while you prepare food. If he is not strong on his commands yet, then you have some training ahead of you. In the meantime you could put his leash and collar on him and secure the leash to an eye hook placed in the wall near the floor to reinforce this is where the dog should be when you are handling food. You can make this a game and teach him to sit and stay in that area even when there is no food around so that it becomes fun for him at anytime. Making sure the Lab is not putting your son in danger of an accident by teaching your dog the behavior you expect and want from him is the responsible thing to do.

Dear Lisa: I have a 22-week-old Shih Tzu and he is a great pet and is doing well with his training. He runs up the stairs fast but will not come down the stairs. At this time he is 9.6 pounds and getting heavy for my Mother to lift. I have tried placing treats on the stairs and showing him how to come down but it is not working. He jumps on and off the chairs and sofa with no problem. Does he think he should do the same on the steps? Please note he is the best thing I could have done for my Mother. She is at home alone all day and he has made a big difference in her life, they are great together. – Startled By Stairs

Dear Startled: In my experience puppies learn to walk up stairs fairly quickly but it seems to take them longer to learn to go down them. First, let’s make sure we have decent footing on the stairs and properly groomed feet on the puppy. Are the stairs carpeted or bare? If bare, maybe putting some carpet runners on the steps will increase the traction for the puppy. Perhaps they are slippery to the puppy and he is scared of the surface, which is why he is running up them and not walking. You can also trim the hair away from and around his pads so he can grip the stair surface better. Also trimming the toenails will help with his gripping, long nails get in the way of proper traction and walking.

Baby Steps
You didn’t say where you had tried to start training the puppy to go down the stairs. If you tried from the top maybe it was a bit daunting for such a little dog down a big staircase. I would start at the bottom step and train one step at a time, one per day. Since your Mom has time at home with the dog, she could make this a play session twice a day. Have her sit on the second step and place the pup on the first step and then put the treat on the floor at the bottom of the first step. Do these sessions before normal feeding time, that way he’ll be hungry and want that treat. Be patient and the puppy will learn.

If the puppy doesn’t move on his own gently place his front feet on the lower step and then lift his hind end and give him a small push to get him moving. If he resists, then place his hind end on the step yourself and he will have to move his front feet forward. Whenever he moves in the right direction give him lots of praise. If this doesn’t work, move in front of him and coax him down with treats, praise and moving his front feet onto the next step. Once he completes a step successfully and is rewarded, do it again, then stop for the day. The next day start with one step and then increase to adding another step. Once they master several steps they will be on their way to a total staircase descent all on their own.


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. Read previous columns here.

© 2008 The American Kennel Club, Inc.