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Behavior Problems

Why do dogs misbehave? Or, perhaps we should ask, do dogs misbehave? Certainly, dogs are dogs, and unless given appropriate guidance, puppies will grow up to behave like dogs. However, most behavior problems that irritate owners are, in fact, perfectly normal, natural and necessary canine behaviors.

From a dog’s point of view, it is as normal to bark, chew, dig and urine mark as it is to wag a tail or bury a bone. Moreover, just as it is a physiological necessity for dogs to urinate and defecate, it is a psychological necessity for dogs occasionally to bark, howl, chew, sniff, dig, run, jump, chase and play. Obviously, dogs have an inherent need, desire, drive, or motivation to act like dogs.

So, the dog's behaviors per se are quite normal and utterly necessary, rather it is their manner of expression that is inappropriate. Well, here again, dogs might disagree. I am lucky to be fluent in several canine languages — including Labradorian, Malamutian and Yorkiese — and Labradors have convinced me that they consider it perfectly appropriate to jump-up, knock over folding chairs, pounce in mud puddles, and socialize with a fallen leaf, just as Malamutes and Yorkies have taught me that it is entirely acceptable and even expected to howl in the middle of the night and to pee on carpets (so as not to get one’s feet wet). So, dogs consider their behavior to be both appropriate and acceptable, rather it is owners who consider some dog behaviors to be inappropriate and unacceptable.

Since people have invited dogs into their human homes, and since people (and not dogs) consider some dog behaviors to be inappropriate and unacceptable, then people should do their best to understand and respect dogs as dogs and to try and understand their point of view, yet to teach them how to express their natural dogginess in a manner that does not frustrate or offend their human housemates.

It is unrealistic to expect all dogs to grow up automatically to behave like Lassie. (“Lassie” was in fact several highly trained dogs.) If owners understandably have rules and regulations as to how they would like their dog to behave, they should not keep these rules a secret from the dog. Otherwise, the poor dog will predictably break rules that he didn't even know existed and no doubt, be punished for these inevitable “transgressions.”

Owners must teach dogs how to express their basic doggy nature in a manner that is both acceptable and appropriate within the domestic setting. The owner must at least meet the dog halfway and establish a mutually agreeable arrangement vis a vis the dog's conduct in urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods. Otherwise, the dog will be left to improvise in his endless quest for some kind of occupational therapy to pass the time of day and most likely, the owners will take considerable exception to the dog's selection of activities and entertainment.

Specifically, owners should teach their dogs what to chew, where to eliminate, where to dig, when and for how long to bark, how to enjoy spending time at home alone, when to pull on the leash, when and how to be hyperdog, and especially how to greet, socialize and play with other dogs and people.
 

Housesoiling

Housesoiling is a spatial problem. Your puppydog has been allowed to eliminate in the wrong place. Housesoiling quickly becomes a bad habit because dogs develop strong location, substrate, and olfactory preferences for their improvised indoor toilet areas. To housetrain your puppydog: first, prevent any more mistakes; and second, teach your puppydog where you would like him to eliminate.

Prevent Mistakes

Mistakes are a disaster since they set a bad precedent and create bad habits, which can be hard to break. Consequently, you must prevent mistakes at all cost. Whenever you are not at home, leave your dog in a long-term confinement area, such as a single room indoors with easy-to-clean floors (bathroom, kitchen, or utility room)—this will be your puppydog’s playroom.

Provide your dog with fresh water, a number of stuffed chewtoys for entertainment, a comfortable bed in one corner, and a doggy toilet in the corner diagonally opposite from his bed. Your dog will naturally want to eliminate as far as possible from his bed, and so will soon develop the good habit of using his toilet. And remember, good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits.

For a doggy toilet, use sheets of newspaper sprinkled with soil, or a litter box filled with a roll of turf, or a concrete paving slab. Thus your dog will develop olfactory and substrate preferences for eliminating on soil, grass, or concrete.

The purpose of long-term confinement is to confine your dog’s natural behaviors (including urinating and defecating) to an area that is protected (thus preventing any mistakes around the house when you are not there), and to help your dog quickly develop a strong preference for eliminating on soil, grass, or concrete.

Teach Your Dog to Eliminate in the Right Place

When you are at home, confine your dog to a short-term confinement area with a number of stuffed chewtoys for entertainment. A portable dog crate makes an ideal doggy den. Alternatively, keep your dog on a short leash fastened to an eye-hook in the base board near her bed, or attach the leash to your belt. This way your dog may settle down beside you while you read, work at the computer, or watch television.

Every hour on the hour, say "Let’s go pee and poop" (or some other appropriate toilet instruction), and hurry your dog (on leash) to her toilet (in your yard, or at curbside outside the front door of your house or apartment building). Stand still with your dog on leash and repeat the instruction to eliminate. Give your dog three minutes to empty herself.

When your dog eliminates, praise her enthusiastically and offer three freeze-dried liver treats. Most puppies will urinate within two minutes on each trip to a toilet area, and defecate within three minutes on every other trip. Once your dog realizes that she can cash in her urine and feces for tasty treats, she will want to eliminate in her toilet area. Soiling the house just does not have comparable fringe benefits. Moreover, after a dozen or so repetitions, you will have taught your dog to eliminate on command.

If your dog does not eliminate during the allotted three-minute toilet break, put her back inside her crate for another hour.

The purpose of short-term close confinement is to prevent any mistakes around the house when you are home (but cannot devote undivided attention to your dog) and to predict when your dog needs to eliminate. Temporarily (for no more than an hour at a time) confining a puppydog to a small space (e.g., a dog crate) inhibits elimination, since the dog does not want to soil her sleeping area. Consequently, your dog will want to go immediately upon release from confinement—especially since hurrying to the toilet area will jiggle her bladder and bowels. Since you choose when to release your dog, you may choose when your puppy eliminates, and since you can predict when your dog needs to eliminate, you may be there to show her where to go, to reward your dog for going, and to inspect and immediately clean up after your dog.

Never confine a puppy or an unhousetrained adult dog to a crate for longer than an hour. A dog confined too long will be forced to soil her crate, making her extremely difficult to housetrain.

Once your pup is old enough to go on walks, make sure she eliminates (in the yard, or in front of your house) before each walk. If your dog does not go within three minutes, put her back in her crate and try again an hour later. However, if your dog does go, praise and reward her as usual and then say “Let’s go for a walk.” With a no-feces/no-walk policy, you will soon have a very speedy defecator. Moreover, elimination close to home facilitates clean-up and disposal; you will not have to stroll the neighborhood weighed down with a bag of doggie doo.

Destructive Chewing

Chewing is essential for maintaining the health of your dog's teeth, jaws, and gums. Puppies especially have a strong need to chew to relieve the irritation and inflammation of teething. Dogs chew to relieve anxiety and boredom, as well as for entertainment. Your dog’s jaws are his tools for carrying objects and for investigating his surroundings. Essentially, a dog’s approach to all items in his environment is “Can I chew it?”

Chewing is Normal, Natural, and Necessary

 Dogs generally sleep at night and in the middle of the day. However, chewing is your dog’s primary form of entertainment during his morning and late afternoon activity peaks. After all, there are only so many things your dog can do when left at home alone. He can hardly read a novel, telephone friends, or watch the soaps! Indeed, most chewing sprees stem from your dog's relentless quest for some form of occupational therapy to pass the time of day when left at home alone.

Chewing is a perfectly normal, natural, and necessary canine behavior. Prevention and treatment of destructive chewing focus on management and education—to prevent your dog from chewing inappropriate items and to redirect your dog's natural chewing-urge to appropriate, acceptable, and resilient chewtoys.

Prevent Destructive Chewing

When leaving home, confine your puppydog to a long-term confinement area, such as a single room—your puppydog’s playroom—with a comfortable bed, a bowl of water, a doggy toilet (if not yet housetrained), and nothing to chew but half a dozen freshly-stuffed chewtoys. Housetrained adult dogs may be confined (with their chewtoys) to a dog crate. When you return, instruct your dog to fetch his chewtoys so you can extricate the freeze-dried liver pieces and give them to your dog. Your dog will happily settle down and entertain himself with his chewtoys as soon as you leave in the morning, and he will be more inclined to search for chewtoys when he wakes up in anticipation of your afternoon return. This is important since most chewing activity occurs right after you leave home and right before you return.

When you are home, confine your puppy to her doggy den (crate) with nothing but a freshly-stuffed chewtoy for entertainment. Every hour on the hour (or at longer intervals with housetrained adult dogs), take your puppydog to her doggy toilet (see Housetraining blueprint), and if she goes, praise her and play some chewtoy games with her before putting her back in her crate with a freshly stuffed chewtoy.

The purpose of confinement is to prevent your dog from chewing inappropriate items around the house and to maximize the likelihood your dog will develop a chewtoy habit.

Redirect Chewing to Chewtoys

The confinement schedule described above optimizes self-training; your dog will train herself to chew chewtoys. In fact your dog will soon become a chewtoyaholic. With a good chewtoy habit, your puppy will no longer want to destroy carpets, curtains, couches, clothes, chair legs, computer disks, children's toys, or electrical cords. Your dog will be less likely to develop into a recreational barker. And also, your dog will happily settle down calmly and quietly and will no longer be bored or anxious when left alone.

You must also actively train your dog to want to chew chewtoys. Offer praise and maybe a freeze-dried liver treat every time you notice your dog chewing chewtoys. Do not take chewtoy chewing for granted. Let your dog know that you strongly approve of her newly acquired, appropriate, and acceptable hobby. Play chewtoy games with your dog, such as fetch, search, and tug-of-war.

Chewtoys should be indestructible and nonconsumable. Consumption of non-food items is decidedly dangerous for your dog's health. Also, destruction of chewtoys necessitates their regular replacement, which can be expensive. However, compared with the cost of reupholstering just one couch, $70 worth of chewtoys seems a pretty wise investment.

Kongs, Biscuit Balls, Squirrel Dudes, Busy Buddy Footballs, and sterilized long-bones are by far the best chewtoys. They are made of natural products, are hollow, and may be stuffed with food to entice your dog to chew them exclusively. To prevent your dog from porking out, ensure that you only stuff chewtoys with part of your dog's daily diet (kibble or raw food). Firmly squish a piece of freeze-dried liver in the small hole in the Kong, fill the rest of the cavity with moistened kibble, and then put the Kongs in the freezer. Voila, Kongsicles! As the kibble thaws, some falls out easily to reinforce your dog as soon as she shows interest. Other bits of kibble come out only after your dog has worried at the Kong for several minutes, thus reinforcing your dog's chewing over time. The liver is the best part. Your dog may smell the liver, see the liver, (and maybe even talk to the liver), but she cannot get it out. And so your dog will continue to gnaw contentedly at the Kong until she falls asleep.

Until your dog is fully chewtoy-trained, do not feed her from a bowl. Instead, feed all kibble, canned food, and raw diets from chewtoys, or handfeed meals as rewards when you notice your dog is chewing a chewtoy.

Digging

Dogs dig to bury bones, and later to dig them up again. Dogs dig cooling hollows in the summer, and warming pits in the winter. Dogs dig after eavesdropping on private ultrasonic conversations of subterranean critters. Bitches dig dens when they are pregnant. Dogs dig out of boredom, and dogs dig to escape. But by and large, most dogs dig for the sheer fun of it.

Dogs Don’t See Your Problem

Dogs consider digging to be a perfectly normal and natural doggy activity. In fact, terriers consider digging to be their very reason for being. It would therefore be fruitless to try to stop your dog from digging altogether. Prevention and treatment of misplaced digging focus on management and education: preventing your dog from digging in inappropriate areas and redirecting your dog's natural digging-desire to a suitable area.
 
Prevent Digging in Your Absence
 
When you are away from home, keep your dog indoors. When you are at home, try your best to accompany your dog outdoors to supervise and teach garden rules.

Housesoiling, destructive chewing, and hyperactivity are the most common reasons why dogs are relegated to unsupervised, solitary confinement in the yard, where they predictably learn to bark, dig, and escape, and become over-excited whenever let indoors. Consequently, it is important to housetrain and chewtoy-train your dog. (See Housetraining and Destructive Chewing) Teach your dog to settle down calmly and quietly indoors, and to sit when greeting visitors (see HyperDog!). Then your dog may remain safely indoors whether you are home or not. Your air-conditioned and centrally-heated house is the safest and most comfortable place for your dog to spend the day. When you are at home, go outside and enjoy your garden with your dog.

Some dogs dig to escape because they cannot bear the boredom and anxiety of solitary confinement in the yard. Escaping is exceedingly dangerous for your dog's health. So if you decide to leave your dog in the yard, make the yard more interesting and be sure to fix the fence. Also make sure your dog has a cool resting place in the summer and warmth in the winter. Teach your dog to dissipate digging energy with other activities. Make sure your dog is well exercised (psychologically as well as physically) and entertained, and thus has no need to dig to escape from the yard. Teach recreational diggers to become recreational chewers. If your dog is busying himself with a chewtoy, he has little time to dig. Consequently, chewtoys stuffed with breakfast kibble are the best objects to leave indoors, or to bury in your dog’s digging pit. You must teach your dog how to entertain himself outdoors. This means your dog needs chewtoys outside, too.

Redirect Digging to a Digging Pit

Since you consider your dog’s choice of digging locations to be inappropriate, choose a location to your liking and teach your dog to dig there. Build your dog a digging pit (much like a child’s sandbox) in a suitable corner of the yard.

Bury a cow's femur (the whole thing) in your dog's digging pit. Your little doggie will be utterly delighted when she finds a huge meaty bone. Now, this single simple procedure may not totally prevent holes in other areas of the garden, but your dog will now be much more inclined to dig in her digging pit. I mean, in 1849 everyone started rushing westwards to California. They didn't rush to New Jersey. And why did they rush to California? Because one person discovered a nugget of gold at Sutter's Mill. They didn't find gold in New Jersey, and so they didn’t rush to New Jersey. And so it is with dogs. After just one remarkable find, your dog will prefer to excavate in that California corner—her digging pit, where she once found something very worth finding.

Every morning, fill several chewtoys with your dog’s breakfast kibble and bury them in her digging pit. Your dog will discover that the digging pit is a virtual treasure trove where she can find toys for sustenance and entertainment.

Garden Rules

Once the dog's digging activities have been redirected to a suitable location in your yard, you might consider protecting other parts of the garden. Lay down chicken wire or chain-link fencing over the lawn and flower beds, add plenty of topsoil, and reseed.

Use boundary fences to partition the yard into doggy and non-doggy zones. The fences are not meant to be dog proof; rather, they are used as training aids to clearly demarcate lawn and garden boundaries to help you teach the rules. Always try to accompany your dog when he goes outside, especially during puppyhood or the first few months an older dog is at home. Remember, an owner in the yard is worth two in front of the television! It is not fair to keep garden rules a secret from your dog and then get angry with the dog for breaking rules he didn’t even know existed. Encourage and praise your dog for walking on paths and for lying down in dog zones. Tie a number of stuffed chewtoys to ground stakes or hang them from tree branches in dog zones to encourage your dog to want to spend time in those areas. Discourage your dog from entering non-doggy zones.

Excessive Barking

Some dogs get extremely worked up when visitors ring the doorbell, or when dogs walk by the house. Some spaniels and terriers bark at the drop of a hat. And our good friend Larry Labrador will bark whenever a leaf falls from a tree three blocks away. Barking is as characteristically doggy as wagging a tail or burying a bone. It would be inane and inhumane to try to stop your dog from barking altogether: "You’ll never bark in this town again!" After all, some barking is extremely useful. My dogs are much more efficient than the doorbell and much more convincing than a burglar alarm. The goal then, is to teach dogs normally to be calm and quiet but to sound the alarm when intruders enter your property. The barking problem may be resolved to our advantage by management and education: first, immediately reduce the frequency of barking before we all go insane; and second, teach your dog to "Woof" and "Shush" on cue. 

Reduce the Frequency of Barks

Dogs bark the most right after their owners leave home for the day. The easiest way to immediately reduce woof-frequency is by exclusively feeding your dog from hollow chewtoys. Each evening weigh out and moisten your dog’s kibble or raw diet for the following day. Squish the gooey food into hollow chewtoys (Kong products and sterilized bones) and put them in the freezer overnight. In the morning, give your dog some frozen stuffed chewtoys. Your dog will spend well over an hour extricating his breakfast from the chewtoys. And if your dog is busying himself with chewtoys, he will be lying down quietly!

Do not leave an excessive barker outdoors. Yard-bound dogs are exposed to many more disturbances and their barks more easily penetrate the neighborhood. Leave your dog comfortably in a single room (away from the street) with a radio playing to mask outside disturbances. If you have been leaving your dog outside because he soils or destroys the house, housetrain and chewtoy train your dog so he may enjoy indoor comforts when you are away from home.

Teach "Woof" and "Shush" On Cue

It is easier to teach your dog to shush when he is calm and focused. Therefore, teaching your dog to "Woof" on cue is the first step in "Shush" training, thus enabling you to teach "Shush" at your convenience, and not at inconvenient times when the dog decides to bark. Moreover, teaching "Shush" is now much easier because your dog is not barking uncontrollably — barking was your idea!

Station an accomplice outside the front door. Say "Woof" (or "Speak," or "Alert"), which is the cue for your assistant to ring the bell. Praise your dog profusely when he barks (prompted by the doorbell); maybe even bark along with your dog. After a few good woofs, say "Shush" and then waggle a tasty food treat in front of his nose. Your dog will stop barking as soon as he sniffs the treat because it is impossible to sniff and woof simultaneously. Praise your dog as he sniffs quietly, and then offer the treat.

Repeat this routine a dozen or so times and your dog will learn to anticipate the doorbell ringing whenever you ask him to speak. Eventually your dog will bark after your request but before the doorbell rings, meaning that your dog has learned to bark on command. Similarly, your dog will learn to anticipate the likelihood of sniffables following your "Shush" request. You have then taught your dog both to speak and shush on cue.

Over repeated "Woof" and "Shush" trials, progressively increase the length of required shush-time before offering a food reward — at first just two seconds, then three, then five, eight, twelve, twenty, and so on. By alternating instructions to woof and shush, the dog is praised and rewarded for barking on request and for shushing on request.

Remember, always speak softly when instructing your dog to shush, and reinforce your dog's silence with whisper-praise. The more softly you speak, the more your dog will be inclined to pay attention and listen (and therefore, not bark).

Teach Your Dog When to Bark

Invite a dozen people for afternoon tea to teach your dog when, and when not, to bark. Instruct your visitors (some with dogs) to walk by the house a number of times before ringing the doorbell. When the first person walks by the house, it will take all of your attention to keep your dog shushed. But persevere: it will be easier when the same person walks by the second time, and again easier on the third pass by. Eventually your dog will habituate and will no longer alert to the same person's presence in the street. Profusely praise your dog and offer treats for silent vigilance. Repeat reinforcement for quiet vigilance several times on subsequent passes by. But when the visitor starts up the garden path, eagerly and urgently say "Speak! Speak! Speak!" Praise your dog when he woofs, and then instruct him to sit and shush at the front door while you welcome the visitor. If your dog exuberantly barks and bounces at this point, simply wait until he sits and shushes and then praise and offer a treat. Have the visitor leave and come back a number of times. Eventually, your dog will greet him by sitting in silence. This procedure becomes easier with each new visitor. Your dog soon learns to watch passersby in silence and to give voice when they step on your property, but to sit and shush when they are invited indoors—a trained neighborhood watchdog, which even non-dog-owning neighbors will welcome on the street where they live.

 

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