The Dog Daily: Behavior Problems
Solutions for Common Behavior Problems
By Jill Keith for The Dog Daily
Our canine companions face a challenge -- many of the things they do instinctively drive us nuts. To live happily in your home, however, your dog must learn to correct those behaviors.
There are things that you can do to help your dog fit properly into your life. Perhaps most important, never reward a behavior you don't want to encourage. Additionally, here are some common issues with ideas to help prevent inter-species clashes.
When you yell at your dog to be quiet, it thinks you are just doing it for fun. Avoid this by training your dog to bark on command, then training it to be quiet on command. If you catch it barking, praise it and say a command word like "speak." Then encourage and reward it. Make it a game -- you can even bark at your dog if it doesn't catch on. If your canine lets loose with a rowdy bark, suddenly say, "Quiet!" and put your finger to your lips. If you surprise your pet enough, it will stop barking. Be sure to reward and praise your dog enthusiastically. Keep practicing, and your dog will soon understand what "quiet" really means.
If your pooch discovers it can bark freely when you're not at home, try a "set up" when you have a weekend to experiment. Here's an example:
- Leave your dog for a few minutes -- you might even get in the car and drive down the block. Then get out of the car and walk back home
- When you return, if your dog is barking, surprise it by rushing in. Squirt it with water and/or scold your dog seriously and give it a gentle shake
- Repeat the exercise. Leave for varying amounts of time. Your dog will come to the conclusion that you could burst in at any moment, so it'd better be good! If your furry friend remains quiet, reward and praise your pet
Your dog must learn that it is never okay to bite a human. In our society, there is a strong possibility that an adult dog that bites a person will have to be destroyed. Learning proper socialization with people and other dogs, and exposure to slightly stressful situations, is crucial at an early age. This way, a puppy will learn to keep its cool and not bite out of fear when it's confronted with unusual situations.
Puppies use their mouths on everything. When they play together, they bite each other. When one puppy bites another too hard, the victim yelps, then the first puppy lets go and learns to bite more gently next time. According to Sirius radio's Puppy Training instructor, Doug Hostetter, a puppy can be trained not to bite if you yelp loudly when it chomps you hard. Then, gradually yelp more softly with softer bites. Soon, the puppy will learn to control itself so it doesn't damage your fur-less, sensitive human skin. Yelping, combined with gentle, but firm, scolding, can produce a dog that will not bite at all.
Here's another successful approach from Dorothy Mash of Deep Peninsula Dog Training Club in Mountain View, Calif. Puppies usually bite a hand, arm or leg that is moving. This is a natural expression of their chase instinct, or prey drive. Try holding the body part it is biting very still. Then, with your free hand, point at your dog and firmly say, "No." When the dog releases, praise it and give it a treat.
Dogs, especially puppies, need to chew, so always provide a good chew toy. Praise it for using the toy. If it's chewing your furniture when you're gone, a repellent such as Grannick's Bitter Apple can discourage your pet from tasting the sofa or other furniture.
Some dogs just love to dig. Digging is instinctive and pleasurable for them. It's a way to bury good stuff for later, to find cool earth to lie in and to build dens. The easiest way to prevent your dog from digging is to confine it to a run with a cement or other non-diggable floor surface when you cannot supervise your pet. (It also helps if you don't give your dog anything to bury when it's in the garden.)
You may have some success by training your dog to dig in a place reserved just for digging, like a sandbox or a pit. You can loosen the earth in the area and bury all kinds of treats. Praise your dog for digging them up. If dirt gets too messy, try redwood chips.
It's cute when a puppy jumps up to greet you. But when that puppy grows up to be 150 pounds of dog, or when its paws are muddy, you or your guests may not find it so charming. Start training your puppy not to jump from the beginning, and remain consistent.
If your young puppy jumps on you, simply walk backwards. Say, "Off" and praise and reward the puppy when all four feet are on the ground. You can also have the dog sit whenever it greets newcomers. This way it has an alternative, positive behavior it can substitute for jumping. If your dog needs more control, put a leash on it until your pet learns to receive company politely.
Still having trouble? Have a friend come to the door over and over again. Instruct the dog to sit each time the friend enters. Reward your pooch for the correct behavior. Frequent repetition may make jumping up a less exciting experience for your dog and, at the same time, reinforce correct behavior enough to help it form a new, positive habit. Do this exercise at least 10 times. Twenty is even better!
Since your dog is a social animal, it may experience separation anxiety when you leave it home alone. It may whine, cry, bark or become destructive. But you could correct this behavior by setting aside a special time to play with your dog and to exercise it each day. Don't then make a big event of your departure. Just leave quietly. You can also reserve a day or two to work on the problem. Come and go frequently to show your dog that you will always return. This can reassure your pet. If problems persist, consult a professional trainer.
Excitement could trigger a piddling urge, aka "submissive urination" in your dog. Never correct the animal for this problem. Scolding only makes it worse and your dog may become even more submissive. Instead, ignore it for 10 minutes when you first come home or when people come to the door. Let it outside to potty immediately.
If problems persist, talk to your vet. Though a dog's natural, instinctive behaviors can get it into trouble in our society, your canine can learn to live within your rules. However, we often need to help our dogs adapt.
Jill Keith writes about cat and dog issues for magazines and web sites.