The Best Way to Respond to Your Dog

Paul Owens and Norma Eckroate give a great example of the difference between responding and reacting in their book The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training. I think most of us who have dogs can relate to the following scenario they describe:

An owner is peacefully hanging out with his dog while at home. Suddenly, the mail carrier arrives and the dog goes berserk, barking loudly and disturbing the peace. The owner reacts by yelling at the dog, poking it or pulling on its leash.

Think of this from the dog’s perspective. The dog, already spooked by the stranger, now will associate the mailman with punishment -- coming from you. The next time the mail carrier arrives, it will likely bark even more.

An owner should instead reinforce proper training, manners and good behavior. The goal in this -- and many other training situations -- is to get the dog to stop and pay attention to you and not to the distraction, which in this case is the mail carrier.

According to Owens and Eckroate, the best response is for the owner to call out something like, “Who is that?” to the dog. When the dog pays attention to the owner, the latter rewards the proper behavior with a treat, thus ending the barking. It’s a win-win, nonviolent solution that you can apply to many different situations.

Teach Your Dog Self-control

Some dogs may inherently have more self-control than others, but proper training can solve most canine behavioral issues.

Self-control is a complex behavior that involves many components. For example, it’s tied to an individual’s state of mind. If you -- or your dog -- are anxious, you will likely feel more jittery and less in control. This can be connected to thyroid function and other health issues, helping to explain why some people may seem more anxious than others.

Self-control, however, is also a product of teaching. When you were younger, your mother probably taught you to sit up straight, be quiet under certain circumstances and more. Without such teaching, you may fall back on other behaviors. The same is true for dogs. As Gerilyn Bielakiewicz and Andrea Mattei point out in their book The Only Dog Training Book You’ll Ever Need: From Avoiding Accidents to Banishing Barking, the Basics for Raising a Well-Behaved Dog, dogs will never develop proper concentration, which is critical to obedience skills, if they do not learn self-control.

Bielakiewicz and Mattei suggest playing the following game with your dog to help teach or reinforce self-control:

1. Go into a quiet room with your dog and sit down. Have a clicker, some dog food treats, a radio or TV, and toys nearby.

2. Wait a while. Appear to ignore your dog, but then suddenly click. When your dog pays attention to you, offer a treat snack.

3. Repeat this a few times.

4. Now, create a distraction. You could turn on the radio, roll a ball on the floor or do something else. The goal is just to distract your furry pal.

5. Now use the clicker. Per before, when your dog pays attention, offer the food reward.

Repeat with various types of distracters.

6. While outside, you might also use the clicker in a controlled situation with another dog, or even a cat, present. The next step would then be to reinforce the “Sit” and “Stay” commands after your dog has learned to pay attention to you. Even if your dog is thinking, “I want to get at that dog!” it will use proper self-control and restraint if it is trained correctly.

Summer Activities for Dogs

Fun in the sun has never been better for dogs thanks to the warmer weather and special gear designed just for dogs. Both you and your canine Olympian may have many different options. Here are some popular Summer Olympics events, along with a few of my favorite dog products to make related activities possible:

If your dog likes to swim, consider getting it a special dog lifejacket, which most large pet stores now carry. Made for dog flotation, these jackets can improve your pet’s safety during boating trips, water sports adventures and other outdoor activities. They also now come in bright colors for improved visibility and added fashion coolness.

Beach Volleyball
Dogs may not be able to serve or do other moves associated with the human version of beach volleyball, but ball and Frisbee games on the beach with your pet can be a blast. Look for the balls that come with a plastic arm-holder, which allows you to throw the balls farther and to pick them up easily out of sand and water.

Water Polo
A plain beach ball can get a swim-happy dog going, but I also like the new amphibious pet toys. They come in fun shapes, like a boomerang, which aid mouth catches. These toys both float and sail through the air with ease, and they’re also easy on your dog’s mouth.

Dog agility puts dogs through an obstacle course in which they must jump and show off their balance skills and other talents demonstrated by Olympic gymnasts. Check out a local dog agility club or buy a set to turn your own backyard into an agility course.

Post-Olympics Viewing
If you and your dog decide to watch the Olympics and would rather go out at night, try a game of fetch using a glow-in-the-dark tennis ball or Frisbee. For an added challenge, include one of the new whistling tennis balls for dogs. In the dark, only the whistle will inform you and your pet where to find it.

The dog version of the Olympics might also be within reach. This October, the CSJ CanineMax Dog Games, held in Gloucestershire, England, will include dogs and their owners from around the world. Maybe you and your pet could represent the USA?

Make Car Travel Easy for Your Dog

Some dogs love to go for car rides, looking out windows and sniffing new smells. And then there are other types of dogs that need to be coaxed, whining and pulling back, into the vehicle. Some experience a tummy upset when they look outside the window. Others are just the opposite. As Jack and Wendy Volhard -- authors of Dog Training for Dummies -- point out, there is a catch-22 in place. The dog forever upchucks on rides. It therefore only gets into the vehicle when it has to, and that’s usually for a vet visit. Now the pattern reinforces in your dog’s mind that cars are bad news, leading to an even worse destination.

The Volhards believe that a negative association with the car can lead to a dog’s stomach upset, so it’s not necessarily just the motion triggering the misery. They suggest that you make every effort to turn the car into something positive for your dog. Open the door with the engine turned off and ease your dog inside. Provide happy verbal reinforcement and bring along a food treat or two. Spend some time with your dog in the vehicle, showering it with positive attention and letting it know that it’s being good. Repeat this over a series of days until your dog goes into the car willingly and without fear.

The next suggestion is an easy one. Be sure to take your dog to some fun places in the car, in addition to the vet’s office. Before long, it will learn that car rides aren’t always a bad thing. If true motion sickness is the culprit, that is a time to discuss the matter with your dog’s veterinarian for possible remedies.


Do Dogs Get Revenge on Their Owners?

If your dog has gone to the bathroom on the floor while you were away from home, you’re probably wondering if it did this deliberately.

Humans are not the only animals who plot conscious revenge on others. As Stephen Beckerman, a Penn State anthropologist, points out: “Widespread in the animal kingdom is the behavior of returning injury for injury. Animals as varied and as far from us as blue-footed boobies, elephant seals, side-striped jackals and European moorhens are called punishers. They regularly respond to injuries by attacking the culprit who has injured them.”

You might think that mental injuries could be included. Your dog gets depressed because it is lonely and restless. It therefore acts out by doing something you hate.

However, this is not the case.

Although dogs have good memories, they live more in the moment. When you come home and find the mess, your body language before you even say something to your dog may reveal your anger and cause your dog to react. Your dog, however, is not necessarily waiting for some sort of mental satisfaction that it got a reaction out of you. That behavior is tied to a phenomenon known as “theory of mind,” which requires a complex ability to understand and possibly even to predict the thoughts of others.

Revenge is also more complicated than you might think. “Revenge is a desire to not just punish the culprit, but to change his mind, to make him see -- if only in his death throws -- that he was wrong,” says Beckerman. Do you think your dog is plotting and planning all of this in regard to its bowel movements? I strongly doubt it.

The more simple answer is that your dog is either stressed out or has no appropriate place to go to the bathroom without your guidance. Some owners crate their dogs during the day, but I view that as more of a last-resort solution. Try to reinforce bathroom training. If your dog is not very big, you might install some baby gates to prevent access to certain areas of your home. Dog bathroom mats can also help. They often have the look and feel of grass, but keep the waste contained for easy disposal.

If possible, you should also consider getting a dog walker, pet sitter or someone else to look in on your pet during the day. Boredom can lead to anxiety and then to bathroom issues in dogs. If your dog stays active and social, those problems are less likely to surface. Health issues could also be at work, so you might additionally schedule a veterinary visit to rule those out.