Prepare your Dog For Guests

Inviting guests to your home when you have a new or energetic dog can prove to be challenging. Just a little training -- for both your dog and your guests -- will make visits more enjoyable for everyone, though.

The Jumping Hurdle
A big concern for dog owners is jumping. Dr. Rebecca Jackson, DVM, staff veterinarian at Petplan pet insurance, explains, “The goal is to have your dog remain calmly in a sit-stay or down-stay while the doorbell rings and guests enter,” she said. “If he starts jumping or barking, ask your guests to ignore him. Teach them to turn their backs on him, and avoid eye contact, talking to him, petting or pushing him down. Once he realizes that his behavior is not getting him the attention he wants, he will eventually give up.” 

Believe it or not, even scolding your dog for his improper behavior is still giving him attention, so it’s important to stay calm. Practicing this with neighbors or friends can help get your dog used to guests coming to your home.

Once your guests are in your home, if your dog still hasn’t calmed, it might be best to put him in another room where he has a bed, water and some toys, so he can calm down safely and avoid injuring anyone. 

The Beggar
If you’re serving food, your dog might start to beg. “Breaking a bad habit, whether it’s jumping or begging, has the same formula: don’t ‘feed’ the bad behavior … literally,” says Dr. Jackson. “Your dog needs to be ignored to learn that fussing and begging will not get him what he wants. Ask your guests to refrain from making eye contact with him or touching your dog while they’re eating, and never offer treats from the table.”

Not giving your dog food from your table should be the rule all the time, which will help train your dog to behave when guests are eating.

Bribing your dog with treats when he is doing a bad behavior such as jumping is the opposite of training. “Treats, toys, affection [petting] and verbal praise [such as ‘good’] should only ever be used as rewards, when your dog is doing what you want,” said Dr. Jackson. “If your dog is jumping and you call him away with a treat, he will quickly learn that jumping equals treats. If your dog is being ignored, and he finally gives up and walks away calmly, then offer praise and a reward.”

Check out more information about how to train using treats here.

Overnight Guests
If your guests are staying overnight, try to keep your dog on his normal schedule. Unless his space or routine is disrupted, then it shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re having kids over, you need to consider whether your pup is normally calm and gentle or easily excitable and jumpy. If you think your dog could possibly not interact well with a child, you may want to keep her in another room. “Even with calm dogs, visiting children should also be instructed on how to behave, including not petting too hard,” said Dr. Jackson.  “And never, ever leave your dog alone with a child. Even the most even-tempered dog can bite if he’s hurt or frightened.”

Preparing your dog for visitors is one step in the ongoing process of training that doesn’t end with sit and stay. “Training is not only about teaching your dog -- it is about you learning how to teach your dog, and how to instruct others to carry the training through,” said Dr. Jackson.

How to Set Boundaries With Your Dog

Boundaries are not only important with the human members of our families that we love, but with the four-legged ones, too! Dogs need to be taught what they are allowed to do and what is off limits. Heather Loenser, DVM, an Emergency Veterinarian at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, N.J., says that the most important key to maintaining boundaries is to be consistent.

When to Train
Starting out is always the hardest part. The best time to set boundaries for your dog is when he is introduced to a new environment, like when you bring home your new puppy.

Here is some other advice on making your home ready for your new puppy

Of course even if you’ve already set up some boundaries with your pup, any changes in your environment may confuse your dog, and you may need to set some new ones. Dr. Loenser recommends being consistent with correcting your dog as soon as he enters an area where he’s not meant to be, and being firm but not too frightening. Choose specific words, sounds or a tone of your voice that you only use to convey to your dog that you are serious about a command. Always praise the dog when he leaves the forbidden area.

Pick the right method
If you have a specific room in your home that you would prefer your dog not enter, baby gates are a good option. “Just like toddlers, dogs can be kept safe and confined behind baby gates to segment the house into dog-free zones,” said Dr. Loenser. Keep in mind that, also like smart toddlers, these barriers can be overcome by determined and athletic canines who are willing to climb or jump over them to get out. Be sure to securely attach gates, especially near stairs, as your dog’s safety is very important.

Another option to help teach your dog boundaries is an electronic barrier. This method uses a collar that sends slight electric signals to your dog if he attempts to enter an off-limits area of your home or yard. “If they venture too close, they are consistently given a warning ‘beep’ and then a static correction,” said Dr. Loenser. “Similarly, if they cross a boundary, like a predetermined spot in the yard, they will be corrected as well. In both scenarios, the dogs are trained to move away from the boundary and toward the owner to receive a reward.”

There’s no need to worry about harming your dog with an electric collar either, says Dr. Loenser. “With reputable products, the correction feels similar to the tingle you receive when you are exposed to static electricity, so it is a surprise to a dog, but it doesn’t cause any sort of serious harm,” she said. “Speak with your veterinarian to determine which type of product they would recommend specifically for your dog.”

Another simple way to discourage your dog from jumping up onto your furniture is to use an empty soup can, coins and duct tape. Fill the can with the coins and tape it closed. “When your dog jumps on your bed, throw the can near -- but not on -- him so that he is scared or shocked by the loud noise,” says Dr. Loenser. “The key to these measures is to be consistent so he feels like whenever he jumps on the couch, the couch always makes this scary noise. You want him to associate this sound with the couch, not you, so he does not begin to fear you.”

Repetition of the sound every time your dog attempts to get onto your couch or bed will teach him that it is off limits.

An alternative technique is to line the edge of your bed or couch with sticky tape. Your dog will not like the feeling of stickiness on his paws or fur, and will avoid the areas with the sticky surfaces.

At the end of the day, using these measures isn’t cruel, and they’re an easy way to ensure all members of your household -- both human and canine -- stay safe and happy.

Could a Veterinary Behaviorist Help Your Dog?

Trixie the greyhound lives surrounded by movie stars in her Southern California home, but for many years, she was hardly a talent agent’s dream. Fearful and aggressive toward strangers who came to visit, Trixie wouldn’t even go on walks without becoming skittish. Her owner tried just about everything and was at the end of his rope, until he found a dog savior.

Los Angeles-area veterinary behaviorist Karen Sueda, DVM, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB), came to the canine’s rescue. After spending time with Trixie’s owner, Dr. Sueda started a behavior modification program where she slowly introduced new people to the anxious greyhound and conditioned Trixie to respond with behaviors other than growling or snapping. She encouraged the dog to sit or offer a paw and rewarded her with a treat for doing so. Dr. Sueda also prescribed a psychiatric medication, similar to human medications such as Prozac, for the stressed-out pooch to help her get accustomed to busy streets and loud noises.

“It’s really hard to predict the triggers, and you can’t prevent the anxiety,” Dr. Sueda says. “So we talked to the owner about teaching him another behavior the dog could do besides becoming startled or running away, such as sitting.” She adds, “The medication helped speed up the process. Rather than months, it only took a few weeks.”

This type of “dog whispering” is becoming more common for dealing with canine behavioral woes -- and for good reason.

Increasingly, pet owners, veterinarians and the research community have come to believe that many canine behavioral problems, such as aggressive behavior or biting, destructive chewing and elimination troubles, have their roots in the emotional health of dogs. When that emotional health is unwell, your dog may need the help of a human psychiatrist equivalent. That’s where veterinary behaviorists step in.

What Veterinary Behaviorists Do
Veterinary behaviorists are fully trained veterinarians who complete an additional specialized program in behavioral medicine. They then apply to be board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB). There are only 47 such certified veterinary behaviorists in the United States today. Ask your general veterinarian for a referral if you think your dog might benefit from this treatment, or look on the ACVBs Web site for a list of certified behaviorists and where they practice. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Web site may also be a good source. In addition to veterinary behaviorists, this site lists veterinarians who have a special interest in behavior, as well as members with a Ph.D. in animal behavior or a related field.

Dr. Sueda says that veterinary behaviorists are the dog world’s equivalent to psychiatrists for humans. But since our dogs can’t talk, it’s usually the pet owners who meet first with the “shrink” and provide a history of the dog’s behaviors. Veterinary behaviorists use this information, medical records, what they know of the animal’s behavior in the wild and how the species communicates with other animals or humans to make a diagnosis.

Once the diagnosis is made, the behaviorist lays out the options for treatment. “Every home situation is different. Every dog is different,” says veterinary behaviorist John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, who practices in Carol Stream, Ill. “What is done with one family isn’t necessarily done with another. You have to tailor your approach to situations and people. You have to get the whole family involved.”

Problems Behaviorists Treat
There are several common problems that cause dog owners to seek out a veterinary behaviorist. The referrals sometimes come from their dog's general veterinarian.

  • Aggression The most common issue veterinary behaviorists deal with is aggression in dogs, Dr. Ciribassi says. Some aggression in dogs is natural, such as territorial aggression in canines who are allowed the run of the house or the yard. But aggression that is fear- or anxiety-based is an individual temperament issue, usually caused by a flawed system of transmitting nerve impulses within the dog. “The messages don’t get from one to the other part of the brain,” Dr. Ciribassi says. In cases where fear and anxiety are the result of a chemical imbalance, medication may be part of the solution in addition to behavior modifications, he says.
  • Separation anxiety This tends to be the second most common issue veterinary behaviorists treat in dogs, Drs. Ciribassi and Sueda say. Separation anxiety is often a situation in which a dog becomes anxious or nervous in instances where they are separated from their primary attachment figure -- typically an owner. Separation anxiety often results in destructive behavior. Dogs will sometimes chew or scratch at furniture or doors, or may even destroy items left in the home. Dr. Ciribassi says behaviorists try to desensitize the dog to being left alone by decreasing how much the owner interacts with the dog in the house and teaching the owner to be low-key when they leave and return. Sometimes medication is needed.
  • Elimination disorders These include elimination of waste inside the house and territorial marking. Behaviorists have to get to the root of the problem. Sometimes it can be as simple as a bad habit that the dog has formed and needs to break. Other times, marking, in particular, can be caused by aggression between multiple dogs in a house.

FDA-approved Medications
Prescribing psychiatric meds for dogs is a last resort, Dr. Sueda says, and is only considered after other forms of behavior modification have failed. The behavior modification techniques often include desensitization of the dog to a certain trigger and then counter-conditioning the pet to react with different behavior. These methods are similar to teaching humans how to overcome their fears -- such as a fear of flying.

When medications are called for, veterinary behaviorists have three types of psychiatric medications approved for behavioral uses in dogs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These three medications are as follows:

  • Fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac, has been approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs.
  • Clomicalm, aka clomipramine hydrochloride, has also been approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs.
  • Selegiline (sold as Anipryl for veterinary usage) has been approved for treating cognitive dysfunction in dogs -- akin to Alzheimer’s disease in older dogs.

Dr. Sueda says that early intervention is the key to solving your dog’s behavior problems. “Behavior problems are just like any other habit. The more we’re allowed to practice bad behavior, the better we get at it,” she says. “For the dog’s well-being -- as well as the owner’s -- you need to catch it early.”

How Aggressive Is Your Canine?

When Aleta Watson’s 1-year-old grandson, Xavier, tried to crawl on Aggie, her golden retriever, during Watson’s recent visit to Portland, Ore., there were no worries. The large, imposing dog simply got up and walked away, says Watson. “We love golden retrievers because they tend to be so mellow,” says Watson, 62, a writer based in Ben Lomond, Calif. “Aggie is our fourth purebred golden, and she’s really easygoing. We’ve never seen any sign of aggression in her or our previous goldens.”

A recent study backs up Watson’s experiences with golden retrievers. Evaluating surveys of two groups of owners, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society rated dog breeds on their levels of aggression. The study, accepted for publication in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, indeed found that goldens rate among the least aggressive breeds. But the study also offers somewhat unexpected conclusions when it comes to canine feistiness. You might be surprised to find where your dog’s breed ranks.

Small Dogs, Big Attitudes
Using a survey called the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire), researchers collected results from both online respondents and a sampling of members of 11 breed clubs recognized by the American Kennel Club. Remember the saying “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog”? It turns out the surveys found two small dog breeds, Chihuahuas and dachshunds, rated high on aggression toward both humans and other animals.

“Initially, I was quite surprised by how aggressive these smaller breeds came out,” says Dr. James Serpell, study co-author and director of the Pennsylvania center. “In smaller dogs, I think we tolerate higher levels of aggressive behavior,” he says, adding, “the prospects of being seriously injured by a Chihuahua are small. Part of the problem with these little dogs is that they probably do live in terror a lot of the time because they are so small, and they are surrounded by giants -- both humans and dogs.”

How Other Breeds Rate
Akitas and pit bull terriers ranked high in aggressiveness toward other dogs, while Jack Russell terriers, Australian cattle dogs, American cocker spaniels and beagles were noted for aggression toward humans. Among the mellowest dogs were golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, basset hounds, Siberian huskies, Bernese mountain dogs, greyhounds, whippets and Brittany spaniels.

“Interdog aggression is scarily high in some breeds,” says Dr. Serpell. “Close to 30 percent of Akitas, for example, had shown serious aggression toward other dogs in the recent past,” says Dr. Serpell. Indeed, says co-author Dr. Deborah Duffy, the amount of dog-versus-dog aggression reported by owners was alarming.

“What surprised us most was the percentage of owners reporting that their dog had bitten or tried to bite other dogs,” says Dr. Duffy. “When we think of canine aggression from a public health perspective, aggression toward humans is typically what gets discussed. However, our study found that serious aggression among dogs is surprisingly common for some breeds, and this also presents a public health hazard because people can get bitten trying to separate dogs that are fighting.”

Genetics likely plays a role in the aggressiveness of breeds such as the Akita, says Dr. Serpell. However, the researchers point out that these aggressive traits are often balanced by positive attributes, such as loyalty. Aggressive dogs, even the tiniest ones, tend to make terrific watchdogs, letting us know when strangers are around.

Nature or Nurture
Nagja Bamji says that her dachshund, Ronny, is far from aggressive. Ronny gives other dogs a wide berth, loves kids and recently backed off when a squirrel hissed at him, says Bamji, 46, a homemaker in Fremont, Calif. You also might find that your dog doesn’t fit the profile developed in this study.

“We do have breed differences; there is no question,” says Dr. Gail Clark, a canine behavioral psychologist based in Fort Collins, Colo. “But there is a tremendous amount of factors in dog behavior.”

She explains that environment and training, as well as breed, help determine how your dog behaves. For example, she says, the owners of little dogs tend to pick them up frequently in threatening situations. Perched high in their owners’ arms, the little dogs feel mighty brave. When the dogs return to the ground, they might feel defensive and threatened. How you perceive your dog’s breed, regardless of size, might therefore influence the way you train or handle your pal, thus affecting your canine’s long-term behavior, says Dr. Serpell.

Where you obtain your puppy can be another significant factor, says Dr. Serpell, who recommends finding a reputable breeder, visiting the breeder and even meeting your pup’s parents, if possible. Dogs produced in puppy mills often have behavioral problems, he says. Puppies tend to be removed from their mothers and littermates too soon, and they don’t have enough positive human contact in their early weeks. Their mothers often are kept in highly stressful environments during their pregnancies, which likely has a longstanding impact on the puppies, says Dr. Serpell.

Individuality Can Overcome Statistics
Dr. Serpell believes that the next step for researchers is to understand the factors that contribute to individual dogs behaving aggressively. When it comes to this study, it’s important to not paint every dog with the same brush, he thinks. “The No. 1 thing we’d like you to take from the study is it’s based on breed averages,” says Dr. Serpell. “Branding a breed as dangerous or aggressive is inappropriate. Within any breed, you’re going to find many, many individuals that are really nice and well-tempered.”

If you’re interested in evaluating your dog’s behavior, you can still take the C-BARQ. The survey, which takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete, is located on the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine Web site.

Teach Your Dog to Swim

Dock diving -- jumping off a dock into a body of water -- is something you might think a water-loving dog would do at a lake on a hot summer day, but it’s actually a certified canine sport. Tournaments have even been broadcast on ESPN, with champion dog divers breaking world records for the canine with the longest leap from a dock into a pool or other body of water.

Your dog doesn’t have to be the next swimming superstar to splash in on the fun, however. A quiet afternoon doggie paddle can be just as enjoyable and rewarding. "Water is an excellent means of exercising your dog," says Deborah Lee Miller-Riley, founder and director of Connecticut-based Canine Water Sports, which teaches dogs to swim and hosts water-based competitions, including such feats as retrieving submerged articles and towing a swimmer on a life ring.

Natural Olympians, or Not
A lot of dogs are naturally great swimmers. Some breeds come by that skill due to centuries of training. Retrievers have been bred to retrieve birds from water for hunters. Portuguese water dogs used to carry messages between boats in the days before cellular and satellite communications. But not all dogs instinctually take to the water. Some excellent paddlers, as with humans, have actually had to hone those skills with swimming lessons. Keep the following in mind, therefore, before unleashing your dog into the water.

The Importance of Water Safety
In addition to exercise, teaching your dog to swim is an important safety precaution. Scores of pets drown each year in water-related accidents. If your backyard has a pool, or if you take your dog out on your boat, get your pup to feel comfortable around water. You can teach it to swim -- and to get out of the water. "A dog is not going to know how to exit on its own," says Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.

Dogs can be trained to swim around the perimeter of a pool to find the exit, says Fred Hassen, CEO of Sit Means Sit, a dog-training business with 64 locations in the U.S. and Canada. "A lot of people teach dogs to come to you," Hassen says. "The problem is if you put the dog in the deep end and you stand there, the dog would keep swimming in the deep end trying to get to you." Hassen's method involves training a dog to swim around the pool looking for stairs or a ladder to get out -- no matter where its owner is.

To teach your dog to climb a ladder -- be it in a pool or off the side of a boat --place your dog’s front paws on the ladder and then help it up with its hind paws. Entice your pet to climb with a treat. "It's important to make it a confidence-building experience so the dog is not stressed or traumatized," he says.

How to Teach Your Dog to Swim
Just like a child who takes swimming lessons, a canine needs to gain confidence before it can swim comfortably on its own, experts say. Here are five steps to getting your dog’s paws wet:

  1. Start with water exposure Get your pup used to water with a spray bottle, a hose or a shallow plastic pool, Hassen says. This ensures that it gets accustomed to the feeling of water.
  1. Start at a pool or lake with a gradual slope Your first lessons should take place in a body of water in which your pet can gradually walk in the water with you, Peterson advises. You can promote a positive attitude by bringing toys, such as a ball, and encouraging your dog to retrieve.
  1. Move into deeper water with your support As you move into deeper water, support your dog's backside or belly to help it learn that it can float as it paddles with its paws. Hassen says it's important that the dog learns to "level out" its torso to actually swim in the water.
  1. Help your pup find the exit Once your dog is in the water, make sure it follows your commands to find the exit -- be it from a swimming pool or into a boat. Hassen suggests leading the dog gently on a leash.
  1. Don't overdo it Dogs that have not swum a lot before don't necessarily have the muscle conditioning for a strenuous swim. "If your dog never swam for more than five minutes before, don't ask it to swim out a mile to a raft where you're going," Peterson says. "The dog may be too tired to swim back in."

Safe Places for Your Pet to Swim
If you're taking your dog out on a boat, fit your pup with a life vest, experts say. You never know when the boat may hit a bump and the dog may end up overboard. Also, keep in mind that swimming is exercise, and on hot days in particular, you need to keep your pet hydrated with fresh water.

Given the right precautions, there is a wide variety of safe places for your pet to do the doggie paddle -- or something more befitting of a canine athlete. For dock diving, organizations such as Dock Dogs and Splash Dogs hold competitions around the United States. A number of canine spas and private trainers will also help introduce your pup to the water and get it accustomed to going for a swim. Dog clubs additionally offer options to help you and your pet learn the joys of taking a dip in the water -- or competing to be top dog.

"It's a nice opportunity for dogs to have a pleasurable event," says Miller-Riley, of Canine Water Sports, "and to exercise without as much damage to their joints as they might get on land.” Since you can enjoy these benefits, too, your dog will likely turn out to be your best exercise and sports buddy this summer.