- Understanding some typical behavior problems
- Knowing your options for dealing with problems
- Managing noisy or destructive behavior
- Dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety
- Contending with soiling, dribbling, and carsicknessSetting the Stage for Training.
In addition, establish a line of communication with Buddy by teaching him the basic obedience commands in Chapters Mastering Basic Training and Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone. You’ll find addressing undesired behaviors much easier when Buddy has some understanding of what you expect than when you’re trying to deal with a particular behavior in isolation.
The majority of “doggy don’ts” is a relationship problem rather than a behavior problem. These doggy don’ts are the result of insufficient training and insufficient time spent with the dog.
Figuring Out the Cause of Behavior Problems
Many dog behavior problems have a common cause or a combination of causes. In order of importance, they include the following:
- Boredom and frustration due to insufficient exercise
- Mental stagnation due to insufficient quality time with you
- Loneliness caused by too much isolation from human companionship
- Nutrition and health-related problems
Loneliness is perhaps the most difficult problem to overcome. By necessity, many dogs are left alone at home anywhere from eight to ten hours a day with absolutely nothing to do except get into mischief. Fortunately, there are some things you can do in addition to spending quality time with him when you’re together. If Buddy is really unhappy, take him to doggie daycare or get another dog as his companion.
Before addressing behavior problems specifically, we give you our general prescription for good behavior in this section.
You notice that exercise is at the top of the list. Exercise needs vary, depending on the size and energy level of your dog. Many dogs need a great deal more exercise than their owners realize. Bull Terriers are a good example. If the owner of an English Bull Terrier lives in an apartment in a large city, and the dog doesn’t get enough free-running exercise, he’s bound to develop behavior problems. These problems can range from tail spinning, which is a neurotic behavior, to ripping up furniture. This kind of dog would show none of these behaviors if he were living in a household where adequate exercise, both mental and physical, was provided.
Dog trainers have a maxim: “Tired dogs are happy dogs.” Dogs that have adequate exercise and can expend their energy through running, retrieving, playing, and training rarely show objectionable behaviors. Dogs denied those simple needs frequently redirect their energy into unacceptable behaviors.
When your dog engages in behaviors that you consider objectionable, it can be a vexing problem. Sometimes the behavior is instinctive, such as digging. Sometimes it occurs out of boredom, but never because the dog is ornery. Before you attempt to deal with the behavior, you need to find out the cause.
The easiest way to stop a behavior is by addressing the need that brought it about in the first place rather than by trying to correct the behavior itself. If there’s one single cause for behavior problems, it’s the lack of adequate exercise.
Many years ago, we labeled a set of behaviors we used to see in our obedience classes as single-dog syndrome. These dogs would run away from their owners more frequently than those dogs living in multidog households. They’d growl around their food bowls, be picky eaters, be possessive about toys, and be much more unruly than dogs living in homes with other dogs.
Good company means not only that you act as a companion to your dog but also that your dog shares the company of other dogs as frequently as possible. Some possibilities include taking regular walks in parks where he can meet other dogs, joining a dog club where dog activities are offered, or putting your puppy into daycare several days a week. Dogs are pack animals and thrive in the company of other dogs. Socialization of your pet is a continuing process. For more information on doggie activities, see Chapter Ten (Okay, Eleven) Fun and Exciting Sporting Activities.
Keeping Buddy in good health isn’t nearly as easy as it was 50 years ago. It seems that with the advance of science in so many dog-related fields, dogs should be healthier than ever. This isn’t the case. Too often through poor breeding practices, poor nutrition, and overvaccination, a dog’s health has been threatened as never before.
Having a dog that has constant health problems — from minor conditions, like skin irritations, picking up fleas, smelling, ear infections, and the like, to more serious conditions that affect his internal organs, such as kidneys, the heart, liver, and thyroid, is no fun! Not feeling well can cause your dog many behavior problems, from aggression to timidity, and health-related conditions are often confused with behavior problems. Buddy may have eaten something that upset his stomach, causing a house-soiling accident. He may have a musculoskeletal disorder making changes of position painful and causing irritability and sometimes snapping. These concerns are obviously not amenable to training solutions, and certainly not to discipline. For more on your dog’s health, see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Health.
You are what you eat equally applies to dogs as it does to people. Properly feeding your dog makes the difference between sickness and health and has a profound effect on his behavior. And with the abundance of dog foods on the market, figuring out what’s best for your pet can be difficult.
There are several ways to correctly feed your dog. One way is to select a commercial kibble that has two animal proteins in the first three ingredients. You can add some fresh, raw foods to the kibble. Another way is to buy a dehydrated version of a natural diet dog food, to which you add some yogurt and meat. A third way is to make your own dog food. Your choice depends on your level of comfort and the time you have to devote to your dog. For more on your dog’s nutritional needs, see Chapter Feeding Your Dog.
Behavior problems don’t arise because your dog is ornery or spiteful, and discipline is rarely the answer. Mental stagnation can also be a cause of unwanted behavior. Training your dog on a regular basis, or having him doing something for you, makes your dog feel useful and provides the mental stimulation he needs (see Chapter Mastering Basic Training).
Use your imagination to get your dog to help around the house, and you’ll be surprised by how useful he can become.
Dealing with Your Dog’s Objectionable Behavior
Like beauty, objectionable behavior is in the eye of the beholder. Playful nipping or biting may be acceptable to some and not to others. Moreover, there are degrees of objectionable behavior. Getting on the couch in your absence isn’t nearly as serious an offense as destroying the couch in your absence.
Having worked with dogs for a lifetime, we’re perhaps more tolerant of irritating behaviors than most. We know that dogs like to please and that most behaviors can be changed with a little good training. What we do find objectionable, however, is, when we visit friends, and their untrained dogs jump up at us and scratch us in the process. Other critical negative behavior patterns include dogs that don’t come when called, which can be dangerous, and dogs that don’t stay when they’re told.
A dog’s home is his crate
One tool that aids in dealing with any kind of inappropriate behavior is a crate. Leaving Buddy in a crate when you’re at work saves you from worrying about housetraining, chewing, and digging. Properly trained to a crate, Buddy will think of it as his “den.” He’ll always be safe in his crate. He can go anywhere with you, from the car to a friend’s house. You can take him on holiday with you. He’ll be comfortable any time you have to leave him at the vet, where dogs are kept in crates during treatment. (See Chapter Housetraining for more on training with a crate.)
All these irritating behaviors can be trained away by the investment of a mere ten minutes a day, five times a week for about four weeks. It’s such a small amount of time and energy to have a wonderful dog to be proud of.
Trained dogs are free dogs — you can take them anywhere, and they’re always welcome.
When you believe your dog has a behavior problem, you have several options:
- You can tolerate the behavior.
- You can train your dog in an effort to change the behavior.
- You can find a new home for the dog.
- You can take your dog for a one-way trip to the shelter or veterinarian.
Tolerating your dog’s behavior problems
Considering the amount of time and energy that may be required to turn Buddy into the pet you always wanted, you may decide it’s easier to live with his annoying antics than to try to change him. You tolerate him the way he is, because you don’t have the time, the energy, or the inclination to put in the required effort to change him.
Time is a factor everyone has to consider. Can you be disciplined enough to put aside ten minutes five times a week to work with Buddy in a place with no distractions, just concentrating on him? If so, you may be able to solve those annoying habits.
Behaviors you shouldn’t tolerate are those that threaten your safety or the safety of others, such as biting people or aggression. True aggression is defined as unpredictable — without warning — and unprovoked biting (see Chapter Dealing with Aggression for more on aggression). You also shouldn’t tolerate behaviors that threaten the safety of your dog, such as chasing cars (see Chapter Mastering Basic Training).
Trying to solve your dog’s behavior problems
You’ve decided that you can’t live with your dog’s irritating behaviors and that you’re going to work with him to be the pet you expected and always wanted. You understand doing so will require an investment of time, effort, and perhaps even expert help. But you’re willing to work to achieve your goal — a long-lasting, mutually rewarding relationship. Good for you! This book can help you.
Obedience training, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily the answer. Still, when you train your dog, you’re spending meaningful time with him, which in many cases is half the battle. Much depends on the cause of the problem.
For most people, dog ownership is a compromise between tolerating and working with our dogs. We find certain behaviors objectionable but realistically can’t do anything about them. As long as the joys of dog ownership outweigh the headaches, people usually put up with these behaviors.
Finding a new home for your dog
Your dog’s temperament may be unsuitable to your lifestyle. A shy dog, or a dog with physical limitations, may never develop into a great playmate for active children. A dog that doesn’t like to be left alone too long wouldn’t be suitable for someone who’s gone all day. Although some behaviors can be modified with training, others can’t, or the effort required would simply be too stressful for the dog.
Going directly to the source
The easiest way to stop a behavior is by dealing with the need that brought it about in the first place rather than trying to correct the behavior itself. When your dog goes through teething, for example, you need to provide him with suitable chew toys. When your dog has an accident in the house, first ask yourself whether you’ve left him inside too long, or whether the dog is ill, and a trip to the vet is in order. If your dog is left alone in the yard and continuously barks out of boredom, don’t leave him out there. Your neighbors will thank you. When your dog needs more exercise than you can give him, consider a dog-walker or daycare.
Every behavior has a timeframe and a certain amount of energy attached to it. This energy needs to be expended in a normal and natural way. By trying to suppress this energy, or not giving it enough time to dissipate, you help cause a majority of behavior problems. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog.
By using the Personality Profile in Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind, you can easily find out where the dog’s energies lie. For example, is he high in prey drive? These dogs need more exercise than dogs in other drives. They’re attracted to anything that moves quickly and want to chase it. Finding an outlet for these behaviors, such as playing ball, throwing sticks, or hiding toys and having Buddy find them, goes a long way to exhausting the energies of this drive.
In some instances, the dog and the owner are mismatched, and they need to divorce. The dog may require a great deal more exercise than the owner is able to give him and as a result is developing behavior problems. Whatever the reason, under some circumstances, placement into a new home where the dog’s needs can be met is advisable and in the best interest of both dog and owner.
We recall an incident involving an English Bull Terrier who was left alone too much and who started tail spinning. The behavior escalated to the point that the dog became a complete neurotic. At that point, we suggested a new home and found one for the dog on a farm. The dog now had unlimited daily exercise and within a few weeks, the tail-spinning behavior had completely disappeared.
Taking a one-way trip to the pound
If all reclamation efforts have failed — you can’t live with this dog, and he can’t be placed because he’s dangerous or for some other reason — your final option is to put him to sleep. This option isn’t something to be considered lightly, and you should only follow through if you’ve really tried to work it out and truly have no other alternatives.
Incidentally, don’t kid yourself about taking your dog to a shelter. Most are overwhelmed by the number of unwanted dogs and are able to find new homes for only a small percentage of these orphans. The sad fact is that we live in a throwaway society. Far too often, when the dog outgrows that cute puppy stage, out he goes.
Digging the Scene
One of the favorite pastimes of our Dachshunds is digging, or “landscaping” as we call it. They engage in this activity at every opportunity and with great zest. Because Dachshunds were bred to go after badgers, this behavior is instinctive. Does that mean we have to put up with a yard that looks like a minefield? Not at all, but we do have to assume the responsibility for
- Expending the digging energy
- Providing an outlet for it
- Supervising the little darlings to make sure they don’t get into trouble
Understanding the reasons for digging
Although some breeds, such as the small terriers, have a true propensity for digging, all dogs do it to some extent at one time or another. Take a look at some of the more common and sometimes comical reasons for digging:
– Allelomimetic behavior, or mimicking. In training, this practice is useful, but it may spell trouble for your gardening efforts. You plant, your dog digs up. Maybe you should do your gardening in secret and out of sight of your dog.
– To make nests for real or imaginary puppies (this one applies to female dogs).
– To bury or dig up a bone.
– To see what’s there, because it’s fun, or to find a cool spot to lie down.
– Boredom, isolation, or frustration.
Expenditure of the energy involves exercise, and providing an outlet means taking them for walks in the woods where they can dig to their little hearts’ content. Of course, you can always cover your yard with Astroturf or green cement!
The good news is that most so-called behavior problems are under your direct control; the bad news is that you have to get involved. The cure to digging is rather simple: Don’t leave your dog unattended in the yard for lengthy periods.
In order to eliminate digging before it becomes an issue for Buddy and you, recognize that this behavior is part of prey drive. So all the tips we give you about exhausting the behavior apply here. You can’t make a dog dig until he’s exhausted, but you can tire out your dog by playing ball or running with him so that he’s too tired to dig!
Or, if you have Wirehaired Dachshunds, like we have, you can provide a place where it’s safe for them to dig and where they don’t excavate craters in the lawn. Put up a small fenced area for them where they can dig. In our case, we walk them in the woods and allow them to dig there. Interestingly, our little guys dig under specific grasses to get at the roots and dirt. It obviously satisfies some nutritional need, and we attribute the fact that they’ve never had worms to this daily intake of earth.
Barking Up Any Tree
On the one hand, few things are more reassuring than knowing the dog will sound the alarm when a stranger approaches. On the other hand, few things are more nerve racking than a dog’s incessant barking. Dogs bark in response to a stimulus or because they’re bored and want attention, any attention, even if it involves the owner being nasty to the dog. Therein lies the dilemma: You want the dog to bark, but only when you think he should.
Barking as a response
Your dog is outside in the yard, and some people walk by, so he barks. Barking is a natural response of defending his territory. After the potential intruders have passed, he’s quiet again. People passing are the stimulus that causes barking, and after it has been removed, your dog stops.
If the people had stopped by the fence for a conversation, your dog would’ve continued to bark. To get him to stop, you have to remove your dog, or the people have to leave. Remove the stimulus from the dog or the dog from the stimulus. If you live in a busy area where this happens frequently, you may have to change your dog’s environment. You may not be able to leave him in the yard for prolonged periods.
Your dog also barks when he’s in the house and someone comes to the door. After he has alerted you, tell your dog “thank you, that’s enough,” and have him sit at your side as you answer the door. If necessary, put him on leash so that you can control him.
He may also rush to the window and stand there and bark because he sees or hears something. Again, thank him for letting you know what’s going on and tell him “that’s enough.” If he doesn’t stop, go to him, take him away from the window, and have him lie down in his corner.
Barking for no apparent reason
Your dog has a reason for barking, but it isn’t apparent to you. It can be due to any or all of the following:
- Seeking attention because he’s lonely
Theoretically, none of these reasons is difficult to overcome if you work to eliminate the potential causes. Spend more time exercising your dog. Spend more time training your dog. Don’t leave your dog alone so long, and don’t leave him alone so often.
As a practical matter, it’s not that easy. Most people work for a living and leave their dog at home alone for prolonged periods. If you live in an apartment, your dog certainly can’t bark all day. The stress on the dog is horrendous, not to mention your neighbors’ reactions. (See the section, “Coping with Separation Anxiety,” later in the chapter.)
Knowing a dog’s motivation
Whatever you may think, Buddy does what he does for a reason. Although the behavior may be unacceptable to you, to him, it’s the only way he can express his unhappiness and frustration. Excessive barking is often attention-seeking behavior, even if the consequences of the attention are unpleasant. For example, when you scold your dog for barking or, worse yet, physically punish him, he’s still getting attention.
One way to stop a barking dog is an electronic bark collar, which causes a slight electric shock every time he barks. Another way is a citronella collar, which sprays some citronella in the direction of the dog’s nose when he barks. These tools work well in a single-dog household. (See Chapter Equipping for Training Success for more info on these collars.)
Chewing — The Nonfood Variety
The principal reasons that dogs chew are physiological and psychological. The first passes, the second doesn’t, and both are a nuisance.
The physiological need to chew
As part of the teething process, puppies need to chew. They can’t help it. To get through this period, provide your dog with both a soft and a hard chew toy, such as a hard rubber bone or a real bone, as well as a canvas field dummy. Hard rubber Kong toys (www.kongcompany.com) with some peanut butter inserted can keep a dog amused for a long time. Don’t give him anything he can destroy or ingest, except food items. Carrots, apples, dog biscuits, or ice cubes are great to relieve the monotony; otherwise, he’ll be impelled to find more interesting things to chew on, such as those new shoes you left lying around.
Make sure your dog doesn’t have access to personal articles, such as shoes, socks, and towels. Think of it as good training for you not to leave things lying around the house. A lonely dog may chew up anything in his path. Make sure your dog gets enough attention from you — and that he gets some strong chew toys!
The most typical and obvious signs of separation anxiety are destructive behaviors (chewing or scratching), vocalizations (whining, barking, or howling), house soiling, pacing, and excessive drooling.
The desensitizing approach
People are just as much creatures of habit as dogs are and tend to follow a specific pattern before leaving the house. This pattern becomes the dog’s cue that you’re about to depart. Make a list of your customary routine before you leave the house. For example, putting on makeup, picking up your bag or briefcase, picking up the car keys, putting on your coat, turning off the lights, and reassuring and petting the dog.
At odd intervals, several times during the day, go through your routine exactly as you would prior to leaving, and then sit in a chair and read the paper or watch TV, or just putter around the house. By following this procedure, you’ll begin to desensitize the dog to the cues that you’re about to leave.
When your dog ignores the cues, leave the house, without paying any attention to the dog, for about five minutes. Return, and again, don’t pay any attention to him. Repeat this process, staying out for progressively longer periods. Turning on the radio or TV and providing suitable toys for your dog may also help. Whatever you do, make sure to ignore the dog for five minutes after your return. What you want to accomplish is to take the emotional element out of your going and coming so your dog will view the separation as a normal part of a day and not as reason to get excited.
The D.A.P. approach
Another way to cope with separation anxiety is to use D.A.P. — Dog Appeasing Pheromone — a product developed by vets that mimics the properties of the natural pheromones of the lactating female. After giving birth, a mother dog generates pheromones that give her puppies a sense of well being and reassurance.
D.A.P. is an electrical plug-in diffuser that dispenses the pheromone, which the dog’s sense of smell detects. The pheromone reminds the dog of the well being he felt as a puppy. (D.A.P. is odorless to people.) In clinical trials, D.A.P. was effective in about 75 percent of cases in improving separation-related behaviors. To be effective, the diffuser must be left plugged in 24 hours a day. D.A.P. is available at pet stores and from pet product catalogs.
Soiling the House
House soiling that occurs after you’ve housetrained your dog and that isn’t marking behavior (see Chapter Housetraining) can have a variety of causes, other than separation anxiety. Its usual causes are one or more of the following:
– You’ve left your dog too long without giving him a chance to relieve himself. As the saying goes, accidents happen, and that’s just what it was — an accident. You know your dog’s endurance and schedule, so don’t blame the dog when for some reason you were unable to adhere to it. You may have had to work late, or some other unforeseen event prevented you from getting home on time. As long as it doesn’t become a regular occurrence on your part, the behavior won’t be a continuing problem.
– Your dog may have eaten something that disagreed with him, and he has an upset stomach. Abrupt dietary changes, such as changing dog foods, are the most common cause for an upset tummy. Any time you change your dog’s diet, do it gradually, over a period of several days, so his system can get used to the new food.
– Giving treats at holiday times that your dog ordinarily doesn’t get, such as turkey and gravy or pizza, can create havoc with his digestive system.
– Cystitis, a bladder infection, is more common among female dogs than male dogs and may cause dribbling. You need to consult your vet.
Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder wall that can be caused by a bacterial infection. It makes Buddy feel as if there’s constant pressure on his bladder, and he’ll think he has to urinate all the time, even after just relieving himself. When he does urinate, it can burn, which in turn causes him to spend a lot of time washing himself.
Although not very dangerous in and of itself, cystitis can cause all sorts of problems if left unattended, because the bacteria can spread up into the kidneys. If you see any of the preceding symptoms, a trip to your vet is a must. A short course of the appropriate antibiotics cures this inflammation quickly.
– As your dog ages, urinary incontinence may develop, and it can be treated with medication and homeopathic remedies.
The slackening of the sphincter muscles that holds the urine in the bladder often causes incontinence, which often happens as your dog ages. So many dogs are put to sleep for this perceived problem, which although not easy to live with, can be solved in several ways. Acupuncture is probably the best treatment and is very effective (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Health for more on acupuncture). If you can find a vet trained in acupuncture, then have a series of treatments to solve the problem. Many vets today are trained in acupuncture, and finding one who can help isn’t very difficult. A change in diet to a more natural diet (see Chapter Feeding Your Dog) can often solve this problem. You can find many herbal and homeopathic remedies on the market specifically targeted at the kidney and bladder of older dogs. A good holistic vet can help you make the best choice for your dog.
– Chocolate can make your dog really sick. Although it contains several chemical agents that make it so good and tasty to us, these agents can be poisonous to Buddy. Be very careful to keep chocolate out of the way of your best friend.
While you’re finding a vet to help you, you still have to live with the soiling problem. Put a tablecloth that’s plastic on one side and has a soft backing on it under your dog’s blanket. Doing so saves the furniture or floor, and both are easy to wash and keep clean. You can consider diapers, but only as a last resort. Don’t give up on that old friend — explore the alternatives and see how you can support Buddy in his old age.
Dribbling, or Submissive Wetting
Dogs that are high in defense flight and low in defense fight drives are notorious for submissive wetting behavior. (See Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind for more on your dog’s drives.) This behavior usually occurs upon first greeting the dog. He will either squat or roll over on his back and dribble, dating back to his days as a puppy, when his mother cleaned him.
When Buddy dribbles, don’t scold your dog, because it only reinforces the behavior and actually makes it worse. By scolding him, you only make him act even more submissive, which brings on the wetting. Also, don’t stand or lean over your dog or try to pick him up, because that, too, makes him act submissive and causes wetting.
Fortunately, submissive wetting isn’t difficult to solve. Follow these steps:
1. When you come home, ignore your dog.
Don’t approach your dog; let him come to you instead.
2. Greet your dog without making eye contact and by offering the palm of your hand.
This step is important. The back of the hand transmits negative energy, and the palm of the hand transmits positive energy.
3. Keep your mouth shut, and let him sniff your palm.
4. Gently pet him under the chin, not on top of the head.
5. Don’t reach or try to grab for the dog.
When friends visit you, they can help you manage your dog’s wetting behavior. Tell your visitors when they arrive to ignore the dog and let him come to them. Instruct them about offering the palm of the hand and about not grabbing for the dog.
If you follow this routine, your dog will stop dribbling.
Suffering from Carsickness
Carsickness, which manifests itself in excessive drooling or vomiting, can be attributed to
- True motion sickness
- A negative association with riding in a car
For obvious reasons, dogs that have a tendency to get carsick usually aren’t taken for rides very often. And when they are, it’s to the vet. You can compare his reaction to that of a child who, every time it gets in the car, goes to the doctor for a shot. It doesn’t take many repetitions before your dog makes an unpleasant association with your car.
Some dogs get sick in vans because they can’t see out of the window, and others get sick in cars because they can see out of the window. Whatever the reason for the dog’s reaction, you can create a pleasant association with the car. When working with your dog to make car rides a positive experience, you can tell how well he’s taking to the car and how much time you need to spend at each sequence.
Throughout this remedial exercise, maintain a light and happy attitude. Avoid a solicitous tone of voice and phrases such as, “It’s all right. Don’t worry. Nothing is going to happen to you.” These reassurances validate the dog’s concerns and reinforce his phobia about the car.
1. Open all the doors and, with the engine off, coax your dog into the car.
If he doesn’t want to go in, pick him up and put him in the car. After he’s in the car (no matter how he got there), give him a treat, tell him how proud you are of him, and immediately let him out again. Repeat this step until he’s comfortable getting into the car on his own.
2. After your dog is comfortable getting into the car willingly, close the doors on one side of the car, keep the engine shut off, and coax your dog into the car again.
3. When he’s comfortable with Step 2, tell your dog to get in the car, give him a treat, and close the doors.
Let him out again, and give him a treat. Repeat until he readily goes into the car, and you can close the doors for up to one minute.
4. Tell your dog to get into the car, get in with him, close all the doors, and start the engine.
Give your dog a treat. Turn off the engine, and let him out.
5. Now it’s time for a short drive, no more than once around the block.
Increase the length of the rides, always starting and ending with a treat. Give Buddy a ginger cookie. Ginger cookies are an excellent treat. Ginger calms your dog’s stomach.
by Jack and Wendy Volhard