By Kathy Diamond Davis
Author and Trainer
Unwanted barking, jumping up on people, pulling on the leash, mouthing and nipping, not coming when called... how many dog owners haven't had to deal with at least a few of these common canine behavior problems? It's never too late to train a dog, or to work on his or her behavior problems. Bad habits can be broken, good habits can be taught, and most importantly, with a little effort and love, you can make sure your dog stays a happy member of your family forever!
Should the training articles available here or elsewhere not be effective, contact your veterinarian. Veterinarians not specializing in behavior can eliminate medical causes of behavior problems. If no medical cause is found, your veterinarian can refer you to a colleague who specializes in behavior or a local behaviorist.
If you need to change a behavior a dog is doing because of genetic heritage, your best chance is to channel that behavior into a similarly satisfying outlet for the dogs instinctive urge.
People commonly assume their new dogs who come with unknown histories have been victims of abuse. Though a dog’s behavior may seem to point to it, most of these dogs have not been abused. Whether or not abuse has occurred, the assumption can prevent people from giving their dogs the right support for success in a new chance at life.
With one dog in the family, why not add another one? What are the pros and cons? When is
the right time? Will it change the things you love about the dog you have now?
The adolescent dog, like the adolescent—or teenage—human, has an immature brain in a body that’s nearly the size of an adult. The maturing process happening in the dog resembles the human teenager in several ways, and your dog needs similar guidance during this difficult life stage.
Choosing a dog from the shelter for a successful adoption depends on knowing what you need in a dog, and how to determine which dog at the shelter can fit your life.
Adopting an adult dog into your family has the potential for being much smoother than raising a puppy. There can be bumps in the road, or the dog may blend in smoothly right from the first. Having a good plan will help you integrate the new family member in the happiest possible way.
Fear of other dogs is epidemic these days. People also expect their dogs to meet and greet other dogs they encounter on walks. What is this experience from a dog’s point of view? It’s often said that dogs are social animals, the idea being that they are like the type of humans who enjoy social gatherings. This is not true for all dogs.
Does your dog growl, snap, snarl, lunge or otherwise threaten passing dogs or people on walks? Perhaps the dog has had bad experiences that make this behavior understandable. Yet it's embarrassing, and raises concerns the dog will injure a person or dog. How do you manage the dog safely while working on the aggression?
Does the thought of having someone come into your home make you uneasy about your dog’s reaction? Has your dog put on an aggressive display at a worker or guest? Has someone actually been bitten?
One of the more shocking situations of nature taking its course with our companion dogs is when one of them is sick and another apparently takes advantage of the situation to attack or kill the sick one.
We often value protection (aggression) against intruders, and expect our dogs to make judgments beyond their experience, training or innate ability. Since a dog who bites humans may go months between bites, people tend to downplay the significance of aggression. The fear of losing your dog can also contribute to denial and failure to deal with the problem.
There are similarities in good and bad leaders of dog packs and humans. The same qualities that make a good human leader make a good dog leader. But since dogs have different needs, those qualities will be expressed differently when a human leads dogs than when a human leads other humans.
How can you train a dog if you can't get him to pay attention to you? Are other dogs, unfamiliar surroundings, noise, or even fear distracting your dog? Try these tips!
Dogs bark. Too often the barking becomes excessive, costing dogs their homes and even their lives. Solutions to barking problems come from how you manage and train your dog.
The first thing you need to know about helping your new puppy learn to remain quiet in confinement is NOT to go to the puppy in response to noise. If noise does not work, the puppy will eventually give up that method of communication.
You are bringing home a dog soon, and this new family member will need a place to sleep. Looking through the huge variety of beds and crates available for dogs, how do you pick the best one?
Decide how your house will be arranged to manage the care of a baby and a dog. Keep in mind the rule on which experts agree: no child under school age should ever be left alone with any dog, for even one second. Set up barriers that will keep your dog in or out of specific rooms.
Whether you are waiting for a planned canine family member from a breeder or scheduling a trip to a shelter to look for one, you’ll want to be ready. It can make the difference between a smooth or rocky start with your new pup, or success or failure.
Dogs beg because people make beggars of them! When a behavior works, a smart individual keeps using that behavior, and dogs are smart. To get your dog to stop begging, simply stop all the humans from responding to the begging by giving the dog food. That may be harder than you think!
Suddenly the birds in the back yard are dive-bombing the dog, and possibly the humans, too. Is this some bizarre real-life reenactment of the classic movie "The Birds?" Some birds are large enough to carry off and eat small dogs, so what can you do?
Reading your dog’s body language is never possible to do with 100% accuracy. Compare this to humans, though. We don’t even come close to being able to read all the body language of another human. Nor do we fully understand another human’s words, even when we speak their language!
People often insist that the new dog they adopt must come to them in puppyhood in order to bond with the family. What people don't understand, though, is that the human in the puppy's early life does not have to be you. It's the ABILITY to bond that is formed through this early experience. Dogs routinely form new bonds with humans at all stages of life.
Does it matter what breed of dog you pick, in terms of the dog’s behavior? Yes, absolutely! Many dog temperaments are neither good nor bad, but are either right for your family or are not going to make you happy. In researching a breed, what factors will help you determine that you’re choosing a dog with the behavior potential for a good match with you?
Do you know the ways a breeder’s decisions and actions will affect your dog’s future behavior? How do you pick the person you’re going to trust to determine your dog’s genetic temperament heritage, and to structure how your puppy will be treated in the critical early weeks?
Carsickness is only one of the problems for dogs riding in a car. Some dogs leap all over the car, some create noise that impairs safe driving. Aggression toward people through car windows is dangerous. In most cases, transporting your dog in a car can be done safely and sanely if you take some basic precautions.
Lots of puppies get carsick in moving cars, but fewer adult dogs. We need our dogs to be able to ride comfortably in cars, and no one enjoys cleaning vomit. If you have a carsick puppy, let’s look at ways to minimize stress and mess, both now and when the pup is older.
When a cat and a dog share your home, do you live in a peaceable kingdom? Or do they “fight like cats and dogs?” The reality could turn out either way, depending on several factors.
Chasing comes naturally to dogs, and is easily encouraged in a puppy when humans laugh or excitedly point out the “squirrel.” Many people find it entertaining to watch a dog chase things and don’t realize how serious it can become.
To read the newspaper headlines or watch television news these days will scare you about what happens to children around dogs. But how often does it happen? How likely is it to happen to your child? How likely is your dog to do it? Most of all, what can you as a parent, child caregiver, or dog owner do to prevent an injury to a child?
Parents want an idyllic relationship between child and puppy growing up together. Good preparation can help make it come true. Sometimes it's better to wait until the children reach school age before acquiring a dog.
Adding a new dog to your family means, in dog terms, adding a new dog to the pack. Dog packs are social units. Dogs are much more the victims of their own instincts than humans when it comes to relationships with their own species.
In its purest form, clicker training uses only positive reinforcement, based on research about operant learning theory. Practitioners argue about the terminology, but it is not necessary to understand all the terms in order to successfully use these techniques in training a dog.
Learning to come when called has saved the life of many a dog. Many innovative trainers have wonderful twists on this training, and it's wise to get involved in formal training with your dog to learn the skills. Another name for this training is the recall.
There's pretty much nothing more frustrating than a dog who is a problem barker. What are some steps you an take to control your dog's barking?
Trying to act on good advice about training your dog, you confine your new puppy or dog to a crate. But instead of a clean and rested dog when you return to the crate, you find a soiled one. What is happening, and what can you do about it?
Every puppy needs to learn the skill of resting calmly in a crate. This skill will be needed at the veterinary hospital, for traveling, and for restricted activity due to illness. It's also a lifesaver for many young dogs during the destructive chewing stage that starts at several months of age and can last until age 2 to 3 years in some breeds.
Crate-training is easiest in puppyhood, but at times it’s both necessary and feasible to train an adult dog to rest calmly in a crate. It’s important to note, though, that not all dogs can be crate trained. Some will panic and can hurt themselves.
In many cases, a dog’s ability to tolerate things without becoming defensive can be improved. It is often possible to change a dog’s threshold of reaction by rebuilding the dog’s trust. Whatever the thing is that the dog fears, lower the level of stimulation and give the dog positive experiences of that thing.
The REAL chewing comes after the dog has cut the permanent teeth. These teeth seem to require "setting" in the jaw by hard chewing. Dogs who don't do this chewing may have poorer lifelong dental health. But, the dogs who proceed to firmly set their shiny new teeth with robust chewing may have horrified families!
When considering this problem, realize that digging is a powerful instinct in dogs. What options do you have?
“My dog doesn’t listen!” “When I say ‘come,’ she runs the other way!” “He comes in from a walk and sneaks out of the room to poop where we can’t see!” Are these dogs disobedient? Defiant? Stubborn?
The large, 4-year old male terrier mix has inflicted injuries on both the female Chow mix and the male terrier mix in the home, as well as on one of the owners. They have decided not to keep him, and want help considering their options.
What people think is dominance in a dog is usually something else. True dominance in a dog is more often a praiseworthy trait than a problem. Which dog is dominant tends to change according to the composition of the pack or family; evidently, dominance is not the trait it has sometimes been thought to be.
What happens at your house when the doorbell rings? If you have a dog, chances are the sound of the bell is joined by the sound of barking. The dog may make a mad scramble to the door.
"My dog eats his own poop!" exclaims the shocked human. Or, embarrassed to come right out with it, the human says, "I need to ask about this thing my dog does. It's really strange and disgusting
" The average person doesn't seem to discuss poop-eating dogs with friends and family, so people don't realize it's a common dog behavior.
People tend to be horrified to find their dog is eating feces from the cat litter box. Since the behavior is common even in the most well nourished dogs, the fact that they like the taste is a likely reason.
A dog whose exercise needs are met may rest more calmly at home and be less fretful when left alone. The modern dog-management mantra of “A good dog is a tired dog” is gospel to many people. Exercise can improve bone and joint health. Heart and lung function can improve.
Teaching your dog to give you eye contact is a special training skill. Eye contact is the fastest, easiest, and for many dogs the most humane way to develop training finesse.
Dogs can develop fear of any person, place or thing. Considering that the same thing happens in humans, this isn't surprising. Once a dog has begun to react with fear, correcting the original trigger of the behavior is not always enough to change the dog's habit of reacting that way. The earlier you intervene, the better your chances of relieving the fear.
A dog who has had to defend food from another animal may start defending it from humans, resulting in dog bites. Dogs who would never start fighting with each other for any other reason will often start over food. Too often, the fighting among the dogs extends to other situations if the humans don’t act quickly enough.
Many dogs are prone to getting out of fences if left outside. The ideal solution is to supervise such dogs whenever they are outside within the fenced yard. In the best-case scenario, dogs never even begin going over, under or through the fence.
Barking at the dog on the other side of the fence, like other barking in dogs, tends to escalate. Neighbors who have to listen to this eventually become unhappy. Teach your dog to come when called in the back yard.
Why do dogs fight? They fight for different reasons than humans do, which to us can be extremely confusing.
Fireworks can turn holidays such as the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve into miserable nights for dogs. To some extent this fear is genetic, but it's also learned. Dogs bred and trained to flush and retrieve game for a gunner cope well with these noises, as do police dogs. Some dogs aren't capable of a comfort level with fireworks, but a lot can be done to make this fear less of a problem for any dog.
Guarding food or toys from other animals is a normal canine behavior. Life with dogs in our homes is safer when dogs do not guard their food.
What does a dog experience at the loss of a beloved human? Certainly the dog shares the frequent human dilemma at such a loss, that of fear at how life will change without that person. The dog is unlikely to know the person is not coming back but may fear that, especially if the dog has lost a previous home.
Life can change drastically for a dog who loses the companionship of another dog. We don't know how much dogs understand about death, but the experience of having a dog become lethargic, upset, or even ill after a dog companion dies has happened to many dog lovers. It can be heart breaking, just when you are also grieving the loss yourself.
Good grooming conditions dogs to the handling that is so precious in our relationships with them. The natural reaction to being touched is defensive. We learn-and so do our dogs-to enjoy touch only when we have the right experiences with it. Puppies who are cuddled get the right start.
What does it mean when a dog growls? What do you do when it happens?
The dog who barks, snarls, growls, lunges and snaps at anyone approaching the car is such a hazard that soon you'll find yourself having to leave the dog at home. For necessary car trips the dog will require crating, which allows the dog to make a huge amount of noise to distract your driving, but doesn't allow the dog to protect you.
Whether you're traveling with or without your dog, boarding your dog or bringing in a petsitter, or expecting company at your home for the holidays, a little preparation can go a long way towards making your holidays safe and calm for you and your dog.
Urine marking is a normal, instinctive dog behavior, mostly in males but also sometimes in females. Like a lot of other natural dog behaviors, we need to modify it as one of the fascinating ways that humans and dogs learn to cooperate for rewarding lives together.
When a dog starts having housetraining accidents, it’s easy to believe the dog is acting out of anger or some other defiant motive. That is rarely the case. Let’s look at reasons for housetraining accidents, and methods for improving your dog’s batting average.
Adult dogs, whether they are adopted, rescued, or are coming indoors after living outside, often need to be housetrained. Also, sometimes adult dogs develop housetraining problems later in life.
A list of housetraining basics for puppies or adult dogs. Get your dog off to a good, reliable start!
Housetraining is more difficult than most people realize, and it’s much more difficult with some dogs than others. It’s the first complicated task most people teach their dogs, and many dogs lose their homes over housetraining problems. You’d probably be surprised just how common all the housetraining problems are.
While a typical scenario for dog ownership used to be a house on private property that could be fenced, now many puppies have to be housetrained from households with no outdoor area of their own. Until the puppy’s vaccination series is complete, walking around on ground where dogs outside your own family also walk is of questionable safety. This is especially true of tiny breeds.
Small dogs require different care in some respects than larger dogs. Housetraining a small dog can be very different from housetraining a large dog.
Housetraining is sometimes the bottom line for family dogs. People may clean up urine and feces after a dog for months or even years, before something happens that makes it impossible to continue living wit
Whether your dog of several years is aging, or you have adopted a senior dog, housetraining issues for the elderly dog are different from other life stages. Age puts new stresses on the dog’s body and mind.
Dogs humping humans may amuse other humans, but rarely the human who's being humped. Some dogs will hump a toy or sofa cushion incessantly. We accept dogs humping other dogs in the act of mating, but in other situations it can create problems. What can we do about it?
As much as we hope for home to be a peaceable kingdom, some animals will not be able to live together in peace. Before acquiring a new animal, consider the characteristics of the prospective new family member as well as the animals you already have.
Does your dog jump on you or others? It's easiest to nip this in the bud if your dog is a puppy, but even adult dogs can be taught to keep four on the floor.
How many dogs have been relegated to back-yard living because they jump all over family and guests whenever anyone walks through the door? Then when someone goes out to visit the lonesome dog, the jumping is worse because the dog is even more excited to see someone. Only now the dog is dirty, too.
If you want to keep your dogs off the furniture, your best bet is to start every puppy and new dog in your home with "off the furniture" as the consistent rule.
What does it mean when a dog kills another animal? While it shocks humans, killing is normal behavior for dogs. When dogs do not kill, it’s due to human management. Without humans, dogs would have to kill to survive. When people are unable, unwilling or unaware of how to manage their dogs, kills to other animals become all too common. Understanding how it happens will help you avoid the problem with your dog.
Leashes are wonderful for dogs. Leashes mean getting to go out of the house and yard to all sorts of interesting places. Leashes mean enjoying the outside world, protected from myriad dangers. With a little training, your dog will happily greet the sight of the leash, and walk along on it easily without pulling.
A puppy may refuse to budge while on leash one day, and try to drag you down the street on the same leash the very next day! Dogs who walk well on leash face fewer dangers and have more fun. It's well worth the time to develop this skill with your puppy.
Chances are if you have done much dog training, you have used a long line. If this piece of equipment is new to you, learning about it can improve your dog-handling skills, as well as your dog's reliable responses to your cues.
You’re out walking with your dog on leash, and uh-oh, there’s a loose dog approaching. Too many people think it’s okay to let their dogs roam loose, not realizing what a danger this presents to other people, especially those out walking with dogs or young children. How can we cope with stray dogs?
There is a secret to teaching a dog to walk on a loose lead and never pull. Find out this easy and fun method to train your dog!
Dogs who live together form a pack structure. Often this structure is harmonious, but frequently problems crop up. There are special challenges to training more than one dog, and problems that arise can include disobedience and fighting. Sometimes this fighting is severe.
If having one canine family member is great, wouldn't two be better? How about three when you now have two or four if you now have three? Are there reasons to limit the number of dogs in your family? Let's look at the advantages of living with multiple dogs along with how things change as you add canine companions.
Do dogs get obsessive-compulsive disorder? We see cases of a dog repeating a behavior over and over, though, with resulting harm either to the dog or to others. We’ll call it “obsessive behavior” here, with the understanding that other terms might also apply. Perhaps the dog becomes addicted to the behavior because of stimulating or soothing chemicals it releases in the body.
The first place to take your new puppy or dog when you come home together is the spot you want your dog to use for potty purposes. This means you'll decide in advance where that will be, and make the necessary preparations. Having all in place right from the start helps the dog to form the desired habits as quickly as possible with the least confusion.
What behavior from a puppy constitutes aggression? Broken skin on a human is one cause for concern. If your puppy breaks the skin on a human—whether someone in the family or not, whether in play or not—be sure to get started promptly with a veterinary behavior specialist or other expert who can assess the situation.
Puppies bite. This is not a form of aggression, but a form of play and communication. It's important to train a puppy not to bite in play or to communicate, as this behavior can become unacceptable and even dangerous in an adult dog. This is a very important lesson for a puppy to learn.
When you put two dogs of the same sex together in your home, there is always a risk that they will not be able to get along. Sometimes they will fight, and it can be severe. What can you do to solve problems after they arise, or prevent them from happening in the future?
With the right help, most dogs can learn to remain alone calmly for reasonable lengths of time. Conditioning a dog to be able to do this is a real kindness that makes the dog's life more comfortable.
The settle exercise calls for the dog to lie down on the cue word and/or signal. It’s easily taught and helps in teaching the dog to stay, as well as helping to establish your leadership without harshness.
Ideally every puppy would receive a good foundation of experiences for the ability to cope with all kinds of people as an adult dog. Even if the genetics for temperament in your pup are not the best, or your pup has a bad experience when young, a good foundation of social experiences will give the best chance for a dog to have good social skills. If your puppy comes from two temperamentally-sound parents and is lucky enough to avoid any traumatic experiences with humans during formative months, you might never see problems from lack of good early socialization.
Puppies and dogs who have never been to places other than their homes can become unable to cope with going anyplace. This becomes a serious problem when the dog needs to go to the veterinarian’s office, to a specialist, or out for any other reason. Socializing to places is essential for a dog’s mental health and for physical well-being, too.
Umbrellas, big trucks, kitchen appliances, and reclining chairs are a few of some dogs’ least favorite things. When a dog’s aversion to something creates a problem, such as your getting wet while trying to walk with an umbrella, you see the reason for socializing young dogs to things.
Teaching the "stay" cue builds your leadership with your dog. It also builds your dog's composure and ability to cope with a wide variety of situations. Stay training can result in a happier dog with a more people-safe temperament when suitable training methods are used.
At training class, at the veterinarian's office and when walking on leash, some dogs will make a tremendous amount of noise whining. Dogs may also whine when confined to crates or when they are outside and the family is inside. Understanding what the dog is experiencing will help you lower the volume!
Submissive urination is often thought of as a housebreaking problem, but it's really a behaviorial problem. Punishment and harsh training approaches will only make it worse!
Ironically, submissive behavior in dogs is often misread as dominance. Talk about being 100% wrong, aye? Submissive dogs, especially when mishandled, are often called wimps. Wow, submissive dogs just get no respect! Yet they often make the best family dogs. Let’s take a closer look at submissiveness.
When adopting a dog, the two qualities people want more than any others are good health and good temperament. Both are heavily influenced by genetics and are also affected by how the dog has been treated. Experiences have had opportunity to alter the temperament of adult dogs.
Puppy temperament testing is both science and art. Much of a dog’s temperament is genetically based. We continue to learn more ways the behavior is shaped by physical traits, including invisible or subtle ones. Dogs have different structures in their eyes that cause them to actually see the world differently, just as one example.
Fear of thunderstorms is common in dogs, and tends to get worse as they age. It is partly genetic. While some aspects of this problem remain a mystery, we know a lot that can make life easier for thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their families. Best of all, you may be able to help your dog avoid developing this fear in the first place.
Timid or shy dogs can become sweet and loving companions. On the other hand, some will be unsuited to life in busy households or with small children, and some may find dog sports too stressful. Sometimes the fearfulness you see in a puppy can turn into aggression as the dog matures.
Veterinary hospitals and professional groomers do a lot of toenail trimming for dogs whose families can't manage the task. It's nice to be able to do this task at home, though, not only to save money but also so that you can trim the nails more often.
Trash hounds can be wonderful companions to humans who are as smart as the dogs. Anger and punishment won't solve the problem and in fact can make it worse. Brains and a sense of humor will keep you one step ahead of your trash hound-most of the time!
Since dogs, like humans, have to eat to live, and generally enjoy the process (some of us too much!), food is a primary motivator you can use with a dog who has no training and doesn't even know you yet. You can also use food to improve a dog's opinion of you!
People tend to be upset when their dogs urinate on beds. A dog doesn’t mean this as the insult that humans take it to be, and the dog doesn’t see it as disgusting. Some dogs mark their own beds by urinating there.
Urine marking is not really a housebreaking problem, but can often be cured with the same techniques.
Playfulness, high energy and high spirits are qualities we value in dogs. That is, until we realize the dog doesn't have an "off button," or a speed setting dial! You can develop these wonderful abilities with your dog, though, with enjoyable training and sensible management.
|About the author(s)
Kathy Diamond Davis
Kathy Diamond Davis is the author of Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others and Responsible Dog Ownership, and is a contributor to a number of dog magazines, including Off Lead and Dog Fancy.
Kathy has been an enthusiastic volunteer therapy dog handler since 1985, working with four therapy dogs so far, three now in heaven. Her dog training experience includes obedience trials, tracking, and one dog shown briefly in conformation. "But I gave that all up for therapy dogs," she says.
Kathy is married, and lives in Oklahoma City, which she loves. She currently has three dogs. Says Kathy, "Spirit helps with the writing about problem dogs! Gabriel is a happy and loving therapy dog. Believer is the new kid, beginning her career as a therapy dog and keeping me out there training. All three are Belgian Tervuren, and they all (gasp!) sleep on the bed!"