Common Dog Behavioral Issues
As much as we all love our beloved four-legged friends, we’ve all experienced undesirable behavior issues with either our own or someone else’s pet. Identifying the behavior, isolating the problem and being educated on the common issues and treatments, is the best solution for helping your pet stop the behavior. A dog's natural instinct is to please their owner, so working with their personality to find some common ground where the both of you can enjoy each other's company, is the ultimate goal. The following is a list of the most common behavioral issues that pet owners typically face at some point.
Digging is a natural canine instinct and can’t be shut down—so don’t fight your dog on this one, instead, join in the fun and model where digging can happen. Select a spot in your yard or on your walk where he won’t do too much damage if he digs. Encourage him to use that spot by burying something there that he needs to dig up, and then praise him when he does. You -could also limit a specific area in your yard, by fencing a small portion of dirt off, where your dog can dig. Remember, if your dog is digging in an unacceptable spot, it’s because you haven’t directed him to the acceptable spot to dig or you’ve left your dog unattended and they got carried away in the wrong spot. Indoor digging can be a real problem and often indicates boredom or anxiety. If your dog is scratching at the floor, has started to dig in the same spot or seems preoccupied with a certain area in your house, put him someplace safe, which generally is in a confined space, and give him appropriate toys and chews to play with. If you catch your dog starting to dig at the floor inside, immediately take him outside to his designated digging area. Redirecting your dog has many benefits including forcing you to get engaged, which is ideal for both you and your pet’s state of mind.
It’s critical that rough play is thwarted and stopped immediately. An immediate solution to getting your dog to settle down when he’s playing this way with you is to stop moving or making sounds. Stand up if you’re on the floor, turn away from your dog, keep your hands and arms close to your body and just freeze in place. Basically, do not engage at all, even if the dog is jumping up on you. If he is playing with others this way, have them do the same, paying no attention to the dog. When he has settled enough to physically handle him without re-exciting him, pick him up or lead him to his crate or room of confinement and give a longer than normal time-out for this offense. Keep in mind that play should only be allowed if it’s managed and not rough because as soon as anyone gets overexcited, the play becomes aggressive which can lead to disaster. Do some training with him when he’s settled down, too, to reinforce that you’re his leader. Dogs are pack animals and they aren’t happy when they have to be removed from fun, so isolating them when their behavior isn’t ideal, is the best way to communicate the rules.
Stealing Food, Clothing, or Other Objects
For the most part, stealing is an easy problem to fix because your dog can’t steal what isn’t available. This puts the fix on your shoulders, the pet owner. If you have a thieving pet, you must always be on the lookout for what could be considered fair game: accessible garbage cans, food left anywhere within reach, open doors to rooms with chewable items, etc. Make the objects your pet desires, inaccessible while at the same time providing plenty of appropriate toys and chews. By playing with your pet with the appropriate toys, the pet will identify with the object as a desirable toy and then get into the habit. If you need some suggestions for appropriate dog toys, ask your veterinarian for some ideas. When he/she does steal, don’t chase him, or you’re initiating a game. Instead, call him to you or go after him methodically and unemotionally until you can hold him. Tell him “Leave it” as you open his mouth to remove the object. Make sure to be careful while doing this; if you sense your dog is getting irritable or aggressive, leave the object and walk away. Then, confine him at the earliest opportunity and commit to working with an experienced dog trainer or behaviorist. The last thing you want is a dog to turn on you over a stolen object, or worse, someone else.
Your dog can’t jump up on someone if he’s sitting down, lying down, or otherwise confined. Enlist a friend or neighbor, as well as other family members, to help redirect this behavior. Put your dog on his leash, have someone ring the doorbell, approach with your dog, and ask the dog to sit. He sits, you open the door. He doesn’t sit, you wait until he does. When the person comes in, give them a couple of treats and have them ask the dog to sit. He sits, he gets a treat. He doesn’t sit, they turn their back on him for a moment. You make sure he doesn’t jump up by holding his leash, this can be dangerous and harmful to your pet. Use clear speech and ask him to sit first and be sure he does before doing anything else. Then the person should turn around and ask him to sit, too. Repeat until the dog complies. This is something you’ll need to repeat over and over until it sticks, and your dog can control the urge to jump. Consistency is key when training your dog, especially with behavior modification training. Confining your dog when you’re expecting guests is an option but at some point, you’ll want to include him in the visit, in which case he’ll need to know how to properly greet your guests. The key points to remember with the jumping behavior is to turn and ignore your dog, praise him and give him a treat when all four paws are on the ground. When you have visitors, make sure your puppy is on a leash before you open the door and practice the exercise over and over until you are certain your dog can control themselves when guests come to your home.
Aggression doesn’t always present as a full-on attack. Usually, it’s subtler but can be equally dangerous behavior. Some examples of more subtle aggression would be if your dog bares his teeth at you when you reach to get him off the furniture, or if he guards his food bowl or special toys by standing over them, or if he charges other dogs when you are out for a walk. These aren’t the only ways they can display aggression as there are many other manifestations of aggressive tendencies that could lead to a bite incident someday. If you notice anything like this, take immediate action. If you are seeing aggressive behaviors, immediate action is an absolute must. Setting limits, rewarding only positive behavior, not responding emotionally, and evaluating diet are things you could implement around your home right away. Keeping yourself, other family members and the dog safe is the number one concern and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Confining the dog and if necessary, using a soft muzzle, and seeking professional guidance are all appropriate steps to take to ensure you and your pet are safe. It’s also good to remember that reinforcing limits with an aggressive dog can sometimes cause the aggression to escalate. Because of the potential for serious harm, it’s critical to begin working with a professional immediately. Pick up the phone and call 1-800-PET-DOGS, which is the contact information for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a national organization of certified, reward-oriented dog trainers and behaviorists. Finding someone in your area is the first step; if that person isn’t qualified, they should certainly try to refer you to someone who is.
Barking and Whining:
Barking is an instinct for canines and for some dogs, they really enjoy barking. When barking or whining becomes a problem or is something you can’t control with your animal, implementing some basic commands with a reward system, is the most effective way to both honor their natural instincts while implementing some commands to control when barking is inappropriate. An important tip to remember is that when we yell at our dog to stop barking, they interpret that as you are barking back, so they don’t get the message that they shouldn’t be doing it, in fact, they think they need to bark back and it becomes a battle of barks. Instead, use simple commands and reward with treats when he responds to your commands. This skill will take a lot of practice and needs consistent reinforcement before your dog understands the expectations. Using a reward system has proven to be a very successful tool when training dogs with barking tendencies.