Behavior: Understanding and Modifying

Author

Cindy Moore, cindy@k9web.com
Copyright 1995.

Table of Contents


Prologue

First, you should understand that there are two components to "training" and they are frequently mixed. There is the kind of training that solves behavioral problems. There is also the kind of training that creates a command-response pattern. It is perfectly possible to have a dog that heels, sits, and stays perfectly and digs out all your marigolds. Conversely, you may have a dog that does not destroy things in your house nor jump up on people, but does not sit or heel. For purposes of clarity, I consider the former type of training as "behavior modification" and the latter type as "obedience training."

While this article discusses behavior modification and tries to help you understand what the sources of trouble between you and your dog may be, I want to stress that there is absolutely no replacement for a trainer or animal behaviorist you know and trust to help you and your dog. Having someone to ask questions and show you what works with your dog is like having the picture as opposed to the words -- a thousand times better. Nevertheless, this article will hopefully help with some common problems. For some help in finding a behaviorist near you, try this site: http://www.cisab.indiana.edu/ABS/Applied/index.html. To find a good trainer near you, try asking your veterinarian and other dog owners for references.

That said, some good books that are aimed at helping solve problems between dogs and owners are:

Gentile, Dan Jr, Guide to Beginning Obedience.
This little book crams an impressive amount of information into 64 pages. It's great for the first time dog owners. Very concise and precise.

Dunbar, Ian and Gwen Bohnenkamp, Behavior Booklets.
Recommended especially for the first time dog owner. He has a booklet on every common problem, such as: biting, fearfullness, housebreaking, chewing, digging, barking etc. and has a really simple, common sense, all bases covered sort of approach which doesn't leave you asking, "But what do I do if the dogs performs (such and such) variation?" which is *really* important for people who don't have experience to fall back on. They can be had from:
Center for Applied Animal Behaviour
#2406 2140 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704

Evans, Job Michael. (1991). People, Pooches, & Problems. NY: Howell Book House. ISBN 0-87605-783-0 (hardcover). $19.95.
Excellent suggestions for dealing with common problems between dogs and their owners. Highly recommended. [Evans was a New Skete monk.]

Milani, Myrna M., DVM. The Weekend Dog. Signet (Penguin Books USA, Inc.) (1985). ISBN: 0-451-15731-1 (paperback).
This book outlines practical solutions for working people with dogs. It has excellent suggestions for understanding dog behavior, particularly destructive or unwanted behavior. Gives all kinds of practical solutions to the problems of adequate exercise, adequate training, housebreaking, and so forth.

Monks of New Skete, The. How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend. Little, Brown & Company. 1978. ISBN: 0-316-60491-7 (hardback).
A monastery in upstate New York breeds, raises, and trains German Shepherd Dogs. On the basis of their considerable experience, they offer troubleshooting guides, discuss discipline, environmental restrictions, basic and puppy training, and much more. Extensive bibliography. The emphasis is on understanding the dog in order to communicate with it or to solve problem behavior. An excellent, well written classic.

Pryor, Karen. Don't Shoot the Dog!.
Introduction to inducive training. Lots of food for thought
Other websites to reference include:

http://www.canines.com/behave.html
Canines of America's Owner's Guide to Behavior offers a number of for typical problems. The articles are a little simplified and not terribly detailed, but it's worth checking out. I have no clue as to whether it's worth using their hotline and paying the $$$ for additional advice.

http://www.inch.com/~dogs/
American Dog Trainers Network offers a number of resources for the dog owner. Extensive & useful.

Top Ten Canine Myths

Hey, Rover would rather be outside all day than cooped up inside!
False. Dogs are strongly pack-oriented animals. They prefer best to be with their pack whenever possible. If you are inside, they will want to be inside with you. If you are outside, again, they will want to be with you. If you are at work, while they would still like to be with you, this is not usually possible. In this case, does it matter whether the dog is kept inside or outside? It turns out that many dogs behave well when kept inside; bark, dig, and whine while kept out in the yard. Why is this? Your home is the "den." Dogs prefer to be closer to the center of the den -- the place where the pack's smells are most acute. While some dogs are happy to stay outdoors during the day while the rest of the pack is gone to work, a great many dogs develop behavioral problems as a result of daily "expulsion" from the den.

In addition, a dog with access to a large territory may feel compelled to "defend" all of it, resulting in other types of problems: frantic barking at "intruders," and so on. Restricting the amount of territory it has to protect may reduce this type of behavior.

A good compromise for many dogs is access both to a restricted part of the house and a restricted part of the yard. The inside-outside access keeps him from feeling ejected from the "den" without having too much territory to defend. A dog that can't be trusted inside and is destructive outside will probably benefit the most from being crated during the day. With most dogs, if you crate them through puppyhood (which also helps with housebreaking), by the time they are mostly adult (from 8 months to 24 months of age depending on the breed) you can start weaning them off the crate. Because they are used to spending the time in the crate quietly, they will form the habit of spending that same time quietly whether in the crate or not as adults.

Well, OK, but it's different in the country, isn't it?
It is an absolute myth that living in the country confers greater latitude in the dictum "thou shall keep thy dog constrained to the immediate environs of the pack." Country dogs allowed to run free get shot by hunters or farmers protecting their livestock. They get into fights with other dogs over territory. They can kill livestock, fight and tassle and get disease from wild animals, and be hit by cars on the highway. They become increasingly aggressive as they vye for larger and larger perimeter boundaries to their territory, and they no longer relate to YOU as the leader of their pack. Also, don't forget that intact animals will breed and add to the overpopulation problem.

This same misconception leads people to dump unwanted dogs "in the countryside." Most such dogs die a painful death, either by slow starvation, injuries from being hit by a car or in a fight with another animal, or they are shot by farmers protecting their livestock. The countryside is not some sort of romantic haven for stray dogs.

When dogs are mad at people, they do all kinds of spiteful things.
First remember that "undesireable behavior" is in the eye of the beholder. To the dog, it's perfectly alright to dig, to bark, to chase after other dogs, etc. This doesn't mean you can't control these behaviors, of course, but it does mean that the dog isn't doing them "to spite you." The dog hasn't a clue that it's not to do these things unless you train it not to. And it has to understand what you want from it!

When dogs start undesirable (to humans) behavior, its best to try to understand the source of this behavior. Often it stems from the frustration of being left alone. Dogs are very social animals. One positive solution is to make sure your dog is properly exercised. Exercise is a wonderful cure to many behavioral problems and dogs just love it. Do check with your vet for the proper amount of exercise for both the age and breed of any dog. Another solution is obedience training. The point is, your dog needs your attention, whether it is by taking it out on a walk, training it, or both.

Ah, but my dog always looks GUILTY after he's done something like this!
No. He's reacting to your body language and emotions. When you come in and see the toilet paper all over the floor, you get mad. The dog can tell that you are upset and the only thing he knows how to do is to try and placate you, as the alpha. So they try and get you out of your bad mood by crouching, crawling, rolling over on their backs, or avoiding eye contact. You interpret the dog as acting "guilty" when in fact the dog hasn't the faintest idea of what is wrong and is simply hoping you will return to a better mood. The important thing to remember is that if your dog finds that it cannot consistently predict your anger or the reasons for it, it will begin to distrust you -- just as you would someone who unpredictably flew into rages.

This is why it's so important to catch dogs "in the act." That way you can communicate clearly just what it is they shouldn't do. Screaming and yelling at the dog, or punishing it well after the fact does not tell your dog what is wrong. You may in fact wind up teaching it to fear you, or consider you unreliable. You must get your dog to understand you, and you have to work on the communication gap, as you are more intelligent than your dog.

Preventing your dog from unwanted behaviors coupled with properly timed corrections will go much further in eliminating the behavior from your pet than yelling at it.

In fact, you should not yell at, scream at, or hit your dog, ever. There are much more effective ways to get your point across. Try instead to understand the situation from your dog's point of view and act accordingly. The techniques in this chapter approach problems with this in mind.

Crating a dog is an awful thing to do to it and they hate it.
Again untrue. Dogs are by nature den animals. When properly introduced to a crate, most dogs love it, and they will often go into their crates on their own to sleep. Of course, no dog should be left in the crate so long that it must soil the crate. It's a wonderful tool to use for housetraining, but puppies are not physically equipped to go for more than three or four hours without going to the bathroom. And all use of a crate should be done with an eye toward eventually weaning the dog off of it. There are only a few dogs that must always use a crate while you are gone. Afterwards, it is a very useful thing to have -- for example if at all possible your dog should always ride in the car in his crate.

Crating a dog works to prevent the dog from doing many of the behaviors you don't want it to. What your dog does not do does not develop into a habit and thus requires no correction. Second, it means that when your dog does have an opportunity to engage in the unwanted behavior, you are around (because you're home to let it out) to give a proper and timely correction.

As the behavioral aspects pointed out above, reducing the territory to protect and keeping it in the den are also positive things from the dog's point of view, reducing the overall stress that it experiences.

Ya gotta show a dog who is boss.
To some extent, this is true. But what many people think this is comprised of are usually quite wrong. You don't show a dog "who is boss" by hitting it, yelling at it, or via other methods of punishment. You show a dog who is boss by being its leader. Show it what to do, how to behave. Most dogs are waiting for you to take the lead. There are actually only a very few dogs who will actively challenge you for "top dog" position. Rather, most dogs take the "top dog" position because their owners have made no effort to do so, and not only that, their owners don't recognize what is happening -- until the dog starts correcting them for their misbehavior!

Interestingly, many forms of behavior that have been touted as showing dominance over a dog backfire badly. This is because in many cases dogs really aren't contending for the "top dog" position: applying techniques to "show him who is boss" in these instances results in the dog being alienated from you and distrusting you because you corrected it for no good reason. The alpha roll, long touted as the "best" of these methods is in reality a last ditch, all out correction. It's what you do to your teenager after he's taken a joyride in your car and totalled it, not when he first asks you for the keys. Being unfair to your dog in this way can create a fear biter, one who has lost all hope of being treated fairly and defends himself the only way he knows how.


Principles Behind Dominance

See also:
For obedience training to proceed smoothly, your dog must consider you its alpha leader. This means that it considers YOU the boss. There are a number of exercises you can to to establish and maintain dominance over your dog. Individual dogs vary in submissiveness. If your dog is very submissive, you don't need to worry about establishing dominance (in fact, you may need to tone down your own dominating behavior to help bolster its confidence). Most dogs are happy to be submissive: just be sure to show approval at the occasional signs of submission, and assert dominance if it tries to test you (most dogs will, in adolescence). A very few dogs may be dominant and continually challenge you for dominance, in which case you will actively need to assert and establish your position, but this last is exceedingly rare.

More often, people will misinterpret adolescent high energy or bratty behavior as ploys for dominance when they are not. Think of a two year human child testing her parents. She's finding out what the limits are rather than actually "challenging" her parents for leadership. Puppies and young dogs do exactly the same thing. Correct them firmly, but don't go into an all out "dominance battle" -- it's inappropriate and your dog will begin to distrust you. Returning to the toddler analogy, the most you might do is a sharp word or a small swat on the rear. You would not pick her up, hold her against the wall and scream at her. Remember that most dogs are still "young" (in human terms, under 20 years of age) until they are two or three. In other words, don't confuse physical maturity with mental maturity.

Never mistake being alpha with punishment. An alpha leader is fair. An alpha leader deserves its position. An alpha leader does not use fear, punishment or brute force to achieve and maintain its position. An alpha leader, instead, makes it crystal clear what behaviors it approves of and which it does not. An alpha leader expects its subordinates to follow its lead, it does not force them to.

If you get mad at your dog, or angry or furious, you've lost the alpha position. Dogs do not understand fury. You have to be calm and focused.

Always show approval at signs of submission

Praise your dog when it drops its eyes first. Praise it when it licks you under the chin. Give it an enthusiastic tummy rub when it rolls over on its back.

Be consistent and fair in your corrections

You must demonstrate to your dog that it can trust your orders. Do not ever correct the dog after the fact. Such corrections appear to be arbitrary and unfair to the dog, because it has no associative memory the way people do.

If your dog is still a puppy, socializing it is a good way to gain its trust.

If you decide that some action requires correction, *always* give a correction when you see that action. For example, if you decide that your dog is not allowed on the sofa, then *always* correct it when you see it on the sofa.

Consistency can be a big challenge with a family: every family member must agree on the basic ground rules with the dog; when and for what it should be corrected, what commands to use and so on. Families must cooperate extensively to avoid confusing the dog. It is best if only one person actively trains the dog; thereafter if the commands are given the same way, everyone in the family can use them.

Finally, always use the minimum correction necessary. If a sharp AH-AH will do, use that rather than an alpha roll. If a pop under the chin will do, use that rather than a scruff shake.

Correct the dog's challenges

Especially during adolescence, your dog may test and/or challenge your position. Do not neglect to correct this behavior. You don't need to come down like a ton of bricks; just making it clear you don't tolerate the behavior is sufficient. For example, don't let your dog crowd you through the door, don't let him jump out of the car until you've given him permission, don't let him jump for food in your hand. Don't let him ignore commands that he knows.

Learn how to display alpha behavior

You may not need to use all of these, but you should be familiar with them. They are listed in "escalating" order. Do not use any of these if you are angry or upset. The point is never to hurt the dog, but to show it who is alpha. They work best if you are calm, firm, and matter of fact. Again, always use the minimum correction necessary.

More important than knowing how to perform an alpha roll is learning to play the alpha role. That means having the attitude of "I am always right and I will _never_ let my dog willfully disobey me" without ever becoming angry or giving up. Picture a small two-year old toddler, for example. You're not in a struggle over who's "Mom" but over what the child is allowed to do, and there's a crucial difference in the two.

Using an alpha roll on a dog who is already submissive but disobeys because it doesn't know what is expected of is destructive to the relationship between you and the dog. Likewise, using an alpha role on a dominant dog but not using any other positive reinforcements can alienate it. Most dogs never need to be alpha rolled in their lives.

Furthermore, alpha rolls are one of the strongest weapons in dominance arsenal. Save it for the gravest of infractions.

Being dominant is no substitute for learning to read and understand your dog. Proper obedience (which should be a part of any dog's life, even when "only" a pet) is a two way street and requires you to be as responsible to your dog as your dog is responsive to you.

There are a number of ways in demonstrating dominance:

Insist on decorous behavior

Feed your dog after your own dinner. Make him lay down while you are eating rather than beg at your lap. Don't let it crowd through a doorway ahead of you. Don't let it hop out of the car until you say OK. There are a variety of small things you can do that assert your dominance in a non-traumatic way. If you're clever about it, you can use them to get a well-behaved dog (one that doesn't shoot out of the front door or scramble out of the car or beg at the table). In particular, putting a behavior that the dog wants to do on hold until you say OK is a very good way to be the alpha and keep the dog well behaved.

Make sure your dog obeys everyone in your family

This is a fairly important point. If your dog seems to have trouble obeying a particular family member, you must make sure it does so, by always backing up the family member when he or she tells the dog to do something. If the family member seems to be afraid of the dog, or is very young, then you should supervise all interaction until the problem is resolved.

Aggression with other Dogs

Dogs can be aggressive with other dogs, especially if they have not been properly socialized with other dogs in puppy-hood. Sometimes a dog that is naturally dominant has trouble with other dogs especially in puberty. Sometimes a dog has a specific experience (e.g. a dogfight with another aggressive dog) that causes it to become aggressive toward other dogs in general as well. Whatever the reason, it is well worth your time working on your dog's aggression toward other dogs. You will probably get the best results, especially with a problem dog -- extreme aggression, for example -- if you contact a local trainer (preferably one that specializes in problem dogs) for individual help. However, there are some common-sense things you can do.

First a bit of basic dog pychology: friendly behaviors include moving side by side, sniffing butts, tails wagging at body level (not up high or over the back). Not-friendly behaviors include meeting face-to-face, esp. a face-to-face approach, ears forward and tail over back.

Force them into friendly behaviors as follows: walk the dogs in parallel on leash. They should be close enough to see each other but not close enough to snap at or touch each other. Be careful when you two turn that the dogs don't tangle. Make sure one doesn't get ahead of the other: keep them parallel. Keep this up until they relax. Slowly start walking closer together as behavior permits.

Hold one dog on leash in a sit. Have food treats and a water bottle handy. Walk the other dog toward it, to about six feet, then turn away (increase the distance if the sitting dog snarls). The idea is to turn away *before* the sitting dog shows any aggression. If the dog shows no agression, reward it with a food tidbit or verbal praise. Do NOT touch the dog (stand on the leash or tie it down). If it does growl, spray it with water. Switch the dogs so that each experiences sitting or walking toward. They are learning that good things happen without defensive behavior. As they improve, start walking a bit closer before turning. If the sitting dog snarls, do NOT turn the other dog away: the person with the sitting dog should correct it and when the dog subsides, THEN the moving dog should turn away.

Finally, holding the head of one dog, but allowing it to stand, have the other dog investigate its rear briefly. This is really the extreme extension of the above.

These exercises have several purposes. One is to force the dogs to consider themselves friendly by engaging in the behavior of friendly dogs. The other is to teach both dogs that an approaching dog is not necessarily grounds for aggression.

This will take a lot of work, probably over a couple of months, but they will work, and what's more, should reduce tensions with other dogs as well (i.e., not only between the two specific dogs in the exercises).


Housetraining Problems

All housetraining problems are frustrating, but the good news is that it's often easy to fix with a little thought and care. Some tips:

Sudden changes in established habits

If your dog has been fine with its housetraining up till now, there may be several reasons for it to break with its training.

Eating feces

Some dogs will eat other animal's feces. By and large, this is a fairly normal, if disgusting, habit. The main risk of this habit lies in picking up internal parasites. If you have such a dog, you should make sure it is frequently checked for worms by your veterinarian.

If it is cat feces in an indoor litter box, you can try the following:

A surprising number of dogs eat their own feces (coprophagy). This is a fairly disgusting habit, but difficult to cure. One way to prevent this from occurring is to clean up feces as soon as possible, but this can be difficult for dogs left in yards or kennels all day.

The Monks suggest feeding your dog a dry food that is at least 23% meat protein, and about 25% raw meat. In addition, either an egg, or a tablespoon of vegetable oil every few days. They also think that eating feces may involve a dietary deficiency. Adding Accent (monosodium glutamate) or kelp tablets (usually available at health food stores) to your dogs food can give the feces a bad taste for the dog. Also putting tabasco and vinegar on the feces themselves may work.

In rare cases, this can suggest a trypsin deficiency. Trypsin is a digestive enzyme and affected dogs don't get enough nutrients from the food so they eat the stool. In many cases, despite eating quite a bit the dogs are still thin. There is a test for this syndrome and enzyme supplementation is part of the treatment. Your vet can help you rule out this possibility.

This is a difficult problem and not always solved or stopped. It doesn't really hurt the animal, although you should take care to have it checked often for internal parasites, which it's more likely to pick up.

Urination

If it is a change in your dog's normal behavior, it might be a bladder infection or some other medical problem, so check that with your vet first.

It's rather common for older spayed bitches to start dribbling. This is easily fixed most of the time with doses of estrogen. In many cases, the doses can be tapered off after a few months. Some dogs require estrogen for the rest of their lives. Only small doses are needed, so it's not that expensive to treat.

If your dog is urinating in different places around the house, you can try the "vinegar trick". Pour some vinegar on the spot in front of the dog. What you're telling the dog with this is "I'm alpha. YOU may not pee here." Then clean it all up first with an enzymatic odor remover and then a good carpet shampoo (see the Assorted Topics FAQ).

Defecation

Defecation is not as frequently a problem as urination can be. However, the most often recommended remedy for a dog that defecates in the house is to change its feeding times so that you are likely to be walking the dog when it needs to defecate or it is outside in the yard, etc. This will take some time of fiddling with the amount, frequency, and timing of feeding your dog to get the results you want.

Submissive Urination

The genetically shy dog is a super submissive type and unlike many dogs are quite sensitive to any forms of "dominant" behavior in humans. Even ordinarily submissive dogs can become extremely submissive if its owner misunderstands and unintentionally forces it to increase its submissiveness. Mistreated dogs may also become excessively submissive.

First, tone down your aggressive behavior -- with a submissive dog there is no real need to consciously dominate it. Examples of dominating behavior include:

Tips: In general, show signs of low-key approval immediately when the dog becomes submissive. Then distract it with something else. When you ignore submissiveness or get mad at it, you're in effect telling the dog "You're not submissive enough!" so the poor thing intensifies its efforts -- and submissive urination is about as submissive as it gets.

Be really positive with your dog, this type lacks self-confidence and will look to you quite often to make sure everything is OK.

One technique that helps many dogs with this problem is called "Flooding." You need a group of people, preferably ones who will stimulate the undesired response (in this case, peeing). You find the least intimidating step for your dog (the point at which she does not submissively urinate), and work on each step until she's comfortable with each. If she urinates, you've gone too fast and you should back up a step until she's more confident. This process will take a while.

Actually, this technique can be used for all kinds of other responses: a dog that jumps on people, barks at them, etc.

Other Common Problems

Chewing

Many puppies like to chew on everything they encounter. Certainly, very young puppies explore the world around them by tasting most of what they find. First of all, as a practical measure, remove anything harmful from the dog's way. Put electrical wiring behind furniture wherever possible, put cleaning supplies up out of reach or secure the cabinet doors to them. Clean small objects off the floor.

Make sure you have a supply of allowable chewing items on hand. Whenever the dog is in a crate or small room, there should always be some of these toys to chew on. Whenever you are at home and see the dog about to chew on something it shouldn't, say "AH-AH" and give it one of its toys.

There are products available to spray on items to make them taste unpleasant. Some caveats: a few dogs are not bothered by the taste; it's not really a cure for the underlying problem, but it does help you train the dog; you must make sure the product does not harm the item to be sprayed first. Bitter Apple and Bitter Orange are available at most pet supply stores; veterinarians have other formulations they may sell to you.

The judicious use of crating, toys, and watching the puppy closely will be the way you teach it to leave your house alone.

Biting

It is natural for young puppies to bite and chew on people; however DON'T let them do this.

If your dog is a puppy, yelp pitifully when it chomps on you, and replace your hand with a chew toy; praise heartily when the chew toy is used instead. If it persists, stand up and stop playing with it. It is no fun for the puppy if you stop interacting with it, and it will learn to stop chewing on you fairly quickly.

With older puppies and dogs, say "NO BITE" sternly and withdraw your hand.

If the dog goes through a cycle where it seems to be infuriated by your correction and returns ever more aggressively to chew on you, call a timeout and put the dog where it can't get to you, preferably its crate. When it calms down, let it back and be prepared to interrupt the cycle if it starts again.

Never put up with a puppy biting or mouthing you. When they are adult, the problem will be far more severe.

Growling over Food

The problem of dogs growling over their food is a common one because so many people feel that a dog is "entitled" to be food possessive. But in reality, growling over food can escalate to more severe problems. No dog should growl at a person over food. If you have several problems with your dog and growling over food is one of them, fixing this problem may go a long way toward clearing up the others as well.

A wonderful solution to this problem, suggested by Lisa Ochoa is as follows: Assuming that part of the reason the dog is growling is that it is guarding its resources, put down three bowls with the dog's meal split between the three. Have something irrisistibly yummy at hand: Hotdogs, bits of chicken, liver, etc. Put all three bowls down, and as the dog is eating out of one bowl, pick another up, add some of the treats to it, and put it back down again. Keep this up until all the food is eaten. This way you are teaching the dog that people are not a threat to its food, which is as it should be.

In dealing with this problem, always think in terms of taking the food away from the dog and NOT in terms of taking the dog away from the food. In other words, if you try to push the dog away from his dish, you've potentially escalated the confrontation to a physical one; if you take the dish away, his attention is concentrated instead on the dish.

Fear Biting

This is a separate problem, caused by a fearful and submissive dog that feels cornered. It indicates an extremely poor temperament and possible abuse. Such dogs should never be bred.

To deal with a fear-biter (evidenced by a dog that bites/threatens to bite but has its ears laid back along its head rather than facing forward), first you have to deal with the insecurity and temperament of the dog. This kind of dog has no self-confidence at all, hence its ready alarm at normally innocuous situations.

Think of the submissive dog outlined above. You need to build up its confidence: pay close attention to understand exactly what sets it off (some are afraid of men, men with beards, people holding something in their hand, small children, etc) and for now, remove that from its environment. Do some training or other work with it to build up its confidence (the training in this case becomes a vehicle for praising the dog). Then work slowly on its fear.

You should really enlist professional help to deal with a fear biter unless you are experienced with dogs. This kind of dog takes lots of patience and careful reading and may never become trustworthy. If you cannot resolve its problems, consider having it destroyed; don't pass it along to someone else to become a problem for that person.

Barking

Each and every time your dog barks, go out and see why the dog is barking. If your dog is barking for a good reason (such as a stranger in the yard), you should praise your dog and then tell it to be quiet. If the dog is barking because there is a squirrel up the tree, or something similar, tell the dog to be quiet and immediately go back into the house. You will have to repeat this every time the dog barks. Pretty soon, in a week or so depending on the dog, the dog will only bark for a good reason. The dog may still bark at the squirrel, but not continually. Instead, one or two good barks to scare the squirrel, and then it considers its duty done. At the same time, you have not dampened your dogs ability to bark when there is something wrong.

Dealing with complaints about barking. If your neighbors complain about your dog barking while you are not at home, first purchase a voice-activated tape recorder and set it up where your dog will trigger the tape if it barks. You may find that your neighbor is incorrect about how much your dog actually does bark (keep a log of the barking you record). You may find out what exactly causes it to bark (hearing a car drive by before each barking sequence, for example), giving you some ideas for eliminating the behavior. But do determine that there is actually a problem before you try to do something about it.

If you know that you have a problem, you might enlist the help of your neighbors. Neighbors are often happy to help you with this problem! Have them squirt water at excessive barking, or rattle cans of pennies/rocks, etc.

In any event, take a neighbor's complaint seriously, even if it is unwarranted. More neighbor disputes arise over barking dogs than anything else, and dogs have been injured or killed by neighbors desperate for a good nights sleep.

There is some evidence that barking is an inherited trait: if the parents bark a lot, chances are their puppies will, too.

Often, one method that helps alleviate barking is to give your dog specific permission to bark. Teach it to "speak" -- let it "speak" when appropriate (say, when you're playing in the park). Then "no speak" follows from that. However, there is often a problem when the dog is alone. The following methods outline some other possibilities to address this problem.

Collars

There are collars, called anti-bark collars, available that are meant to help train your dog not to bark. Dogs will react differently, depending on how well they learn, train, and handle. The collars by themselves are not the solution to your dog's barking: it must understand what the collar does, and you will have to *train* it using the collar. Some are electronic and others are sonic. These can be quite effective if introduced properly. Ideally the dog should not understand that it is the collar giving the correction so that you can ultimately wean the dog off the collar. Read the instructions on the devices; the good ones will outline exactly how to train them.

There are two types, one will eliminate the barking -- that is, they are triggered by any barking the dog does. Others are "diminishers", they will kick in after one or two barks. There are a few that adjust to be one or the other. With diminisher collars, watch out for the dog learning to "pattern bark" -- they've learned they can bark twice, pause, bark twice, etc. You will need to switch to an eliminator in this case.

The best collars are triggered by throat vibration rather than noise; this helps avoid having your dog corrected when a nearby car backfires!

Debarking

Surgery on the dog's vocal cords, called debarking, can be done to reduce the barking to a whispery sound. This is a controversial practice, banned in Britain and other places. Some vets will refuse to do the surgery.

The dogs do not stop barking. They do not seem to notice the difference, or at any rate continue "barking" as if they still made the noise.

There are different ways to perform the surgery, and it is possible for the vocal cords to grow back and the dog to regain its bark. If the vocal cords are cut, chances are the cords will heal themselves. If they are cauterized, the operation will last longer. Whether it is over a period of weeks or months, it seems that many dogs eventually regain use of their vocal cords.

Muzzles

There is a "No-Bark Muzzle" that is designed to prevent dogs from barking. Many dogs very rapidly learn not to bark when the muzzle is put on them each time they start barking. It is not binding or confining and does not put the dog through surgery. In general, though dogs should not be left alone with muzzles on, unless it allows them to drink.

Digging

Dogs may dig out of boredom or to make a cooling/heating pit.

Some approaches:

Getting in the garbage

You should train your dog away from this habit. Crate it, to keep it out of the garbage when you are not home, and correct it when it gets into it when you are at home. This works best if you start in puppyhood.

If you already have this problem, some approaches to try:

Jumping

Since most dogs are shorter than you, their natural tendency is to jump up to see you. It is also an expression of exuberance and happiness. However, you may be wearing your Sunday Best. The dog's paws may be muddy. The puppy may grow too large. Some people are afraid of dogs. Train your dog not to jump on people. If you don't mind your dog jumping on you, then train it to jump on you only when it's "OK".

In general, correct it immediately when it jumps on you, praise it when all four paws land back on ground. A helpful reinforcement is to give them a command and praise lavishly when they do it, e.g., "No! Brownie, sit! Good girl, what a good girl!"

Try to anticipate the jumping: look for their hindquarters beginning to crouch down, and correct them when you see them *about* to jump. With medium-sized dogs, you can discourage jumping with a well-timed knee in the chest (never kick). This does not work as well on small dogs and very large dogs. With small dogs, step back so they miss you; you can also splay your hand in front of you so their face bumps into it (don't hit them, let them bump into you). Correct, then praise when on ground. With larger dogs, the kind that don't really *jump*, but *place* their paws on your shoulders, grab some skin below their ears (be firm but not rough) and pull them down, saying "No!" Again, praise it when it is back on ground.

You should note that some dogs do not respond to the above physical corrections. They may view it as a form of rough play, or be so happy to get attention that they don't mind it being negative. In these cases, a much more effective approach is to ignore such a dog, stepping back slightly or turning your back when it jumps. Give lavish praise and attention when all paws are on the ground again.

Gradually expand this to include friends and visitors. Start first with people who understand what you want to do and will apply the physical correction in conjunction with your "No!" As the dog improves, expand with other people. In the interim, a reinforcing exercise is to put your dog on a leash, and stand on one end of the leash or otherwise secure it so your dog can stand but not jump. When it tries to greet someone by jumping up, praise it *when it lands* and don't correct it for attempting to jump.

For those of you who don't mind being jumped, you can gain control over it by teaching your dog that it can jump on you -- when you OK it. At random times (i.e., not *every* time you correct it), after your correction and praise for getting back down, wait thirty seconds or so, and then happily say "OK, jump" (or something similar, as long as you're consistent) and praise your dog when it jumps up then. At other times, when it is *not* trying to jump on you, encourage it to do so on your permission, using the same phrase. You must make it clear that it shouldn't jump on you unless you give it permission, so you must still correct unpermitted jumping.

Car chasing

This is symptomatic of a larger problem: why is your dog free to run after cars in the first place? If the dog is being allowed to roam that should be stopped. A car chasing dog is a menace to itself as it may get killed, and is a menace to drivers as people may injure or kill themselves trying to avoid an accident.

Have a few friends drive by (slowly) in a strange car. When the dog gets in range, open the window and dump a bucket of ice cold water on the animal's head/back. Repeat as needed (with a different car) for reinforcement.

Tug of War

The Monks (and former Monk, Job Michael Evans) seem to believe that playing tug is a form of "teaching" the dog to use its teeth, and therefore a precursor to the dog's learning to use its teeth as a weapon. In their view, you should never play tug with a dog. On the other hand, there are many people and organizations, especially in obedience and working dogs (patrol, narcotic, and search and rescue) that actively use tug of war as a reward and a way to build up a strong play response. People with hunting retrievers never play tug of war for fear of creating a "hard mouthed" dog (one that mangles the birds it retrieves).

Dealing with the possible aggression incurred in tug of war is probably more constructive than never teaching your dog to use its teeth. Besides, studies on canine aggression show that even extremely docile dogs can be provoked to show aggression. Houpt and Wolski in their book _Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists_ note: "Growling is an aggressive call in dogs, and is commonly known. It is interesting evolutionarily that even the most placid dog can be induced to growl if one threatens to take a bone away from it. A scarcity of food in general can increase aggression ..., but bones seem to have particular value even for the satiated dog."

This can hinge on whether you (as the owner) can distinguish between challenges and playing. If the dog is playing when doing TOW, there's no problem. If it *is* challenging you doing this, you need to 1) recognize the challenge (versus just playing) 2) win and 3) stop the TOW and correct its challenge to your authority. If you can't make the distinction, then don't play tug-of-war with it. Couple any tug-o-war games with the command "Give" or something similar so that the dog learns to immediately let go ON COMMAND. If it doesn't, that's a challenge, and you need to deal with it. Teach your dog what "give" when you start playing this game with it. When you know that your dog understands the command, then periodically reinforce it by having your dog "give" at random times. This becomes a form of keeping your alpha position as mentioned earlier in this article. And tug of war, properly implemented, is an intensely rewarding game for many dogs, making a good "treat" during training sessions, for example.

People Food

Feeding your dog "people food," i.e., table scraps and such is a poor idea. First, you may encourage your dog to make a pest of itself when you are eating. Second, feeding a dog table scraps is likely to add unneeded calories to its diet and your dog may become overweight. Third, if your dog develops the habit of gulping down any food it can get, it may seriously poison or distress itself someday.

Some guidelines. Do not feed the dog anything but dog food and dog treats. You might add vegetable oil or linatone to the food to improve its coat. There are other foods that you may want to add to improve its diet such as vegetables, rice, oatmeal, etc., (check with your vet first for appropriate food to meet the dietary need you want to address), but always feed them to the dog in its dish, never from your plate or from your hand while you are eating.

Discourage your dog from begging at the table by tying it nearby (so that it does not feel isolated from the social activity) but out of reach of the table. After you finish eating, feed the dog. Tell your dog "no" or "leave it" if it goes for anything edible on the floor (or on the ground during walks!), praise it when it obeys you. Teach it that the only food it should take should be from its dish or someone's hand.

If you are concerned about the "boring and drab" diet for your dog, don't think of food as a way to interest it! Play with it, take it out on walks -- there are many other and better ways to make life exciting for your dog.


Canine Behavior FAQ
Cindy Moore, cindy@k9web.com
Hosted by
K9 WEB
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