Behavior: Common Problems

Dogs have a big dilemma. Many of the things they love to do instinctively are just the things people can't tolerate. To live happily in human society, the dog must learn to curb these instinctive behaviors. Here are some solutions to these common inter-species culture clashes. If these solutions don't work for you and your pal, seek professional assistance from a qualified dog trainer. You can learn ways to help your dog fit smoothly into your life. Remember: Never reward a behavior you don't want to encourage!

Proper amounts of exercise are a key to dog obedience. Be sure your dog is well exercised and given plenty of attention and play time with the family. Dogs who are bored and inactive tend to unleash their pent-up energy in destructive ways. After a good exercise session, a dog is generally very happy to curl up and nap for awhile, which is a good thing. A sleeping dog can't get into trouble, right?

Barking

When owners yell at their dogs to be quiet, the dogs think the owners are just joining in the fun. Avoid this by training your dog to bark on command, then training him to be quiet on command. If you catch him barking, praise him and say a command word like "Speak," then encourage and reward him. Make it a game. You can even bark at him if he doesn't catch on. Over the period of a rowdy bark, suddenly say, "Quiet!" and put your finger to your lips. If you surprise him enough, he will stop barking. Be sure to reward and praise him enthusiastically. Keep practicing and your dog will soon understand what "Quiet" means.

If he discovers he can bark freely when you're not home, try a Set-Up (see Dog Discipline) when you have a weekend to experiment. Here's an example:

  • Leave your dog for a few minutes; you might even get in the car and drive down the block. Then get out of the car and walk back home.
  • When you return, if your dog is barking, surprise him by rushing in. Throw a shaker can at him, squirt him with water and/or scold him seriously and give him a scruff shake.
  • Repeat the exercise. Leave for varying amounts of time. He will come to the conclusion that you could burst in at any moment, so he'd better be good! If he remains quiet, reward and praise him.

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Biting

Every dog must learn that it is never okay to bite a human. In our society, there is a strong possibility that an adult dog that bites a person will have to be destroyed. Proper socialization with people and other dogs, and exposure to slightly stressful situations is crucial at an early age. This way, your puppy will learn to keep his cool and not bite out of fear when he's confronted with unusual situations.

Puppies use their mouths on everything. When they play together, they bite each other. When one puppy bites another too hard, the victim yelps, then the first puppy lets go and learns to bite more gently next time. Train your puppy not to bite by yelping when he bites you hard. Then gradually yelp softer with softer bites. Soon, he will learn to control himself so he doesn't damage that unbelievably sensitive human skin. (We learned this technique from Sirius(TM) Puppy Training instructor, Doug Hostetter.) Yelping, combined with gentle but firm scolding, can produce a dog that simply will not bite at all.

Here is another successful approach from Dorothy Mash of Deep Peninsula Dog Training Club in Mountain View, California. Puppies usually bite a hand, arm or leg that is moving. This is a natural expression of their chase instinct (prey drive). Try holding the body part he is biting very still. Then with your free hand, point at him and firmly say "NO". When he releases, praise him and give him a treat. Positive reinforcement is a key to dog obedience; use it generously.

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Chewing

Dogs (especially puppies) need to chew. Always provide a good chew toy for your dog. Praise him for using it. Or, if he's chewing your furniture when you're gone, a repellent such as Grannick's Bitter Apple; can repel him

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Digging

Some dogs just love to dig. Digging is instinctive and pleasurable, a way to bury good stuff for later, to find cool earth to lie in, and to build dens. The easiest way to prevent digging is to confine your dog to a run with a cement or other non-diggable floor surface when you cannot supervise him. (It also helps if you don't give him anything to bury when he's in the garden.) Some people suggest filling the holes he has already dug with doggie droppings, so digging becomes a very unpleasant experience. This technique works in some cases, but beware, it could also cause your dog to become poop a eater!

You may have some success by training your dog to dig in a place reserved just for digging, like a sandbox or a pit. You can loosen the earth in the area and bury all kinds of treats. Praise your dog for digging them up. If dirt gets too messy, try redwood chips.

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Jumping Up

You may think it's cute when a puppy jumps up to greet you, but when that puppy grows up to be 150 pounds of dog, or when his paws are muddy, you (and your guests) will not be so happy. Be consistent and start early to train your puppy not to jump up.

If your young puppy jumps up, simply walk backwards. Say "Off" and praise and reward the puppy when all four feet are on the ground. You can also have the dog sit whenever he is greeting newcomers. This way he has an alternative, positive behavior he can substitute for jumping. If your dog needs more control, put a leash on him until he learns to receive company politely.

Still having trouble? Have a friend come to the door over and over again. Instruct the dog to sit each time the friend enters. Reward him for the correct behavior. Frequent repetition may make jumping up a less exciting experience for your dog and, at the same time, reinforce correct behavior enough to help him form a new, positive habit. Do this exercise at least 10 times. Twenty is even better!

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Separation Anxiety

Dogs are social animals. They prefer having the pack nearby. So, many dogs experience separation anxiety when you leave them home alone. They may whine, cry, bark, or become destructive. But you could correct this behavior by setting aside a special time to play with and exercise your dog each day. Then, don't make a big event of your departure. Just leave quietly. You can also reserve a day or two to work on the problem. Come and go frequently to show your dog that you will always return. This can reassure your pet. If problems persist, consult a professional trainer.

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Submissive Urination

Exciting events trigger a piddling urge in some dogs. This is called submissive urination. Never correct a dog for this problem; scolding only makes it worse and the dog becomes even more submissive. Instead, ignore your dog for 10 minutes when you first come home or when people come to the door. Let him outside to potty immediately.

If problems persist, consult a professional for help with dog obedience. Though a dog's natural, instinctive behaviors can get him into trouble in our society, he can learn to live within our rules. However, we sometimes need to help him adapt!

Read more about Dog Chewing.

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