Behavior "Problems"

There is no bad behavior to a dog. However, what is absolutely normal for dogs may not neatly fit into our lifestyles. Consequently, we brand them as bad or aggressive dogs. There is always a reason and a purpose behind any dog behavior that has been instilled in their makeup for generations. The bottom line is, they are a different species than us.

When a client comes to me with a "problem," I don't immediately spew out advice. The dog's temperament, breed, age, and health need to be considered. I then require information surrounding the behavior. The first step to solving any behavioral problem is finding out why the dog is doing that particular behavior. What are the circumstances surrounding the behavior? When does the dog do it? Where does the dog do it? How does the dog do it? It is also usually a good idea to have a medical checkup to rule out the possibility of a physical problem. After all this information is considered, I devise a program to change the behavior.

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Much of what pet owners react to as problem behaviors is thought to be no more than business as usual to the dog. When attempting to change problem behavior, remember to look at the big picture.
Mental stimulation and exercise greatly contribute to successfully solving behavior issues.
Separation anxiety is a serious issue for both the dog and the owner. The dog is in distress when separated from his pack. In an attempt to relieve his anxiety the dog may engage in destruction, uncontrollable house soiling, over-vocalization, and other potentially dangerous behaviors.

The following treatments often prove effective:

  • Establish rules and boundaries immediately.
  • Possibly confine the dog to a crate or other small area with comfort items like his bed and toys. Frequently enter and exit the room until he begins to relax.
  • Come and go from the house. Gradually lengthen the amount of time you are gone.
  • Practice low-key departures and arrivals. Ignore the dog fifteen minutes before you leave and after you return.

Chewing is another behavior that, when left unchanneled, causes damage and owner angst. Dogs need to chew. It is the owner's responsibility to provide proper outlets for the behavior with appropriate chew toys.

Like many other problems, inappropriate chewing is best solved by prevention through crating when the owner is gone and active supervision when the owner is at home.

There are many reasons dogs bark. Once you establish why the dog is barking, you can choose an appropriate solution.

To combat barking:

  • make sure the dog's needs are met
  • issue a quiet command, use a head halter, and/or breath spray
  • reward the dog when he is quiet
  • consider using a citronella bark collar

Dogs primarily jump up to get closer to human faces when greeting people. One simple solution is to lower yourself to the dog's level for a welcome.

Other ways to diffuse a jumping problem are:

  • making low-key arrivals and departures
  • ignoring the dog until he settles down
  • teaching him to sit when greeting people
  • teaching the off command
  • body blocking, or moving toward the dog into his space
  • spritzing breath spray into the dog's mouth in conjunction with the "off" command

Digging is a natural behavior. Whether your dog is digging to relieve boredom, exterminate vermin, or cool himself off in moist soil, you want it to stop!

To stop digging, try:

  • prevention-don't give him the chance to do it
  • exercise-relieves boredom and releases energy
  • the off command-tells him what to do when caught in the act

If running away is your dog's problem, or pleasure, work on strengthening both your relationship and your fence. If your dog is still intact, neutering alone may be the solution.

Pica, the eating of inanimate, nonfood objects, or coprophagia, the eating of fecal matter, may happen because of dietary deficiencies or, once again, boredom. Getting to the object or fecal matter before the dog is the key. Teaching the off command is particularly handy with these problems.

Shadow chasing, flank sucking, tail chasing, fly snapping, and other self-mutilations to the degree that the dog is causing himself bodily harm all fall into the obsessive-compulsive disorder category. This serious disorder often demands the skills of a behavior professional as well as pharmacological intervention.

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Copyright 2000-2011 Shelby Marlo