By Lynn Whinery, Bonza
Need help with dog behavior problems? Lynn provides clicker dog training classes in the Imperial Beach or San Diego county area and is a full member of APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers).
Most people experience some challenges with dog behavior problems. That's perfectly natural. It stems from asking dogs to live in a human world, and we don't speak each other's languages. The good news is, with some understanding, these issues can be overcome.
To start with be sure that you're being the dog's leader. This does NOT mean being a dictator, being harsh with the dog, doing the 'alpha roll', or not letting your dog go through doorways before you. None of those things are necessary, and in fact, may be harmful. Just be consistent. If you want your dog off the couch, and he doesn't budge, get a treat, call him off the couch, and reward him for getting off the couch. Make listening to you rewarding. But always follow through.
Make sure everyone in the house follows the same rules. Be sure your dog gets enough exercise. A tired dog is an obedient dog. Be sure he has enough mental stimulation. Bored dogs find their own forms of entertainment, and usually it's something we'd rather they didn't do. Training and playing games are good ways to keep your dog's mind busy. Be sure to give your dog plenty of attention. Dogs are social creatures, and aren't meant to live alone. Also, be sure your dog is well socialized. Bring your dog along to the store; take him to dog parks, etc., so he learns how to play with other dogs.
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With a little patience and consistency you can get dog behavior problems under control.
Dogs chew, that's what they do. But they do this even more so when they're teething, stressed, or bored. First of all, close supervision will help. If your dog is alone for several hours, and chews up the legs of your antique table, he's had hours of reinforcement for the behavior. So, if your dog has this problem, don't leave him unsupervised.
Second, make sure he has toys to chew on. Only let him have stuffed toys while you're supervising him, and don't let him shred them. If you do, he'll learn the joys of ripping things to shreds. What you want are toys like Kongs or Buster Cubes. Used properly, these toys can keep your dog occupied for hours.
When you do catch your dog chewing on something, distract him with a higher value treat. Show him a delicious treat, and lure him away from what he was chewing on. In the future, keep an eye on him, and if he starts to head toward that table leg, call him before he gets there and give him a treat. Pretty soon he'll discover it's more rewarding to be in another area of the room. Make sure he has toys that are more rewarding than the furniture, or whatever it is he's chewing on.
You can also use the 'umbilical cord' technique—keeping your dog attached to you with his leash, so he can never stray out of your site. This helps the dog bond with you, by always being close to you and your activities. But it also prevents him from getting into mischief where you can't see.
Teach a 'positive interrupt'. In a low distraction environment teach your dog a cue like 'over here', or 'quiet please'. Say the phrase in a cheerful voice, and when your dog looks at you, give him a VERY high value treat! Repeat until your dog lights up when he hears the phrase.
Then start practicing in the low distraction environment. When the dog is busy doing something mildly interesting, try it out. Say it in a cheerful voice, and he should dash to you for his treat. If he doesn't, go back to step one, and try a higher value treat. When he's mastered that, add a minor distraction one at a time, like someone eating potato chips in the same room. Gradually increase the distractions. If your dog ever fails, go back a step. Then move your dog to real life distractions, like his favorite bush on his walk. When you can get this to work in high distraction areas, it's time to try it when he's actually barking!
When something sets your dog off, and you say your cue, he should come running for his treat. Continue to practice this occasionally with milder distractions, as a form of tune up. (Don't use it as an interrupt for barking until you know it works in high distraction areas, otherwise he'll be learning to ignore the cue.)
Use the 'Easy' cue. If he's grabbing a treat from your hand, make a fist. When he stops chewing your hand, open it and let him take the treat. Use a tie down to tie your puppy to a table leg while you play. If he gets too rough, back out of reach for 10-15 seconds, or until he calms down. When he does, start playing again. Use a signal like 'Ouch' or 'All Done' as you back away.
He will quickly learn that Ouch means no more playing, and will start being more gentle. If you're outside playing with the dog and he gets rough, walk away for a few seconds, using the method stated above.
Don't give in! Don't feed the dog while you're eating. Feed him in his food dish. If you want to give him your pizza crusts, etc., only do it by putting them in his food dish. Also, beware how much and what sort of treats you give him, because you don't want him to have an imbalanced diet or get overweight.
Again, is your dog bored? Is he staying outside with nothing better to do? Make sure there are toys outside for your dog to play with. Also, when you pooper-scoop, put the feces in the holes your dog dug. For some dogs, a few days of this will convince the dog that digging isn't worthwhile. (The dog won't dig where feces is.)
Another solution is to give the dog an area where he's "allowed" to dig. Make a sandbox type box, and put toys and treats in that area. Reward the dog for being in that area, and if he digs in other areas, continue putting his feces there. The dog will quickly figure out that his sand-box area is the approved digging area.