Slideshow: Pet Health - Top 12 Behavioral Problems in Dogs
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S on Friday, July 01, 2011
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Why Can't My Dog Behave?
Dogs like rules. And dogs like to please their owner. But sometimes your dog may do things that seem contrary to both following rules and pleasing you. In most cases, the reason is confusion about what the rule is and about what makes you happy. See the top 12 problems with dog behavior that most baffle owners. And if your dog displays any of these behaviors, find tips on how to correct it.
Digging is a natural activity for dogs and a hard behavior to change. But unchecked, it can ruin a yard. You need to catch your dog in the act to discourage digging. A firm “no” and a redirection of his attention should be sufficient. Scolding him after a hole's been dug won't do any good. Tip: Give him a sandbox where he can dig. Then bury some favorite toys and watch him enjoy digging them out.
Dogs, especially puppies, explore the world with their mouth. And, they like to chew because it calms them. But inappropriate chewing can be destructive and pose serious health risks for your dog. A sock, for instance, can cause an intestinal obstruction. Discourage this habit from the start. To teach your dog proper chewing, give him toys suitable for chewing, and redirect him to them when he chews inappropriately.
Some people think it's cute to see a dog sitting up waiting expectantly for a bit of food from their plate. Others don't. The first step in correcting begging is to never give a dog any food from the table. If you're consistent, he will have no reason to beg. You can also remove your dog from the room while you eat or have him go to his crate. If you want him to stay, teach him to go to his special spot and lie down while the family eats.
Not Coming When Called
Your dog not coming when called is more than annoying. It's dangerous. Teaching him to come could save his life if he's where he shouldn't be. Always reinforce the behavior with praise or reward whenever he comes to you whether called or not. That way he learns that coming to you is good. Moving away when you call will help bring him to you. And if he doesn't come, don't chase him. He'll win. Repeat the command in a friendly voice while moving away. If he still doesn't come, tell him to sit or lie down, and then calmly go get him. If this fails, running away from your dog may trigger him to come after you! Say “come” or “here” when you want him to come; just calling his name is confusing and he may not understand what you want.
Pulling on the Leash
Your dog's constant pulling can take the fun out of walks for both of you. Help your dog learn to walk calmly beside you. The first step is to never let him pull. If you're inconsistent, he'll learn pulling sometimes pays off. One approach is to keep the leash short but loose between you. Then stop whenever you feel the leash going tight. He'll stop to see why you aren't moving. When he comes back, give him a reward and continue your walk. Some dogs may benefit from a halter-style collar, as this turns the head toward you and immediately stops the pulling in a gentle and consistent manner. It will probably take several days of stop-and-go walking, but your dog will learn that pulling gets him nowhere.
Dogs are most secure when with others. And some dogs become anxious when their owner leaves. It's important to teach your dog that you will always come back. At first, leave him alone for no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Then gradually increase the time he's alone. Leaving him a chew toy and leaving the radio or TV on will help calm him. And being simply matter-of-fact when you go and return lets him know that being alone isn't bad. Crate-training your dog, so that he has a safe haven, is one of the easiest ways to prevent separation anxiety. However, it is difficult to crate train an anxious older dog when this behavior is well established. Talk to your veterinarian about behavioral modification or medication if the problem persists.
Whining for Attention
Some dogs whine when they want attention. If you pet him, make eye contact, or do anything except ignore him, you teach him that whining works. Turning your back when he whines, folding your arms and looking away, or leaving the room tells him that he needs a new, quieter strategy. Then you can help him develop one by providing lots of attention when he's not whining.
Barking at the Door
If your dog barks when someone's at the door, it could be an alarm or a greeting. Either way, it can be upsetting to both you and your guest. To reduce the barking, teach your dog a new routine. Pick a spot away from but within sight of the door. Then teach him to lie down, and stay when you say, “Go to your spot.” Using that phrase before opening the door will help your dog stay calm and give him something to do while he waits to be greeted. It can help to have a friend with a treat come to the door, but only open it when he's quiet. If you do this repeatedly, he'll learn to be quiet to get the treat.
It's natural for a dog to greet people by jumping up. But letting him do so will keep others from coming to see you. The solution is to give your dog no attention unless he has his front paws on the ground. Then you can greet him and interact with him. Another approach is to tell him to sit. Then wait until he does before petting him. It also helps to keep your greetings low key. That helps your dog learn to control his own excitement.
Any dog can bite if it feels threatened or anxious. But socializing a dog early teaches him to feel comfortable around people. Gradually expose him to a variety of settings so he can learn to feel safe. And, spending time having fun regularly with him helps him learn to trust people. You still need to watch for signs that your dog is uncomfortable and then do what you can to reduce his anxiety level. Many biting incidents involve children or food, so be extra careful at these times.
There are multiple reasons for aggression in dogs, ranging from dominance to possessiveness to fear. But it's almost always associated with some type of anxiety. The best way to address issues of aggression is to work with a professional trainer to learn how to teach your dog to depend on you for everything it wants. That doesn't mean your dog should be submissive. But he needs to take all his cues for behavior from you. Never leave an aggressive dog alone with children or unfamiliar adults, and be prepared to muzzle him in public places, if necessary.
Some dogs are compulsive barkers. They bark repeatedly at things most dogs wouldn't. Other dogs bark when they become frustrated. Do not shout at your dog when he barks, as this may reinforce the behavior. Obedience training can help correct frustration barking. If a dog learns to sit before doing something fun like going for a walk, it learns to control its impulses. Changing how a dog is confined may reduce compulsive barking. But for either kind of barking, you may need to work with a vet or a certified trainer.
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