Sunday, January 25, 2015

Five Common Themes We See In "Misbehaving" Dogs

This was a previous post, but still begs repeating!

At UC Davis’ Behavior Service, we see some common themes among our clients resulting in frustration. I thought it might be good to discuss some of the chief issues:

  1. My dog pulls! Undoubtedly this happens with many pets, but when we see that your pet is wearing a harness, we just smile and say “we can fix this”. Harnesses are made to teach dogs to pull – think of a sled dog. Use a gentle leader, via conditioning your pet to it first, and the problem for most pets is usually resolved.
  2. My dog doesn't respond to my commands! If I ask the owner to show me what they mean, then this often happens: “Juju sit. SIT. Sit, sit, sit! Come on now, I mean it!” Well, I’m sure that he knows you mean it, but he’s unsure if it’s from the first mention of the command or the fifteenth. Use the command ONCE and wait. Let your dog think. Reward him if he does obeys. If he refuses, tough luck, the cookie, toy or attention that was in the balance just walked away. He’ll get the clue that winning comes from listening.
  3. My dog digs, barks, and destroys the yard then I’m not at home! There are many causes for this type of behavior, but the first thing to rule out is easy – is your dog bored? If you were left in a sterile environment for 8 hours a day, wouldn't you get a little crazy? If pets aren't given activities, they will find their own source of amusement. Hide toys stuffed with treats for a treasure hunt. Frequently switch out toys so they aren't the same old, same old. Play or do training sessions with your dog for a period in the morning and evening – a tired dog is a less destructive dog.
  4. I don’t know why my Terrier tries to eat my hamster, my hound is hard to control off leash, my Schnauzer barks a lot and my Border Collie tries to herd me! Researching the characteristics of the dog breed you’re interested in before investing in ownership is a big help. While these characteristics aren't set in stone—some dogs will display them to a greater or lesser extent—knowing what you’re getting into can help inform you of the type of training you may need to provide to curb the behaviors that might drive you nuts later.
  5. My dog growls at people and it makes me mad! This may seem counter intuitive to some, but: don’t punish your dog for growling. Why? Because, as I've often heard Dr. Stelow say, “thank your dog for the warning and remove them from the situation.” A growl is a warning and, if you punish your pet, she may skip the growling and go straight to biting instead. Growling dogs often do so out of fear; don’t punish them since it simply cements the fear they feel. If you were afraid of spiders and I told you to hold one and just get over it – would that change your feelings? Examine the problem to learn what triggered it. Once the trigger is discovered you can desensitize and counter condition your pet. Scared pets can be made more confident and comfortable, and allow you to make a negative into something positive.

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