There’s a difference between disobedience and incomprehension. If your dog isn’t obeying a command because he doesn’t understand what it is you want him to do, that’s not a behavioral problem at all; it simply means that you need to spend some more time together in training.
True disobedience occurs when your dog deliberately does not obey a request or command, although he has full knowledge of what it is that you’re asking him to do (and you know this because he’s performed it reliably on several occasions beforehand).
Although this may seem like a relatively minor inconvenience, it’s actually a pretty serious thing – not only can it be dangerous for your dog (for example, if he’s heading towards a busy road and ignores your ‘come’ command), but it’s also detrimental to your relationship with your dog.
Disobedience is rooted in disrespect. When your dog deliberately does not obey you, he’s saying, “I don’t respect your authority enough to do what you want me to do”.
If you allow him to get away with this, you are allowing him to form the habit of passive-aggression. This is not something that can just be left to “fix itself” – the problem will worsen, not get better, if you leave it.
It’s very important that your dog recognizes that you outrank him in the social hierarchy of the household. The concept of alpha status is one that you need to be familiar with in order to maintain a healthy, functional relationship with your dog.
It may sound cruel from a human perspective, but your dog is happier when he knows that someone else is in charge of making all the decisions – including his day-to-day behavior and obedience levels.
It is not possible to have a good owner/dog relationship if he does not understand that you are the clear-cut authority figure: he must know that he’s beneath you in the chain of command.
Your first step in dealing with generalized disobedience is to reestablish your dominance. Here are some tips on doing so: – When leaving the house and the car, you must always leave before your dog. This is unmistakable alpha behavior: to a dog, only the alpha leaves first. If you allow him to exit the house or the car ahead of you, you are saying to him, “You’re stronger than me; you should go first because you’re the decision-maker”. Inside doors aren’t so important, but every time you leave the house or the car to go outside, you must make him wait for you to go first, until you release him from the ‘wait’ with a release-word.
- Make him wait for his food. Your family and you must always eat before him – if it means he has to wait an extra half hour or so for his meal, it won’t hurt him any. When you put his food down for him, make him sit and wait until you release him to eat. Keep his feeding schedule varied, so he’s always aware that you’re in charge of his food – don’t allow him to form expectations of when he should be fed.
- Don’t allow him free, uninhibited access to the whole house. The house is your den: you’re allowing him to be inside. Remind him that you’re allowing him into your den – it’s a privilege for him to be there, not a right – by sometimes allowing him inside, and sometimes sending him outside for half an hour or so. Keep certain areas of the house strictly for your own, as well (such as your bed, certain pieces of furniture, or some rooms).
- Never allow your dog to initiate play. If he’s nudging you for attention or to start a game, you may think that it’s cute and affectionate; but what he’s really saying is, “I’m the boss and I’m telling you to play with me right now.” If he starts bothering you for attention, ignore him for a few moments: get up and do something else. Wait until he’s given up before initiating the play yourself. Playtime is a fantastic way to bond with your dog, but it should be done on your terms, not his.
- When you arrive home, don’t rush straight over to him and shower him in affection. That is not alpha behavior at all – an alpha dog, upon arriving home, doesn’t go over to the other dogs and throw himself at them, saying, “Here I am! I missed you guys! Let’s have a cuddle!” – he ignores everyone else, relaxes for a short while, maybe has something to eat, and only interacts with them when he’s good and ready. Even though you’re probably good and ready to interact with your dog as soon as you get home, it will make more sense to him – and underscore your authority – if you ignore him for just three to five minutes upon arriving home.
Another fantastic way of counteracting disobedience is to start – and maintain – a basic obedience training plan. You don’t have to do anything fancy or super-demanding; just ten minutes a day of learning and enforcing commands. This can drop to five minutes a day once your dog is completely reliable with the commands.
Here are some tips for a good training program:
- Never give a command that you cannot reinforce immediately if he chooses to disobey you. Every time your dog takes the opportunity to ignore your command, he’s learning that it’s both easier and a lot more fun to ignore you. For example, if you call across the park for him to ‘come’ as he’s playing with some other dogs, the choices are clear-cut to him: he could cut his play-time short and come to you, or he could ignore you – which is easy, since you’re so far away – and continue to have fun. Until your dog is completely reliable with commands, he should be on a long line or retractable lead so that you can enforce them if necessary.
- Remember to use your voice to the best effect. Praise should be in a light, cheery, happy tone of voice; if possible, smile at the same time. It makes a difference to your tone of voice, and most dogs will study your face to make sense of your expressions, too. Corrections should be uttered in a stern, brook-no-nonsense tone: you don’t need to shout, but your voice should be low and authoritative.
- When you’re verbally interrupting your dog, it’s more effective to shout, “OI!” or “Ah-ah-ah!” rather than saying, “No”. The sounds are more clear-cut, and you’ll get a better response.
- Do not repeat a command. Remember, you should be training on a leash or a long line: if he ignores you, he gets a short, sharp tug (some call it a ‘flick’) on the lead to remind him that you’re present, and you’re in charge. Repeating yourself teaches him to wait for the command to be repeated at least once before he obeys you.
- Five to fifteen minutes per day is an adequate amount of time for training. Any more than this in one sitting, and your dog’s concentration will likely lapse: fifteen minutes of intense training, where your dog is concentrating hard on what you want, is enough to send even the most energetic dogs to their beds for a snooze afterwards.
- You can move on to more advanced training and ‘tricks’ if you feel like it, once your dog’s got the basics completely sussed; but it’s not something that you should feel like you have to do.
- Another great option is formal obedience training classes. They’re a great way of socializing your dog (he gets to interact with other dogs, and those dogs’ owners), and also teaches him to concentrate on what you want despite the manifold distractions taking place around him. It’s also very helpful to have face-to-face contact with a trained professional: they can pick up on any mistakes you might be making, and give you advice for tightening up your training techniques.
There are two extremes of opinion when it comes to dogs and their digging habits: one, that a dog is a dog, and we should permit him to express his true canine nature by allowing him free reign over the yard and flowerbeds; and two, that a flowerbed is a flowerbed, and no dog should even think about expression his dogginess if such an expression comes at the price of a season’s worth of rosebuds.
My own viewpoint tends to favor the middle ground. Although plenty of dogs do love to dig, and it’s healthy for them to be permitted to indulge in this habit from time to time, there’s a difference between permitting your dog to express his inner puppy, and allowing him to run rampant in the yard. I don’t see why a dog should have to come at the price of a garden, and vice versa: flowers and dogs can coexist peacefully. If your dog’s developed a taste for digging, it’ll just take a bit of time (and some crafty ingenuity) on your part to resolve the issue satisfactorily.
First of all, if you have yet to adopt a dog and your concern for the fate of your flower-beds is purely hypothetical, consider the breed of dog that you’d like. If you’ve got your eye on a specific mixed-breed dog, what seems to be the most prominent?
The reason that I ask is simply because breed often plays a significant role in any given dog’s personal valuation of digging as a rewarding pastime – terriers and Nordic breeds in particular (Huskies, Malamutes, some members of the Spitz family) seem to particularly enjoy digging.
Of course, when you get right down to the sum and substance, each dog is first and foremost an individual, and there’s no guaranteed way to predict whether or not your chosen familial addition is going to be a burrower or not. But if you’re trying to reduce the likelihood of an involuntarily-landscaped garden as much as possible, I suggest you stay away from all breeds of terrier (the name means “go to earth”, after all!) and the Nordic breeds.
Why do dogs dig?
In no particular order, here are some of the more common reasons that a dog will dig:
Lack of exercise. Digging is a good way for a hyped-up, under-exercised dog to burn off some of that nervous energy.
Boredom. Bored dogs need a “job” to do, something rewarding and interesting, to help the time pass by.
Digging is often the ideal solution for a bored dog: it gives him a sense of purpose, and distracts him from an otherwise-empty day.
The need for broader horizons. Some dogs are just escape artists by nature – no matter how much exercise and attention they get, it’s nearly impossible to confine them. For a four-legged Houdini, it’s not the digging in itself that’s the reward, it’s the glorious unknown that exists beyond the fenceline.
Separation anxiety. To a dog that’s seriously pining for your company, digging under those confining walls represents the most direct path to you. Separation anxiety is an unpleasant psychological issue relatively common among dogs – but because it’s so complex, we won’t be dealing with it in this newsletter. Instead, you can find excellent resources for both preventing and coping with the condition at http://www.kingdomofpets.com/dogobediencetraining/
Curbing the habit
Many of the reasons contributing to your dog’s desire to dig suggest their own solutions: if your dog’s not getting enough exercise (generally speaking, at least forty-five minutes’ worth of vigorous walking per day), take him for more walks. If he’s bored, give him some toys and chews to play with during your absence, and wear him out before you leave so he spends most of the day snoozing. An escape-artist dog might need to be crated, or at least kept inside the house where he’s less likely to be able to break free.
For those dogs who just like to dig as a pastime in itself, though, here are a few basic tips for controlling inappropriate digging as much as is reasonably possible:
Restrict your dog’s access. This is the most effective thing you can do: if he’s never in the yard without active supervision, there’s no opportunity for digging.
Use natural deterrent. 99.9% of dogs will shy back, horrified, from the prospect of digging anywhere that there’s dog poop. Even the ones who like to eat poop (a condition known as coprophagia) generally won’t dig anywhere near it – it offends their basic, fastidious dislike of soiling their coat and paws.
Use nature’s own wiles. If the digging is bothering you because it’s upsetting the more delicate blooms in your garden, plant hardier blossoms: preferably, those with deep roots and thorny defenses. Roses are ideal.
A more time-consuming, but super-effective way of handling the issue: roll up the first inch or two of turf in your yard, and lay down chicken-wire underneath it. Your dog won’t know it’s there until he’s had a few tries at digging, but once he’s convinced himself that it’s pointless (which won’t take long), he’ll never dig in that yard again.
Accept your dog’s need for an outlet: give him a place to dig
If your dog is set on tunneling your yard into a grassless, crater-studded lunar landscape, but you’re equally determined to prevent this from happening at all costs, please take a moment to consider before embarking on a grueling and time-consuming preventative strategy.
Setting yourself the goal of eradicating all digging behavior, period, is pretty unrealistic: it’s not fair on you (since, really, you’re setting yourself up for failure), and it’s not really fair on your poor dog either – if he’s a true-blue digger, it’s just part of his personality, and he needs at least some opportunity to express that.
But a lawn and a dog don’t have to be mutually exclusive: the most humane and understanding thing for you to do in this case is simply to redirect his digging energy.
You do this by allocating him an area where he’s allowed to dig as much as he pleases. Once this zone’s been established, you can make it crystal-clear that there’s to be absolutely no digging in the rest of the yard – and you can enforce your rules with a clear conscience, since you know your dog now has his own little corner of the world to turn upside down and inside out as he chooses.
But what if you don’t have a “spare corner” of the yard? What if the whole thing, grass, flowerbeds, and gravel path, is just too dear to your heart? That’s OK too – invest in a sandbox, which you can place anywhere in the garden.
You can even make one yourself (the deeper, the better, obviously). Fill it with a mixture of sand and earth, and put some leaves or grass on top if you like – get your dog interested in it by having a scratch around yourself, until he gets the idea.
Make sure the boundaries are clear
To make it clear to him that the sandbox is OK but that everywhere else is a no-dig zone, spend a little time supervising him. When he starts to dig in the box (you can encourage this by shallowly burying a few choice marrowbones in there), praise him energetically – and if he starts digging anywhere else, correct him straight away with an “Ah-ah-aaaah!” or “No!”.
Then, redirect him immediately to the sandbox, and dole out vociferous praise when digging recommences.
To really clarify the lesson, give him a treat when digging gets underway in the sandbox – the close proximity between the correction (for digging out of the sandbox) and praise/reward (for digging in the sandbox) will ensure that your point strikes home.
For more information on recognizing and dealing with problematic behaviors like digging, chewing, barking, and aggression, check out Secrets To Dog Training. It’s a detailed how-to manual for the responsible owner, and is packed with all the information you’ll need for raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted pooch: from problem behaviors to dog psychology to obedience work, SitStayFetch has it covered.
You can check out Secrets To Dog Training by clicking on the link below:
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My dog crops grass like a cow. He eats it with gusto whenever he encounters it, to the extent that my friends have begun to refer to him, jokingly, as ‘The Ruminant’. This habit of his doesn’t bother me at all, since it seems to have no ill-effects on him whatsoever – although, when I’m standing outside in the cold waiting for him to relieve himself during one of his infrequent small-hours toilet calls (normally his timing is much more considerate), it’s hard not to hop impatiently from foot to foot while he enthusiastically tears out the mandatory five to seven mouthfuls of grass, chews thoroughly, and swallows, instead of just getting on with the task at hand.
Unless your dog’s digestion is suffering unwanted upheavals from his grass-eating habit, it’s not really a problem. Dogs have been eating grass since the dawn of time (or at least, of the species) with few ill-effects, aside from the odd bout of vomiting – and really, this is one of those things that seems to bother owners a lot more than their dogs; most dogs, will simply re-ingest the vomitus and go about their day unfazed.
Truthfully, nobody really knows why dogs eat grass. There are a variety of theories as to why animals that are widely regarded as carnivores would willingly consume moderate quantities of vegetation.
One of said theories pertains to the fact that dogs are not, actually, carnivores. They’re omnivores, which literally means, “eat anything”.
This theory postulates that the modern-day dog eats grass in a deliberate attempt to supplement his diet with nutrients that are missing from his daily meals. The main crux, thrust, and gist of this argument centers around the idea that dogs, as omnivorous animals, are eating too much meat and need to balance this out with some greenery on the side, much as you or I might crave a nice tart salad to go with our steak.
If you ask me, this is nonsense. First of all, most of us feed our dogs primarily on kibble, which contains the full spectrum of fully-absorbable nutrients that dogs require (or at least, high quality kibble does; I can’t vouch for the quality of supermarket-brand dog food). If you’re feeding your dog on meat alone, whether canned or fresh, there may be some substance to this theory – dogs need a wide range of vitamins and minerals for optimum health, most of which are not contained within fresh meat. It’s true that canned meat has some added nutrients; the main problem with canned food is that it’s too soft and jelly-like to maintain healthy teeth and bowels. Dogs fed primarily on canned food are far more prone to developing dental disease at a relatively early age (not to mention an increased incidence of constipation and flatulence, from the lack of fiber and roughage).
As far as dog food goes, unless your dog’s on a specific, prescribed diet, kibble should constitute the main part of his diet – you can add a few spoonfuls of canned meat for variety and temptation, if you like.
Another popular theory is that dogs use grass as a sort of natural emetic: that, since a nauseous dog lacks the phalangeal structure necessary for the good old ‘finger down the throat’ move, he’ll resort to nature’s bounty as an alternative. It’s true that grass does sometimes make dogs vomit – those tickly stems can irritate the stomach lining, and there have been a few occasions when I’ve seen dogs vomit up a chunk of something that’s proved to be indigestible, and along with the offending article, there’s also been a clump of grass in the vomit too.
However – and I’m sorry to pour cold water over this one too – I have to say that this is pure conjecture, and somewhat nonsensical conjecture at that. Dogs are perfectly capable of vomiting all by themselves, without the assistance of grass; I’ve seen too many dogs enjoying a post-prandial mouthful of mixed lawn greens, without any regurgitational side effects, to lend the theory any credence.
If you’re worried that eating grass is going to hurt your dog, you can lay that concern to rest right now. The one possible downside is that he’ll irritate his throat or stomach lining, but this issue will only cause him strife for a second or two at most: he’ll either cough the problem away, or will toss his cookies without further ado (which rarely bothers most dogs).
Really, grass-eating is nothing to worry about – it’s a life-long habit with many dogs, and if yours does decide that it’s no longer in his best interests, he’ll simply stop eating it all by himself.
You may need to keep an eye on him around recently treated lawns, or anywhere where nasties like pesticides, snail bait, and rat poison could be around, since most garden chemicals are highly toxic to dogs. Ideally, you’d be keeping an eye on him anyway if he’s around those substances, but grass-eaters are at higher risk than most since they’re more likely to ingest plant matter that herbicides and other toxic chemicals have been sprayed onto.
In addition to this, it’s also best if he’s kept away from those clumps of dried-out grass that lie around on the lawn after it’s been freshly mowed. It shouldn’t be a problem if the grass is mowed by a push-mower; but if it’s been through a gas-operated machine, the grass will be tainted with petrol fumes and grease, which at best will taste horrible and at worst can make him pretty sick. (Fortunately for your peace of mind and your dog’s peace of digestive tract, all but the most food-obsessed dogs will usually spurn this smelly fare in favor of clean, fresh grass.)
If your dog’s grass eating is really bothering you, presumably this is out of concern for your lawn, rather than your dog, since there’s ample evidence that dogs suffer no adverse effects from frequent grassy snacks. There are a couple of things you can try doing to reduce his desire to supplement his diet with eatables from the backyard – but, because this is one area of dogdom that nobody really knows that much about (scientists are frankly mystified by the appetite of the average dog for verdure), the success rate is more hit-and-miss than guaranteed:
Try varying his diet slightly. Unlike humans, dogs do not need a widely varied diet to keep them “interested” in food; they’re creatures of routine, and diet is no exception to this rule. However, since one of the theories that attempts to explain why dogs eat grass is centered around a lack of nutritional variety, you can try introducing various tasty vegetables into his food: most dogs enjoy tomatoes, carrots (either steamed or raw) and chopped apples. Be sure to stay well away from grapes, raisins, and onions, since these are toxic to dogs.
Supervise him whenever he’s around grass. This may not be a particularly user-friendly option, especially for off-lead walks; you’ll have to keep a real eagle-eye on your canine walking buddy to make sure he’s not making a dash for the greenery.
Realistically, there’s not really a lot you can do about your dog’s grass-eating habit (aside from deny him access to grass utterly, which wouldn’t be fair to your dog and would make your daily dog-walking expeditions more of an exercise in frustration than a relaxing stroll).
The general consensus from the experts seems to be that grass-eating, although somewhat of an enigmatic pastime to us humans, is just ‘one of those things’ as far as your dog is concerned. It won’t do him any harm, and you can be sure that if he’s eating it, he’s enjoying it – so there’s really not a lot to be said for depriving him of that simple pleasure.
Furthermore, and in addition to the logistics of permitting this penchant, I’ve got to say that watching your dog ripping up and chewing generous mouthfuls of turf with an expression of half-lidded bliss on his face can provide you (and passersby) with some unexpected entertainment when the two of you are out and about together!
Some owners seem to want their dogs to stop barking, period: a good dog is a quiet dog, and the only time that barking’s permitted is when there’s a man in a black balaclava and stripy prison outfit, clutching a haversack marked ‘Swag’, clambering in through your bedroom window.
Dogs don’t see barking in quite the same light. Your dog has a voice, just like you do, and she uses it just how you do too: to communicate something to the people she cares about.
I don’t think that barking is necessarily a bad thing – in fact, I think it’s encouraging that my dog wants to “talk” to me, enough so that I can overlook the stentorian qualities of his voice (which, in enclosed spaces, is positively overpowering) in favor of his desire to communicate with me. It’s the thought that counts (even though I feel better-equipped to stand by this sanctimonious belief when my ears are sheltered safely behind industrial-quality ear-plugs).
Unfortunately, the language barrier between dogs and humans is pretty well impermeable, which means it’s up to us to use the context, the body language of our dogs, and the circumstances of the vocalization to parse meaning from a volley of barks.
So why do dogs bark? It’s not easy to say (it’s like trying to answer the question, “Why do humans talk?” in so many words). Let’s start off by saying that dogs bark for many different reasons.
A lot of it depends on the breed: some dogs were bred to bark only when a threat is perceived (this is true of guarding breeds in particular, like Rottweilers, Dobermans, and German Shepherds); some were bred to use their voices as a tool of sorts, to assist their owners in pursuit of a common goal (sporting breeds such as Beagles and Bloodhounds, trained to ‘bay’ when they scent the quarry), and some dogs just like to hear themselves talk (take just about any of the toy breeds as an example of a readily-articulate dog!).
However, all breed specificities cast aside, there are some circumstances where just about any dog will give voice:
She’s hungry, or knows it’s time for a meal
Something is wrong/someone is near the house
She’s inviting you to play
She sees another animal
She needs the toilet
If your dog is barking for any of these reasons, it’s not really realistic for you to try to stop her: after all, she’s a dog, and it’s the nature of all dogs to bark at certain times and in certain situations. Presumably you were aware of this when you adopted your friend (and, if total silence was high on your list of priorities, you’d have bought a pet rock, right?).
Of course, there are times when barking isn’t only unwarranted, it’s downright undesirable. Some dogs can use their voices as a means of manipulation. Take this situation as an example:
You’re lying on the couch reading a book. Your dog awakes from a nap and decides it’s time for a game. She picks up her ball, comes over, and drops it in your lap. You ignore her and keep on reading. After a second of puzzled silence, she nudges your hand with her nose and barks once, loudly. You look over at her – she assumes the ‘play-bow’ position (elbows near the floor, bottom in the air, tail waving) and pants enticingly at you. You return to your book. She barks again, loudly – and, when no response is elicited, barks again. And this time, she keeps it up. After a minute or so of this, sighing, you put down your book (peace and quiet is evidently not going to be a component of your evening, after all), pick up the ball, and take her outside for a game of fetch. She stops barking immediately.
I’m sure you know that respect is an essential part of your relationship with your dog. You respect her, which you demonstrate by taking good care of her regardless of the convenience of doing so, feeding her nutritious and tasty food, and showing your affection for her in ways that she understands and enjoys.
In order for her to be worthy of your respect, she has to respect you, too. Something that many kind-hearted souls struggle to come to terms with is that dog ownership is not about equality: it’s about you being the boss, and her being the pet. Dogs are not children; they are most comfortable and best-behaved when they know that you are in charge. A dog has to respect your leadership to be a happy, well-adjusted, and well-behaved pet.
In the situation above, there was no respect being shown by the dog. She wasn’t inviting her owner to play; she was harassing her owner to play. In fact, I’d even say bullying. And even worse, the behavior was being reinforced by the owner’s capitulation – effectively, giving in to this behavior taught her that to get what she wants, she has to make a noise – and she has to keep it up until her goal is achieved.
Affection and play-times are obviously necessary aspects of life with a dog, but they have to be doled out on your own terms. If she learns that she can get what she wants by barking, then your house is going to become a Noise Pollution Zone (and this is not going to endear you to your neighbors, either).
To prevent this bullying behavior in your dog from assuming a familiar role in her repertoire of communications, you have to prove to her that you’re not the kind of person that can be manipulated so easily. It’s simple to do this: all you have to do is ignore her. I’m not talking about passive ignorance, where you pay her no attention and simply continue with whatever it was you were doing – you need to take more of an active role. This means conveying to her through your body language that she is not worthy of your attention when she acts in such an undesirable manner.
The absolute best and most effective thing for you to do in this case is to give her the cold shoulder. When she starts trying to ‘bark you’ into doing something for her, turn your back on her straight away. Get up, avert your eyes and face, and turn around so your back is towards her. Don’t look at her, and don’t talk to her – not even a “no”.
She’ll probably be confused by this, and will likely bark harder. This is particularly true if you’ve given in to her bully-barking in the past – the more times you’ve reinforced the behavior, the more persistent she’s going to be. In fact, the barking will almost certainly get a lot worse before it gets better – after all, it’s worked for her the past, so it’s understandable that she’ll expect it to work again.
As in all aspects of dog training, consistency is very important. You must ensure that you don’t change your mind halfway through and give in to what she wants – because by doing so, you’re teaching her to be really, really persistent (“OK, so I just need to bark for ten minutes instead of five to get a walk,” is the message she’ll get).
But what can you do in other situations where bullying isn’t an issue and you just want her to stop the racket? If you want to get the message across that you’d like her to cease fire and be quiet, the most effective thing you can do is to use your hands.
No, I’m not talking about hitting her: this is a perfectly humane, impact- and pain-free method of conveying that what you require right now is peace and quiet.
Here’s what you do: when she’s barking, give her a second to ‘get it out of her system’ (it’s a lot kinder, and a lot more effective, to give her a chance – however brief – to express herself before asking her to be quiet). If she doesn’t calm down under her own steam, reach out and clasp her muzzle gently, but firmly, in your hand. She’ll try to shake you off, or back away, so you can place your other hand on her collar to give you greater control.
This method is useful for two reasons: firstly, it effectively silences the barking (since no dog, no matter how loud, can bark with her mouth shut!). Secondly, it reinforces your authority: you’re showing her through direct physical action that you’re a benevolent but firm leader who will brook no nonsense, and who won’t balk when it comes to enforcing your guidance.
Hold onto her muzzle and collar until she’s stopped trying to break free: only when she calms down and stops wriggling does it mean that she’s accepted your authority. When she’s still, hold on for one or two more seconds, then let her go and praise her.
In addition to this short-term fix, there are also a few things you can to do to reduce your dog’s need to bark in the first place.
The number-one cause for unwanted barking (as in, the kind of barking that’s repetitive and is directed at nothing) is nervous, agitated energy – the kind she gets from not getting enough exercise. Most dogs function best with one and a half hours’ exercise every day, which is a considerable time commitment for you. Of course, this varies from dog to dog, depending on factors like breed, age, and general level of health. You may think that your dog is getting as much exercise as she needs, or at least as much as you can possibly afford to give her – but if her barking is coupled with an agitated demeanor (fidgeting, perhaps acting more aggressively than you’d expect or want, restlessness, destructive behavior) then she almost definitely needs more.
Fortunately, the fix for this problem is pretty simple: you’ll just have to exercise her more. Try getting up a half-hour earlier in the morning – it’ll make a big difference. If this is absolutely impossible, consider hiring someone to walk her in the mornings and/or evenings. And if this is impossible too, then you’ll just have to resign yourself to having a loud, frustrated, and agitated dog (although whether you can resign her to this state remains to be seen).
The second most common cause of excessive vocalization in dogs is too much ‘alone time’. Dogs are social animals: they need lots of attention, lots of interaction, and lots of communication. Without these things, they become anxious and on edge. If you’re at home with your dog, you’re not paying attention to her, and she’s spending a lot of time barking at what appears to be nothing, she’s probably bored and lonely and would benefit from a healthy dose of affection and attention.
After welcoming a baby in to the world you are probably concerned about how your dog is going to react to him or her. Many people surrender their pets to shelters because of exhibited jealousy from their dog after a new baby’s arrival and fear of the infant being harmed by the animal. Yet many families have been successful in introducing their dogs to the new baby. Introducing your dog to you baby is a process that needs time and the utmost of care to ensure a happy and safe welcoming process! The steps to ensuring your dog acts appropriately around the baby when he or she is finally taken back to your home are twofold usually – preparing your dog for the infants arrival and introducing your dog to your infant.
Preparing your dog:
Preparing your dog for the baby’s arrival in advance is one of the best ways to help avoid friction and jealousy between your baby and your dog. Your dog is used to your attention and pampering, some jealousy will naturally surface when your new baby becomes the center of attention. Taking some precautions, a few minutes of quality time and some extra treats can go a long way! Be sure to:
• Take your dog to your local Veterinarian for a complete checkup a few months before the baby arrives.
• Worms and parasites can be harmful to your baby so be sure to worm your dog before the baby arrives and at the normal intervals to keep on top of this problem. If your dog is not spayed or neutered, this is also the time to get it done.
• Encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all pet and infant interactions.
• Allow your dog to explore the baby’s sleeping, diaper changing areas, and related items such as baby powder, lotions, and diapers to become familiar with the new smells and objects. Apply baby lotion or powder to your hands, for example, and allow your dog to sniff the new smell. Dogs rely on their sense of smell, so familiarity with the new baby smells will help him or her recognize the baby as a part of the family. If possible, allow your dog to smell clothing that your baby has used before you bring the baby home.
• Accustom your pet to baby-related noises months before the baby is expected. For example, play recordings of a baby crying (there are CDs out now for this exact training purpose – (see www.soundtherapy4pets.com/ for CDs with baby noises), turn on the mechanical infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Make these positive experiences for your pet by offering a treat or playtime.
• Do not allow your dog to sleep on the baby’s furniture or play with the baby’s toys. Your dog should know that the furniture is not for him or her and should treat it as such. Provide toys for the dog that do not resemble baby toys. A dog may take the toy from the baby’s hand and unintentionally injure the infant.
• If the baby’s room will be off-limits to your pet, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate (available at pet or baby supply stores) or, for jumpers, even a screen door. Because these barriers still allow your dog to see and hear what’s happening in the room, your dog will feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new baby noises.
• Use a baby doll to help your pet get used to the real thing. Carry around a swaddled baby doll, take the doll in the stroller when you walk your dog, and use the doll to get your pet used to routine baby activities, such as bathing and diaper changing.
• Finally and very importantly, be sure that your dog knows that you and your family are alpha over him or her – this is crucial to ensure you can reprimand your dog should any jealous signs show when the baby is brought home.
Introducing your dog to your infant:
The actual introduction of your dog to your newborn baby is of utmost importance and the first few meetings can often dictate how your dog responds to your baby in an ongoing basis. For this reason, it is crucial to undertake the introduction process slowly and properly. Tips for the first meeting include:
• When the baby comes home, another person should hold the baby while you greet your dog. Your dog has missed you and it is important to pay attention to him or her when you first get home.
• Greet your dog happily and bring him or her a new toy as a gift to associate the baby with something positive. After your dog’s excitement about your homecoming has dissipated you should start introducing your baby to the dog.
• If you are unsure of you dog’s behavior, leash or restrain him or her during the introduction. Talk to your dog, pet and encourage him or her to get a good look and sniff the baby’s hands and feet. Do not force a reluctant dog by pushing the infant in front of the pet. Allow the pet to explore the new smells at their own pace. Never leave your baby unsupervised with your pet. An infant is incapable of pushing the animal away and your dog may inadvertently smother the child. The actions of a baby may scare your dog and cause it to bite in self-defense. If your dog reacts aggressively, put him or her in another room until it is calm and try the introduction again.
• After the initial greeting, you can bring your pet with you to sit next to the baby; reward your pet with treats for appropriate behavior. Remember, you want your pet to view associating with the baby as a positive experience. Again, to prevent anxiety or injury, never force your pet to get near the baby, and always supervise any interaction.
• Life will no doubt be hectic caring for your new baby, but try to maintain regular routines as much as possible to help your pet adjust. And be sure to spend one-on-one quality time with your pet each day—it may help relax you, too. With proper training, supervision, and adjustments, you, your new baby, and your pet should be able to live together safely and happily as one (now larger) family.
For more information on dog training techniques and how to deal with problem dog behavior (like accustoming your dog to children), check out Secrets To Dog Training. It’s the complete manual for dog ownership and is designed to fast-track your dog’s learning.
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A dog is an aggressive animal by nature. In the wild, aggression is a necessity: dogs needed aggression to hunt, to defend themselves from other wild animals, and to defend resources such as food, a place to sleep, and a mate. Selective breeding over the centuries has minimized and refined this trait significantly, but there’s just no getting around it: dogs are physically capable of inflicting serious harm (just look at those teeth!) because that’s how they’ve survived and evolved. And Mother Nature is pretty wily – it’s hard to counteract the power of instinct!
But that doesn’t mean that we, as dog lovers and owners, are entirely helpless when it comes to handling our dogs. There’s a lot that we can do to prevent aggression from rearing its ugly head in the first place – and even if prevention hasn’t been possible (for whatever reason), there are still steps that we can take to recognize and deal with it efficiently.
- Different aggression types -
There are several different types of canine aggression. The two most common ones are:
- Aggression towards strangers
- Aggression towards family members
You may be wondering why we’re bothering categorizing this stuff: after all, aggression is aggression, and we want to turf it out NOW, not waste time with the details – right?
Well … not quite. These two different types of aggression stem from very different causes, and require different types of treatment.
- Aggression towards strangers -
What is it?
It’s pretty easy to tell when a dog’s nervy around strange people. He’s jumpy and on the alert: either he can’t sit still and is constantly fidgeting, leaping at the smallest sound, and pacing around barking and whining; or he’s veerrrry still indeed, sitting rock-steady in one place, staring hard at the object of his suspicions (a visitor, the mailman, someone approaching him on the street while he’s tied up outside a store.)
Why does it happen?
There’s one major reason why a dog doesn’t like strange people: he’s never had the chance to get used to them. Remember, your dog relies 100% on you to broaden his horizons for him: without being taken on lots of outings to see the world and realize for himself, through consistent and positive experiences, that the unknown doesn’t necessarily equal bad news for him, how can he realistically be expected to relax in an unfamiliar situation?
What can I do about it?
The process of accustoming your dog to the world and all the strange people (and animals) that it contains is called socialization. This is an incredibly important aspect of your dog’s upbringing: in fact, it’s pretty hard to overemphasize just how important it is. Socializing your dog means exposing him from a young age (generally speaking, as soon as he’s had his vaccinations) to a wide variety of new experiences, new people, and new animals.
How does socialization prevent stranger aggression?
When you socialize your dog, you’re getting him to learn through experience that new sights and sounds are fun, not scary.
It’s not enough to expose an adult dog to a crowd of unfamiliar people and tell him to “Settle down, Roxy, it’s OK” – he has to learn that it’s OK for himself. And he needs to do it from puppyhood for the lesson to sink in.
The more types of people and animals he meets (babies, toddlers, teenagers, old people, men, women, people wearing uniforms, people wearing motorcycle helmets, people carrying umbrellas, etc) in a fun and relaxed context, the more at ease and happy – and safe around strangers – he’ll be in general.
How can I socialize my dog so that he doesn’t develop a fear of strangers?
Socializing your dog is pretty easy to do – it’s more of a general effort than a specific training regimen.
First of all, you should take him to puppy preschool. This is a generic term for a series of easy group-training classes for puppies (often performed at the vet clinic, which has the additional benefit of teaching your dog positive associations with the vet!).
In a puppy preschool class, about ten or so puppy owners get together with a qualified trainer (often there’ll be at least two trainers present – the more there are, the better, since it means you get more one-on-one time with a professional) and start teaching their puppies the basic obedience commands: sit, stay, and so on.
Even though the obedience work is very helpful and is a great way to start your puppy on the road to being a trustworthy adult dog, really the best part of puppy preschool is the play sessions: several times throughout the class, the puppies are encouraged to run around off-leash and play amongst themselves.
This is an ideal environment for them to learn good social skills: there’s a whole bunch of unfamiliar dogs present (which teaches them how to interact with strange dogs), there’s a whole bunch of unfamiliar people present (which teaches them that new faces are nothing to be afraid of), and the environment is safe and controlled (there’s at least one certified trainer present to make sure that things don’t get out of hand).
Socialization doesn’t just stop with puppy preschool, though. It’s an ongoing effort throughout the life of your puppy and dog: he needs to be taken to a whole bunch of new places and environments.
Remember not to overwhelm him: start off slow, and build up his tolerance gradually.
- Aggression towards family members -
There are two common reasons why a dog is aggressive towards members of his own human family:
- He’s trying to defend something he thinks of as his from a perceived threat (you).
This is known as resource guarding, and though it may sound innocuous, there’s actually a lot more going on here than your dog simply trying to keep his kibble to himself.
- He’s not comfortable with the treatment/handling he’s getting from you or other members of the family.
What’s resource guarding?
Resource guarding is pretty common among dogs. The term refers to overly-possessive behavior on behalf of your dog: for instance, snarling at you if you approach him when he’s eating, or giving you “the eye” (a flinty-eyed, direct stare) if you reach your hand out to take a toy away from him.
All dogs can be possessive from time to time – it’s in their natures. Sometimes they’re possessive over things with no conceivable value: inedible trash, balled up pieces of paper or tissue, old socks. More frequently, however, resource-guarding becomes an issue over items with a very real and understandable value: food and toys.
Why does it happen?
It all boils down to the issue of dominance. Let me take a moment to explain this concept: dogs are pack animals. This means that they’re used to a very structured environment: in a dog-pack, each individual animal is ranked in a hierarchy of position and power (or “dominance”) in relation to every other animal. Each animal is aware of the rank of every other animal, which means he knows specifically how to act in any given situation (whether to back down, whether to push the issue, whether to muscle in or not on somebody else’s turf, etc etc).
To your dog, the family environment is no different to the dog-pack environment. Your dog has ranked each member of the family, and has his own perception of where he ranks in that environment as well.
This is where it gets interesting: if your dog perceives himself as higher up on the social totem-pole than other family members, he’s going to get cheeky. If he’s really got an overinflated sense of his own importance, he’ll start to act aggressively.
Why? Because dominance and aggression are the exclusive rights of a superior-ranked animal. No underdog would ever show aggression or act dominantly to a higher-ranked animal (the consequences would be dire, and he knows it!)
Resource guarding is a classic example of dominant behavior: only a higher-ranked dog (a “dominant” dog) would act aggressively in defence of resources.
To put it plainly: if it was clear to your dog that he is not, in fact, the leader of the family, he’d never even dream of trying to prevent you from taking his food or toys – because a lower-ranking dog (him) will always go along with what the higher-ranking dogs (you and your family) say.
So what can I do about it? The best treatment for dominant, aggressive behavior is consistent, frequent obedience work, which will underline your authority over your dog. Just two fifteen-minute sessions a day will make it perfectly clear to your dog that you’re the boss, and that it pays to do what you say.
You can make this fact clear to him by rewarding him (with treats and lavish praise) for obeying a command, and isolating him (putting him in “time-out”, either outside the house or in a room by himself) for misbehaviour.
- If you’re not entirely confident doing this yourself, you may wish to consider enlisting the assistance of a qualified dog-trainer.
- Brush up on your understanding of canine psychology and communication, so that you understand what he’s trying to say – this will help you to nip any dominant behaviors in the bud, and to communicate your own authority more effectively
- Train regularly: keep obedience sessions short and productive (no more than fifteen minutes – maybe two or three of these per day).
Why doesn’t my dog like to be handled?
All dogs have different handling thresholds. Some dogs like lots of cuddles, and are perfectly content to be hugged, kissed, and have arms slung over their shoulders (this is the ultimate “I’m the boss” gesture to a dog, which is why a lot of them won’t tolerate it.) Others – usually the ones not accustomed to a great deal of physical contact from a very young age – aren’t comfortable with too much full-body contact and will get nervy and agitated if someone persists in trying to hug them.
Another common cause of handling-induced aggression is a bad grooming experience: nail-clipping and bathing are the two common culprits.
When you clip a dog’s nails, it’s very easy to “quick” him – that is, cut the blood vessel that runs inside the nail. This is extremely painful to a dog, and is a sure-fire way to cause a long-lasting aversion to those clippers.
Being washed is something that a great many dogs have difficulty dealing with – a lot of owners, when confronted with a wild-eyed, half-washed, upset dog, feel that in order to complete the wash they have to forcibly restrain him. This only adds to the dog’s sense of panic, and reinforces his impression of a wash as something to be avoided at all costs – if necessary, to defend himself from it with a display of teeth and hackles.
Can I “retrain” him to enjoy being handled and groomed?
In a word: yes. It’s a lot easier if you start from a young age – handle your puppy a lot, get him used to being touched and rubbed all over. Young dogs generally enjoy being handled – it’s only older ones who haven’t had a lot of physical contact throughout their lives that sometimes find physical affection difficult to accept.
Practice picking up his paws and touching them with the clipper; practice taking him into the bath (or outside, under the faucet – whatever works for you, but warm water is much more pleasant for a dog than a freezing spray of ice-water!), and augment the process throughout with lots of praise and the occasional small treat.
For an older dog that may already have had several unpleasant handling/grooming experiences, things are a little more difficult. You need to undo the damage already caused by those bad experiences, which you can do by taking things very slowly – with an emphasis on keeping your dog calm.
The instant he starts to show signs of stress, stop immediately and let him relax. Try to make the whole thing into a game: give him lots of praise, pats, and treats.
Take things slowly. Don’t push it too far: if you get nervous, stop.
Dogs show aggression for a reason: they’re warning you to back off, or else! If your dog just can’t seem to accept being groomed, no matter how much practice you put in, it’s best to hand the job over to the professionals.
Your vet will clip his nails for you (make sure you tell him first that he gets aggressive when the clippers come out, so your vet can take the necessary precautions!). As far as washing and brushing goes, the dog-grooming business is a flourishing industry: for a small fee, you can get your dog washed, clipped, brushed, and whatever else you require by experienced professionals (again, make sure you tell them about your dog’s reaction to the experience first!)
For more information on handling aggressive and dominant behaviors, as well as a great deal of detailed information on a host of other common dog behavior problems, check out Secrets To Dog Training.
It’s a complete owner’s guide to owning, rearing, and training your dog, and it deals with all aspects of dog ownership.
To get the inside word on preventing and dealing with problem behaviors like aggression and dominance in your dog, Secrets To Dog Training is well worth a look.
You can visit the Secrets To Dog Training site by clicking on the link below:
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