Common Behavior Problems and How to Deal With Them

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Common Behavior Problems and How to Deal With Them

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The most common kind of question asked by dog owners on the first day of obedience class is: How do I get my dog to stop: scratching the screen, escaping from the kennel, chasing the cat, barking incessantly…. When bringing a new dog into the home, and sometimes for the long term, it’s common to see at least one problem behavior in a dog. Owners naturally want to know how to solve this problem.

 

Common behavior problems include:

 

Barking

Chewing

Jumping up

Running away

Mouthiness

Separation anxiety

 

Solutions:

The most common mistake owners make is to think that the answer is to focus on the problem, and train the dog NOT to behave that way. Typically, this takes the form of shouting “NO” when the dog is doing something wrong.  But, as almost all dog owners can attest, that just doesn’t work. At best, you will teach your dog not to chew/dig/go through the trash while you’re in the room. There are a few aversive approaches that can help problem behaviors. (Aversive means anything unpleasant for the dog.) Chewing, for example, can benefit from aversive sprays like “Bitter Apple”, which are sprayed on items to make them taste bad. But overall, it is not very effective to try train a dog NOT to do something, especially when you’re not around.

 

The most effective approaches to problem behaviors are to:

 

  • Teach your dog to do something else instead of the problem behavior.
    • For example, give your dog one of its own toys whenever it wants to chew on your shoes/plants/remote control.
    • For escape artists, put the dog on its leash. Open the front door. Have your dog sit. Reward. Repeat.
    • If your dog jumps up on people, teach it to sit to be greeted instead. Turn away and don’t pay attention or gently push the dog down when it jumps. When the dog eventually sits, quietly reward it with a little treat.

 

  • Control the situation to prevent the behavior. This usually takes the form of actions like the following:
    • Confining the dog to a kennel or single, puppy-proofed room whenever you can’t be there to supervise it closely to control destructive behaviors, separation anxiety, and escaping.
    • If your dog barks excessively when outside, accompany your dog outside so that you can quiet the dog when it starts to bark. More importantly, reward your dog for being quiet when someone walks by the fence (or whatever usually triggers barking). If you do this consistently, you will be able to reward your dog for being alert but silent in increasingly distracting situations.
  • Take an overall approach to your dog’s well-being to eliminate or reduce the tendency to problem behaviors. In other words, make sure that your dog is getting all of the exercise and overall obedience training that it needs to be calm, relaxed, and well-behaved when it is left alone.
    • This is a kind of “lifestyle” issue. The fact is that most problems can directly be controlled and reduced by more exercise. Barking, chewing, destructiveness, hyper jumping—most are the result of anxiety and pent-up energy. Instead of focusing on “getting them to stop”, focus on reducing boredom.  Exercise and consistency will solve the vast majority of behavioral problems—just watch anyone on the Dog Whisperer, or other training shows.

 

Dogs have a lot of energy, but they get relatively little of our time. A dog that goes between a house and yard, with an occasional short walk, is bored out of its mind. It’s no wonder that it finds things to do—things that you don’t like.

You will need to devote time to exercising your dog. Or devote money to doggy day care or pet walkers.

Doggy day care is a true game-changer. Sending your dog to play with other dogs all day can cure a surprising number of behavior problems. Your dog will probably sleep most of the evening and night. If you exercise your dog a lot on the weekends but are tied up at work during the week, you might notice that your dog’s behavior problems increase midweek and get worse until the weekend rolls around again. This is a sure sign that your dog has pent-up energy to expend. If you can’t exercise it yourself any more than you already do, then doggy day care is your best option, unless you can arrange with a dog-owning neighbor to do a “doggy date” exchange.

 

If anxiety issues or other problem behaviors are out of control, there’s no way out but professional help. Don’t skimp on this, for your own sake and that of your dog. There are solutions to all of these problems. Don’t let them drag on and on by trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

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