By Dean Vickers, Director of Animal Welfare Studies and Education at Radio Systems Corporation Does your dog constantly bark? Chew? Dig? Chase? Have faith, my friend, you are not alone. This is a guideline for helping you, as a new dog owner, or a potential new dog owner to share with you; some basic common behavioral issues you may experience. It is also a little insight for the more experienced dog owner with questions concerning her dog’s behavior. This will be the first of many blogs on common problems and their solutions. A key to developing a good relationship with your dog is understanding their behavior and working with them on a regimented training program. Behavioral issues often land dogs into overflowing animal shelters or chained to a tree in the back yard. Neither of these are good options. You will be more successful at adjusting your dog’s behavior if you spend some time learning about and understanding it. Much of these issues can be prevented, or betters managed through completing an obedience course or even earning a Canine Good Citizen award. Chewing Puppies and dogs, just like babies, chew. It is just something they do naturally. It helps keep their teeth and gums healthy. Chewing, alone, isn’t the problem. The problem arises when your dog chews things you don’t want him to chew. The destruction they can cause depends on the dog, but it can be extensive. As a general rule, dogs chew because:
- Teething (particularly common with puppies, it can be like living with a fluffy velociraptor)
I have three dogs. Isabella, my youngest Chow, was a cruelty case rescue; she was starved and abused. Out of all of my dogs, she has been my most problematic. This was partly my fault. When she chewed a pair of my sandals, I let her have them, I rationalized by thinking, “well they are old anyway.” This sent an inappropriate message to her: it is alright to chew my shoes. After the 9th pair of my shoes, countless socks and 5 remote controls, I finally broke her of this behavior. It took patience and persistence. I stocked up on chew toys. She loved the Bouncy Bone and Chuckley from the Busy Buddy toys. I always had plenty of options for her to chew and whenever I would catch her chewing something she wasn’t supposed to chew, I would distract her and replace the shoe with a Bouncy Bone. If you crate your dog when you are away, make sure you put toys in the crate as well. To further keep her in tune with me, I also increased her exercise time, this helped greatly. Barking Here is the skinny on dog barking: Dogs bark, dogs whine, dogs howl…..they are dogs, that is what they do. Most of them vocalize on some level. It is just a dog being a dog. The amount of barking they do is the real issue. When they bark excessively, then it becomes a behavioral issue. As a responsible dog owner, before you can address the barking, you need to determine the cause of the barking. More often than not, it is for one of the following reasons:
- Excited or wanting to play
- As a warning
- Wanting attention
- Nervous or anxious
- In response to other dogs barking
We will address this a lot more deeply in future posts, so before you pull your hair out, your neighbors pull their hair out or you consider placing them in a shelter, be patient. As I said, over the next few weeks we will address this and offer a variety of corrective options. Begging This is one behavior that is purely taught by the owner, or in my case, my dog sitter Melody. I was traveling and she was kind enough to house/dog sit for the week. When I returned, I was eating a sandwich while I was watching television, probably a Sci Fi program. J’Maul, my Ridgeback mix, was sitting beside me while I was eating. I noticed moisture on my foot. I looked down, thinking that he was probably just dripping water from submerging his face in the water bowl. Much to my dismay, I noticed a line of drool starting from his mouth and pooling around my bare feet. Melody did confess to feeding him table scrapes and how much he enjoyed eating them. After I scolded her, I looked at undoing the behavior. Why is this bad? There are several reasons; legitimate ones beyond the drool soaked foot incident. Table scraps can cause digestive problems for your dog, and canine obesity is at an all-time high. To break the habit, I initially had to crate him while I ate. I did try to put him in a ‘stay’, but he would give me the saddest expression. It was just better for all concerned that I crate him. He gets treats now and he lies by my feet while I eat. He knows that if he is good, after I finish, he will get a Bouncy Bone for being a good boy. Chasing The desire to chase will vary by dog breed and at its core, it is a display of predatory instincts. This behavior has a great deal of potential to have devastating outcomes; chasing cars, people, leaves and other animals. When a dog is in this mode, getting him to stop can be difficult. Although it is unlikely that you will ever stop this desire, but here are some things to help:
- Pay attention to your surroundings and you can minimize the possibility of your dog acting on his predatory instincts.
- Leash laws exist for a reason. Whenever you are outside with your dog, make certain that he is on a leash.
- Carry something that can assist in getting your dog’s attention by creating a distraction: whistle, clicker, remote trainer.
- Obedience and training classes. It is worth the time and money.
Digging As a general rule, I lucked out with my three. None have been rabid diggers. Granted, as with most dogs, there is some evidence of digging throughout my yard and potted plants. This is also more prevalent based on breeds, some breeds are simply more prone to dig and it is instinctual. Other than breed and instinct, there are common reasons for digging:
- Wanting what is on the other side of the fence – dog, cat, deer…
- Escaping from yard
- Looking for a cooler spot to lay
- Boredom – this happens a lot with chained dogs
- Burying a toy or a bone
To get a better picture of why your dog is digging, spend more time with him, give him more exercise and more attention. Work on a training program that provided with an activity. Give him something like a Squirrel Dude, or other toy that will distract them and occupy their time. This gives you a start at recognizing you are not alone. Come back over the next several weeks and check on some was at correcting unwanted behavior and redirecting your dog. Stay tuned for more in this series on common unwanted behaviors and how to cure them. What about you? Do your dogs have any of the top 5 bad behaviors? If so, what do you do that helps? About Dean As Director of Animal Welfare Studies and Education at PetSafe Dean Vickers provides education on the proper use and benefits of PetSafe products to legislators and pet owners worldwide while using their feedback to improve products. The former Ohio State Director for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has assisted with animal abuse and neglect cases, as well as advocated to strengthen animal welfare laws through articles, speeches trainings and more. Vickers is a graduate from The Ohio State University with a degree in History and Political Science. He currently lives in Knoxville with his 3 rescue dogs, Annikka, J’Maul and Isabella.