We all love our dogs, but at some point, most of us have to come to terms with some form of problem behaviour. Understanding why your dog does what he does can help use to determine how to handle the problem correctly so that we can resolve problems quickly. Here are the five most common behavioural problems encountered and some tips on how to teach dogs with naughty habits to be polite companions!
Jumping is inherently fun for most dogs. It’s also a really effective way to get a human’s attention, or be able to reach that toy or piece of food that’s being held just out of reach. The problem with jumping is that not all humans like being jumped on by dogs. Also, sometimes dogs can accidentally hurt the people that they are trying to greet by scratching them with their toenails, head-butting them, or knocking them over.
The best way to curb jumping is to show your dog that the only way that he will be able to get your attention is to keep all four paws on the floor at all times. If his feet are on the floor, you will talk to him, pet him, give him treats and toys and really anything else that he wants. However, if his front feet come off of the floor for any reason, all attention from you should stop immediately. No more talking, petting, treats, or attention of any kind until his feet are back on the floor. If your dog is persistent, you might need to leave the room for a couple of seconds to help him calm down and make sure that he doesn’t get to practice jumping on you. As soon as he settles down and puts his feet back on the floor, the fun starts immediately! By practicing this way, you are teaching your dog that good things are only available to him when he keeps all four feet on the floor!
Dogs also love food, especially the food they see us eat. It’s not surprising that many dogs would literally jump at the opportunity to snag a tasty snack off of the kitchen counter when no one is looking. Unfortunately, once your dog has learned there’s tasty stuff to be found on kitchen counters or in cupboards and buried in garbage cans, he’s more likely to look for food in those places again. Not only is it pretty gross to have dog slobber and dirty paw prints on the countertops, some human foods can be hazardous to your dog’s health.
Prevention is key when it comes to dealing with counter surfing. Anytime that your dog is able to grab a piece of food off of the counter, he is being reinforced for counter surfing, which makes him even more likely to try it again in the future. If you know that you have a dog that likes to counter surf, you will need to block his access to the kitchen whenever you’re not able to supervise him in that room. You might also consider putting child locks on the cupboards to keep him from opening them and pulling something off of the shelf. If your dog is really persistent about breaking into the kitchen, you might have to crate him to make sure that he stays out of trouble.
Pulling on the Leash
Dogs pull to get to whatever is out ahead of them: great smells, other dogs, open spaces, fun and adventure. Pulling gets them where they want to go faster. The dog pulls against the leash, the human follows and sometimes even walks faster to catch up and voila! Pulling works! This is why it is best to teach dogs to walk nicely on the leash as early as possible. Pulling is rewarding to the dog, so the more that he does it, the harder it is for him to give it up. If you have an expert puller, however, don’t worry. Any dog can be taught to walk nicely on a loose leash!
To address excessive pulling against the leash, first make sure that you are using the proper equipment with your dog. A front-clip harness or a head halter can make a huge difference in your dog’s ability to pull against the leash, and it can make it a lot easier for you to reward good behaviour on walks. Once your dog is properly outfitted, it’s time to go for a walk. If your dog tries to pull, stop moving immediately! Any tension on the leash makes the human stop completely until the dog settles down enough to create some slack in the leash. Pulling no longer works! This will take some practice and some patience, especially if your dog already has a habit of pulling, but the majority of dogs figure out how to play the game very quickly. It’s also a good idea to take some extra yummy treats with you on a walk so that you can reward good behaviour (i.e. a loose leash!) when you see it.
Begging at the Table
Most dogs enjoy the same kinds of foods that we do, so it’s not surprising that they are drawn towards us at mealtimes. You probably gravitate towards the kitchen when you smell the delicious aroma of your favourite meal, especially when you’re hungry. However, having your dog sit in front of your with drool hanging out of his mouth is not the most appetising sight when you’re trying to enjoy a meal. You can’t really blame your dog for asking for a bite, but there are a few things that you can do to change his behaviour to make your mealtime more relaxing.
First, you can prevent your dog from having access to the room where you’re eating. This might mean putting your dog in a crate in the other room, or just putting up a gate at the doorway to the kitchen. Make sure that he has something appropriate to chew on or play with while you’re eating and ignore any barking or whining that he might try. A second option would be to teach your dog how to settle on a mat while you’re eating. The mat can be placed on the floor nearby and it’s your dog’s job to lie down and stay there for the duration of your meal time. Your dog will require some supervision, especially in the beginning, to make sure that he stays when you’ve asked him to, but teaching him this skill can be a great way to incorporate him into family life without letting him practice bad manners.
Barking is a normal part of vocal communication for dogs that can serve a variety of different purposes. Some dogs bark to alert their humans to strange noises or people in the area. Some dogs bark because they are excited or nervous or want your attention. Some dogs just like to bark. However, sometimes a dog’s barking can be excessive and needs to be addressed through training and management.
Because barking serves a variety of functions, you must identify its cause and your dog’s motivation for barking before you can treat a barking problem. If your dog is barking for your attention, it’s best to ignore it completely and wait for several seconds of quiet before engaging your dog again. If your dog is barking because he’s excited, try teaching him how to use more self-control during your training sessions. If your dog is alert barking or barking because he is nervous or scared, contact a local trainer that specialises in positive reinforcement and behavioural modification. A professional trainer can help you develop a training plan to teach your dog how to be more confident, and thus calmer and quieter, around things that make him uncomfortable.