Dog Behaviour And Training Module 4

Correcting Problem Behaviours

So far we’ve looked inside a dog’s mind and got to grips with modern training methods. You’ve put your best foot fur-wards, done everything right, and still your pup misbehaves. Or, perhaps you have an older dog that has got into bad habits. Whatever the reason, here is your chance to understand the root cause of some common bad behaviors and take steps to correct them.

4.1 Anxiety and fear (See also: Separation anxiety)

4.2 Aggression

4.3 Bad manners

4.4 Barking

4.5 Begging

4.6 Digging

4.7 Food guarding

4.8 House soiling

4.9 Inter-dog tension

4.10 Jumping up

4.11 Leaving objects

4.12 Over excited dogs

4.13 Poor recall

4.14 Possessiveness

4.15 Pulling on the leash

4.16 Separation anxiety

4.17 Small dog syndrome

4.1 Anxiety and Fear

From thunderstorms to men-with-beards, our pet pals have all sorts of hang-ups, anxieties, and phobias. It is human nature to soothe a quivering dog and tell them everything is OK. Unfortunately, in a dog’s mind this petting rewards their fearful behavior, it reinforces the anxiety, and makes the problem worse.

So if it’s wrong to reassure your anxious dog, what should you do?

Understand Anxiety

When faced with a fearful situation (think thunderstorms, fireworks, loud noises, umbrellas, men-with-beards, etc.) the dog’s body releases hormones that prepare him to do one of four things:

  • Fight off the scary thing; a lot of terriers do this
  • Flight or run away
  • Freeze and hope the scary thing doesn’t spot you
  • Fool around, make people laugh and hope the scary thing loses interest

Which group does your dog fall into when faced with a scary stranger: Do they hide behind the sofa or strain on the end of a leash?

The hormones associated with anxiety cause a racing heart, shivering, and nausea, all of which are very real sensations that reinforce how scary the situation is.

Reducing Anxiety

Here’s how to go about reducing an anxious dog’s dilemma.

a) Avoid the Triggers

During retraining, where possible, identify and avoid the trigger factor.

Avoiding a full on panic attack, builds the dog’s confidence to relearn a positive reaction to the feared event.

b) Watch your body language!

The dog looks to you for cues, so don’t show him you are anxious or worried. Appear non-chalant when the bearded-man appears in the park. Likewise, avoiding fussing with the dog when he’s shaking or fearful – it reinforces the behavior.

c) Use the “Come away” command

When in the park and the scary umbrella or dog approaches, avoid your dog’s fear escalating by using the “Come away” command and taking the dog in a different direction. [See MODULE 5 for the “Come away” command.]

a) Start a desensitization and counter-conditioning program

Don’t be put off by the big words. This basically means exposing the dog to an ultra-low level of the scary situation, such that he doesn’t react with fear. You let him get used to this exposure, reward him, and then turn things up a notch.

For example: FIREWORKS

  • Play an MP3 track of fireworks at such a low volume that the dog doesn’t react.
  • Reward his courage with a treat and praise.
  • Turn the volume up one notch. Let him settle. Then reward his courage.
  • If at any stage the dog shows fear, take the volume back down to where he was comfortable.
  • Gradually increase the volume over several weeks, until he tolerates it playing at a normal volume.

b) Know that drugs are sometimes necessary

Extremely fearful dogs may require medication to quell those fearful hormones.

Also consider an Adaptil Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) collar, and a Thundershirt.

4.2 Aggression

Aggression is a complex topic which could take an entire course and more just to cover. Any dog with aggressive tendencies has the potential to be dangerous, especially to children. It cannot be stressed enough that serious aggression in a dog is not something you should attempt to remedy yourself. It is essential you consult a veterinarian to check if a physical problem could be causing the short temper. If no physical reason is found, then ask your veterinarian for a referral to a qualified animal behaviorist.

The reason for a referral is that every aspect of the dog’s behavior must be studied in order to work out the dog’s motivation. If this ground work is not done, it’s entirely possible that inappropriate corrective measures could make matters worse.

To give an idea of the complex nature of aggression, here is a table of common forms of aggression and how best to react.

Type of Aggression Trigger Owner Action
Fear Something that scares the dog such as umbrellas, black dogs, or bearded men Avoid trigger situations where possible Teach the “Come away” command Desensitize and counter-condition the dog (See: ANXIETY 4.1)
Status The dog regularly challenges another dog or a person Avoid confrontation and staring at the dog Owner should restrict the dog’s privileges and grant them only when the dog obeys commands Ignore the dog’s attempts to get attention and only interact when the human starts the contact
Redirected The dog redirects frustration and attacks another dog or individual Address the underlying cause of the dog’s frustration
Possessive The dog guards toys or food Do not challenge or confront the dog Do not attempt to remove the resource Avoid giving the dog toys that he values highly, whilst retraining him to “Give” on demand. Never remove food from a food possessive dog
Territorial Patrols the yard to see off intruders Limit access to the area the dog patrols Block views of the yard Muzzle the dog
Maternal A female dog guards her puppies Make the nest room safe and secure Do not attempt to separate mum and pups
Pain induced Pain causes the dog to lash out Veterinary consultation to identify and treat the pain.

General Principles of Managing an Aggressive Dog

While you are waiting for the behaviorists visit, consider if the following strategies are appropriate for your circumstances.

  • Children: Never leave children unsupervised with an aggressive dog.
  • Exercise: Give the dog plenty of exercise. A pleasantly tired dog through lots of play is more likely to sleep than misbehave.
  • Reward-based training: Start teaching the dog using reward-based training. Make it fun and have at least two sessions a day. Teach your dog a rock solid sit under all circumstances, and you are starting to win back control.
  • Never punish: Do not, under any circumstances punish the dog. This may inhibit the dog from growling with the result that he moves straight from feeling annoyed to biting but without any warning. Also, punishment increases the dog’s stress levels, which makes him more likely to attack, not less.

General Principles of Managing an Aggressive Dog

  • Muzzle: Train the dog to accept a muzzle. (To do let him eat treats out of the muzzle, and gradually get the dog used to sliding the muzzle onto his nose. Introduce wearing the muzzle gradually, a few seconds at a time initially, followed by lots of praise.)
  • A Long line: Consider attaching a long line to the dog’s collar while in the house. This enables you to move the dog off furniture without putting your hands near him. However, be aware there is a right and wrong way to use a long line – so speak to your behaviorist about your particular circumstances.
  • Teach “Come away”: To remove the dog from sticky situations (See Module 5)

4.3 Bad Manners

This includes actions such as rushing the front door, general bad behavior, and not listening to commands. Think of this dog as an unruly child.

The answer is training and then more training. Get the dog listening to your commands, so that he behaves under all circumstances.

If the dog’s concentration is poor, then focus his mind and have him work to earn rewards such as supper. Make a start by insisting he sits for his supper bowl or sits before going for a walk. Help him to understand that good things happen when he listens, and he’ll soon be tripping you up with his eagerness to obey.

A common mistake is to train the dog in one setting, such as the back yard, so the dog thinks he only has to behave in that setting. Don’t forget to train wherever you go and whatever you’re doing, there’s always time for “Sit” practice.

As for dashing the door…think laterally. First train your dog a command to go to his bed or a certain spot. Then get a friend to ring the doorbell and practice sending the dog to his bed. Keep the stimulus low key by gently knocking on the door, but the friend not entering. Don’t advance to letting the friend in until the dog goes to his chill out spot every time you ask. To avoid unlearning his progress, pop the dog in a back room when actual visitors call, so he doesn’t get the opportunity to rush the door. Be sure to give your fur-pal plenty of praise when he does what you say.

4.4 Barking

Barking is another huge topic with lots to woof about.

It’s important to remember that barking is vital communication for a dog, much like having a chat, so it’s wrong to expect them to be silent all the time. However, you want to avoid an escalation of barking such that the smallest sound triggers an avalanche of deafening barking.

Why Dogs Bark

Dogs feel the need to bark for a number of reasons, which include:

  • Territorial:Guarding territory such as the back yard.
  • Fear:A fearful dog may decide attack, in the form of fearsome barking, is the best form of defense.
  • Attention seeking: The dog noticed how when he barks the owner starts yelling, and he learns this is a great way to get attention.
  • Older dogs:If you have a senior who’s developed a woofing habit, then get a vet check. Problems such as deafness or cognitive dysfunction can cause disorientation in their senses which leads to barking.

Here are a few tips to help you sort that barking problem.

To Yell or Not to Yell?

Tempting as it is to shout at a barking dog, resist the urge.

For a start, the dog will think you’re joining the barking party and encourage him to keep going.

Then there’s the fact that yelling at him is valuable attention, which means you rewardthe barking so he keeps going.

Bear in mind that if you bite your tongue and let him bark for 30 minutes, but you snap and yell at him…next time he’ll bark for 35 minutes without thinking twice.

However, not yelling is important so that you don’t accidentally encourage him; but once he’s learnt the habit, ignoring him isn’t going to stop him, you need a plan.

Put Barking on Cue

Unfortunately for us, barking is a ‘self-rewarding’ behavior. This means the dog enjoys the sound of his own woof so much, that he barks just for the heck of it. Thus, you need to find a way of stopping him that doesn’t involve yelling.

The clever way to do this is to put the barking on cue. This means you teach a dog to bark (Nuts or what!) and then once he barks on demand, you can teach him the “Quiet” cue. By putting the barking behavior on demand, you have a tool to stop him from barking when you want. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

To learn how to teach “Bark” and “Quiet” see Module 5.

Reduce the Triggers for Barking

If your dog is a guarding breed, such as a German shepherd or Rottweiler, then his genetics make him highly likely to bark to protect his patch. You can teach him the “Quiet” cue, but if he’s faced with overwhelming trigger of school kids walking past the yard fence, then you’ll struggle to stop him.

In this scenario it’s sensible to reduce the triggers, which means bringing the dog indoors before school finishes for the day. Do this, along with 4.4.5 to decrease the chance of the dog barking out of boredom.

Plenty of exercise

Bored dogs bark to entertain themselves. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, so that he’s so tuckered out he can’t even summon the energy to raise his head for a lazy ‘oof.

Train him to Hold a Toy

OK, this is a sneaky one. Some dogs, (retrievers and spaniels spring to mind) are mouth orientated and love holding things. Consider giving the dog an alternative activity when visitors call, such as holding a toy. Did you spot how sneaky this is? When the dog’s mouth is occupied holding a toy he can’t bark. Genius!

4.5 Begging

Begging from the table is an example of a behavior (begging) being rewarded (he gets food scraps) and the behavior is enforced (he begs some more.)

Stopping this behavior should be as simple as ignoring those big brown eyes – but it’s not. When you stop, expect the dog to become more determined! In the dog’s mind he needs to work harder to get a tidbit. He may start jumping up or barking at people, until someone gives in. Bingo! The behavior just got reinforced and he learns to persist harder to get that treat.

You have two options:

  1. Put the dog in a separate room at mealtimes and ignore his barks.
  2. Let him sit beside the table but on no account feed him.

OK, you could soften the disappointment by putting some of his meal in a Kong and giving that too him during mealtimes, so he has a food-based distraction to remove himfrom the table.

4.6 Digging

Does your yard look like the set of “The Martian”?

Digging is another natural behavior which is out of place in our modern lives. It is wrong to punish or chastise a dog for digging, apart from anything else, it will drive the behavior underground (see what I did there). A frustrated digger will divert his energy into other nefarious practices which are just as bad, such as chewing or barking.

Instead, a game of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is the best outlook, and provide the dog with his own area where he’s allowed to dig. Training him to dig in that spot is achieved by burying a few chew toys in some soft earth and encouraging the dog to dig. As he gets the hang of what you want, praise and reward him, and then add in a cue word “Dig.”

Keep taking him to his digging spot and encourage him to unearth goodies such as his favorite chew toy, and whilst he’s digging use the “Dig” cue. Before you know it he’ll be enthusiastically digging on demand, in an area of your choosing.

Also, bear in mind some dogs dig out of boredom. If you are out for 8 hours at a time and the dog has access to the garden, he’s going to dig to amuse himself. Be prepared for the fact, and also give him plenty of exercise before you leave and when you get back, so that he’s physically tired and less likely to want to dig amongst the dahlias.

4.7 Food Guarding

It’s extremely important that dogs are safe around food. A dog who is overly protective around his dinner, poses a potential threat to any toddler who wanders too close to the food bowl. However, never try to teach the dog a lesson by forcibly removing the bowl. This makes things far worse as the dog’s fears are realized. As the bowl vanishes into the sky, he’s far more likely to react with greater aggressive the next time you go near the bowl.

Instead, teach him that human’s near the food bowl are a good thing because they put food IN it.

Here are the steps to reduce food guarding possessiveness:

  • Switch the dog onto a dull, bland diet, so he’s less excited about the food.
  • Put his empty food bowl on the floor and have his food in a bowl on the counter top.
  • Remove a piece of kibble, hold it just above his head, and ask the dog to sit.
  • Once he’s sitting, drop the piece of kibble in the bowl.
  • Repeat with the next piece of kibble.
  • Repeat this for several meals.
  • Once he is sitting for his supper, practice moving around the bowl as he eats (whilst adding pieces of kibble).
  • Build up the association between people and food, rather than the bowl and food, and he’ll come to welcome people around his bowl.

4.8 House Soiling

Take care to distinguish house soiling due to a breakdown in toilet training, from house soiling for a medical reason such as a bladder infection or irritable bowel disease. As a general rule, if your dog has been impeccablyclean and only recently started having accidents, get him checked by a vet.

If the dog is fit and well, but regularly messes in the house, then take toilet training back to basics, plus thoroughly deodorize his toilet spots.

Do not punish

No matter how tempting, resist the urge to punish your dog, even if you catch him in the act, and certainly not afterwards. The reason for this is that the dog associates the punishment with you, rather than soiling the house. A likely scenario is the dog believes you have an irrational dislike of his bodily functions and slides off to a secret hiding place in order to eliminate, thus making it more difficult for you to train him and also deodorize the house.

In a worst case scenario, the dog may feel so inhibited about going to the toilet (for fear of punishment) that he holds on while you’re there. In effect, you’ve just made house breaking 100 times more difficult because the dog is reluctant to go in your presence. The message is: If you find a puddle then grit your teeth, go outside, and shout at the stars, but don’t take it out on the dog.

Thoroughly Deodorize

Urinary or fecal accidents in the house will draw the dog back to the same spot. Make sure to get rid of any lingering odor, so that it doesn’t smell like a latrine to him.

Be aware that many household cleaning products and floor cleaners contain ammonia or bleach, which are components of urine. You may have the best intentions in the world, but by using these cleaners you are amplifying the urine scent, not obliterating it.

Instead, try the following recipe to get rid of toilet accidents (Always test the carpet or soft furnishing first for color fastness first):

  1. Blot the area dry to remove surface wetness. Don’t push too hard as this can force moisture deeper into the pile.
  2. Use a solution of biological washing detergent in water, to wash away the stain.
  3. Rinse with warm water.
  4. Blot the area and make sure the cloth looks clean. If it isn’t, wash again as for step 2.
  5. Rinse the area with a solution of bicarbonate of soda.
  6. Blot and rinse with clean water.
  7. Optional final step – sprinkle  the area with a little bicarbonate of soda.
  8. If the surface is hard (such as tiles) skip (7) and wipe over with rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit).
  9. Allow to dry before letting the dog back in.

Beef up the Potty Training

Go back to basics, just as if the dog was a puppy who knew no better. See Module 3

Common reasons for failure of training include:

  1. The dog is left outdoors alone. This means you are denied the opportunity to reward the dog when he finally goes to the toilet. The dog doesn’t realize he’s outside to do business and looks on this as an extended playtime.
  2. The dog has too much freedom indoors. The dog is allowed full access of the house and can squat down when and where he likes. This makes it difficult to find all those secret spots and the dog gets drawn back to his illicit toilet.
  3. The dog plum doesn’t understand what he’s expected to do. If this is the case treat him like a puppy, even though he’s a grown up dog. Take him outside on the lead every hour and stand with him. If he hasn’t gone within 5 minutes, take him back inside. In-between visits outdoors either keep him confined to his crate with a chew toy, or attach his leash to your wrist so you know where he is. At the first sign of sniffing to toilet, pop him outside and prepare to reward his clever actions.
  4. Expecting training to happen quickly. It takes weeks, if not months, for the ‘penny to drop’ for some dogs. Be prepared to be patient, and stick to the gun drill no matter what. Consistency is king and you will win if you stick with it.

4.9 Inter-dog tension

One dog gives you so much pleasure, so two will give you twice as much. But if those two dogs don’t get on then the dream of a happy household can quickly become a nightmare. Dogs living in the same household who are in a constant state of conflict, are not easy to live with. Should a fight break out, never use your hands to separate the dogs as in the heat of the moment you are likely to get bitten. To stop the fight either try and distract them with a rattle or a shaker, or lasso one dog with a leash and remove him from the fray.

What Causes Inter-Dog Tension

We don’t necessarily get on with everyone we meet, and it’s just the same for dogs. Only with dogs throw in the additional factors of competition for resources, hormones, and the irritation of an upstart puppy and the tension is tighter than a suspension spring.

Factors that cause tension include:

Competition for resources: This includes food, water, a comfy bed, and your attention.
Status: If one dog believes they are superior to another then they will pick on the other dog until they back down.
Self-defense: A sick dog or a dog in pain may snap when another dog comes close, in order to protect himself.
Gender issues: The pairing most likely to fight are two female dogs. This goes back to a female dog wanting a male partner to breed with and no competition for resources that might be needed to rear the puppies.

Preventing Inter-Dog Tension

  • When choosing dogs to live together, try to avoid two females dog (see 4.9.1).
  • If you have got female dogs, neuter them early so that hormones are less of a flashpoint.
  • It can, also help to choose dogs of different sizes, for reasons that are explained in 4.9.3
  • Make sure there are plenty of resources such as food and water, and that no one dog can hog them all.
  • If you have an old-timer and a puppy, and the puppy wants to play and won’t leave the oldie alone, then be sure to put the puppy in time out or gently chastise him when he’s pestering the old guy, so he gets the message to be gentle.

What to Do if your Dogs Don’t get Along

Dogs that really don’t get along will do each other serious harm, so take some short term action to keep everyone safe.

  • Separate the dogs and only allow them together under supervision.
  • Keep leads on the dogs so you can pull them apart if necessary.
  • Don’t leave favorite toys where either dog can reach them and then fight over ownership.
  • If things start to get edgy, distract the dogs with a sudden noise (like a rattle or shaker), slip a lasso over one of their heads and separate them.

Sorting the Problem in the Longer Term

It is human nature to favor the underdog (literally, in this case). However, for the dogs to learn to get along you must go against your instinct and favor the top dog.

Most fights break out when one dog believes he’s higher status than the other and then we upset the balance further by backing the underdog. Take this scenario as an example:

Dog 1, believes he is more important than Dog 2. Unfortunately, Dog 2 accidentally walks too close to Dog 1’s favorite toy. Dog 1 warns Dog 2 off with a growl. The owner comes along, and feels sorry that Dog 2 is being picked on and tells Dog 1 off. The latter then feels even more conflicted because he’s being chastised when it was his toy that was under threat. Meanwhile, the owner has backed up Dog 2 which makes him feel braver and more likely to stand up to Dog 1…and the tension escalates.

This situation is resolved when there is a clear winner. This is achieved by the owner gently chastising Dog 2 for touching the other dog’s toy, which gives a clear message that Dog 1 is boss. This straightens things out for the dogs. They both understand the status quo and Dog 1 plays with his toy, confident in the knowledge that Dog 2 is not going to touch it.

To increase the chances of harmony what you must do is:

  • Identify which is the bolder, more confident dog
  • Always give attention to the bolder dog first
  • If the bolder dog chastises the underdog, you must gently chastise the underdog and help him understand his place

You may spot here a common complication, which is that many people elect to get the troublemaker dog neutered. However, under some circumstances this makes the problem worse, because it evens out authority. There is a sound argument in some cases, if both dogs are entire, to neuter the underdog. This exaggerates the gap between the dogs and thus helps him accept his place with less argument. If you are considering surgery this is a delicate balance and one best talked through with your veterinarian prior to surgery, so that you make the right decision for the long term.

4.10  Jumping Up

Jumping up to greet people is a common problem, because dogs have a natural affinity for our faces. They want to get close to greet us, and since we are taller than them this means jumping up. While this might be cute in a toy dog, it’snot such fun in a giant breed that could frighten a child or knock an elderly person over.

There are different ways to end this behavior, so have a think and decide which is best suited to your dog.

Intensive training for perfect manners

  • Get yourself a treat bum bag that you can wear around the house.
  • At different spots in the house have the dog “Sit” and reward him with treats.
  • Now go to places in the house where he tends to jump up.
  • Command him to sit, if he jumps up turn your head away and say “No.”
  • As he learns to calm, have him sit, and reward him.
  • When he’s doing that reliably, do the same exercise by the front door.
  • Have a friend visit and teach them to turn aside and say “No” if the dog jumps up.
  • Eventually the dog works out that attention stops if he jumps up, but he gets a reward for sitting. So he sits

Step on a Lead

Keep a lead on the dog. Have a friend visit. Allow the dog to approach the friend but position yourself so as to be able to put your foot on the leash and bring the dog up short if he goes to jump up. Give the cue for “Sit” and reward the dog.

Teach an Alternative Behavior

Some dogs jump up because they are excited and just want to greet the new arrival. Channel that energy into a different activity, such as having the dog fetch a favorite toy when they hear the doorbell ring, ready to present to the new arrival. This also works well for dogs that bark with excitement at guests

4.11 Leaving Objects

Dogs will pick things up in their mouth, but some objects are too precious to take the risk of being swallowed (a diamond ring!) while others could cause physical harm. It is however a familiar scenario to many people that a game of chase ensues, where the delighted dog runs away, object still in his mouth, and is delighted that he’s discovered a new way of getting your attention.

For safety’s sake every owner should teach their dog to drop objects. See Module 6 for the mechanics of how to teach “Drop”, while here we’ll look at one of the common pitfalls of trying to retrieve an object.

Imagine this:

Your dog steals your favorite designer shoe. Dreading that he chews it, you jump up with the intention of whipping it out of his mouth. The dog, however, has other ideas. Seeing he has your attention he trots across the room. Muttering ever louder exclamations of “Give it here, you mutt!”, you set off after him. Wagging his tail, without a care in the world, he takes off through the house, pleased with himself for inventing a new game called chase.

The problem here is that the dog’s bad behavior (picking up the shoe) has been rewarded with your undivided attention. The dog is fully aware you want the shoe back, but equally it’s worth a lot to him as a bargaining chip to keep you interested in the game. But, even greater problems lie ahead, because the pattern is set for the future

OK, in a one-off truly serious situation, such as the dog has a packet of medication in his mouth, you may be forced to make a lunge for the dog, but as a way of dealing with this problem in general it won’t work in the long term.

Instead, you need to beat him at his own game. Pretend disinterest while you get his absolute favorite all-time chew toy. If you want to up the ante, then smear some scrummy pate on the outside of the chew to make it extra appealing. Then, make sure he can see you, and pretend to play with the toy. In fact, have such a good time that you forget all about him (you don’t really, but he doesn’t have to know that).

What you’re aiming for is a confidence trick where you make him believe you have something of higher value than that old shoe. If he believes the shoe is worthless but there’s ayummy chew toy on offer,  he’ll soon let go of the shoe without a game of chase.

Oh yes, have the dog sit before you give him the toy, so that he’s being rewarded for the sit and not other (bad) behavior.

4.12 Over-Excited Dogs

We’ve all met them, the social hand-grenade of a dog that explodes into a blur of inappropriate bouncing or tears around the room knocking everything thing over. The over-excited dog can spoil a happy time because they quickly get out of control and you dread them hurting themselves, hurting someone else, or damaging property.

For over-excited dogs, learning to be calm is a skill, just like  learning bite inhibition or a ‘down-stay’. And this is where the owner comes in, because success or failure rests on recognizing their dog is about to go into meltdown and instigating their calming time out. But, to get to the stage of a hyped up dog paying attention to a time-out, it requires a lot of work behind the scenes.

To teach a dog to calm down involves:

1     Regular training sessions: To teach the dog to listen to you

2     Plenty of exercise: So pent up energy isn’t revving their engine

3     Dog massage: To show them what calm feels like

4     Cooling off period: Halting games before they start to get over-the-top.

The first two points are self-explanatory, so let’s jump in with the third.

Dog Massage

Have you ever experienced the profound peace of a yoga meditation or the deep relaxation of a massage?

Now we’re not suggesting your dog becomes a yoga master, but they can learn what being relaxed feels like as an antidote to hyped up.

Dog massage is surprisingly easy, because it’s like petting your dog, only much slower. Encourage your dog to lie down, perhaps after a walk so that he’s tired, a little sleepy, and more likely to co-operate. Use firm pressure and move your hand in s-l-o-w motion in the direction of the fur. Start on areas that he’s familiar with being touched like his back and flanks, and repeat the ultra-slow, firm pressure strokes and watch him visibly relax. Try the same thing with his ears, perhaps over the shoulder, and along the big muscles of his thigh. (If your dog has health problems, first check with your vet that this is OK).

Take your time, but work like this for 20 – 30 minutes, perhaps while watching your favorite TV show.

One trick is to put a dab of diluted chamomile oil on your hands, which will spread the scent over his fur. Do this every time you massage him and he’ll associate the chamomile smell with peace and relaxation, which you can use as a cue when you want to calm play down – just pop a dab on your hand and call him over

Cooling Off Period

Too many times an over-excited dog continues in a game, chasing another dog, getting more and more excited until you fear he’s going to hurt himself.

If your dog doesn’t have self-control, then you have to teach it to him.

The learning starts during simple games at home. Get some toys ready for a play session. Start off with a few “Sit” exercises to get pup listening, then start to play. Well before the dog gets rowdy (this will differ for each individual), slow the calm right up and have the dog “Sit” a few times, perhaps accompanied by a short slow massage. Once he’s proved he can calm down, start the game off again.

If you slow up the game and the dog starts jumping at you and barking, given a curt “Uh oh” sound, turn your back and ignore him. If he keeps on pestering then leave the room taking the toy with you and return when he’s calmed down. Have him “Sit” then resume the game, only to pause again a tad earlier than previously so he’s less revved up.

If he gets too rowdy, stop the fun. The message being that it pays to be calm because the game continues.

Likewise, the massage will help him to enjoy ‘time out’ so he doesn’t see that as a punishment

4.13 Poor Recall

We looked at how to teach recall in Module 3, but here we’re going to consider how things go wrong.

Your dog is enjoying a game in the park. It’s time to go. You call him. He carries on playing. You call…and call…and call. Eventually, half an hour later, after stomping around the park in a game of cat and mouse, you’re fuming and he eventually decides he’s tired and comes to you. By now you’re late for work. You snap on the leash, give him a smack on the rump, and head off home.

Can you spot why you’ve just taught the dog NOT to come to recall? OK, let’s list them.

  1. Even though the dog took an age, he eventually came to you. At which point you smacked him. This has the effect of punishing the recall, not rewarding it.
  2. You put the leash on and go straight home. In the dog’s mind, the leash signals end-of-fun, which makes him reluctant to have his freedom curtailed. Again, he’s been punished for coming.

So what should you do?

  1. When he eventually comes to recall, grit your teeth (no matter how angry you are) and make a huge fuss of him. Remember the more you reward him for coming now, the quicker he’ll do it in future.
  2. Rather than let him play right up until you have to leave the park, deliberately end the game 5 – 10 minutes early. Pop him on the leash, then play a game of tug or take him for a walk, telling him what a good boy he is as you go. The idea is to teach him the fun doesn’t stop when the leash is on.

Get the picture? Stay positive, no matter how aggravating his behavior, and always reward good behavior.

4.14 Possessiveness

We touched on possessiveness in food guarding (Module 4.7) and leaving objects (Module 4.11).

Some dogs have a possessive streak. The trouble is it can be dangerous, especially if you have children in the house. A child who tries to take a prized toy from a possessive dog could end up getting badly bitten. In fact, possessiveness is best thought of as a form of aggression triggered by ownership of toys, food, or space.

The typical possessive dog may carry his prize objects around, guard them, or even hide them. The problem comes when you try to take the object from him (or he believes you are about to – which can be more dangerous as you don’t anticipate the flashpoint) and he growls, snarls, or bites in retaliation.

The principles of coping with a possessive dog include:

  1. Teach “Leave It” – See Module 6, for those times when you have to get that special something out of his mouth.
  2. Don’t leave toys of high value out for the dog to guard and become possessive over.
  3. Buy several of the same high value toy so that, if necessary, you can trade one for another (and teach him to give items in the process). Through regular training sessions with low value toys, teach him the idea of trading one toy for another, so he becomes accustomed to yielding toys to you.

Never confront a possessive dog and try to take items from him. You may get away with it once, but when he realizes what you’re about, the next time he may bite and do serious harm. Get away from the idea that you should be able to take his toys away in order to show him who’s boss, this will end in injury (yours!).

4.15 Pulling on the Leash

This is an all too common problem. It’s time for a much anticipated walk to the park. You put the leash on the dog, they charge out of the door ahead of you and proceed to drag you down the road on the end of a tight leash. If your dog is small, this is an inconvenience and looks bad, but if you have a large dog then you could end up flat on your face. In fact, many small dogs are much worse at walking precisely because you can just about stay upright, whereas a big dog forces the issue because of the risk of falling over.

To sort this problem it helps to understand that pulling on the lead is its own reward; that is dogs associate the pulling sensation with getting where they want to go. In their mind, pulling gets them to a fun destination more quickly. Therefore, the answer is to turn things around so they link NOT pulling with getting where they want to go. To do this takes patience. Start training when you aren’t in a hurry and it doesn’t matter if you don’t get where you want to go (you have be prepared not to move far).

Method A involves stopping every time the dog pulls and walking in the opposite direction. The dog pulls again, you stop, turn around, and walk until the dog pulls again. Basically, you go nowhere. The dog will eventually realize that when he pulls, you stop and get further away, rather than achieving what he wants. As he starts to walk on a slack lead, praise him, and keep walking. Help him understand that less is more in terms of getting to the park.

Method B you can do in the back yard. With the dog on the leash, set a totally tasty treat on the ground a few feet away, let the dog see it and walk towards it. If the dog pulls, then make a disapproving noise and return to the start. Repeat. Set off, and as soon as he pulls give a signal that he did wrong and then return to base. This helps him understand that he only gets to the treat when he walks without pulling.

Once he gets the message, then practice in other locations so that he learns to walk on a loose lead in different places, not just the back yard.

4.16 Separation Anxiety

This hugely distressing condition, both for dog and owner, is more common in shelter dogs. It takes the form of the dog being over dependent on the owner’s company and not coping when they leave. The dog may vocalize (whine or bark), attempt to escape (digging or chewing), and become frantically restless as a displacement activity.

Separation anxiety is often deep-seated and is a difficult problem to solve, especially as it’s inevitable the dog has to be left during rehabilitation. The principle of helping a dog to overcome separation anxiety revolves around rewarding calm, independent behavior, uncoupling departure cues from the act of leaving, and decreasing the anxiety caused by departure.

If your dog has severe separation anxiety then medication prescribed by your vet may blunt some of the physical sensations of panic and distress, which helps the dog respond to retraining. As with so many behavioral issues this is a complex area and a qualified behaviorist is best placed to put a plan in place to help. The following table gives you an idea of the strategies which may help.

Aim Action
Teach independence Have the dog lie on a mat on the far side of the room, give a chew toy to distract him, and spend time out of the room.Ignore attention seeking behavior.Initiate interactions and reward the dog for “Sit” and doing what you ask.Practice the dog sitting on his bed, leaving the room (for longer and longer) and reward him for staying.
Desensitize to Departure Vary your leaving routine e.g., Pick up car keys but don’t leave the house, wear your coat but without going out, exit by a different door.Distract the dog with a chew toy, put on a cue such as a CD, and leave unnoticed through a different door. Return and reward him.Practice short departures with the CD on, as a cue that you will return shortly.
Distractions prior to departure Exercise and play prior to departure so the dog is tired.Ensure plenty of play, exercise, and social time through the day, but expect the dog to rest away from you.Give a high value toys 15 min. prior to departure and allow dog to settle. Remove the toy on return so it’s only available in your absence.
Care with confinement Train the dog to accept a crate and be relaxed in it.Ensure the dog is relaxed in the crate while you are elsewhere in the house.Never shut the dog in a crate if he will be distressed and try to escape in your absence.
Coming home Keep the return home low key.Greet the dog only once he is calm.
Training Ensure plenty of basic obedience training. This helps him understand you are in control and he is safe, increasing his general confidence level and decreasing background anxieties.

4.17 Small dog syndrome

Dog lovers can be divided between preferring big dogs to small dogs; Their argument being small dogs are yappy, snappy, and generally obnoxious. Actually, this comes as no coincidence because often small dogs are allowed to get away with behavior not tolerated in a larger dog.

Think of it this way. If a 90kg Rottweiler ran up to the mailman growling and snapping, the post office would stop delivering mail. However, a 3kg Chihuahua who growls up at the letterbox may raise a few eyebrows, but be tolerated. The difference being bad behavior in a Rottweiler is perceived as dangerous and socially unacceptable, and the owner takes care to properly train their dog. However, instead of training a Chihuahua they are scooped up and put into a different room.

Another cause of small dog syndrome is that at the first sign of trouble, the owner often scoops the dog up off the floor. The dog then continues growling at the mailman, but from the safety of his pet parent’s arms. The message the dog receives is that mum or dad back him up, and the behavior continues.

If you own a small or toy dog, remember they have a fully-fledged canine character. Expect no lesser behavior from a teacup Yorkie as you would from a Dobermann. Train the dog to the same exacting standards (of course reward-based training is ideal) so they learn good manners no matter what the occasion. Size is not justification for disobedience.

Well Done!