Correcting Domestic Behaviours
You may think your home is your castle, but who’s really the king? If your dog is exhibiting any of the following domestic behaviors, then your home life is probably suffering. Your dog’s home should be their safe space, where they feel calm, happy, and secure. But when things go wrong, it can easily become their playground and center for recreational destruction. In this module, we’re going to teach you how to work with your dog to overcome some common domestic behaviors, and how to not only correct their bad manners, but also alleviate the emotional problems that can be causing them to act out.
You’ll learn about the following topics:
3.1 Overcoming Fear and Anxiety
3.2 Chewing and Destruction
3.3 Excessive Barking or Howling
3.4 Digging, Clawing, and Escape Artists
3.5 Indoor Soiling and Housebreaking Problems
3.6 How to Handle Hyperactivity
3.1 Overcoming Anxiety
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, 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?
When faced with a fearful situation (think thunderstorms, fireworks, loud noises, tall men, 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 General Anxiety and Fears
Here’s how to go about reducing an anxious dog’s dilemma.
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) Know that drugs are sometimes necessary
Reducing 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.
|Teach Independence||Have the dog lie on a mat on the far side of the room, give a chew toy to distract him, andspend 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.|
3.2 Chewing and Destruction
When it comes to chewing, we taught you in the previous module that it’s a natural behavior that dogs engage in. When dogs begin to teeth, they chew to relieve pain and pressure in their gums. It’s a behavior that arises out of necessity, but it becomes a habit, as even past the 1 year mark, dogs still find pleasure in chewing and biting. Experts also say that the act of chewing helps to strengthen teeth and gums, and can reduce plaque build-up. Perhaps this is why dogs can justify chewing up your favorite sneakers or stuffed animal.
1) Don’t Wait, Take Action
The key to stopping chewing behavior is knowing that you can’t actually stop it. Dogs will always feel the desire to chew. Instead, you have to replace items that you may miss, or that may be dangerous to your dog, with toys that they can chew to their heart’s content! When it comes to chewing, the best defense is a good offense. Take measures to prevent the behavior from happening when you know you cannot prevent it.
2) Cut Off Your Dog’s Supply
First, shoes are a natural target for doggy teeth, so if your pup is particularly fond of footwear, make sure they’re out of his reach. Keep shoes hidden in a cupboard, or on a tall shoe rock that they cannot reach. Get into the habit of keeping the floors clear of any shoes (even slippers!), and warn guests that they will have to put their shoes away too.
Alternately, if this isn’t realistic for you, then use a doggy gate or obstacle to keep the dog out of the mudroom or hallway. Basically, the goal is to puppy proof your home so your dog no longer has access to any objects he likes to chew.
3) Give Him a Better Option
When your dog’s favorite chew toy is something he shouldn’t be chewing, present him with a more attracive option. Leave out a few different chew toys of varying textures, sizes, and shapes, and let him try these out. Make sure toys are well-made and from a reputable pet store or company, and be particularly careful of small parts that can come off and pose choking hazards.
Try to reproduce the texture or sizee of the object your dog liked to chew most. If it was a shoe, look for a rubbery material that will give your dog the same sensation, or a soft felt if it was stuffed animals your dog was after. But be careful about toys that reproduce objects exactly. You don’t want your dog to start playing with a toy that looks like a shoe, otherwise he won’t know the difference between his new toy and your shoes.
4) Encourage his Play
When you see the dog playing or trying out his new toys, give him praise and encourage his playtime. Pay attention to him, and even hold the toy out to him as he chews. When you engage in the behavior with him, he’ll know that this is acceptable, and he can enjoy these new objects.
Conversely, if you catch him reverting to bad habits and getting a hold of forbidden objects, give him a firm reprimend. Remove the object, and right away replace it with his toy.
5) Use Aversion Technique
When your dog is absolutely fixated, and nothing seems to work, try using a spray. These sprays are made to offend your dog’s taste buds so they have an averse response to the object they want to chew. They are harmless, but check the ingredients to make sure you’re buying a trusted brand and product. Simply spray on the object, and next time your dog tries to chew, he’ll be in for a surprise.
Because dogs learn by association, he will now associate the object with the bad taste, and likely will not try again. Sprays are also a great option when your dog has a penchant for furniture, or objects that are difficult to hide.
Other Destructive Behaviors
Weclassify chewing as an action borne from natural instinct, but there are other destructive behaviors that are not natural or normal. For our purposes, we are referring to destruction of property, and not necessarily self-destructive behaviors. Some common forms of destructive behaviors include:
- Clawing furniture or floors
- Ripping and tearing objects such as pillows, sheets, papers, etc.
- Biting walls, doors, and furniture
- Making a mess of objects, such as disrupting trash bins or laundry hampers
There are several explanations for these types of behaviors. First, consider the behavior itself. Is it isolated, or is it occuring in conjunction with other problem behaviors?
If your dog is only biting walls, it may be a misplaced chewing instinct. If he is only disrupting trash, he may just be poking around for scraps. These are not passes by any means, but it means that you will be correcting the behavior itself, as opposed to managing symptoms of a deeper problem.
To correct isolated bad behaviors, consider the following principles that be applied to almost any general acts of destruction. When you walk in on the behavior, here’s how to put a stop to it:
- Start by issuing a issuing a sharp command to get your dog’s attention. If this doesn’t work, use a horn or clanking device to make an alerting sound – but nothing too loud or frightening.
- Ask your dog to come to you, and wait until he is at your feet. Your dog may feel guilty, frightened, or any other strong emotion that may cause him to slink slowly towards you in an anxious posture. Keep your energy calm, your voice firm yet controlled, and wait patiently for him to come towards you. Ask him to sit.
- You want to neutralize your own energy, so you can calm your dog down. He may have been on a high while engaging in the ilicit act, and you want him in a calm state when you’re having a training moment. If he appears too excited, just wait. Have him sit by your feet, and continue to use a controlled, low voice to let him know you aren’t angry, but you’re still in charge.
- When the dog is calm, remove him from the room or area. Give him a time out and allow him to be on his own for a bit. Do not show him affection.
- At a later time, when the dog is not present, repair or remove the damaged property.
To prevent the behavior from repeating, there are several things you can do:
- Use obstacles to cut off the dog’s access to the area or object he was destroying is possible. Keep doors closed, or use doggy gates to confine your dog to a particular area.
- Use sprays to prevent chewing or biting of furniture and walls
- Ensure that your dog is mentally stimulated. If you noticed his bad behavior was following a routine, try to upset it by introducing a new activity. Spend 20 minutes doing obedience training, or indulge him in a game of hide and seek.
- Provide an outlet for his energy. A tired dog is a good dog, and exercise is the best way to allow your dog blow off some steam and energy. Try adding an extra walk to your day, or extending existing walks. If possible, give your dog some off-leash time either in a dog park or fenced-in yard.
- Make sure he can entertain himself. Leave a toy or two that he can access whenever he’s bored, so he doesn’t try to play with your favorite chair or new bed sheets.
Responses to Emotional Issues
When you suspect that your dog may be acting out due to emotional issues, you must use a different approach to correcting destructive behaviors. In these cases, you have to treat the issue that’s causing the behavior, as opposed to focusing on correcting the behavior itself.
To determine if this is the case, evaluate your dog’s behavior patterns. If your dog acts out when you’re in the room, or at home, he is likely trying to get your attention. This is a common response when a dog is anxious, fearful, overly protective, and insecure. If your dog hides when you discover their destruction, or exhibits severe signs of fear, such as shivering, submissive posture, panting, etc. then it’s likely that there’s more than guilt involved.
You’ll learn how to treat various emotional issues throughout this course, but it’s important to recognize when a destructive behavior is indicative of a larger problem. Especially in these cases, the wrong response from you can exacerbate an already fragile situation and make your dog feel even more stressed out.
Whether you’re correcting a behavior that comes from boredom, or that’s part of an overarching issue, it’s important to remain calm. Do not allow your dog to see your frustration or disapointment, and do not comfort your dog if they appear sad and guilty. Allow them some time to sit still in a controlled setting. This will not do an anxious or fearful dog any harm.
3.3 Excessive Barking or Howling
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.
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.
Chances are, your dog has already learned the habit, and thinks that barking whenever he feels like it is ok. Ignoring him will not stop the behavior, so you need a plan.
Barking as a 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 or raising your voice.
The clever way to do this is to put the barking on cue, or by tricking your dog into thinking that you control the bark itself. This means you teach a dog to bark on demand, and once he does so, you teach him the “Quiet” cue. When you give him praise for learning and obeying these commands, he’ll learn to associate the barking with you. He’ll be less inclined to bark on his own without a command, but even if he does, all you have to do is “quiet” him, and he’ll understand what you are asking of him. You now have a tool to stop barking when you want!
We’ll teach you how to train both of these commands in later modules.
Other Ways to Reduce Barking
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. This avoidance technique is especially effective when coupled with the next tip, in case the dog is barking out of protection and 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!
3.4 Digging, Clawing and Escape Artists
Can You Dig My Digging?
Does your yard look like it’s been hit by a meteor?
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 (get it?). 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.
Digging or Jumping to Escape
If you’re the owner of a Harry Houndini, you may be frustrated by your dog’s ability to seemingly outsmart every kennel, gate, fence, and door. Your dog can actually be destroying property during the escpe process, but the greater risk is what can happen to him outside of his perceived prison. Dogs can run out on to a road if escaping a yard and be hit by a car, or they can seriously injure themselves if trying to chew through a crate or kennel. To ensure your property remains intact, and that your dog stays safe, it’s important to put an end to his magic tricks.
So why is your dog trying to escape, and what can you do to stop him? Here are a few tips.
1) He Wants Some Human Interaction
This is especially true if the dog is confined to an outdoor space for long periods of time, such as a yard or chained up to a dog house. Dogs crave companionship and should never be left to live alone outside – they are indoor animals who need to be with their families to thrive. Do not leave your dog alone outside for more than a few hours at a time. If possible, hire a dog walker or sitter, or ask a trusted neighbor who gets along with the dog to take him for a walk if you will be out all day.
2) He’s Bored and Frustrated
Boredom is particularly difficult for working breeds to deal with, as they are literally bred to be productive and industrious. They do not do well when they are left alone to their own devices, with no task to occupy themselves with. When a dog is left alone in a crate or yard with nothing to play with, chew, or even look at, they will want to go elsewhere for fun. Make sure your dog has a toy to occupy his time with, or better yet, give him something to really concentrate on. A rubber treat with peanut butter, wet food, or a cookie inside will hold his attention for while
3) He is Hyperactive
When your dog has excess energy and he has no way to burn it off, he’s not going to be happy sitting in a confined space – even if it’s a large yard. Some dogs want to run at full speed, and others just want to find a playmate. Before confining your dog, make sure he is properly walked and exercised, and that he enters his space in a calm state. More than likely he will be too worn out to cause trouble, and will instead prefer to nap and rest.
4) He is Distracted by Something
This can be a small animal on the other side of a fenced yard, an ice cream truck, another dog, or just about any kind of movement, sound, or smell. This is the trickiest to prevent, as the stimulus is outside of your control. For indoor crates, try to keep them in an area that isn’t beside a window or door, if they are prone to distractions. You may have to DIY your yard if your dog has a high prey drive and chases after birds, squirrels and cats. You can prevent digging underneath a fence by installing baseboards, and extend the height of a fence by using lattice, or additional material. Be sure to do so in a way that is safe for your dog, so they don’t injure themselves if they do try to jump over.
3.5 Indoor Soiling and Housebreaking Problems
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.
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):
- Blot the area dry to remove surface wetness. Don’t push too hard as this can force moisture deeper into the pile.
- Use a solution of biological washing detergent in water, to wash away the stain.
- Rinse with warm water.
- Blot the area and make sure the cloth looks clean. If it isn’t, wash again as for step 2.
- Rinse the area with a solution of bicarbonate of soda.
- Blot and rinse with clean water.
- Optional final step – sprinkle the area with a little bicarbonate of soda.
- If the surface is hard (such as tiles) skip (7) and wipe over with rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit).
- 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.
Common reasons for failure of training include:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 [Download Holly and Hugo’s free Crate Training guide here.] 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.
- 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.
3.6 How to Handle Hyperactivity
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.
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 physically forcing them to relax using massage techniques is a surefire antidote to hyperactivity.
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.
The 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.