Correcting Social Behaviours
When it comes to interacting with others, there’s plenty of room to misbehave. Whether it’s the pressure to socialize with other dogs, or the desire to win a human’s attention, dogs will often act out from the stresses of interaction. But just because your dog has trouble playing nice with others, doesn’t mean he has to be a recluse. Socialization is key in dog development, and it’s virtually impossible to cut yoru dog off from the world. In this module, we’ll help you to understand common social behaviors and emotional responses, and teach you how to correct bad manners.
This module will cover the following topics:
4.1 Understanding Aggression
4.2 Not Getting Along with Other Dogs
4.3 Food and Toy Guarding
4.4 Bad Manners – Jumping, Humping, and Attention Seeking
4.5 Begging for Food
4.1 Understanding Aggression
Aggression is a complex topic that could take an entire course and more 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.
Unfortunately, many dogs end up being abandoned or put down due to aggression that could have been prevented had the dog received proper training, care and rehabilitation. While it can be a serious situation, remember that your dog can change. With commitment from you and a helping hand from an expert, you CAN get aggression under control and have a loving, friendly, emotionally stable dog.
Signs of Aggression
- Low swishing of tail
- Rigid body, freezing
- Baring of teeth
- Barking combined with any of the above actions
Differentiating Aggression from Other Behaviors
At this point, it may be worth repeating that every dog is an invidiual, and has their own particular way of dealing with things. Because there is no universal dog behaviour for specific situations, you have to evaluate your dog to determine what’s going on, and what’s causing his behavior.
Sometimes you may think your dog is being aggressive, when in fact they are simply having an aggressive response to some other problem. This equally needs to be delt with, but in these cases you will need to treat the underlying issue. Before you try to diagnose your dog, consider the following and determine whether some other issue is causing their behavior.
Fear, Anxiety, and Insecurity
A dog will initially freeze. Their first reaction to a fearful or anxious situation will be to run away or hide. It is usually only when these choices are not available, that they will respond with aggression. It is a defensive action rather than a desire for confrontation. If a dog is in a continuous state of anxiety, then they may slip into the habitual response of reacting aggressively to everything. They never feel like they can get away from the anxiety.
Larger dogs in particular need lots of exercise and outdoor time. Any high energy dog that does not get enough physical activity may get frustrated to the point of aggression. Again, this is not for the sake of aggression. If you are unable to provide plenty of physical activity, then arrange for someone else to do it. Leave toys, chewable bones, and treats to provide mental stimulation when the dog is alone.
Dogs that are left to themselves usually work things out between them, without aggression, by giving signals that we are not so good at reading. Often, it is when we interfere with our own fears, interpretations, and actions (like picking dogs up) that we interrupt this natural order. A lot of aggression towards other dogs is learned from humans. Try to let go of preconceptions, fears, and let dogs socialize unhindered.
Injury or Illness
A dog who snaps at a familiar person uncharacteristically may be doing so in response to pain or fear of pain. Check if there is a physical reason, particularly in aging dogs.
A dog who gets plenty of exercise, socialization, and an owner that is calm, assertive and in control, is much less likely to be aggressive than one who is bored, frustrated, and in need of exercise.
Types of Aggression
Restriction / Frustration Aggression
Some dogs associate being restricted with the need for aggression. This includes being held on a leash or being picked up when other dogs are free to roam. The restriction leads to frustration at not being free to behave according to their normal instincts, and may in turn lead to aggression.
This is in response to a perceived threat to a member of the dog’s family group. The dog needs to be trained to trust that the pack leader is strong, in control, and their aggressive behavior is not required. Mothers who are suckling their pups can be aggressive towards intruders. Moreover, this is natural but if it becomes a problem it can be reduced with a careful approach.
This is the easiest to understand; it is a primal instinct. A dog can be protective of the home, car, and yard.
It is a useful security measure. However, if the dog is over alert, leave treats outside for visitors to offer him as they enter, and therefore teach him to see familiar people as friends, not enemies.
Resource / Possessive Aggression
Even though food is a guaranteed resource for domesticated dogs, they can still behave aggressively if they think they are in competition for it. This is another reason to feed a dog only after other household members are already eating or are finished. They can also aggressively guard a food bowl, so do not leave it around outside of feeding time. Guarding of toys and treats needs more assertion from the owner in order to remind the dog who is in charge. Train a puppy to adjust to the idea that you can take away their food at any time so this becomes normal, and they accept that you are in control. It reduces the feeling of possession around food.
As dogs in domestication do not have the same freedom for sexual expression they would have in the wild, male dogs can become aggressive when in competition with other males for a mating opportunity. Neutering eliminates this in most cases. Females can also aggressively compete for male attention, though this is less common.
A reminder of the animal in your dog; the instinct to prey can still be present in domesticated dogs. Unlike the other forms of aggression above, there are usually no warning gestures. Moreover, it is difficult to break the focus once it kicks in. It is mostly triggered by the scent of a wild animal.
General Guidelines for Dealing with Aggression
While you are waiting to consult a behaviourist or expert, or while you’re observing your dog to see what’s going on, the following strategies will help you to manage the situation.
|Never leave children unsupervised with an aggressive dog.|
|Give the dog plenty of exercise. A pleasantly tired dog through lots of play is more likely to sleep than misbehave.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.)|
|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|
4.2 Aggression Towards Other Dogs or Animals
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.|
When Dogs Fight Within a Household
Trying to manage and referee between two dogs within a household can be a trying experience. You hope they get along like fast friends, but actually, there’s rarely any peace. So what can you do to achieve harmony?
- When choosing dogs to live together, try to avoid two females dog
- 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
- 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.
Choosing Sides Can Help
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:
- Buddy the Husky believes he is more important than Coco the Pug. Unfortunately, Coco accidentally walks too close to Buddy’s favorite toy.
- Buddy warns Coco off with a growl. The owner comes along, and feels sorry that Coco is being picked on, so they promptly tell Buddy off.
- Buddy now feels conflicted, because he’s being chastised when it was his toy that was under threat.
- Meanwhile, the owner has backed up Coco, which will make her feel braver and more likely to stand up toBuddy in the future.
- The tension escalates the next time there’s a confrontation, and now you have two dogs competing for power.
This situation is only resolved when there is a clear winner in the dogs’ eyes. This is achieved by the owner gently chastising Coco for touching a toy that is not hers. This gives a clear message to both dogs that Buddy is boss. They both understand the status quo, and Buddy plays with his toy, confident in the knowledge that Coco is not going to touch it. Coco in turn, is happy to go about her life with no delusions of grandeur or desire to lead the household. Dogs sort out the pecking order amongst themselves; there are usually only issues when a human interferes and disrupts the heirarchy (however inadvertently).
How You Can Manage Conflicts
To broker the peace between two dogs, or to prevent any power struggles in the future, you should not try to play the diplomat. Instead, play by doggy rules and respect their methods. It may feel awkward and unnatural to back up one dog over another, but your dog will not hate you for it – we promise! Ultimately, they’ll feel grateful that their role is clear and consistent, and that you’re there to enforce the hierarchy.
To be a better peacemaker, try the following:
- 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
- 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. This a delicate balance and one best talked through with your veterinarian prior to surgery.
When Your Dog Fights with Dogs Not in your Household
Many people shrug off inter-dog aggression as being “natural” and dominance related, but if you consistently notice that your dog is behaving poorly towards other dogs, it’s time to get him evaluated. Let’s now examine what you can do when you experience your dog fighting with, or lashing out at, another dog.
We mentioned some reasons why dogs within a household may not get along, but here are some extra ones to consider when it’s two dogs who don’t know one another.
|The dog may be stressed out due to an unfamilar situation. If your dog is attending a kennel or doggy day care for the first time, going to his first dog park, or trying a new walking route, they may already feel stressed due to a change in environment and routine.|
|He may feel his space is being violated. If your dog has minimum interaction with other dogs, or is simply used to getting a lot of space at home, he may feel very put off by the sniffing and jumping of other dogs, in what he perceives as his personal space bubble.|
|Your dog may feel the need to protect you. If you’re out on a walk, and a passing dog startles you for whatever reason, your dog will sense your fear. He will attribute that fear to the unknown dog, and may growl, snap, or lunge at the danger to try to protect you – because he feels like you are not capable of protecting yourself.|
|He may feel afraid. Your dog can be spooked for just about any reason, many of which make no sense to us. Aggression as a fear response is very common, and your dog may take it out on another pooch.|
|He has not been properly socialized. Basically, this indicates all of the above. If your dog is not used to interacting with other dogs, he will have developed most of the feelings and responses we mentioned. It’s as if you were brought into a room full of aliens – you probably wouldn’t know how to react either! Even benign emotions such as curiosity or over-excitement can turn into aggressive behavior if your dog feels overwhelmed.|
Leadership and Damage Control
We’ve already stated that one of the things your dog looks to you for is conflict management and a sense of security. He trusts that you will keep him safe, and basically, that you won’t expose him to any dangers, threats, or nuisances.
Here’s how to control the situation and prevent fighting or aggression:
1) Monitor your dog closely and look for signs of stress, fear, and anxiety. By now, you know how to read his postures, interpret his body and vocal language, and can recognize signs of any distress. Watch your dog, but also look for signs of distress in the other dog as well.
2) As soon as you see any sign of stress, step in and interupt – do not let things escalate to the point of physical contact. You can physically intervene by placing yourself between the two dogs, in an assertive stance. Keep your feet apart, hands relaxed at your side, and stand in front of your own dog. This will make him feel that you have the situation under control, and he can lower his guard.
3) Do not get emotional. As soon as your dog senses any indecision or nervousness in you, he will immediately pick up on it and it will add to his stress. Remember, you’re supposed to have everything under control! If you’re feeling stressed out by another dog, for whatever reason, your dog may take it upon himself to step up as the leader.
4) Practice avoidance. If tensions are evident, simply remove your dog from the situation. Put him on leash, and nonchalantly move him away, out of sight , and on your merry way.
5) Give your dog space. If a dog feels cornered, or like he has nowhere to go, then he may think he has no choice but to start being aggressive. If walking on leash and passing another dog, be conscious of not crowding him, or putting him in a position where he feels trapped between you and the other dog.
6) Keep greetings short. Allow your dog to say “hi” and inspect another dog, but limit the interaction to a few seconds. In this way, the interaction remains a positive one in the dog’s mind. He will not associate it with any bad outcomes, and he won’t be carrying any grudges.
7) If your dog is in an agitated state, or has demonstrated aggression towards dogs in the past, do not let him make eye contact when on leash. Keep him distracted with commands or praise when passing another dog, and pretend like it’s no big deal – that nothing is there. You cannot acknowledge the dog either – keep your attention on your dog, and reward him when he has successfully avoided the temptation to bark or lunge.
8) Set your dog up for success by limiting stressful interactions, and encouraing positive ones. If he’s having a bad week, then limit his interactions to a dog you know he gets along with. Or try to walk in areas that get less traffic. He will build up his confidence and be ready to try socializing again, and you will have had time to strategize for the next encounter.
9) If your dog has success with training, then try to do some training in the field, to desensitize him to other dogs. When you’re at the dog park, or out on a walk, do a bit of spot training with him. Have him sit, lie, stay, come, etc. away from the other dogs. When he obeys, slowly bring him closer to the other dogs, little by little. In this way, you have his attention, and the other dogs aren’t as important. They become less of an excitement, and more so just background noise that your dog is curious about, but not angry at.
4.3 Food and Toy 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.
Toy and Resource Guarding
Guarding is a natural instinct that dogs inherited from their ancestors, who had to compete for resources in the wild. Of course, domestic dogs don’t have to fight for resources, but they don’t always know this. Dogs may become aggressive towards other dogs or humans when they think their resources are in danger of being stolen.
It starts with your dog refusing to give up a toy or object when you try to take it from him, but it can escalate to your dog nipping and biting anyone who even goes near “their” possessions. Here are some tips for resource guarding prevention and management
- Take control of your dog’s resources. Do not leave toys all over the house; put them away and distribute to your dog when you want him to play. If your dog already demonstrates guarding tendencies, then supervise his playtime. Do the same for his food bowls, leash, and any other objects that your dog considers “his”. Bring them out only when they are needed.
- Use toys as rewards. You don’t have to do an entire training lesson, but prior to giving your dog a toy, have him sit or come. The dog will then associate his toy as a reward, and you as the giver of the reward. The dog will learn that he will only get access to his resources when he is polite and well-behaved.
- Have your dog trade toys in the middle of his playtime. Work on swapping one toy for another on cue – come up with a verbal command that your dog can learn, such as “give toy”. He will learn that when he gives up his toy, he wil get something in return. Eventually, you can request the toy from him and instead of giving a new toy, reward him with a treat or with praise.
4.4 Bad Manners – Jumping, Humping, and Attention Seeking
Sometimes, your dog isn’t acting because of an underlying emotional issue, but just because they don’t know any better, they’re excited or curious, or there are a lack of boundaries in your home.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.
Jumping To Say “Hi”
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Rushing the Door
As for dashing to the door when you have a visitor…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.
Almost all bad behaviors are a form of attention seeking. Your dog wants you to notice him and give him attention. Sometimes this is due to anxiety, fear or insecurity, but it can also be due to boredom or lack of mental and physical stimulation. And sometimes, your dog just wants to feel loved!
We’ve covered many attention-seeking behaviors already, but here are others that are less complex and severe:
- Jumping on you when they want something
- Jumping on furniture
- Nipping your hand and trying to goad you into playing with them
- Following you relentlessly from room to room
- Disturbing objects or making a mess
- Chasing their tale or running through the house
Dogs associate love with proximity. They are happiest when they are by your side, and when you dote on them and give them your undivided attention. But as much as you enjoy spending time with your dog and want him to feel loved, you also have a life of your own. It is not healthy for your dog to follow you around, or want to spend every waking moment with you. When your dog has attachment issues, they can quickly escalate to anxiety, and trying to ‘one up’ themselves to get your attention – this is why many dogs act out.
Ignorance is Bliss!
The general philosophy when it comes to attention seekers, is to ignore them. Initially, the dog may become frustrated and increase their efforts, but eventually they will get the message.
The hardest part, however, is being aware of your dog developing these habits, and how you’ve helped to enable them. If every time your dog whines, you walk over and pet him, he is being rewarded for whining. He’s gotten your attention!
There’s nothing wrong with giving your dog attention, comfort, and affection, but you must always do so on YOUR TERMS.
When you ignore your dog, make sure to do so with your entire body, not just your eyes. Turn away from them completely, and do not speak to them.
If the dog is invading your personal space, put your hand out to stop them from coming closer and give them a firm but gentle nudge back. Do not hold their collar, and do not leave your hand out – your dog may interpret this as winning your attention. Keep your action quick and firm, so your dog doesn’t confuse it with playtime either.
The lesson here, is that your dog cannot demand your time and attention, and that acting out will not be rewarded. Keep your energy calm and neutral throughout these exercises, and your dog’s enthusiasm will eventually wane. He will become more relaxed, and he’ll lose interest in baiting you.
Humping or Mounting
It’s the moment dog owners dread – finding your beloved pooch humping a stranger’s leg. It’s embarassing for everyone involved. Many people’s first instinct is to laugh it off, in an attempt to downplay the awkwardness of the situation, but there are steps you can take to curb this behavior.
To start with, your dog can hump for a variety of reasons
- Sexual. Your dog is imitating mating behavior, and even neutered dogs can find their sexual instincts kicking in from time to time.
- They are excited. Some dogs are aroused when they are excited, and they instinctively hump to release hormones
- They are anxious. On the flip side, when dogs aren’t sure of how to behave, they may revert to primitive canine behaviors, such as humping.
- When they want attention. I mean, this is one trick that will definitely get people to notice!
- Compulsive or medical problems. If your dog is constantly humping, or rubbing their genitals then there may be a medical reason. Observe their behaviors, and consult a vet.
Redirecting Your Dog’s Sexual Energy
Do not punish your dog for humping. They are behaving instinctively, and acting as dogs do. Instead, try to direct their energy in a different way.
- When your dog begins to hump, call them over and make them sit. Keep your energy calm and wait for them to settle down a bit. Using a low soothing voice to praise them as they relax.
- If they are humping a person, ask the person to simply walk away. Your dog will realize that it’s not acceptable, and like any other attention seeking behavior, he will grow bored if he’s ignored.
- Neutering can help with humping, but it’s not always a fool-proof solution.
- When you correct humping behavior from puppyhood, your dog will be less likely to do it as an adult. Correcting adult humping is much more difficult.
- Make sure your dog is properly exercised. Channel that energy into playtime, walks, and other activities.
4.5 Begging for Food
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:
- Put the dog in a separate room at mealtimes and ignore his barks.
- Let him sit beside the table but on no account feed him.
OK, you can 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 him from the table.