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Breaking Bad Habits

Dogs are natural warning devices. However, barking should stop when the dog is commanded to do so. In addition, owner absent barking can be quite annoying to others. For this reason, we need to control the behavior when possible.

The best way to stop a behavior from recurringis to associate it with a negative reinforcement. Effective negative reinforcements vary from dog to dog and may depend upon many factors including breed, age, device, timing and more. Some of the methods I use include my voice, a soda can filled with pennies, a squirt ofwater, or a leash check, just to name a few.

When the dog barks say "Quiet!" in an authoritative voice. This command means to stop barking. If the dog barks again, activate the negative reinforcer (throw the can to the floor near the dog or snap the leash) and repeat the command "Quiet!". If the dog stops barking, praise him.

Owner absent behaviors are the most difficult to control. Keep the dog in a crate in the house if he is not yet house trained. Play a talk radio station in another room so that the dog will not feel he is alone. When it is time for you to leave, just leave. Drape the crate with a towel to limit sensory stimuli if necessary. Also leave interesting toys forthe dog to play with.

To do this you must supervise your dog in the yard, either with you outthere or while watching through a window. When your dog begins to dig, you must interrupt the behavior with something the dog will want to avoid; a loud noise, your voice, or a soaking with a hose.

Submissive Urination
To begin with, submissive urination is not a house training problem. It is caused by a weak bladder when the dog is excited or frightened; this is why it is seen most often in younger dogs. Submissive urination occurs in both male and female dogs, but is more common in females. The scenario usually goes like this: You come home from work and your puppy is happy to see you. You reach down and greet your puppy and she squats and urinates. She is unaware of what is taking place and her tail is smearing it all over. You yell "No!"; she then becomes frightened since your mood changed so suddenly, and urinates more. If this keeps up, she may begin to urinate when she hears you arrive in anticipation of being yelled at. So what can you do about it?

The next time you arrive home, walk in and ignore your dog like he or she was not there. Do not make eye contact. Take a few minutes to allow the dog to settle down. Next lower your hand and let your dog smell it or lick it. Finally, squat down and greet your dog at the dogs level, remembering not to get too excited. Greeting your dog in a lower position is less intimidating.

Food Guarding
Food guarding is a common problem encountered by canine behaviorists. This is not surprising since canines are predisposed to protecting their food; their ancestors needed to protect their food in order to survive in the wild (or even from pushy litter mates). If your puppy learned to growl or snap at his litter mates in order to get any or the most food, he is simply carrying on this early learning behavior with his human family. If the owner smacks the dog for this behavior or takes the food away, this will in some cases confirm his need to guard his food.

Typically, any food guarding that is challenged once the dog has possession is likely to increase his defensive behavior and become more dangerous. If your canine companion learns that aggression wins over food, he may later begin to try this tactic with other things like trophy possessions or space on his favorite couch.

The method of choice for solving this problem is to first put the behavior under stimulus control. Assuming you have taught your dog to come and sit, call your dog to you and make him sit. When he does, immediately give him a food treat and say "Take it" at the same moment. Soon a conditioned response will be established. If the dog snaps too hard at the treat say "Gentle!" in a harsh voice and try to withhold it until the dog takes it gently. Be sure to praise with a warm "Good".  Next, begin to delay the treat a few seconds. If the dog jumps to get the treat, simply close your hand and give the instructive reprimand "Off". Soon the dog should learn that the owner has the right to control the small, quickly consumable treats. This can later be expanded to the treat being offered in the food bowl.

There is one thing for sure - dogs beg because only they receive reinforcement for doing so; it only takes once or twice to start the habit. People food is a great motivater. Another thing that is for sure is that dogs who are constantly fed at the table get fat, less mobile and usually die younger than dogs who aren't fed at the table. The fact is, dogs who eat premium kibble get better nutrition than most potato chip eating, beer drinking humans.

First, obedience train your dog. Be sure your instructor teaches the place command (to go to a mat and lie down) or at least the down-stay. Place your dog in a place or down-stay and eat dinner. He can watch. After dinner, release him and feed him his food in his bowl. Why feed him last? Well, if there were a pack of dogs in the woods and they killed a rabbit (poor bunny), who would eat first? If you answered, "The leader" you're correct. So why would you feed your dog first and make him think he is the leader? Sound silly? Not really; this is the way dogs think. Only offer food treats when your dog obeys a command you have given. And never feed them under the table!

Separation Anxiety
    1. Plan Your Exit
    When it is time to leave, just leave. Do not say "Good bye" to your dog with hugs and kisses. In fact, ignore your dog for five minutes before you go. Paying too much attention will make your dog feel more insecure when the attention is abruptly withdrawn.

    2. Confine Your Dog When You Are Away
    Confining your dog during your times of absence has two positive results. First, a dog who is confined to a carrier or crate cannot do damage to your home. Secondly, a crate, when properly introduced, will act as a safe, comfortable den where the dog can relax. Limiting his movement also acts as an anxiety reducer for most dogs.

    3. Leave the Radio On
    Tune a radio to a talk station, put it on in a room you are often in (the bedroom is usually a good choice) and close the door. The dog will hear the human voices from your room and may not feel so alone. I have had some clients tape record their own voices and play the recording in place of the radio program. Dogs know the sound of your voice all too well. And remember, since the dog is most anxious just after you leave, a one hour recording will most probably do.

    4. Practice This Training Routine
    With most dogs, the hardest time for them is immediately after you leave. Their anxious (and sometimes destructive) behavior occurs within the first hour after they are left alone. It will be your job to reshape your dog's behavior through reinforcement training. Leave your dog out of his crate, put your coat on, walk to the door and leave. Come back in immediately. Greet your dog calmly. Tell him to sit. When he does, reinforce this behavior with a food treat he enjoys. Wait a few minutes and then repeat the exercise, this time remaining outside a few seconds longer. Continue practicing leaving and returning over the next few weeks, always remembering to return, greet your dog calmly and command him to sit before offering a treat.

    5. Establish Your Leadership
    When a dog has a strong leader, it has a calming effect on him. He feels safe and taken care of. In the absence of a strong leader, your dog feels obligated to assume that position in the social hierarchy of the family pack. Since a leader must control all that goes on, his inability to control your leaving causes him stress and anxiety. Obedience training is the best organized method of establishing yourself as a strong leader.

    6. Exercise Your Dog
    A dog who is lacking exercise is more likely to have stress and tension. Tiring a dog out with a long walk, run or with play goes a long way in reducing stress.

A puppy's urge to chew usually starts around teething time. Simply put, it feels good to chew. Like many other behaviors, most owners do not mind if their dog chews appropriate chew toys such as bones, rawhide, hard rubber and the like. It is inappropriately chewing the rug, the furniture, your shoes; this is usually not appreciated. Dogs may chew when the are isolated and bored. They may also chew when they are anxious and under stress. If this chewing relieves the boredom or the stress, it will most likely be repeated again and again because it is self-reinforcing. You end up with a bad habit that is sometimes hard to break.

The best way to prevent inappropriate chewing is to exercise the dog, supervise him when he is out and about, and confine him to a kennel or crate when you are not watching him. Puppy-proofing your house is also advised.

Your dog needs a variety of chew toys. Take half of them out one week and the put other half away. Rotate the group each week. In this way, your dog will not become bored and find new "toys" that may be yours. I provide a toy box for my dogs. They take toys out when they want to chew. I don't expect them to put them back though!

If you catch your puppy chewing an inappropriate object say, "No!... Chew Toy." and redirect the dog to an appropriate toy. This "instructive reprimand" will help to shape your puppy's behavior to your liking.

Remember, a puppy is a puppy for the first 12 to 18 months of life. When not supervised, puppy should be in the crate with a few toys. In this way, your belongings will stay intact and puppy will not be allowed to develop bad habits. With maturity and proper reinforcement training from you, soon your dog will have freedom around your home if you so desire.



Last Updated: 12/24/2023 5:30 PM
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