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Tips for Correcting Dog Behavior Problems

Summary:

"Dog behavior starts with understanding the root cause of a behavioral problem. While you can't control the genetic predisposition and intelligence of a dog, you can control the environment. For example you are in charge of your dog's self esteem and confidence.  Always start by thinking through why a dog behaves like they do.  Is there something you or a family member are doing to create confusion instead of clear expectations? Once a behavior is understood, it can either be modified using positive reinforcement or the cause/trigger can be eliminated. Negative punishment involves removing something positive such as limiting the freedom to roam around the house or a favorite toy. The goal is always to build your dog's self confidence while reinforcing the positive behavioirs that make him or her part of the family.

If all a dog hears is "no" (or at least more "no" than "yes"), then it is no wonder that a dog lacks confidence and direction). Each type of behavior problem is detailed below such as digging, chewing, barking, licking and aggression. We suggest starting with the first video and then skipping down to the list of articles that provide detailed information on each type of desired canine behavior. Last, you can consult with a veterinary behaviorist or ask our Vet a question which we will answer for free on a first come, first served basis."

dog behavior training - 350px x 326px - example 1
Dog Training Relies on Positive Reinforcement Using Things the Dog Perceives As Being Good Such as Food, Toys, Exercise and Play


Overview

If you’re going to have a dog, it helps to understand some of the basics of canine behavior. You’ll want to know what is normal behavior and how to deal with problem behavior. Here are some things you can expect.

Canine Behavior Table of Contents



dog behavior - example 2
Picture of Dog with Training Lead. Dog Behavior is often corrected with the use of a dog lead as shown here.  For example, teaching your dog without a lead to "come" let's him or her choose whether or not to obey. If you are holding a lead and can reinforce the request by pulling the dog to you, the dog learns who is the "alpha dog".
By:

Recognizing Different Types of Canine Behavior

This help video from "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millon shows real life dog behavior examples.



Dog Aggression Tips

Aggressive behavior in dogs  is not a normal or acceptable. If a dog is growling, snarling, snapping, and/or biting at you or family members, then it is showing behaviors that need to be modified. The first signs of aggression much be corrected in order to keep it from becoming a long term problem.

Aggression can also evolve over time and can show itself unexpectedly. For example, a dog might also place more importance on a possession such as a toy or roll of toilet paper.  Anyone that disturbs or comes near that object might be the target of aggressive behavior.

Causes:

The leading cause of aggressive dog behavior is dominance. Dogs are pack animals. Aggression means that a dog objects to you being the leader of the pack. Signs are a dog get possessive in that once they obtain a toy, an area of the home or food will try and keep it. Some dogs will get aggressive when they are prevented from an activity that they like to do. Dominance dog aggression is often to other family members. The dog is acting in contempt due to the weak social standing of the family member, sometimes exhibited by a person that always gives in to requests for more food or petting. A dog can even be aggressive to only the most dominant person in the family, since this is the only person worthy of the challenge.

Dogs might also exhibit different levels of aggressive dog behavior during different times of the day. In the morning a dog might be safe while in the evening it might not.

Puppy Aggression:

Often aggression starts as a puppy while testing different behaviors. If they growl and get to keep an object such as a ball, then they learn that not only is the aggressive behavior acceptable, but that it is rewarded, in this case by keeping the ball. If you think about how a puppy learns, at first if it bites too hard on the mom underbelly during feeding, the mother dog will rebuke the pup. If the puppy then bites a littermate, they are also rebuked. When the puppy comes home with a person, if they are not clearly warned against biting (a firm "stop it" or tap on the nost wiht a finger) then they think the person is a new toy and they will continue the behavior. Another approach is to put your hands in your pocket after being nipped. With a puppy it is only natural for them to explore with their mouths, but once it gets harder, then you need to withdraw the pleasure, your warm reaction, from the behavior.



A Dog Baring Teeth Can Be A Sign of Aggression
Photo Credit:

Signs of Dog Aggression:

Dogs exhibiting aggressive behavior will exhibit one or more signs. Owners cannot always see the signs as they can be subtle and are expressed through posture, manuevering and expression (4). The easiest way to recognize an aggressive posture is to note any changes from normal along with one or more of the signs listed below.

  • Fear Based Aggression

    • Lay back the ears
    • Tail between legs (a dog that appears to be passive may still attack, always be cautious)
    • Avoidance of eye contact
    • Lowered head and tail
    • Tense body posture
    • Horzontal lip retraction
    • Lip licking
    • Yawning
    • Crouched body
    • Moving slowly or freezing
    • Submission urination
  • Dominatly aggressive, territorial or possesive dogs
    • Stand stiff and erect (looks taller than usual)
    • Eyes focused in a stare
    • Ears upright and forward
    • Tail upright
    • Vertical lip retraction
    • Forward lean
  • Other Signs of Aggressive Behavior
    • Bare teeth
    • Biting
    • Growling
Dog Aggression Training:

Puppies should also be trained out of aggression as a fear response, particularly to people. Puppies that are not around people can learn to fear them. Later in life when visitors come to the house they may act out this fear with aggressive behaviors.

Take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out physical causes for his or her aggression. Then seek help from a dog behavior specialist. Don’t allow aggressive behavior to continue - it won’t get better on its own, and will probably just get worse. Until you are able to get help to correct the issue, keep your dog confined as necessary to keep people safe.

Fear Aggression Training:

Then read the signs for aggression. If a dog is aggressive due to fear, then your dog requires more exposure and socialization. A fearful dog sometimes proactively acts dominant out of fear that if they don't go on the offensive, they will be harmed. Often fear aggression response is learned early in life as the result of some type or traumatic occasion. Treatment involves understanding and avoiding the fear trigger.

Dominance Aggression Training

If the aggression is due to possessiveness, territorial aggression or the need to be dominant, then an obedience program with a trainer or dog behaviorist is needed to send a clear signal that the humans in the household are dominant. The key to rehabilitation is to re-establish dominance over the dog. Training involves making the dog work to get things it takes for granted. The dog needs to feel dependent on the people in the family for attention, praise, food, exercise and toys. This approach works within 2 months in 90% of cases.

For Additional Reading:


Video: Aggression in Dogs

Barking

Dogs bark. They bark to warn us of strangers, to let us know when they need to go outside, to tell us when they are hungry, when they get excited, and for many other reasons. Sometimes dogs bark too often, which is known as nuisance barking.

There is a healthy level of barking. Some dogs that are happy bark when something demanding or exciting happens. These dogs will stop barking with a command such as ("No-bark", "Quiet") as a signal that fun time is over.

Dogs who have not been properly socialized will bark excessively when guests are over. The socialization process starts from birth, by making sure that your puppy gets used to spending time with different people and in different circumstances. With exposure to noises and people, comes familiarity, which reduces the need to bark as a dog gets older.

Dogs also tend to bark when they have been left alone for long periods of time, often as a result of boredom. Make sure your dog has plenty of toys to occupy him, and give him plenty of exercise. Tired dogs are less likely to bark. You can also try a stop barking dog collar which uses a small punishment such as a sound or smell to discourage barking.

To you can use an outdoor which uses an ultrasonic tone that only dogs can hear. It is activated by barking and works from 50 feet away. The tone is irritating to a dog, so a dog will learn to avoid those actions that cause the tone to go off.

As an alternative you can select a non barking dog breed (all dogs make some type of noise) or select a dog that has a calm temperament. As a last resort there is a surgical procedure called debarking that will reduce barking but is obviously controversial.

Dog Barking Training Tips: (3)

  • Start with a basic method of dog behavior training such as a leash and collar. Give the leash a small jerk when the dog is barking. If your dog is not on a leash, then use a shaker can to indicate that you are not happy with the behavior.
  • If dog barking occurs when the dog is alone, try leaving the radio on in the room. Another approach is to tape the family talking and then let that play. During taping, tape the word "no" about every ten minutes.
  • Pretend that you are leaving the house such as grabbing the keys. Exit the house, but then quickly re-enter when your dog starts to bark. You might need to get in the car or push an elevator button for a convincing performance. Once you quickly re-enter the home, show your disapproval. This can be teh use of a shaker can, or place a drop of lemon juice on your dog's tounge. Repeat the process 5 or 6 times. Be sure to show your disapproval.
For Additional Reading:

There are many helpful dog behavior tips in this stop dog barking video:

Video: Dog Barking


Dog Chewing Problems

Dogs have a need to chew things, especially puppies when teething. It is perfectly natural. However, as dog owners, we don’t want them to chew our shoes and other items. The number one cause of the problem is boredom. To prevent chewing from becoming a destructive behavior, it is important to provide your dog with plenty of appropriate chew toys. You also need to realize that many dogs chew when they are bored. Make sure to give your dog plenty of playtime.

You can also try a product made to deter the chewing of specific objects such as . Your dog will get the idea that chewing on acceptable objects is a much better idea.

If you must be gone for long hours during the day, consider having a pet sitter come in to walk your dog in the middle of the day or consider taking your dog to a “doggie daycare.” You can even try using a to keep your dog occupied and happy.

Separation anxiety is another cause for destructive or chewing dog behavior. To correct separation anxiety in dogs, the dog needs reassurance that you will return. This is done by leaving for the home for a few minutes and then returning, slowing expanding the length of time you are away. Do this several times in one day.

For Additional Reading:



Digging is a Natural Dog Activity
Photo Credit:

Digging Behavior

Digging is another natural dog behavior that can drive owners crazy. In nature digging provides a place where a dog can create a den or provide shelter for puppies. There are several reasons why your dog might be digging. The key to correcting the behavior is to try and identify the reason, and then take one of the corrective actions recommended below.

  • Trying to Get At a Hidden Animal in the Ground: Hunting is a natural dog behavior, particularly among certain breeds. If you can, remove small animals from your property. Live traps are a humane way to capture and then move a small rodent or squirrel to another area.
  • Burying to Hide a Favorite item: Try and eliminate from your yard the types of things that your dog buries. Dog bones are often the cause. You can also train your dog to bury items in a more acceptable area set up just for them.
  • For the fun of it as a form of play: The choices are to either create an area for your dog to dig or block the area with a fence. Another option is to place a training device in the area you would like your dog to avoid such as a Snappy Trainer. These will will harm the dog and will make a loud noise whenever the dog ventures into an area that is off limits.
  • To create a place where they can keep cool or warm: To correct this dog behavior consider adding an alternative to your yard such as a well ventilated dog house. An outdoor bed may also provide a place for your dog to lay down outdoors.
  • To get at food in the ground such as plant roots: Try and remove or fence what is of interest to your dog. The Snappy Trainer mentioned above could also be of help.
  • To escape confinement such as in a yard: First determine if your dog escapes due to separation anxiety of because of fear. Signs of separation anxiety are trembling, pacing, whining, howling or destroying items to get your attention. If fear is the problem the key is to try and determine what is the dog afraid of and then using behavior modification techniques (strangers, lightening etc.). Anti-anxiety natural (e.g; ) or prescription medicines may be of help if recommended by a veterinarian. If your dog simply likes to escape for the fun of it, then the best approach is better fencing, or the use of electronic and actual fencing.
  • As the results of some other behavior problem such as separation-anxiety

Dogs will often dig in the yard when they have been left outdoors for too long with nothing to do. Make sure your dog has appropriate toys to play with, and play with him as well. Dogs will also dig so that they can lie in the cool dirt when it’s hot outside. Make sure your dog has a cool place to rest outdoors.

For additional reading:

(PDF Download, UC Davis)

Excessive Dog Licking

Licking is a natural dog behavior learned at birth with the mother licking the puppy. It is how some dogs to express themselves. The key to correcting this behavior is to understand why it is occurring in a way that is uncomfortable for the pet parent. Also, dogs sometimes misinterpret our desire, and will lick more to try and please the owner. It is also a good idea to rule out any medically based reasons for excess licking such as pain (injury), skin allergy or fleas. Psychological disorders such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) can also be a root cause.


Dog Lick Granuloma is Caused by Excessive Paw Licking

A veterinarian can diagnosis a dog yeast infection during a clinical examination. The vet will check the ears using a device called an otoscope. They can also inspect any fluid under a microscope. Tests are designed to determine if there is an excessive amount of yeast on diseased skin or ears using a fungal culture reviewed under a microscope.

Tips for correcting dog licking:

  • Be Consistent: Don't allow licking some of the time, and not other times. The lack of consistency is confusing for the dog and sends a mixed signal.
  • Make Your Skin Less Appealing: Apply a training spray to your skin such as . The bad taste will deter future licks.
  • As As If In Pain: Dogs will not want to hurt you.
  • Provide An Alternative: Some dogs just need to show they like you. Consider another trick such as shaking hands or stomach rub as a way to provide your dog with an outlet for affection.
  • Behavior Modification: Work with a trainer to teach your dog an alternative dog behavior such as chewing on a toy or play. The combination of a command and alternative behavior can be helpful.
Dog Licking Paws

Note that a dog may also lick the paws due to a foreign object in the paw or a  condition called acral lick dermatitis. It can be caused by a behavioral problem or an underlying medical condition such as arthritis.

Large breed dogs such as Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers and Irish setters are most commonly
affected by acral lick dermatitis.(6). Treatment involves dog behavior modification and the treatment of any symptoms including any damage to the paw. Some believe that the self injury is the result of boredoem. In this case an increased exercise schedule, play with other dogs and increased play with toys is called for.



Licking is  Perfectly Natural Dog Behavior

For additional reading (PDF Downloads):



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References



(3) How to Get Your Dog to Do What You Want Eckstein, Warren

(4) Dogs Behaving Badly An A to Z Guide to Understanding & Curing Behavioral Problems in Dogs Dodman, Dr. Nicholas

(5)

(6)

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