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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Behavior: Understanding and Modifying FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:01 GMT
Last-modified: 15 Sep 1998
There are many FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
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Behavior: Understanding and Modifying
Cindy Tittle Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents
* Top Ten Canine Myths
* Principles Behind Dominance
* Aggression with Other Dogs
* Housetraining Problems
* Submissive Urination
* Other Common Problems
+ Fear Biting
+ Getting in the Garbage
+ Car Chasing
+ Tug of War
+ People Food
First, you should understand that there are two components to
"training" and they are frequently mixed. There is the kind of
training that solves _behavioral_ problems. There is also the kind of
training that creates a command-response pattern. It is perfectly
possible to have a dog that heels, sits, and stays perfectly and digs
out all your marigolds. Conversely, you may have a dog that does not
destroy things in your house nor jump up on people, but does not sit
or heel. For purposes of clarity, I consider the former type of
training as "behavior modification" and the latter type as "obedience
While this article discusses behavior modification and tries to help
you understand what the sources of trouble between you and your dog
may be, I want to stress that there is absolutely no replacement for a
trainer or animal behaviorist you know and trust to help you and your
dog. Having someone to ask questions and show you what works with your
dog is like having the picture as opposed to the words -- a thousand
times better. Nevertheless, this article will hopefully help with some
common problems. For some help in finding a behaviorist near you, try
this site: http://www.cisab.indiana.edu/ABS/Applied/index.html. To
find a good trainer near you, try asking your veterinarian and other
dog owners for references.
That said, some good books that are aimed at helping solve problems
between dogs and owners are:
Gentile, Dan Jr, _Guide to Beginning Obedience_.
This little book crams an impressive amount of information into
64 pages. It's great for the first time dog owners. Very
concise and precise.
Dunbar, Ian and Gwen Bohnenkamp, _Behavior Booklets_.
Recommended especially for the first time dog owner. He has a
booklet on every common problem, such as: biting, fearfullness,
housebreaking, chewing, digging, barking etc. and has a really
simple, common sense, all bases covered sort of approach which
doesn't leave you asking, "But what do I do if the dogs
performs (such and such) variation?" which is *really*
important for people who don't have experience to fall back on.
They can be had from:
Center for Applied Animal Behaviour
#2406 2140 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
Evans, Job Michael. (1991). _People, Pooches, & Problems_. NY: Howell
Book House. ISBN 0-87605-783-0 (hardcover). $19.95.
Excellent suggestions for dealing with common problems between
dogs and their owners. Highly recommended. [Evans was a New
Milani, Myrna M., DVM. _The Weekend Dog_. Signet (Penguin Books USA,
Inc.) (1985). ISBN: 0-451-15731-1 (paperback).
This book outlines practical solutions for working people with
dogs. It has excellent suggestions for understanding dog
behavior, particularly destructive or unwanted behavior. Gives
all kinds of practical solutions to the problems of adequate
exercise, adequate training, housebreaking, and so forth.
Monks of New Skete, The. _How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend_. Little,
Brown & Company. 1978. ISBN: 0-316-60491-7 (hardback).
A monastery in upstate New York breeds, raises, and trains
German Shepherd Dogs. On the basis of their considerable
experience, they offer troubleshooting guides, discuss
discipline, environmental restrictions, basic and puppy
training, and much more. Extensive bibliography. The emphasis
is on understanding the dog in order to communicate with it or
to solve problem behavior. An excellent, well written classic.
Pryor, Karen. _Don't Shoot the Dog!_.
Introduction to inducive training. Lots of food for thought
Other websites to reference include:
Canines of America's Owner's Guide to Behavior offers a number
of for typical problems. The articles are a little simplified
and not terribly detailed, but it's worth checking out. I have
no clue as to whether it's worth using their hotline and paying
the $$$ for additional advice.
American Dog Trainers Network offers a number of resources for
the dog owner. Extensive & useful.
Top Ten Canine Myths
_Hey, Rover would rather be outside all day than cooped up inside!_
False. Dogs are strongly pack-oriented animals. They prefer best to
be with their pack whenever possible. If you are inside, they will
want to be inside with you. If you are outside, again, they will
want to be with you. If you are at work, while they would still
like to be with you, this is not usually possible. In this case,
does it matter whether the dog is kept inside or outside? It turns
out that many dogs behave well when kept inside; bark, dig, and
whine while kept out in the yard. Why is this? Your home is the
"den." Dogs prefer to be closer to the center of the den -- the
place where the pack's smells are most acute. While some dogs are
happy to stay outdoors during the day while the rest of the pack is
gone to work, a great many dogs develop behavioral problems as a
result of daily "expulsion" from the den.
In addition, a dog with access to a large territory may feel
compelled to "defend" all of it, resulting in other types of
problems: frantic barking at "intruders," and so on. Restricting
the amount of territory it has to protect may reduce this type of
A good compromise for many dogs is access both to a restricted part
of the house and a restricted part of the yard. The inside-outside
access keeps him from feeling ejected from the "den" without having
too much territory to defend. A dog that can't be trusted inside
and is destructive outside will probably benefit the most from
being crated during the day. With most dogs, if you crate them
through puppyhood (which also helps with housebreaking), by the
time they are mostly adult (from 8 months to 24 months of age
depending on the breed) you can start weaning them off the crate.
Because they are used to spending the time in the crate quietly,
they will form the habit of spending that same time quietly whether
in the crate or not as adults.
_Well, OK, but it's different in the country, isn't it?_
It is an absolute myth that living in the country confers greater
latitude in the dictum "thou shall keep thy dog constrained to the
immediate environs of the pack." Country dogs allowed to run free
get shot by hunters or farmers protecting their livestock. They get
into fights with other dogs over territory. They can kill
livestock, fight and tassle and get disease from wild animals, and
be hit by cars on the highway. They become increasingly aggressive
as they vye for larger and larger perimeter boundaries to their
territory, and they no longer relate to YOU as the leader of their
pack. Also, don't forget that intact animals will breed and add to
the overpopulation problem.
This same misconception leads people to dump unwanted dogs "in the
countryside." Most such dogs die a painful death, either by slow
starvation, injuries from being hit by a car or in a fight with
another animal, or they are shot by farmers protecting their
livestock. The countryside is not some sort of romantic haven for
_When dogs are mad at people, they do all kinds of spiteful things._
First remember that "undesireable behavior" is in the eye of the
beholder. To the dog, it's perfectly alright to dig, to bark, to
chase after other dogs, etc. This doesn't mean you can't control
these behaviors, of course, but it _does_ mean that the dog isn't
doing them "to spite you." The dog hasn't a clue that it's not to
do these things unless you train it not to. And it has to
understand what you want from it!
When dogs start undesirable (to humans) behavior, its best to try
to understand the source of this behavior. Often it stems from the
frustration of being left alone. Dogs are very social animals. One
positive solution is to make sure your dog is properly exercised.
Exercise is a wonderful cure to many behavioral problems and dogs
just love it. Do check with your vet for the proper amount of
exercise for both the age and breed of any dog. Another solution is
obedience training. The point is, your dog needs your attention,
whether it is by taking it out on a walk, training it, or both.
_Ah, but my dog always looks GUILTY after he's done something like
No. He's reacting to your body language and emotions. When you come
in and see the toilet paper all over the floor, you get mad. The
dog can tell that you are upset and the only thing he knows how to
do is to try and placate you, as the alpha. So they try and get you
out of your bad mood by crouching, crawling, rolling over on their
backs, or avoiding eye contact. You interpret the dog as acting
"guilty" when in fact the dog hasn't the faintest idea of what is
wrong and is simply hoping you will return to a better mood. The
important thing to remember is that if your dog finds that it
cannot consistently predict your anger or the reasons for it, it
will begin to distrust you -- just as you would someone who
unpredictably flew into rages.
This is why it's so important to catch dogs "in the act." That way
you can communicate clearly just what it is they shouldn't do.
Screaming and yelling at the dog, or punishing it well after the
fact does not tell your dog what is wrong. You may in fact wind up
teaching it to fear you, or consider you unreliable. You must get
your dog to understand you, and _you_ have to work on the
communication gap, as you are more intelligent than your dog.
Preventing your dog from unwanted behaviors coupled with properly
timed corrections will go much further in eliminating the behavior
from your pet than yelling at it.
In fact, you should not yell at, scream at, or hit your dog, ever.
There are much more effective ways to get your point across. Try
instead to understand the situation from your dog's point of view
and act accordingly. The techniques in this chapter approach
problems with this in mind.
_Crating a dog is an awful thing to do to it and they hate it._
Again untrue. Dogs are by nature den animals. When properly
introduced to a crate, most dogs love it, and they will often go
into their crates on their own to sleep. Of course, no dog should
be left in the crate so long that it must soil the crate. It's a
wonderful tool to use for housetraining, but puppies are not
physically equipped to go for more than three or four hours without
going to the bathroom. And all use of a crate should be done with
an eye toward eventually weaning the dog off of it. There are only
a few dogs that must always use a crate while you are gone.
Afterwards, it is a very useful thing to have -- for example if at
all possible your dog should always ride in the car in his crate.
Crating a dog works to prevent the dog from doing many of the
behaviors you don't want it to. What your dog does not do does not
develop into a habit and thus requires no correction. Second, it
means that when your dog does have an opportunity to engage in the
unwanted behavior, you are around (because you're home to let it
out) to give a proper and timely correction.
As the behavioral aspects pointed out above, reducing the territory
to protect and keeping it in the den are also positive things from
the dog's point of view, reducing the overall stress that it
_Ya gotta show a dog who is boss._
To some extent, this is true. But what many people think this is
comprised of are usually quite wrong. You don't show a dog "who is
boss" by hitting it, yelling at it, or via other methods of
punishment. You show a dog who is boss by being its leader. Show it
what to do, how to behave. Most dogs are waiting for you to take
the lead. There are actually only a very few dogs who will actively
challenge you for "top dog" position. Rather, most dogs take the
"top dog" position because their owners have made no effort to do
so, and not only that, their owners don't recognize what is
happening -- until the dog starts correcting them for their
Interestingly, many forms of behavior that have been touted as
showing dominance over a dog backfire badly. This is because in
many cases dogs really aren't contending for the "top dog"
position: applying techniques to "show him who is boss" in these
instances results in the dog being alienated from you and
distrusting you because you corrected it for no good reason. The
alpha roll, long touted as the "best" of these methods is in
reality a last ditch, all out correction. It's what you do to your
teenager after he's taken a joyride in your car and totalled it,
not when he first asks you for the keys. Being unfair to your dog
in this way can create a fear biter, one who has lost all hope of
being treated fairly and defends himself the only way he knows how.
Principles Behind Dominance
* http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/square/tac61/dominent.htm [sic]
For obedience training to proceed smoothly, your dog must consider you
its alpha leader. This means that it considers YOU the boss. There are
a number of exercises you can to to establish and maintain dominance
over your dog. Individual dogs vary in submissiveness. If your dog is
very submissive, you don't need to worry about establishing dominance
(in fact, you may need to tone down your own dominating behavior to
help bolster its confidence). Most dogs are happy to be submissive:
just be sure to show approval at the occasional signs of submission,
and assert dominance if it tries to test you (most dogs will, in
adolescence). A very few dogs may be dominant and continually
challenge you for dominance, in which case you will actively need to
assert and establish your position, but this last is exceedingly rare.
More often, people will misinterpret adolescent high energy or bratty
behavior as ploys for dominance when they are not. Think of a two year
human child testing her parents. She's finding out what the limits are
rather than actually "challenging" her parents for leadership. Puppies
and young dogs do exactly the same thing. Correct them firmly, but
don't go into an all out "dominance battle" -- it's inappropriate and
your dog will begin to distrust you. Returning to the toddler analogy,
the most you might do is a sharp word or a small swat on the rear. You
would not pick her up, hold her against the wall and scream at her.
Remember that most dogs are still "young" (in human terms, under 20
years of age) until they are two or three. In other words, don't
confuse physical maturity with mental maturity.
Never mistake being alpha with punishment. An alpha leader is fair. An
alpha leader *deserves* its position. An alpha leader does not use
fear, punishment or brute force to achieve and maintain its position.
An alpha leader, instead, makes it crystal clear what behaviors it
approves of and which it does not. An alpha leader _expects_ its
subordinates to follow its lead, it does not _force_ them to.
If you get mad at your dog, or angry or furious, you've lost the alpha
position. Dogs do not understand fury. You have to be calm and
Always show approval at signs of submission
Praise your dog when it drops its eyes first. Praise it when it licks
you under the chin. Give it an enthusiastic tummy rub when it rolls
over on its back.
Be consistent and fair in your corrections
You must demonstrate to your dog that it can trust your orders. Do not
ever correct the dog after the fact. Such corrections appear to be
arbitrary and unfair to the dog, because it has no associative memory
the way people do.
If your dog is still a puppy, socializing it is a good way to gain its
If you decide that some action requires correction, *always* give a
correction when you see that action. For example, if you decide that
your dog is not allowed on the sofa, then *always* correct it when you
see it on the sofa.
Consistency can be a big challenge with a family: every family member
must agree on the basic ground rules with the dog; when and for what
it should be corrected, what commands to use and so on. Families must
cooperate extensively to avoid confusing the dog. It is best if only
one person actively trains the dog; thereafter if the commands are
given the same way, everyone in the family can use them.
Finally, always use the *minimum* correction necessary. If a sharp
AH-AH will do, use that rather than an alpha roll. If a pop under the
chin will do, use that rather than a scruff shake.
Correct the dog's challenges
Especially during adolescence, your dog may test and/or challenge your
position. Do not neglect to correct this behavior. You don't need to
come down like a ton of bricks; just making it clear you don't
tolerate the behavior is sufficient. For example, don't let your dog
crowd you through the door, don't let him jump out of the car until
you've given him permission, don't let him jump for food in your hand.
Don't let him ignore commands that he knows.
Learn how to display alpha behavior
You may not need to use all of these, but you should be familiar with
them. They are listed in "escalating" order. Do not use any of these
if you are angry or upset. The point is never to hurt the dog, but to
show it who is alpha. They work best if you are calm, firm, and matter
of fact. Again, always use the minimum correction necessary.
More important than knowing how to perform an alpha roll is learning
to play the alpha role. That means having the attitude of "I am always
right and I will _never_ let my dog willfully disobey me" without ever
becoming angry or giving up. Picture a small two-year old toddler, for
example. You're not in a struggle over who's "Mom" but over what the
child is allowed to do, and there's a crucial difference in the two.
Using an alpha roll on a dog who is already submissive but disobeys
because it doesn't know what is expected of is destructive to the
relationship between you and the dog. Likewise, using an alpha role on
a dominant dog but not using any other positive reinforcements can
alienate it. Most dogs never need to be alpha rolled in their lives.
Furthermore, alpha rolls are one of the strongest weapons in dominance
arsenal. Save it for the gravest of infractions.
Being dominant is no substitute for learning to read and understand
your dog. Proper obedience (which should be a part of any dog's life,
even when "only" a pet) is a two way street and requires you to be as
responsible to your dog as your dog is responsive to you.
There are a number of ways in demonstrating dominance:
* Timeouts: put the dog on a down stay or if not yet trained to do
so, put it in its crate quietly and without fuss. Fifteen minutes
is fine. No yelling is necessary, keep it all very quiet. This is
often suprisingly effective, since dogs are such social creatures.
* Eye contact: alphas "stare down" subordinates. If your dog does
not back down in a stare contest, start a verbal correction. As
soon as it backs down, praise it.
* Taps under the chin: alpha dogs nip subordinates under the chin as
corrections. You can use this by tapping (NEVER hitting) your dog
under the chin with one or two fingers. Don't tap on top of the
muzzle, not only can you risk injuring your dog's sense of smell,
you may make him handshy.
* Grabbing under the ears: alpha dogs will chomp under subordinate
dogs' ears and shake. You can mimic this by holding the skin under
your dog's ears firmly and shaking. Again, do not use excessive
force. Do this just enough to get the point across. DO NOT grab
the top of the neck and shake. You may injure your dog this way.
* Alpha roll: Pin the dog to ground on its side with feet away from
you. Hold scruff/collar with one hand to pin head down (gently but
firmly) with the other hand on hip/groin area (groin area contact
will tend to cause the dog to submit to you.) Not recommended.
Insist on decorous behavior
Feed your dog after your own dinner. Make him lay down while you are
eating rather than beg at your lap. Don't let it crowd through a
doorway ahead of you. Don't let it hop out of the car until you say
OK. There are a variety of small things you can do that assert your
dominance in a non-traumatic way. If you're clever about it, you can
use them to get a well-behaved dog (one that doesn't shoot out of the
front door or scramble out of the car or beg at the table). In
particular, putting a behavior that the dog wants to do on hold until
you say OK is a very good way to be the alpha and keep the dog well
Make sure your dog obeys everyone in your family
This is a fairly important point. If your dog seems to have trouble
obeying a particular family member, you must make sure it does so, by
always backing up the family member when he or she tells the dog to do
something. If the family member seems to be afraid of the dog, or is
very young, then you should supervise all interaction until the
problem is resolved.
Aggression with other Dogs
Dogs can be aggressive with other dogs, especially if they have not
been properly socialized with other dogs in puppy-hood. Sometimes a
dog that is naturally dominant has trouble with other dogs especially
in puberty. Sometimes a dog has a specific experience (e.g. a dogfight
with another aggressive dog) that causes it to become aggressive
toward other dogs in general as well. Whatever the reason, it is well
worth your time working on your dog's aggression toward other dogs.
You will probably get the best results, especially with a problem dog
-- extreme aggression, for example -- if you contact a local trainer
(preferably one that specializes in problem dogs) for individual help.
However, there are some common-sense things you can do.
First a bit of basic dog pychology: friendly behaviors include moving
side by side, sniffing butts, tails wagging at body level (not up high
or over the back). Not-friendly behaviors include meeting
face-to-face, esp. a face-to-face approach, ears forward and tail over
Force them into friendly behaviors as follows: walk the dogs in
parallel on leash. They should be close enough to see each other but
not close enough to snap at or touch each other. Be careful when you
two turn that the dogs don't tangle. Make sure one doesn't get ahead
of the other: keep them parallel. Keep this up until they relax.
Slowly start walking closer together as behavior permits.
Hold one dog on leash in a sit. Have food treats and a water bottle
handy. Walk the other dog toward it, to about six feet, then turn away
(increase the distance if the sitting dog snarls). The idea is to turn
away *before* the sitting dog shows any aggression. If the dog shows
no agression, reward it with a food tidbit or verbal praise. Do NOT
touch the dog (stand on the leash or tie it down). If it does growl,
spray it with water. Switch the dogs so that each experiences sitting
or walking toward. They are learning that good things happen without
defensive behavior. As they improve, start walking a bit closer before
turning. If the sitting dog snarls, do NOT turn the other dog away:
the person with the sitting dog should correct it and when the dog
subsides, THEN the moving dog should turn away.
Finally, holding the head of one dog, but allowing it to stand, have
the other dog investigate its rear briefly. This is really the extreme
extension of the above.
These exercises have several purposes. One is to force the dogs to
consider themselves friendly by engaging in the behavior of friendly
dogs. The other is to teach both dogs that an approaching dog is not
necessarily grounds for aggression.
This will take a lot of work, probably over a couple of months, but
they will work, and what's more, should reduce tensions with _other_
dogs as well (i.e., not only between the two specific dogs in the
All housetraining problems are frustrating, but the good news is that
it's often easy to fix with a little thought and care. Some tips:
Sudden changes in established habits
If your dog has been fine with its housetraining up till now, there
may be several reasons for it to break with its training.
* If there have been no major changes in its life, your dog may very
well have a medical problem, such as kidney trouble. Have your vet
rule out possible medical causes.
* It may be trying to defend its territory if you have a new animal
in the household. You will probably need to separate the pets for
a while, and reintroduce them gradually. Provide each with a
* It may be generally upset or anxious if you've just moved and
trying to assert ownership of the new territory. Mark your
territory first: scatter dirty laundry around the house to tell
your dog YOU'VE claimed the territory and your dog should subside.
After a few days, you can pick up the laundry.
Some dogs will eat other animal's feces. By and large, this is a
fairly normal, if disgusting, habit. The main risk of this habit lies
in picking up internal parasites. If you have such a dog, you should
make sure it is frequently checked for worms by your veterinarian.
If it is cat feces in an indoor litter box, you can try the following:
* If you have a utility closet or some other closet where you can
keep the litter box, you can fix the door so that it only opens
enough for a cat to get through (assuming big dogs) by using
something like a string/ribbon/rope over the door handle to a
small hook on the adjacent wall or door jamb. If you can make a
more permanent change, you could put a kitty door into the closet
and be able to keep the door shut.
* Get the kind of litter box with a big top and a "kitty door" or
even just an opening on it. Place the litter box with the opening
about 4"-6" from a wall (backwards from the way you would normally
think of placing it). This leaves just enough room for the cat to
get into the box but not (usually) enough room for the dog to get
to the box. The kind of box with the swinging kitty door helps
make it a little harder for the dog to get into it.
A surprising number of dogs eat their own feces (coprophagy). This is
a fairly disgusting habit, but difficult to cure. One way to prevent
this from occurring is to clean up feces as soon as possible, but this
can be difficult for dogs left in yards or kennels all day.
The Monks suggest feeding your dog a dry food that is at least 23%
meat protein, and about 25% raw meat. In addition, either an egg, or a
tablespoon of vegetable oil every few days. They also think that
eating feces may involve a dietary deficiency. Adding Accent
(monosodium glutamate) or kelp tablets (usually available at health
food stores) to your dogs food can give the feces a bad taste for the
dog. Also putting tabasco and vinegar on the feces themselves may
In rare cases, this can suggest a trypsin deficiency. Trypsin is a
digestive enzyme and affected dogs don't get enough nutrients from the
food so they eat the stool. In many cases, despite eating quite a bit
the dogs are still thin. There is a test for this syndrome and enzyme
supplementation is part of the treatment. Your vet can help you rule
out this possibility.
This is a difficult problem and not always solved or stopped. It
doesn't really hurt the animal, although you should take care to have
it checked often for internal parasites, which it's more likely to
If it is a _change_ in your dog's normal behavior, it might be a
bladder infection or some other medical problem, so check that with
your vet first.
It's rather common for older spayed bitches to start dribbling. This
is easily fixed most of the time with doses of estrogen. In many
cases, the doses can be tapered off after a few months. Some dogs
require estrogen for the rest of their lives. Only small doses are
needed, so it's not that expensive to treat.
If your dog is urinating in different places around the house, you can
try the "vinegar trick". Pour some vinegar on the spot in front of the
dog. What you're telling the dog with this is "I'm alpha. YOU may not
pee here." Then clean it all up first with an enzymatic odor remover
and then a good carpet shampoo (see the Assorted Topics FAQ).
Defecation is not as frequently a problem as urination can be.
However, the most often recommended remedy for a dog that defecates in
the house is to change its feeding times so that you are likely to be
walking the dog when it needs to defecate or it is outside in the
yard, etc. This will take some time of fiddling with the amount,
frequency, and timing of feeding your dog to get the results you want.
The genetically shy dog is a super submissive type and unlike many
dogs are quite sensitive to any forms of "dominant" behavior in
humans. Even ordinarily submissive dogs can become extremely
submissive if its owner misunderstands and unintentionally forces it
to increase its submissiveness. Mistreated dogs may also become
First, tone down your aggressive behavior -- with a submissive dog
there is no real need to consciously dominate it. Examples of
dominating behavior include:
* Direct eye contact
* Standing over the dog
* Walking towards the dog while looking at it
* Wait when you come home. Say "hi" and be verbally friendly, but
don't touch or pet it for about 5-15 minutes. Try not to make the
moment more exciting than it already is.
* When you greet it, get down on its level. Rather than standing and
bending at the waist, bend at the knees (or sit) so that your face
is about level with his and you are not looking down on him. This
is a less dominant position, and less likely to trigger a
* Don't pet it on the head. Rather, tell it to sit, maybe "shake
hands", then scratch it under the chin and on the chest. This is
less dominating than the pat on the head (because you avoid
standing over it).
* When you correct this type of dog, do so with your voice only
(avoid direct eye contact). If it starts to urinate, then say
immediately, "OK, let's go out!" in a happy tone of voice -- and
take it out. Or, take a toy out (something it likes to do) and
play with it. What you are doing here is telling your dog, "OK, I
see your submissiveness. That's good."
* When guests come over, ask them to ignore your dog and not look at
it even if it comes up and sniffs them. After a bit, when people
are sitting down then have them gently put their hands out and
talk to your dog, without looking at it. Usually after about 15
minutes or so everything is fine.
In general, show signs of low-key approval _immediately_ when the dog
becomes submissive. Then distract it with something else. When you
ignore submissiveness or get mad at it, you're in effect telling the
dog "You're not submissive enough!" so the poor thing intensifies its
efforts -- and submissive urination is about as submissive as it gets.
Be really positive with your dog, this type lacks self-confidence and
will look to you quite often to make sure everything is OK.
One technique that helps many dogs with this problem is called
"Flooding." You need a group of people, preferably ones who will
stimulate the undesired response (in this case, peeing). You find the
least intimidating step for your dog (the point at which she does not
submissively urinate), and work on each step until she's comfortable
with each. If she urinates, you've gone too fast and you should back
up a step until she's more confident. This process will take a while.
* Have your dog sit with you on leash (preferably not on carpeting!)
* Have the group of people walk past your dog without looking at
her; when they can do this without her peeing, move on to next
step (this is true of all steps)
* Next have the people look/smile at her when they walk past
* Next have the people say something to her ("Hi puppy") as they
* Next have the people give her a treat as they walk past
* Next have the people touch her (ex. pat on the head) as they walk
* Next, repeat the previous 5 steps but with the people stopping
instead of walking past (ie, stop but don't look, stop and look,
stop and say hi,...)
Actually, this technique can be used for all kinds of other responses:
a dog that jumps on people, barks at them, etc.
Other Common Problems
Many puppies like to chew on everything they encounter. Certainly,
very young puppies explore the world around them by tasting most of
what they find. First of all, as a practical measure, remove anything
harmful from the dog's way. Put electrical wiring behind furniture
wherever possible, put cleaning supplies up out of reach or secure the
cabinet doors to them. Clean small objects off the floor.
Make sure you have a supply of allowable chewing items on hand.
Whenever the dog is in a crate or small room, there should always be
some of these toys to chew on. Whenever you are at home and see the
dog about to chew on something it shouldn't, say "AH-AH" and give it
one of its toys.
There are products available to spray on items to make them taste
unpleasant. Some caveats: a few dogs are not bothered by the taste;
it's not really a cure for the underlying problem, but it does help
you train the dog; you must make sure the product does not harm the
item to be sprayed first. Bitter Apple and Bitter Orange are available
at most pet supply stores; veterinarians have other formulations they
may sell to you.
The judicious use of crating, toys, and watching the puppy closely
will be the way you teach it to leave your house alone.
It is natural for young puppies to bite and chew on people; however
DON'T let them do this.
If your dog is a puppy, yelp pitifully when it chomps on you, and
replace your hand with a chew toy; praise heartily when the chew toy
is used instead. If it persists, stand up and stop playing with it. It
is no fun for the puppy if you stop interacting with it, and it will
learn to stop chewing on you fairly quickly.
With older puppies and dogs, say "NO BITE" sternly and withdraw your
If the dog goes through a cycle where it seems to be infuriated by
your correction and returns ever more aggressively to chew on you,
call a timeout and put the dog where it can't get to you, preferably
its crate. When it calms down, let it back and be prepared to
interrupt the cycle if it starts again.
Never put up with a puppy biting or mouthing you. When they are adult,
the problem will be far more severe.
This is a separate problem, caused by a fearful and submissive dog
that feels cornered. It indicates an extremely poor temperament and
possible abuse. Such dogs should never be bred.
To deal with a fear-biter (evidenced by a dog that bites/threatens to
bite but has its ears laid _back_ along its head rather than facing
forward), first you have to deal with the insecurity and temperament
of the dog. This kind of dog has no self-confidence at all, hence its
ready alarm at normally innocuous situations.
Think of the submissive dog outlined above. You need to build up its
confidence: pay close attention to understand exactly what sets it off
(some are afraid of men, men with beards, people holding something in
their hand, small children, etc) and for now, remove that from its
environment. Do some training or other work with it to build up its
confidence (the training in this case becomes a vehicle for praising
the dog). Then work slowly on its fear.
You should really enlist professional help to deal with a fear biter
unless you are experienced with dogs. This kind of dog takes lots of
patience and careful reading and may never become trustworthy. If you
cannot resolve its problems, consider having it destroyed; don't pass
it along to someone else to become a problem for that person.
Each and every time your dog barks, go out and see why the dog is
barking. If your dog is barking for a good reason (such as a stranger
in the yard), you should praise your dog and then tell it to be quiet.
If the dog is barking because there is a squirrel up the tree, or
something similar, tell the dog to be quiet and immediately go back
into the house. You will have to repeat this every time the dog barks.
Pretty soon, in a week or so depending on the dog, the dog will only
bark for a good reason. The dog may still bark at the squirrel, but
not continually. Instead, one or two good barks to scare the squirrel,
and then it considers its duty done. At the same time, you have not
dampened your dogs ability to bark when there is something wrong.
_Dealing with complaints about barking._ If your neighbors complain
about your dog barking while you are not at home, first purchase a
voice-activated tape recorder and set it up where your dog will
trigger the tape if it barks. You may find that your neighbor is
incorrect about how much your dog actually does bark (keep a log of
the barking you record). You may find out what exactly causes it to
bark (hearing a car drive by before each barking sequence, for
example), giving you some ideas for eliminating the behavior. But do
determine that there is actually a problem before you try to do
something about it.
If you know that you have a problem, you might enlist the help of your
neighbors. Neighbors are often happy to help you with this problem!
Have them squirt water at excessive barking, or rattle cans of
In any event, take a neighbor's complaint seriously, even if it is
unwarranted. More neighbor disputes arise over barking dogs than
anything else, and dogs have been injured or killed by neighbors
desperate for a good nights sleep.
There is some evidence that barking is an inherited trait: if the
parents bark a lot, chances are their puppies will, too.
Often, one method that helps alleviate barking is to give your dog
specific permission to bark. Teach it to "speak" -- let it "speak"
when appropriate (say, when you're playing in the park). Then "no
speak" follows from that. However, there is often a problem when the
dog is alone. The following methods outline some other possibilities
to address this problem.
There are collars, called anti-bark collars, available that are meant
to help train your dog not to bark. Dogs will react differently,
depending on how well they learn, train, and handle. The collars by
themselves are not the solution to your dog's barking: it must
understand what the collar does, and you will have to *train* it using
the collar. Some are electronic and others are sonic. These can be
quite effective if introduced properly. Ideally the dog should not
understand that it is the collar giving the correction so that you can
ultimately wean the dog off the collar. Read the instructions on the
devices; the good ones will outline exactly how to train them.
There are two types, one will eliminate the barking -- that is, they
are triggered by any barking the dog does. Others are "diminishers",
they will kick in after one or two barks. There are a few that adjust
to be one or the other. With diminisher collars, watch out for the dog
learning to "pattern bark" -- they've learned they can bark twice,
pause, bark twice, etc. You will need to switch to an eliminator in
The best collars are triggered by throat vibration rather than noise;
this helps avoid having your dog corrected when a nearby car
Surgery on the dog's vocal cords, called debarking, can be done to
reduce the barking to a whispery sound. This is a controversial
practice, banned in Britain and other places. Some vets will refuse to
do the surgery.
The dogs do not stop barking. They do not seem to notice the
difference, or at any rate continue "barking" as if they still made
There are different ways to perform the surgery, and it is possible
for the vocal cords to grow back and the dog to regain its bark. If
the vocal cords are cut, chances are the cords will heal themselves.
If they are cauterized, the operation will last longer. Whether it is
over a period of weeks or months, it seems that many dogs eventually
regain use of their vocal cords.
There is a "No-Bark Muzzle" that is designed to prevent dogs from
barking. Many dogs very rapidly learn not to bark when the muzzle is
put on them each time they start barking. It is not binding or
confining and does not put the dog through surgery. In general, though
dogs should not be left alone with muzzles on, unless it allows them
Dogs may dig out of boredom or to make a cooling/heating pit.
* _Filling in the holes_: Try refilling the holes with junk. With
junk, dogs can quickly lose interest and pretty much stop digging.
Fill the hole with whatever is at hand - dead leaves, sticks, pine
needles, rocks or even dog feces. Fill the top 2 inches or so with
dirt. The dog finds the stuff, gets discouraged and often quits
digging. They seem to get the idea they'll never know where
they'll find junk, and it's not worth the effort to dig only to
find junk so they quit.
* _Surprises in the hole_: The Koehler dog method advocates filling
holes with water and sticking dog's head under the water for a few
seconds or so. This may not work with some breeds (e.g.,
Labradors), and may not appeal to you as a method to try.
Alternatively, you can try burying a water balloon in one of the
holes which will pop in its face when it starts digging
* A sandbox: Try to remember that digging is a natural tendency for
dogs. So, if there is any place where your dog may be allowed to
dig, you should encourage it (and only in that place). Designate
an area where the dog can dig. Many people build a sand box for
their dog. Place the box in an area that is cool in summer and
warm in winter.
To teach the dog to dig only in the box, place or bury toys or
treats (sliced hotdogs, for example) in the box. Encourage the dog
to dig up the toy or treat. Praise the dog. Repeat until the dog
willingly jumps in and digs. Watch the dog. When it starts to dig
in any other place, quickly go out and take your dog to its box.
Show it (by digging yourself), that it should dig in its box. To
deter boredom, place several toys/treats in the box before you
leave for work. The dog will spend its time digging in the correct
place rather than digging up your roses. You can also sprinkle
animal essence (available at hunting supplies places).
Remember that dogs like to dig in freshly turned earth. So get out
that shovel and turn the dirt over in the sand box every now and
then. Toss in some fresh dirt. Keep a close eye on freshly planted
areas, as they will be very attractive (bury some extra hotdogs in
the sandbox when you are putting down new plants).
* Line the yard. for extreme cases you can line the yard with
chicken wire and put a layer of sod over that. Use paving bricks
or blocks around the edge to prevent the dog from injuring itself
on the edge of the chicken wire.
Getting in the garbage
You should train your dog away from this habit. Crate it, to keep it
out of the garbage when you are not home, and correct it when it gets
into it when you are at home. This works best if you start in
If you already have this problem, some approaches to try:
* You can get "Mr. Yuk" labels and put them in the trash to keep
them out of it or spray Bitter Apple into it. But you have to
remember to do this regularly. If you can, put the trash out of
reach of the dog, eg, under the sink. You may need to get the
kinds of trash cans that have closing lids. Don't start easy and
work your way up as the dog figures each one out: you are just
training your dog how to open garbage cans. Get a good, well
secured one at the start.
* Get some jalapeno peppers, or something that your dog REALLY
HATES. Slice them up and spend some time wrapping each one
individually in tissues or kleenex. Fill the trash can with the
wrapped surprises and let your dog at it. A few days of this
should convince your dog that trash cans are not fun.
* Put a mousetrap in the bottom of an empty can, cover it with
newspaper, then put something that the dog really likes in the can
and leave the room. Only do this when you are around, do not trap
all the trash cans and then go off to work for the day!
Since most dogs are shorter than you, their natural tendency is to
jump up to see you. It is also an expression of exuberance and
happiness. However, you may be wearing your Sunday Best. The dog's
paws may be muddy. The puppy may grow too large. Some people are
afraid of dogs. Train your dog not to jump on people. If you don't
mind your dog jumping on you, then train it to jump on you only when
In general, correct it immediately when it jumps on you, praise it
when all four paws land back on ground. A helpful reinforcement is to
give them a command and praise lavishly when they do it, e.g., "No!
Brownie, sit! Good girl, what a good girl!"
Try to anticipate the jumping: look for their hindquarters beginning
to crouch down, and correct them when you see them *about* to jump.
With medium-sized dogs, you can discourage jumping with a well-timed
knee in the chest (never kick). This does not work as well on small
dogs and very large dogs. With small dogs, step back so they miss you;
you can also splay your hand in front of you so their face bumps into
it (don't hit them, let them bump into you). Correct, then praise when
on ground. With larger dogs, the kind that don't really *jump*, but
*place* their paws on your shoulders, grab some skin below their ears
(be firm but not rough) and pull them down, saying "No!" Again, praise
it when it is back on ground.
You should note that some dogs do not respond to the above physical
corrections. They may view it as a form of rough play, or be so happy
to get attention that they don't mind it being negative. In these
cases, a much more effective approach is to ignore such a dog,
stepping back slightly or turning your back when it jumps. Give lavish
praise and attention when all paws are on the ground again.
Gradually expand this to include friends and visitors. Start first
with people who understand what you want to do and will apply the
physical correction in conjunction with your "No!" As the dog
improves, expand with other people. In the interim, a reinforcing
exercise is to put your dog on a leash, and stand on one end of the
leash or otherwise secure it so your dog can stand but not jump. When
it tries to greet someone by jumping up, praise it *when it lands* and
don't correct it for attempting to jump.
For those of you who don't mind being jumped, you can gain control
over it by teaching your dog that it can jump on you -- when you OK
it. At random times (i.e., not *every* time you correct it), after
your correction and praise for getting back down, wait thirty seconds
or so, and then happily say "OK, jump" (or something similar, as long
as you're consistent) and praise your dog when it jumps up then. At
other times, when it is *not* trying to jump on you, encourage it to
do so on your permission, using the same phrase. You must make it
clear that it shouldn't jump on you unless you give it permission, so
you must still correct unpermitted jumping.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem: why is your dog free to run
after cars in the first place? If the dog is being allowed to roam
that should be stopped. A car chasing dog is a menace to itself as it
may get killed, and is a menace to drivers as people may injure or
kill themselves trying to avoid an accident.
Have a few friends drive by (slowly) in a strange car. When the dog
gets in range, open the window and dump a bucket of ice cold water on
the animal's head/back. Repeat as needed (with a different car) for
Tug of War
The Monks (and former Monk, Job Michael Evans) seem to believe that
playing tug is a form of "teaching" the dog to use its teeth, and
therefore a precursor to the dog's learning to use its teeth as a
weapon. In their view, you should never play tug with a dog. On the
other hand, there are many people and organizations, especially in
obedience and working dogs (patrol, narcotic, and search and rescue)
that actively use tug of war as a reward and a way to build up a
strong play response. People with hunting retrievers never play tug of
war for fear of creating a "hard mouthed" dog (one that mangles the
birds it retrieves).
Dealing with the possible aggression incurred in tug of war is
probably more constructive than never teaching your dog to use its
teeth. Besides, studies on canine aggression show that even extremely
docile dogs can be provoked to show aggression. Houpt and Wolski in
their book _Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal
Scientists_ note: "Growling is an aggressive call in dogs, and is
commonly known. It is interesting evolutionarily that even the most
placid dog can be induced to growl if one threatens to take a bone
away from it. A scarcity of food in general can increase aggression
..., but bones seem to have particular value even for the satiated
This can hinge on whether you (as the owner) can distinguish between
challenges and playing. If the dog is playing when doing TOW, there's
no problem. If it *is* challenging you doing this, you need to 1)
recognize the challenge (versus just playing) 2) win and 3) stop the
TOW and correct its challenge to your authority. If you can't make the
distinction, then don't play tug-of-war with it. Couple any tug-o-war
games with the command "Give" or something similar so that the dog
learns to immediately let go ON COMMAND. If it doesn't, that's a
challenge, and you need to deal with it. Teach your dog what "give"
when you start playing this game with it. When you know that your dog
understands the command, then periodically reinforce it by having your
dog "give" at random times. This becomes a form of keeping your alpha
position as mentioned earlier in this article. And tug of war,
properly implemented, is an intensely rewarding game for many dogs,
making a good "treat" during training sessions, for example.
Feeding your dog "people food," i.e., table scraps and such is a poor
idea. First, you may encourage your dog to make a pest of itself when
you are eating. Second, feeding a dog table scraps is likely to add
unneeded calories to its diet and your dog may become overweight.
Third, if your dog develops the habit of gulping down any food it can
get, it may seriously poison or distress itself someday.
Some guidelines. Do not feed the dog anything but dog food and dog
treats. You might add vegetable oil or linatone to the food to improve
its coat. There are other foods that you may want to add to improve
its diet such as vegetables, rice, oatmeal, etc., (check with your vet
first for appropriate food to meet the dietary need you want to
address), but always feed them to the dog in its dish, never from your
plate or from your hand while you are eating.
Discourage your dog from begging at the table by tying it nearby (so
that it does not feel isolated from the social activity) but out of
reach of the table. After you finish eating, feed the dog. Tell your
dog "no" or "leave it" if it goes for anything edible on the floor (or
on the ground during walks!), praise it when it obeys you. Teach it
that the only food it should take should be from its dish or someone's
If you are concerned about the "boring and drab" diet for your dog,
don't think of food as a way to interest it! Play with it, take it out
on walks -- there are many other and better ways to make life exciting
for your dog.
Canine Behavior FAQ
Cindy Tittle Moore, email@example.com