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Solving Behavior Problems


Why do dogs bark? Some of the more common reasons that dogs bark are: 1) to warn us of a stranger approaching or someone at the door, 2) to ward off trespassers on our property whether person or animal, and 3) for attention or protest.

Barking at the door.

If your dog is barking because someone is at the door, be glad. You have a good watchdog, which is probably what you want. What you don't want is for the barking to go on and on and get out of control. The first rule is DON'T YELL at the dog. If you yell, you are joining in with the barking as far as your dog is concerned and his barking will get worse. You don't want to discourage him from barking but you also don't want to encourage him to bark more. Have a short leash draped around the doorknob and when your dog alerts you to a stranger at the door, quietly go up to him and say good dog while you put the leash on him and lead him away from the door where you can put him on a "Down Stay" so you can answer the door. If he gets up and begins barking again, repeat the process. It might be a good idea to enlist the help of a friend to come to the door and ring the bell, so you can do some training.

Barking at everything he sees.

If your dog barks at everything that goes by the house he is again protecting his property. Think about it. Something comes by the house, either people or animal, the dog barks, the person or animal goes away. The person (like the postman) or the animal was probably going to continue on anyway but your dog is convinced that he chased the intruder away. Big ego boost for the dog and a great reason to continue barking at everything that goes by. In a case like this its a good idea to keep the dog away from the windows he usually barks from. What he doesn't see won't bother him. If your dog barks while he is alone outside you need to limit the amount of time he spends outside alone. Unsupervised confinement can cause your dog to become bored and he will look for ways to entertain himself. Barking at things going by is a great way to entertain oneself.

Barking in the car.

This can be quite aggravating when you are trying to keep your eyes on the road. First, use some kind of restraint device to keep the dog from running back and forth between windows. Always have your dog pause and wait for an enter command before getting in the car. Remember, its your car not his. Stay cool and DON'T YELL and join the barking. He's probably barking for the same reasons cited above and the rewards are the same because when he barks at something it goes away. If he barks at attendants at gas stations, banks or toll booths you should hand the person a treat and ask him to toss it in the window for the dog. This might change your dogs attitude toward the situation.  If the barking is so bad that you have trouble concentrating on your driving, try covering the windows or put his crate in the car for him to travel in, and cover the crate while he's traveling.

Barking for attention.

You need to ignore the barks if you can and only respond to your dog when he's being quiet. If he barks when you leave or come home make those times calm and very matter-of-fact. Don't make a big deal out of your comings and goings. If your dog just wants attention all the time and seems to be glued to you, give him one of those biscuit balls or a hollow bone with some peanut butter in it to occupy his time. He needs to learn that he doesn't have to be with you every minute of the day.   Always remember to praise him when he's calm and give him no attention when he's being fussy, demanding or barking for attention.
Teaching the QUIET Command

You will need either a spray bottle filled with 50/50 vinegar and water OR a tin soda can with some rocks or pennies inside and the top taped closed. Squirt the dog or shake the can to cause the dog to be quiet for a moment. The instant he stops barking say "Quiet, Good Dog" and praise him for the few seconds of silence. Repeat as necessary, always saying "Quiet" the instant he stops barking followed by a quick "Good Dog, Good Quiet." With persistence he will soon get the idea.

If all else fails and you just can't get your dog to be quiet long enough to praise him for a quiet moment your last resort can be a Citronella or Lemon spray bark collar. They work pretty well and will not harm the dog in any way. The problem with using a training collar is that the dog is usually smart enough to know when he's not wearing the collar and will probably resort to his barking again. Once you begin using it you might have to use it all the time, or at least during the times the dog is prone to barking.

Digging is done for various reasons. Once you figure out why the dog digs and what reward he is getting out of his digging, you can begin to solve your problem. Some of the more common reasons dogs dig are:

1) to get to the cool ground to lie down in; 2) out of boredom; or 3) because it's just plain FUN. Some breeds of dogs are bred for digging and rooting in the ground, like the terrier group of dogs.

The first reason is easy. Be sure there is plenty of shade and water for your dog when he is outside. The dog wants to keep cool, so why not supplying him with his own baby pool. Buy him a hard plastic pool and put it in a nice shady place (not on dirt). The dog will probably love soaking in the pool on hot days. Just be sure to keep plenty of towels handy so you can dry him off before letting him in the house.

The second reason is a little harder to deal with. You might need to increase the dog's exercise time so he is too tired to be bored or give him a good meaty bone to chew, or some fun toys to play with. Also, if you leave the dog outside by himself for extended periods of time, you might try letting him come inside with the family more often. Dogs are pack animals, and don't really enjoy being by them selves. If your dog is going to be strictly an outdoor dog you might want to build him a large kennel with a cement floor so he can't dig. Just be sure to give him shelter, some toys and maybe a pool to play in.

The third reason is really hard to control. If he really enjoys digging you will probably do well to go with the flow and give him his own garden to dig in. Seriously. Dig up a small plot of ground and mix some good sand in it to keep it soft. Go out and dig with him until he realizes that it's OK to dig there. You might even try burying some of his bones or toys and help him find them.  This might work well for the dogs that are bred to root and dig for vermin. I know people who have successfully done this with their digging doggies.

Chewing is something that all dog like to do. In fact it helps to keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. Puppies need to chew to help them during teething. If you catch your dog chewing something you don't want him to chew, take the object away from him and give him something that he is allowed to chew. Be sure to praise him for chewing the proper objects. Be sure to supply him with proper toys and bones to keep him occupied. NEVER give the dog old shoes or socks or towels or any household object as a chew toy. The dog will not be able to tell the difference between the shoe he can chew and your new alligator loafers that he definitely can't chew.
Escape Artists

Escape artists are very adept at getting out of yards. The reasons for escaping can be boredom, loneliness, looking for a mate or just wanting to get out and check out the neighborhood.

With some dogs, using a strong cable can be better than a fence, like with some of the "Nordic" breeds like huskies, who don't like being behind a fence. Very often a privacy fence will solve that problem, because they can't see what's on the other side. Chain link fences are much easier to escape from because dogs can get under the fence or actually learn to use the links to climb the fence.

Electronic fences are not very reliable for containing dogs. The problems with that type of fencing are both keeping your dog in and keeping other animals out. A dog chasing something or running away out of fear, could easily break through the electric shock without even feeling it. Once he's out of the yard, he can't get back in the yard because of the collar. Other animals can still get in your yard because they aren't wearing the collar. That can cause problems for both your dog and the visitor. Another thing to consider is the battery. If the battery wears out and you don't realize it, the fence won't work.  I happen to have a neighbor who experienced that situation.

I personally don't believe dogs should be left alone in a yard when you are not home. There are too many dangers to them. Escaping, being tormented by neighbors, being dog napped. When you're not home you should bring the dog inside the house or in the garage if possible.
Jumping And Biting

Both of these problems are usually caused by over excitement. Teaching control is essential. Giving your dog any attention during these behaviors will only make the behaviors continue. So what do you do.

Implement The "Four On The Floor" Rule

Stand up. Turn away. Walk away. Remove yourself from the dog or puppy. When he settles down, go back to him. What you are using here is negative punishment, or taking away something the dog wants - which is attention. When the dog jumps up on you or mouths you, just turn away or stand up. Do not push the dog away, knee him or yell at him. This is giving him attention. Keep your hands and knees to yourself.

Once the dog settles down, go back to him and calmly pet him or play with him. Try not to be overly excited with him. You want to keep the atmosphere calm and controlled.

Remember, the reason he jumps or bites is to get attention. Ignoring him is taking away the attention he wants. It does not eliminate his desire for attention. If he doesnít get the attention he wants he may begin to try other ways to get your attention. That is why it is very important to give him the attention he craves when he is being calm and has all for feet on the floor.
The Furniture Issue

Before you get upset, I hope you will read this section all the way to the end.

Dogs should not be allowed on your furniture-especially your bed. "Why?", you ask. Itís really quite simple. In a wolf pack, the alpha, or "boss" wolf always gets the prime resting places. Usually these places are up high so he can look over his domain. Are you getting the picture yet? If you allow your dog to have the best places on the furniture or on your bed, he just might get the idea that heís "Top Dog" in the house, and you might find yourself without a place to sit or sleep. Believe me, Iíve seen this happen.

Does that mean that you canít let your dog sit in your lap or get in bed with you. No, not at all. You just need to be sure that you are sitting on your couch or chair or in your bed FIRST. Once you are settled, its OK to call your dog up to join you . Remember, he doesnít make the decision, YOU DO. You are the one who is "Boss Dog" in the house, not him.

If you happen to have a dog that already thinks heís the "Boss" in the house and tries to control a piece of furniture, you should have him wear a short lightweight leash at all times so you have something to grab onto when you need to remove him from his throne. Just take the leash and tell him "Off" while you guide him off with the leash. Once heís on the ground, praise him and give him a treat so he understands that the floor is where he belongs. Do this consistently until he learns where his proper place is. Once you have the problem solved you can try inviting him up on the furniture when you are there to see how it goes. If he begins to get "bossy" about his position again it might be a good idea to keep him off the furniture permanently.

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