Undesirable behavior might be the biggest reason for surrendering pets to shelters in all countries. More companion animals are given to shelters for behavior problems than for any other reason. Some animals are surrendered to shelters because they are aggressive and dangerous, but many for behavior problems, that might include excessive barking, destructive chewing and digging that could have been avoided.
Linda Case, a lecturer in Companion Animal Science, coordinates the undergraduate companion animal program in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois. She also owns and operates the Autumn Gold Dog Training Center in Mahomet, Ill. One of her goals is to raise awareness among dog owners in order to prevent behavior problems. "One of the biggest problems we see is that people underestimate how much time caring for a dog requires. Many dogs do not have all of their needs met, and many are horribly under-exercised," says Case. "Unfortunately, since crate training became popular, the crate has sometimes been used as a place to stow the dog rather than being used as the housebreaking tool as it was meant to be. Many dogs spend far too much time in their crates."
Dr. Christine Merle, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, agrees. "Another problem people have with dogs is a basic lack of manners. Because they have not been taught manners, many dogs engage in undesirable activities, such as jumping up on people and not coming when called. When people take the time to educate themselves about the needs of their pet, behavior issues such as these can be prevented. Unfortunately, owners often assume that the dog should somehow be aware of basic rules of behavior without ever having been taught."
If bad behavior continues for an extended period of time, pet owners sometimes attribute very human characteristics to the dog, as if the pet is engaging in the unwanted activity on purpose. Despite what some owners think, their pet is not digging up the garden in order to exact some sort of retribution. Most likely, undesirable behaviors that occur within a home are due to some need that is not being met by the owner. "Unruly behaviors such as digging and barking excessively are called attention seeking behaviors," says Case. "The challenge of dog training is often to discover why the dog is engaging in those behaviors. Instead of looking at training as something that is done to the dog, the best way to solve these problems is to approach dog training from a human-animal bond standpoint, which involves looking at how the owner lives with the dog and how that lifestyle is affecting the dog's behavior."
One of the best ways to avoid behavior problems before they start is to enroll in a dog training class early, ideally when the dog is young. These classes not only teach good manners, but can help the dog become more comfortable around other dogs and people. For dogs with a problem with aggression, there are private trainers who can help owners and pets on an individual basis. Certified veterinary behaviorists can help with problems that are insurmountable through regular training. Matching the animal to the owner's lifestyle is very important, and many behavior problems can be avoided by choosing a pet carefully. Before you decide to get a pet, research the needs of that animal and find out about breed-specific characteristics that need to be taken into consideration. Remember that most of the time, getting a pet on a whim is a very bad idea.
If you have a dog that has a behavior problem or you would like to enroll your pet in a training class, contact your local veterinarian and ask for a list of dog training clubs in your area.
Author: Jennifer Stone, Information Specialist, University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine
There are various reasons for destructive chewing: Puppies need to chew when they are teething between the age of four to six months. They are like babies putting everything in their mouths. This is a pleasurable and necessary experience for them and must be handled properly or a chewing habit may be carried into adulthood. The best way to handle this problem is to soak several old wash rags in water, squeeze them out, and put them in the freezer. Whenever you catch your pup chewing, give him one of these frozen wash rags. The coldness will soothe his swollen gums. Older dogs usually chew to release tension.
There are several things you can do to help your dog feel more at ease:
- Try to avoid emotionally charged departures. When you leave, just say, "Good-bye, see you later." The greater fuss you make, the more anxiety you create.
- Establish your leadership through training. Dogs are more secure knowing they have a leader. Do not give in to his demand for excessive attention when you are home. The more you give, the more he will want and, when you are not there, he will be frustrated.
- Do not isolate your dog as punishment for chewing. This will create more tension and lead to more chewing.
- Do not physically punish him for chewing. He is chewing to relieve tension, and punishment creates more tension, hence, more chewing. Instead, give him plenty of exercise before leaving him home alone. Exercise works the same way for dogs as it does for humans. It relieves tension.
If your dog insists on chewing, there are some things you can do to slow down the habit and redirect the chewing to permissible objects:
- Do not play tug-of-war games. This stimulates the oral/mouthing response. Get him a toy-box and fill it with permissible chew toys-nylon bones, racquetballs, rubber rings, and nylon rope.
- Do not put any personal belongings in this box such as old slippers, knotted socks, or any leather or fabric items. Whenever he chews on a personal belonging, say, "NO CHEW!" and lead him over to his toy-box, give him one of his chew toys and say, "CHEW," followed by "Good Dog!" This will teach him that he can chew but only if the item comes out of his toy box. If he has a personal item in his mouth, do not pull it out. Instead, distract him with one of his toys or a food tidbit. If this does not work, blow a whistle, pop a balloon, or blow a horn. A loud noise will cause him to release. Physical punishment for having this forbidden item in his mouth will only serve to reinforce this behavior. In other words, the chewing will continue and will, in all probability, increase in frequency.
The key factor in anything that you do is to establish a bond with your dog. It is essential that you spend time training him. Part of any good training program includes breaks for playtime. And, of course, lots and lots of daily exercise is absolutely necessary for reducing the stress of being left alone for long periods of time.
Follow this advice and you will establish a bond with your dog wherein he will see you as his leader and he will always try to please you.
Dogs bark just as people talk. It is perfectly normal. Just as some people talk too much, some dogs bark too much. Excessive barking or barking at inappropriate times can be corrected. It is easier to correct a puppy than it is to retrain an adult barker.
There are many reasons why some dogs bark excessively.
- Confinement in a home, yard, or kennel can result in excessive barking. The dog barks to attract attention because he is lonely or bored.
- Dogs which are not exercised enough bark to release tension.
- Some dogs are hypersensitive to every sound or movement around them. This may be a result of environmental training or breed characteristics.
- A dog growing up can learn to bark too much because his caregiver inadvertently reinforces his barking. For example, the puppy barks and the caregiver yells, "Quit barking!" The puppy interprets this verbal attention as a sign that you approve of the barking. So he continues.
We should keep three goals in mind in correcting excessive and inappropriate barking.
- Reduce the number of barks per session.
- Eliminate those situations or events that are causing the barking.
- Increase the length of the quiet times between barking sessions.
It is not reasonable to eliminate barking altogether. It is okay for a dog to sound the alarm by barking a few times.
There are some basic training techniques that can be done to reduce excessive barking.
- First, get control of your dog through training. This will establish you as the leader, so when you give the command "No Bark!" he will instantly obey.
- Do not physically punish him for barking. Dogs do not relate punishment, after the fact, to the previous act. Praise him when he is not barking. It seems silly, but it works. Whenever your dog is just lying around being quiet, say, "Good Dog!" After the third or fourth alarm bark, say, "NO BARK!" When he stops, say, "Sit," followed by "Good Dog!" In other words, give a verbal reprimand for excessive barking and follow it up with a command and praise which indicates what you want him to do after he barks the alarm. Always use a soft, quiet voice forcing him to listen.
If he barks in the house after you leave, change the way you depart. Act unemotionally! Just say, "Good-bye, Jack," and walk out. If he is already into heavy-duty barking, start with the above retraining program. Use a deliberate set-up by leaving and quietly returning to check if he is barking. If he is not barking, go into the house and praise him. If he is barking, verbally reprimand him, give him a "down" command and leave again. If he is outside, the verbal reprimand might be accompanied by a horn or whistle to interrupt the barking. Be persistent in the training. Do not give up!
- Get Rid of the Problem, Not the Dog. Rod Cassidy