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Training Talk: Why Does My Dog Do That?

Our trainer answers some of the most common questions she gets as a dog trainer.

My dog barks at everything!  Why and how can I stop it?

Dogs bark for many reasons:  to alert us of a stranger, to odd noises, and out of boredom.  Most problematic dog barking is due to boredom or loneliness.  Some of this barking falls into the category of attention as well.  Dogs are territorial so the alert bark is normal. However, if it gets annoying simply teaching the dog to come to you or do something else will deter the barking.  For example, I generally ask my dog to come and say “thank you” when they do. By removing the dog from the distraction, the barking will usually stop.

If the dog is aroused and continues to bark, we may have to give them something more calming to do such as “go to your bed” which then gets rewarded.  Do you ever repeat “quiet dog, go away, be QUIET” when a dog sits next to you and continues to whine or bark? That’s reinforcing an Attention Barking behavior! If you actually ignore this behavior it will eventually stop on it’s own.

Putting a dog in their kennel or outside without drama and other reinforcement will let the dog know that this behavior is not tolerated. Simply giving the dog something else to do, such as “go lie down”, will help.  The problem barking occurs when we are not around to train it into something else, such as the dog that barks at the postman when we are at work or sits at the window and barks at people passing by.  Some of this type of barking will need some management to prevent the dog from having those reasons to bark.  Remember, the longer the dog practices a behavior, the harder it is to get rid of it.

Why does my dog chew on things, like my shoes?

Puppies chew to investigate their world and also help with their teething.  Some dogs continue on with this habit even when it seems they should have grown out of it.

The number one rule for this is prevention. Remove the items that the dog may be more likely to chew on, like your shoes. Then give the dog plenty of appropriate chew toys to help prevent incorrect chewing habits.

A product called Bitter Apple is available on the market as well for making items less delectable and desirable.  It is safe for the dog as well as your items.  This product will lose its potency though, so reapplication may be needed.  Management and tidy surroundings will help speed the training process with this issue.

Ouch! My puppy bites, and hard! Why is that?

Remember, as puppies’ teeth are coming in they bite and use everything as a chew toy, including you!  Puppies that have been raised with a litter will learn a process called “Bite Inhibition”.  This is an important concept for pups since when playing with others they learn what hurts and what doesn’t.  Puppies that don’t have this opportunity may need some help.

Ian Dunbar has a great article about puppy biting.  It comes down to the fact that we need to let the puppies know that we are weak simple beings who can’t handle sharp needle teeth piercing our skin.  If hurt we will yelp, get frustrated, and take away our attention from our little piranha.  Pups are quick learners and soon will realize that they must be gentle with their silly humans if they want them to play with us.  Some pups need constant reminders and the good news is that most grow out of it by 5 months.

Why won’t my dog come when I call it?

This is a very common problem and the fix is to address it and reinforce it regularly.  If you have been using the word “Come” and sometimes your pup listens and sometimes it doesn’t, then it is time to retrain.

The first task is to rename the cue, ie:  don’t use “Come” if it is not working, try “HERE”, “NOW” or any other new word.

The second task is to teach the dog in a non-distracting environment and use a leash. When the dog comes to you, reward with 5 or 6 small treats, using a lot of praise the entire time.

Third, don’t allow your dog NOT to come when you call it. If your dog doesn’t come you will need to go to him. Make sure your dog comes to you 100% of the time and reinforce 100% of the time as well. Don’t ever punish your dog when it comes to you, and that includes doing things that are unpleasant, like trimming nails or giving medication.

My dog pees in my bedroom, do you think he’s mad at me?

I am sure that our dogs get frustrated with us, but the nice thing to know is that they don’t hold a grudge.  When a house-trained dog urinates in the house the first thing we do is have him tested for an infection.  If he urinates or defecates in a room where he is not usually allowed, then the main reason is the dog had to go potty, no one was either home or aware that he had to go, and so he went to a space in the house that is not common to him.  It’s very easy to assume that the dog knows what it is doing and is being vindictive, but I think the reason we love our dogs so much is that they don’t hold a grudge and they come right back to us for hugs and kisses.

My dog KNOWS sit and down but is just being stubborn. Why won’t he pay attention?

It’s called distraction training and stimulus control.  My dog knows how to sit and down in my kitchen because that is where I train and they get lots of cookies.  But when I take my dog out to the school bus stop, I can’t even get him to look at me.  So my suggestion to this is train at the school bus stop.  Dogs are not generalists! Even though they know how to sit in the kitchen, we haven’t trained it at the bus stop where there are lots of kids, lots of noise, and lots of different smells.  You need to practice everywhere you want your dog to work for you and you need to start at the beginning each time.  They will eventually generalize if the distractions aren’t that bad, but give them a break and start at step 1 first before moving forward.

As always, you can find the complete answers to all these questions and more by coming by a Care First Animal Hospital training class at any of our locations.

Happy Training

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