I get a lot of calls about dog behavior. Comments include: my dog barks at me, my dog goes outside FOREVER and then comes in and poops, my dog bites his leash, my dog wants to eat the mailman, my dog jumps on people coming in the door, my dog ATE the mailman…the list goes on and on.
I would like to address some of these issues, the possible reasons why our dogs do what they do, and some possible solutions. It is important to remember that no one is perfect, not even our pets.
Let’s start with housebreaking, potty training, not soiling in the house; whatever you want to call it, the outcome is the same, DO NOT use my floors to eliminate on. Unfortunately puppies come to us with no clue of what we mean and if we don’t get it in their little heads right off the bat, we will be training for much longer than we need to.
The Training Tip
Start with bringing your puppy out to where you would like him to eliminate and then stand still and the waiting begins. If your puppy gets the clue and does something productive, have a party and give him a few treats right when he is finished. If you suspect something else is coming, then wait some more, or if you need to go back in the house, put your puppy up in his crate or small space and try again in about 5 minutes. Dogs all have their own pattern, some poop once a day, some poop twice at the same break. Get to know your dogs’ patterns and then allow them the time to do their business before getting freedom in the house. Some puppies will get off to a bad start and decide the hallway rug is where they need to do their business. Take that rug up (if possible) or don’t allow the puppy access to that space until potty training is completed.
These tips also apply to rescue dogs that we have no history about. Don’t expect the 8 month old pup from the pound to not know he can’t potty in your house. Train like you would a new puppy. And with this in mind, don’t expect your house-broken pup to know the rules when you go to someone else’s house, especially if they have pets in their home as well. Keep a close eye on your pup and show him where to appropriately eliminate until you are sure he knows the rules.
One of my favorites because it makes so much sense from the dog’s perspective and no sense at all from the human’s is “My dog barks at the mailman like he’s going to eat him.” Well for one, our dogs are territorial and mi casa is not su casa. Also delivery men like the mailman comes to our house, the dog goes crazy and the mailman turns on his heel and leaves. Wow, talk about reinforced behavior, this is it!
The Training Tip
If it is possible, the first thing to do is not allow the dog by that particular door or window where they can see and bark at the mailman. If the dog can’t practice the behavior then it will hopefully lesson and diminish. If you have the door with the mail slot in it, I would recommend putting a mailbox outside the house so once again, the dog will not be able to practice eating the incoming mail and barking at the man who is now leaving, once again reinforcing the behavior we don’t like. My one pet peeve with electric fences and delivery people is that it is very unfair to our delivery people when our dogs are loose in the yard and we are not home to supervise their behavior. I am positive that many delivery people have been snapped at or bit when bringing packages to homes, which unfortunately leaves a bad taste in their mouth for your pet and most likely does not bode well with the pet either, making them more fearful and more reactive. This becomes a much bigger problem than just barking at the mailman behind a closed door, now the pet can actually chase the intruder out and then gets punished not only by the electric collar but most likely from the person being chased as well. Keep this in mind when setting up your fences and the temperament of your pup.
“My dog jumps on people when they come in the door.” Dogs are social beings; they usually love their families and love to get company. One of the most exciting things is that noise the doorbell makes when a new person is coming to see us. Our dogs stop jumping on us because not only do they see us all the time, but we have most likely trained or punished them in some way that they know it is not acceptable behavior. When the doorbell rings, we stop what we are doing and move towards the door. When we are letting someone in we don’t take the time to train the dog and then greet the person. It is only after we let the person in and then we realize we haven’t taught the dog his door manners.
The Training Tip
Sits, mat training, leash training in the house, and four paws on the floor are all very useful methods for door training. Train one of these BEFORE you have company. Ring the doorbell yourself while training your pet to go to their bed or kennel. Then have a few friends over, make them come in one door and out another a few times while you proof your pup, and then give everyone a treat.
“My dog gets bored and barks at me for attention.” Unintentionally, some of us have actually trained our dogs to do this on purpose by giving in to them when they bark and either playing with them, letting them out, or giving them negative attention. Any attention to a dog, negative or positive, is still attention. Some dogs use barking as their signal to go outside, which is fine if that is how you have trained them. Then there are the dogs who will sit and look right at you, barking their little heads off until you get up and feed, treat, or play with them.
The Training Tip
Let’s start by teaching them an alternative behavior. Sometimes just telling your dog to go to his bed will end the discussion he is having in his head. Sometimes we have to be a bit sneakier and give them something they don’t want, like sending them to their crate. This doesn’t always work, but a few times of staring at me and barking then ending up in your crate should put an end to the nonsense. Granted sometimes our dogs are smarter than they look and I still have one of my best clients who can make us all jump with her bark if we are not paying enough attention to her.
Keep in mind, we all have a few habits that drive the people we live with crazy. We all need to work on the little things, so with our pups, we just need to continue to break down the problems into small steps and then train the behaviors we would like to see. Dogs learn by continuous reinforcement, so let’s start reinforcing the good stuff and try our best to not reinforce the “bad” stuff.
Mary L. Pollard CPDT-KA
Certified Pet Dog TrainerBACK TO NEWS & EVENTS