Just like humans, some dogs seem to have it all: good manners, good looks, and success. These are the dogs lying obediently at their owner’s feet, walking at an ideal, controlled pace, and sitting quietly while children run and scream nearby.
Then, there are the so-called “bad” dogs. Barkers. Whiners. Shredders. Chewers. Biters. Crazy bundles of furry energy. A recent study published by the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that one-third of dog owners who surrender their dogs to an animal shelter do it because of behavioral problems. More than half of these abandoned dogs were still puppies – less than a year old, and too young to have outgrown any negative behaviors.
Amarillo dog trainer Shea White has dealt with a variety of behavioral issues among dogs, and says many of these problems are simply dogs being dogs. “Dogs don’t know what you consider good or bad,” she says. “Barking or jumping or digging are things that dogs do naturally. A dog might be bored, or anxious. It’s not necessarily a behavior problem – it’s a people problem.”
Establish Hierarchy: One of those big “people problems” comes from the theory that dogs are social animals and still retain pack instincts from their ancestry. Unless a dog’s owner establishes the alpha role of the family “pack,” the dog will try to take it on. “One of the biggest problems I find is that people treat their animals as humans,” says Texas Paws Dog Training owner Kheli Harless. “We’re trying to love them and treat them right, but we confuse our animals by doing that – by allowing them up on the furniture, for example, or allowing them to sleep in our bed.” To establish leadership, a dog owner should praise a dog quickly and confidently, make a dog obey on the first command, and reinforce submission by teaching a basic sit-stay command.
Crate Training: Harless recommends her clients begin by crate-training their dogs. She says some owners are resistant to the idea, reacting emotionally to putting their dogs in a cage-like enclosure. However, “it’s not the same for dogs as it is for people,” she says. “We think of crates as a jail cell, whereas dogs in the wild will naturally find a den. They feel very safe in an enclosed crate and it makes it very clear where they stand in relation to the pack.” She says using a dog’s den instinct via crate-training can be extremely useful for housebreaking, traveling, sleeping, and preventing disruptive behavior when the owner isn’t home.
Reward Good Behavior: Dogs misbehave in order to get attention, White says, but negative attention is still attention. “If your dog is displaying what you deem to be inappropriate behavior – if you scold the dog or fuss at the dog – that’s still attention. The dog is inadvertently being rewarded for the behavior and will probably continue to display that behavior.” Because dogs only learn to do what works, owners need to reward good behavior through positive reinforcement instead of punishing bad behavior. “The more dogs are rewarded for good behavior, the more likely they are to repeat it,” White says. When a dog acts up, walk away. Leave the room. Remove the attention, and only restore it when the dog offers a better behavior.
Provide Exercise: “A dog needs a minimum of an hour of heavy panting every day,” says Harness, who has trained service dogs and worked extensively with canine aggression issues. “That’s more than just playing in the backyard with other dogs.” She says certain breeds need a variety of walking, running, physical exercise, and mental stimulation, which can include training, learning tricks, retrieving, food-hiding games, and other appropriate play. “A tired dog is a good dog,” Harness says.
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.