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  Chapter 6: Common Dog Behavior Problems

Your puppy or dog is becoming possessive of toys or snapping

I frequently get calls from dog owners complaining that their puppy or dog is becoming possessive with his toys or is snapping at his family. Ninety percent of the time these behaviors are the direct result of playing tug-of-war, which is a common but huge mistake dog owners make.

Tug-of-war is merely a game to humans, but to canines, it’s a power play. Tug-of-war is used to teach police and military canines to bite. There are specific rules to incorporate with dogs in playing tug-ofwar, but most families either don’t remember them or disregard them. Therefore, I recommend that you never play tug-of-war with your dog.

Your puppy is overly squirmy

Many puppies can be very squirmy to the point where you can hardly hold them. The way to make your pup calm down is to hold it close to you, tightly, firmly, snugly, all the while talking very calmly to him, saying, “Calm, calm, calm — good boy — calm, calm.” The pup soon should start to calm down, and as this happens, you should then begin slowly to release your snug hold. As you relax your hold, keep giving the “calm” command, using a soft voice. If he starts to squirm again then just tighten your grip and repeat the exercise. If you have a large puppy or young adult dog you can sit on the floor for this exercise.

You can use the “calm” command whenever you want to hold the puppy and he is squirming, or when you know the puppy is anxious. This exercise should be done by adults only, not children.

Your puppy bites while playing

Most puppies do not have bite inhibition because we take them from their mothers and siblings at such an early age. If you have ever seen a litter of puppies playing and one puppy bites another, the bitten puppy yelps and runs away — play is over. Teaching your puppy bite inhibition is done in much the same way. When your puppy chomps down on you, in a loud voice yell, “Ouch!” Then put the puppy in his crate for a ten-minute time-out — play is over, and he loses the company of his human. After the time- out, let your puppy out of his crate and resume play. If he bites again repeat the loud “ouch” and plunk him back in the crate for ten minutes — game over. This method usually works after three or four times; after all, the last thing your puppy wants is to lose his time with his human. Keep in mind that the crate time itself is not the punishment — losing his human’s company is the punishment.

Your dog drags you on walks

If your dog drags you down the street when you take him out for a walk, and all conventional training methods have been exhausted — and I mean thoroughly exhausted, including using a head halter — then this is one of the rare times that I recommend the pinch collar (also known as a prong collar).

Many people get rid of a dog that drags them down the street. The children can’t walk the dog because of the pulling, or when he sees another dog, he almost pulls your arm out of its socket. If you are experiencing this problem, check with a qualified trainer before you purchase a pinch collar. This training collar gives a pinch instead of a choke and is very effective with just a flick of the wrist. You’ll be amazed at how your dog responds to his already- known commands. Please consult with a professional trainer and don’t get rid of your pulling dog until you have tried this training collar.

Your dog jumps on or sniffs guests

Indoor-leash and on-your-rug training will go a long way toward keeping yourself and guests safe from overly enthusiastic dog greetings.

As I mentioned earlier, being pawed, sniffed, and jumped on isn’t welcome from other people, and I find this behavior really rude in dogs, too. And even though a guest might laugh (albeit nervously) and tell you it’s okay, believe me, it is not okay!

Keep in mind that to your dog, sniffing and roughhousing is not only an acceptable, but also desirable, greeting. One way to nip this canine behavior in the bud is to simply put your dog on his indoor leash and take him to the door with you when a guest arrives. Tell your dog to sit and stay, then greet your guest.

If the dog begins jumping or sniffing, however, give him a tug and again tell him to sit and stay. Explain to your guest that your dog is in training and then walk your dog to his rug and tell him, “On your rug — down, stay.”

Whatever command you use will, of course, depend on how far along you are with your dog’s training. If he’s at the beginning of his training and you have to correct him several times for getting up from his rug and he’s becoming a pest, then simply put him in his crate and give him a hard rubber treat toy with a yummy food reward on the inside.

As the visit with your guest continues, you may want to bring your dog out and try again. You’ll eventually be able to just say, “On your rug — down, stay,” when a guest arrives and the dog won’t stir unless he’s invited. More often than not, as my dog sits on his rug during a visit — happy, calm, and contented — my guests can’t take it any more and demand to know my secret!

Another way to stop your dog from jumping on you is to fold your hands across your chest — do not make eye contact with him — and turn your back to him. All he wants is your attention. He will run around to your front and probably try to jump again. Don’t look at him and continue to turn away from him. After about fifteen to thirty seconds of keeping your back to the dog, look over your shoulder and tell him to sit. When he obeys, turn around and face him and give him a verbal reward. This method is incredible for controlling your dog’s jumping on you when you let him out of his crate and he is excited to see you.

You see, if your dog jumps on you and you say “Get down” or “No,” you are giving him attention. Remember, he doesn’t care if the attention is negative or positive — all he wants is your attention. So, take your attention away, give him the “sit” command, and then give him your attention. It works!

Your dog barks at and chases cars or livestock

Constant, needless barking is annoying, and chasing cars is potentially dangerous to your dog. Chasing livestock (cattle, sheep, horses, and so on) can entail even more serious consequences, especially if it involves other people’s livestock, perhaps creating severe legal liabilities for the dog owner. Owners of such dogs often face a choice of taking strong action or getting rid of the pet.

As I stated at the beginning of the book, if you do your homework and research before deciding which breed of dog to get, you’ll save yourself from many surprises. Many pet owners have gotten rid of their pets for annoying behavior when they really did not have to.

Although it is very controversial with animal rights activists, sometimes there is a need for drastic measures in training. I rarely recommend an electric shock collar, but it can be used to break a dog of some undesirable behavior. It is important, however, that you check with an animal behavior specialist or a very good trainer before attempting using this type of collar. Electric shock collars can be purchased at most pet supply stores and are often very effective. They emit electrical impulses mild enough that they cause neither risk nor harm to your pet, but strong enough to definitely get your dog’s attention and discourage him from chasing anything you don’t want him to chase. (You could use a few shots from a squirt gun, but it is less effective.) The electric shock collars really work to eliminate a dog’s undesirable behavior, and they sure beat destroying your pet or surrendering it to a shelter.

Follow the directions on the collar packaging carefully. However, if your dog is of a herding or shepherd breed and you live on a farm with livestock or horses, be prepared to deal with what is instinctive in the dog. Again, consult a professional canine trainer when considering this method.

There are alternative methods to discourage car chasing if you are truly opposed to using an electric shock collar. For example, if you have a long driveway or live on a quiet street, have a friend drive slowly away. When the dog starts to chase the car, call him by name and give one of the commands, such as “Come” or “Stay.”

Repeat the process as many times as necessary, until the dog no longer chases the car. Again, this method tends to be pretty ineffective, and besides requiring more than one person, it is extremely time-consuming. In this case, it might be wise to invest in a fence.

Your dog may need behavior modification

Behavior modification usually is done for canines that are twelve months of age or older. Remember when I talked about fear periods? Behavior modification is usually required when something happened to the puppy in the first year of his life during a fear period.

Many canine trainers and veterinarians are acquiring training certification to utilize behavior modification techniques. Canine trainers must work very closely with the canine’s family veterinarian when this type of service is required, and I would be cautious of a canine trainer who does not do so.

Many successful behavior modification techniques are practiced in combination with drug therapy. The drugs are commonly referred to as “doggie Prozac.” However, not all behavior techniques require drug therapy. Dogs that require behavior modification techniques are dogs that display symptoms such as separation anxiety, storm fears, sudden aggression to one family member, or aggression with any human or other dogs. Many of these dogs can be helped to overcome their fears or at least become manageable.

Most behavior modification (with or without drugs) requires approximately ninety days of therapy. Why? Dogs are habitual creatures, and it requires three to four months for a behavior to become habitual. If drug therapy is required, the behavior modification process may take an additional thirty days. A dog that is anxious is a dog that cannot learn, and the drugs calm your dog so that behavior modification techniques can be learned by your dog. Several drugs are available, and your veterinarian will guide you and the canine trainer as to which one best suits your dog.

Most canines can be helped with most problems. Please don’t throw in the towel until you have checked with your veterinarian and a qualified trainer to see what your options are. (Jeanette Floss, D.V.M., covers more on this subject in Chapter 10.)

Your dog is an aggressive biter

I truly believe that even if you are a true, dyed-inthe- fur dog lover, no dog is worth his “gravy train” when a person — or heaven forbid, a child — is scarred emotionally or physically by a dog’s bite. Some people might rationalize their dog’s biting by saying, “He bites only strangers, never anyone in the family.” But if that’s the case in your situation, you must be prepared to confine your dog whenever you have visitors. Nowadays, people are being held liable for owning vicious, biting dogs and the legal consequences can be of real concern. If your dog shows any form of aggression, please get the advice of your veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or a qualified canine trainer right away.

I don’t speak from just an abstract point of view on this topic, but from a personal standpoint. I have had to humanely terminate the lives of two of my canines for biting. Let me tell you about one of those dogs: Our family had a wonderful, Just House Manners wheaten terrier named Huey Lewis. When he was almost two years old, we had an outdoor barbecue to which we had invited about a dozen guests. Huey Lewis was having a great time visiting with everyone when, out of the blue and without provocation on anyone’s part (I witnessed the entire incident), he severely bit one of our guests on the hand.

We honestly didn’t know what to make of this action — could a bee have stung this dog? It was so uncharacteristic. He had never done such a thing before.

We gave the dog the benefit of the doubt and figured it was an isolated incident. Then, about two weeks later, I was feeding Huey Lewis and he viciously attacked me, biting the back of my head as I bent over to put the food in his bowl. After a trip to the emergency room — and several stitches — Huey Lewis and I made a trip to our veterinarian. Tearfully, I had the dog euthanized.

Losing this precious pet affected everyone in our family, but I could not in good conscience keep a dog that just might attack again and possibly leave worse scars than what I had suffered on someone else. Obviously, this otherwise friendly and easy-to-get- along-with canine had some internal aggression problem that surfaced as he aged, and in my opinion no amount of training could change him. This can happen to any dog, regardless of breed. Nevertheless, I believe a pet owner is ultimately responsible for overly aggressive, even dangerous, behavior. Not only should these dogs not be allowed to present potential danger to their neighborhoods, they also should not be permitted to breed and possibly pass on an aggressive gene.

Within two weeks after losing Huey Lewis, we were welcoming a new puppy into our family and were successfully on our way to achieving Just House Manners. I’m convinced that replacing Huey Lewis promptly was the right thing to do. Replacing a pet right away under such circumstances is important, especially if young children are involved. It teaches them that not all dogs bite, and that there are wonderful dogs in every breed.