Common Behavioural Problems

One thing that people HAVE to realize in order to have a healthy relationship with their dog is that morality is a human concept. Dogs are not “good” or “bad,” neither are they capable of “revenge.” Dogs are only capable of understanding  “is this beneficial, is this harmful or is this neutral?” Dogs are like humans in that they will do what benefits them. The trick is to make sure that actions become mutually beneficial. We have to understand a dogs underlying reason for engaging in certain behaviours. 
Barking
Let us get real here, nobody likes an excessively barking dog. Barking is a dogs warning system and a dog is the best alarm system you’re ever going to have. You want the dog to bark once, but hush when you tell her to. To begin, you want to remember that excessive barking could result from an under exercised dog. The average dog needs an hour or two of aerobic exercise daily depending on the breed. If your dog is not getting that, then he may bark to relieve the mind crushing boredom that comes from staring at the inside of your living room or the back yard all day.
So you’re giving him proper exercise and he’s still barking, by now it may be an established habit. So all you have to do is break the habit. Teach him “hush.” To teach a dog hush, when he barks say “hush” then click and treat. Eventually, when he is performing consistently, say “hush”, but don’t click and treat every time. Once he knows a command, make him wonder when the reward will occur.
If your dog is barking at stimulus that he sees indoors or outdoors, you may want to block his view. Move furniture or plant foliage or cover windows so he can no longer constantly see your neighbors cat, child or whatever is causing the barking. 
Warning:
Do not use shock collars to teach a dog not to bark. Many of these have serious health and behaviour risks associated with them. Many of the behaviour problems will manifest itself in different ways that may necessitate more drastic measures thus continuing the cycle. Further, dogs know who put the collar on them, so a dog instantly learns to only behave when the collar is on, but to misbehave when it is off. Sadly, as soon as you put one of these collars on, the dog learns that you are the source of pain. This causes a rise in cortisol (stress) levels when ever your dog sees you again. Using a shock collar once can permanently damage your relationship with your dog. (1) Dogs who have been ‘trained’ on shock collars have a much higher risk of euthanasia from behaviours associated with the shock than dogs who have been trained using other methods.(2)
Never debark your dog. This is a surgery that removes tissue from the larynx so the dog does not bark normally. Dogs who have been debarked do not stop barking, you just can’t hear it. In many cases the dogs voice returns so that repeat surgeries become necessary. Dogs that have been debarked are at greater risk for choking. 
1 Shilder MBH 2005,
2 Dr. Karen Overall DVM
Possessive Aggression
Possessive aggression is one of those things that is better prevented by teaching a dog frustration tolerance when he is a puppy. However, if it is too late for this then there are a few ways you can manage this problem.
Realize that it comes from insecurities over lack of control. If he is afraid that you will steal his food, running away won’t solve that problem, but biting you will. To teach him that you can be trusted around his treasured possessions you want to take it slow.
For food guarding you can put him on a set schedule and and you can hand feed him for awhile until he trusts you. When he is eating take away his bowl, put a treat inside and give it back. Repeat several times over the course of a few weeks. This will teach him that good things happen when you take his bowl.
If your dog is guarding toys teach him the ‘drop it’ command by pulling the toy out of his mouth and saying ‘drop it’ the reward for drop it is that he immediately gets the toy right back. This teaches him that he can give up a treasured possession and he will see it again. This helps to establish trust between you.
Note: if you can not safely pull the toy out of his mouth, bribe him with a treat.
If your dog is guarding you, remove the dog. If you are holding him, set him down. If you are not holding him and he is near you cue him to sit. If that fails put him in a “puppy time out” (another room) for a few minutes and then let him try again. Repeat as necessary.
 
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Chasing Cars
Some dogs with a high prey drive will chase after cars. This can be very dangerous should the dog actually catch the car. The best way to handle this is to teach the dog that car=sit. When you are out on a walk and you spot a car, immediately cue the dog to sit. The second he sits, click and treat. Repeat this for every car until your dog starts sitting automatically when a car passes. Sitting and running are incompatible actions. If he is sitting next to you he will be a lot safer than if he is chasing cars.
Digging
Digging is natural behaviour for dogs. There are many reasons why dogs dig. For some breeds it’s a natural behaviour. Terriers were bred to go to ground to hunt vermin. Spitz breeds were developed in the far north and would often dig through the snow to bury food for later or dig up mice. For these breeds, redirecting that behaviour would be the best bet. One way to do that would be to give him a sandbox. (This can be done pretty cheaply with a kiddie wading pool and some sand) Bury treats or toys in the sand and let your dog have fun digging them out.
Dogs dig to relieve boredom, bury possessions, cool off in the summer, make comfortable beds, exercise, hunt rodents and bugs, and to explore.
To discourage digging, make sure your dog has plenty of exercise. The best behaved dogs are always the ones who are getting their mental and physical needs met. The next step is to fill the holes that your dog has dug. A sandbox can redirect bored or treasure seeking/burying digging as well.
If your dog is digging under the fence, dig a six to 12 inch trench underneath the fence and lay chicken wire. This makes it much more difficult for the dog to escape. Try to ascertain why the dog is escaping. If he is an intact male, he may be trying to get to a female in heat. Neutering will solve that problem. If he is escaping because he is bored or lonely, walking him will help relieve boredom while providing exercise and socialization.
Fighting
Dogs will sometimes get into scuffles with one another as a means to defend territory, out of fear, or to protect their resources. It is always better to prevent fights than to break them up. The best way to prevent a fight is to socialize your dog. Very rarely will well-socialized neutered/spayed dogs fight.
If you have a dog who you know is prone to fighting, the worst thing you can do is tense up when another dog approaches. If you tense up everything from the tenseness of the way you hold the lead to your body posture to your facial expressions will scream “TROUBLE!” to little Fido. He will then get on high alert and be more likely to try to fight. The best thing you can do is relax. Put all the tension in your legs where Fido can’t see it. Keep a loose leash, keep walking and keep up a happy stream of conversation to to your dog. Act normal, not tense.
All dogs should be obedience trained. If you’re out with your dog and you see another dog approach, cue your dog to ‘sit’, or ‘down’, or ‘watch me’ or any other variety of commands you can think of to get your dog’s focus on you and off the stimulus.
You are also going to want to change your dog’s perception. If you know your dog aggresses at dogs who are 10 feet away, take him 12 feet from a dog and click and treat when your dog notices another dog. Once he’s fine from 10 feet away, take him 8 feet away and then click and treat. When he is fine from 8 feet away take him 5 feet away and so on. Timing is crucial. We can not award bad behaviour. It is imperative that you treat before your dog has an opportunity to aggress. With any set back (and setbacks are common during training) go back to the beginning and take your dog a comfortable distance and start all over.
DO NOT strike your dog, yell at your dog or in anyway act negatively. Violence begets violence and such displays will only make matters worse.
Inter Pack Aggression (A.K.A. sibiling rivalry)
If you have dogs within the same household who can’t seem to get along, there are some things that you can do to smooth things over.
First: Feed all dogs seperately. This will not only cut down on fights over possession, but it will also prevent obesity and allow you to monitor your dogs food intake.
Second: Make sure that there are plenty of toys to go around. It seems silly to type this as everyone with multiple dogs knows that dogs only want what the other dog has even if it’s the exact same toy. However, if you have 3 dogs, throw 7 toys down and check frequently to make sure that everyone is playing nicely. Remove the toys if a fight breaks out.
Third: Be ever vigilant. If you notice stiff posture, hard stares or any other signs of a challenge cue “Leave it” in a firm (but not loud) tone of voice. When this breaks up the behaviour praise all the dogs. If necessary reassert your own dominance by giving a command (any command) and then click and treat when the dogs obey. The command reminds them that no matter what, you are still in charge.
Fourth: Respect the hieracrchy that they’ve established among themselves. Don’t champion the underdog as this has the potential to make things much worse.
Sometimes it is best to let the dogs sort things out for themselves. Our interference sometimes makes things worse. However, if you suspect bloodshed always intervene before a fight arises.
Chewing
Young puppies need to chew. Developmentally they are still in the infant/toddler stage. This means that to learn they must explore and they explore with their mouths. Physically, they are in the teething stage. Their gums hurt and chewing relieves that. Older dogs must chew to exercise their jaws and relieve boredom. Chewing is not a problem. Chewing the wrong stuff is a huge problem. At best you are out a few bucks having to replace a sofa. At worse it can be fatal. A dog chewing a live wire (e.g. a computer cord) is at serious risk for electrical shock.
Let your dog chew but let him chew on appropriate items; toys, bones or rawhide. If your puppy is teething, give him a specially made puppy teething toy. Freezing it will help sooth the puppy’s tender gums. Your puppy should be in a crate when you are not home, or are at home but not watching him. Not only will this aid potty training, but it will keep him safe from household dangers. Rotate toys frequently, this will prevent puppies and older dogs from becoming bored with their toys.
If you catch your dog chewing on a forbidden object interrupt with an “EH,” or similar obnoxious noise, and give him something that he can chew on. It is not enough for us to teach a dog what not to do if we are not teaching him what he can do. If we are not providing an alternate behaviour, then he will always return to that bad action because that will be the only thing that he knows.
There is no such thing as a completely safe toy. If your dog has burst the stitching or a toy has become small enough to choke on, then discard the toy.
Note: Rawhide is very controversial. Young puppies and dogs with sensitive stomachs should not be given rawhide. Remember that price matters. Cheaper rawhide may contain bacteria, like salmonella, or even toxic ingredients, such as lead or arsenic. If possible try to buy American made rawhide. Though this may be near impossible to find. Replace the rawhide when it becomes small enough to swallow.
Granulated rawhide is easier to digest, but also will not last as long as compressed rawhide. These are good for moderate or sensitive chewers. Compressed rawhide is best for heavy chewers as they will last a long time, but they are more likely to cause stomach upset. Choose which is best for your dogs needs.
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