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Monday, July 22, 2024

How to Solve Dog Behavior Problems



In most cases, behavior problems are really communication problems. When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing humans and dogs can live together at all. Besides being totally different animals, we also see, hear, smell, taste, and feel the world very differently — and process it all through a very different brain.

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Dog behavior can be cute and endearing or it can be destructive or drive you up a wall. See more dog pictures.

Back when all dogs were wild, actions like chewing, scent-marking, and barking weren’t an issue. Now that dogs are a regular part of human families, these natural behaviors can become problem behaviors. That means we have to shape a dog’s natural behavior so it fits in with polite society — what we might call teaching a dog good manners.

Here’s how.

  • Handling an Aggressive Dog

    Dogs can be aggressive for myriad reasons, ranging from furious anger to loving playfulness. Defensiveness, territorial protection, pain, even reproductive urges — these all can cause aggressive behavior. It behooves every dog owner to know the difference, for everyone’s safety and benefit. It cannot take much to push an aggressive dog to the point where he is biting or attacking a family member or neighbor. There are, however, strategies to make your dog friendly and sociable. Learn how.

  • Handling a Dog that Bites

    Dog’s mouths are analogous to human hands — they are dogs’ way of interacting with the word and analyzing it. Dogs bite for many reasons, including anger and self-defense and love and playfulness. These reasons are easy to confuse because in the end they all have the same result. For whatever reason your dog has a tendency to bite, there are solutions to keep your dog from biting people or other dogs.

  • Stopping a Dog from Chasing Cars

    Dogs have a deep urge to chase quickly moving things, and so when your dog gives chase to a Chevy, it makes a lot more sense to him than it might to you. In fact, the site of any object passing by your dog at a high speed can make your dog want to take off after it. Such a dog can confuse or frighten a driver, and put himself in danger. You can break you dog of this habit with a little patience. In this section you will find some tips on curbing your dog’s car-chasing urge.

  • Stopping a Dog from Chewing

    Young dogs are especially prone to chewing because – just like newborns – it can be painful when their teeth grow in. But even grown dogs will chew inappropriately if distressed or bored. In some cases, chewing can even be good for your dog and keep his teeth clean. You can train your dog to know the difference between good chewing and bad chewing. Learn how to keep your dog focused on the chew toy and not your new sneakers.

  • Stopping a Dog from Eating Stool

    It might not be pleasant to talk about, and it certainly seems repulsive to us, but many dogs eat their own feces or the feces of other animals. Coprophagy is the medical name for this unpleasant canine habit that is more common among younger dogs. If an older dog eats its own stool it could be a sign or a more significant problem. There are ways to get your dog to break this natural inclination. In this section we discuss ways to remove the temptation from your dog.

  • Stopping a Dog’s Excessive Digging

    Dogs like to dig, and in fact some breeds have been bred to do just that. In most cases it’s harmless, but it can be very destructive to your yard — or your neighbor’s. It can also be messy when you’re dog spends an hour exploring the mud in your garden and then comes bounding into the living room. Let’s also not forget that your dog can just as easily burrow into your carpet as your yard. If you’d had it with your dog’s excavations, in this section we discuss ways to curb your dog’s urge to dig.

  • Stopping a Dog’s Fighting Behavior

    Dogs are very territorial, and very tuned into the hierarchy of a group. Dominance is very important in canine society. In fact, most of the behavior problems you have with your dog may stem from the way your dog perceives the power structure with you. If your dog believes he is the "top dog" or "alpha male" in your house, he might try to assert his dominance over you. For this reason, they can be motivated to fight, and when dogs fight, it can be quite frightening and dangerous for all involved. Here we explain the fight-impulse and how you can curb it or prevent it from coming into play.

  • Stopping a Dog’s Excessive Guarding

    If you walk by your dog when he is eating his dinner and he gives you a nasty growl, he’s not just being rude. Dogs guard their food by nature, but sometimes this behavior can become almost compulsive. Not only can this behavior lead the occasional swipe at your fingers, it is also important to be able to get something out of dogs mouth if it is toxic. In addition to food, dogs can also be protective of their favorite possessions. Here we discuss the problem, and ways to solve it — some that involve a change in the dog-owner’s behavior.

  • Stopping a Dog from Jumping

    When a pooch races across the room and jumps up to your shoulders, it’s not always a sign of love and affection — and regardless, it’s often inconvenient, uncomfortable or downright frightening. While some owners like to be greeted by their dog so enthusiastically, your dog might give the same salutation to other, more inappropriate guests. Pizza delivery people, relatives who are afraid of dogs, or young children might be put off by an aggressive dog. You can curb this behavior and even train your dog to jump on command. You will learn how in this section.

  • Stopping a Dog from Marking Territory

    It’s natural for a dog to mark territory, but they can take it too far, especially if they’re under stress. With help from you in regulating their world and teaching them appropriate behavior, a dog can be trained to mark territory only where appropriate. As with guarding their food, marking territory is behavior that is ingrained in all dogs. While you can’t train to teach your dog to sit at the table with a knife and fork, you can teach him to control this habit. This section will give you the advice you need.

  • Stopping a Dog from Leash Pulling

    Dogs are genetically encoded to pull on a leash, stemming from their historical use as pullers of sleds and packs. Some dogs, however, take this behavior too far by straining against the leash so hard that it interferes with their breathing. It might not be possible to break your pet of this habit entirely, but that’s not to say you can’t train your pooch to keep this aggressive behavior to a minimum. Depending on your breed of dog, this section offers a variety of solutions for this problem.

An aggressive dog isn’t necessarily an angry or violent dog. Move on to the next section to learn how to handle this problem.


  1. Handling an Aggressive Dog
  2. Handling a Dog That Bites
  3. Stopping a Dog from Chasing Cars
  4. Stopping a Dog from Chewing
  5. Stopping a Dog from Eating Stool
  6. Stopping a Dog from Excessive Digging
  7. Stopping a Dog's Fighting Behavior
  8. Stopping a Dog's Excessive Guarding
  9. Stopping a Dog from Jumping
  10. Stopping a Dog from Marking Territory
  11. Stopping a Dog from Leash-Pulling

Handling an Aggressive Dog

Aggression is probably the most common reason an otherwise healthy dog is euthanized (put to sleep). We sometimes forget dogs are predators and can inflict serious and even fatal wounds. A truly aggressive dog is terrifying — and rightfully so.

You need to understand if your dog is really displaying aggression. The word aggression has a specific meaning in the field of animal behavior. It’s also relative: What would be aggressive to us may be perfectly ordinary to a dog. A good example is play. A child who chased another child across a field, bit him on the back of the neck, and pulled him down to the ground at a dead run would be acting pretty aggressively. However, to a pair of playing dogs, that’s an accurate description of a good time. Play is often viewed as practice for real-life skills, so it’s not unusual to see stalking, chasing, hunting, and even killing behaviors as part of normal dog play.

So how can you tell? Usually by the look and sound. Does the dog have a play face (wide-open eyes and relaxed-open jaws, like a big, toothy grin)? Is the behavior accompanied by furious or loud snarling and barking? Or is it play-growls and happy yips? A surefire sign is if the roles reverse: If there’s a chase on and suddenly the chasing dog changes direction and is being pursued, you can bet it’s play.

There are several reasons why your dog may display aggressive behavior. Here are the types of aggression.

Defensive. Here’s a classic scenario for defensive aggression: The dog does something wrong; the owner catches the dog and scolds him; the dog then retreats under the bed; the owner reaches under the bed to pull the dog out and reprimand him for the misdeed; and the dog bites the owner.

Any dog will bite when he feels threatened. In this case, the dog gave ground and made himself "invisible," which is submissive behavior in dog society. The only reason the dog could think of to explain why the owner was still pursuing him after he had submitted to the owner’s dominance was the owner intended to do him harm. So the dog protected himself. The best thing to do if your dog retreats is to just leave him alone.

Territorial. Territorial aggression is one of the reasons we like living with dogs. They will defend their territory — which can include our home, our possessions, their food, and us — against all comers. Without territorial aggression, there would be no watchdogs.

But territorial aggression can get out of hand. It can pop up in things as minor as jumping up, as frustrating as marking territory, or as serious as biting. Again, a good dominance relationship with your dog is crucial. If you’re the dominant dog, he’ll feel secure when you feel secure — and won’t defend territory against friendly visitors, meter readers, and letter carriers — but will still defend you and your home when the need arises.

Agonistic (pain-related). A sick or injured dog knows he is vulnerable. The same is true for an aging dog, whose senses have dulled, reactions have slowed, and mobility has decreased. Even ordinary situations can make a vulnerable dog feel the need to lash out in his own defense.

Sometimes the dog’s pain is obvious, and you can be ready for possible aggression. Other times, however, it’s not so easy to tell until it’s too late. If you’re petting or playing with your dog as usual, for example, and he suddenly growls or snaps at you, you should suspect something hurts and call the vet right away. Arthritis is a common cause for this type of behavior.

Reproductive. This one probably needs no explanation. If there’s a female dog in heat anywhere in the known universe, unneutered male dogs know it and will try to get through everything — including each other — to reach her. The drive to reproduce can trigger fighting with other dogs and even uncharacteristic aggression toward family members.

The surefire solution for this type of aggression is obvious but important: You must neuter or spay your dog, preferably before the age of six months.

When to Call the Vet

Aggressive behavior isn’t something that can be ignored or laughed off. Your dog’s life depends on it. If your dog is launching serious attacks, especially without warning or provocation, get him in for a thorough veterinary exam as soon as possible. Your vet can help you determine a course of treatment or refer you to a competent behaviorist. Though aggression can sometimes be related to a physical problem, such as a brain tumor, encephalitis (infection of the brain), lead poisoning, low blood sugar, or liver disease, it is usually a behavioral problem. If your dog shows any form of aggressive behavior, call your vet or an animal behavioral specialist immediately.

One of the most characteristic types of aggressive behavior in dogs is biting — something we dread whether we own a dog or not. We cover this behavior in the next section.

Handling a Dog That Bites

Each year, anywhere from half a million to one million dog-bite injuries are reported. The most likely victims of dog bites are children under 12 years old (accounting for about 60 percent of the total), and the top five perpetrators are Chow Chows, Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, and Dalmatians. In the general dog population, unneutered male dogs are the most likely to bite. In other words, keeping an unneutered male Chow Chow in a home with a two-year-old, a five-year-old, and twin eight-year-olds will probably guarantee you’ll take at least one bite-motivated trip to the emergency room. This doesn’t mean you should never have bite-prone breeds or that you must wait until the kids are in high school before getting a dog. It does mean you need to have a better understanding of why and when dogs bite, and take steps with your dog and your family to bite-proof your household.

How to Avoid Dog BitesIf you’re facing a dog who’s exhibiting threatening behavior, how you respond (or don’t respond) can make the difference between getting away safely and getting bitten. Any dog can bite, so don’t assume that the dog you know who’s growling and staring won’t hurt you. Similarly, an unfamiliar dog who isn’t showing threatening behavior should not be assumed to be friendly. Since children are at highest risk for dog bites, teach youngsters in the family these basic techniques–and practice them yourself.

The most important rule to remember is: Never approach any strange dog. If the dog approaches you, don’t run. Stand perfectly still (tell young children to stand like a tree), with your fists folded underneath your chin and your elbows close to your body. Keep your legs together and look straight ahead, not at the dog. (Remember, staring is a threat gesture.) If the dog approaches you while you’re on the ground, roll onto your stomach with your legs together, fists folded behind your neck, and forearms covering your ears (tell kids to act like a log). Remain still until the dog goes away.

In at least half of all reported dog-bite cases, the bites were provoked by the victim — although often unintentionally. Dogs usually give clear signals they’re ready to bite — clear, at least, to other dogs and to people who know how to recognize them. The most common dog-bite scenario involves a person or young child who misses the dog’s warning sign and gets within range. The other common cause of bites is miscommunication. Perhaps the best known example is the encounter between a child and a stray dog: Frightened by the sudden appearance of a large and unfamiliar pooch, the child instinctively screams and runs away. This triggers the dog’s chase reflex or is misinterpreted as play behavior. Either way, the only way the dog has of catching the child is with his mouth.

Classic canine body language that signals a dog’s readiness to bite includes staring, bared teeth, growling, stiff-legged stance (it almost looks like the dog is standing on the tips of his toes), raised hackles (the fur on his shoulders, back, and rump), and a wagging tail with a stiff, rapid movement. Usually, your final warning is a more intense stare and deeper growling. When the dog’s head is lowered and the ears go back against his head, you can expect the next thing you hear to be the sound of his teeth snapping together on whatever of yours he can get ahold of. Of course, it doesn’t have to come to that. A wise person will back off well before it gets to this point.

When to Call a Behaviorist

If the potentially threatening dog you encounter is your own, you may need professional help. Dogs may bite out of fear, defense, pain, or to protect territory — all reasons too subtle for you to detect without knowing what to look for. A trained behaviorist can help you pin down the reason for your dog’s biting as well as develop a strategy to change the behavior. This might be as simple as giving the dog more exercise; socializing with people and other dogs; or teaching all family members to leave the dog alone while he’s eating, sleeping, or hiding. However, it may involve a more extensive overhaul of your relationship with your dog.

When dogs chase cars some owners might find cute or comical. However, it can be a dangerous problem. In the next section, we will help you break your dog of this bad habit.

Stopping a Dog from Chasing Cars

"I’m not so concerned about Old Blue chasing cars," starts the old joke, "it’s when he brings ’em home and buries ’em in the yard that I start to get worried."

Dusty jokes aside, car chasing is a problem for some dogs. Some car chasers are just answering the instinctive call to the hunt: Anything that moves can serve as prey. Others may be acting on territorial instincts, driving away (no pun intended) the motorized intruder from their turf. Still others — usually herding breeds or mutts with strong herding instincts — are trying to get those wayward cars back into the "flock." Basically, any dog will be inclined to give chase to a moving object — a tossed stick or ball, a passing cat or squirrel — but the trick is to teach him when chasing is okay: Fetching sticks and catching a ball are fine; trying to fetch the neighbor’s cat and catch passing cars aren’t.

First, try to figure out why your dog chases cars. Out in the country where things are more spread out and neighbors might live up to a mile apart, letter carriers deliver the mail in little jeeps. A car-chasing dog might view the daily arrival of this red-white-and-blue thing at the end of the access road as a regular attempt to crash his gate. Once the motive for the dog’s chasing is understood, the solution may be as easy as introducing the dog to his nemesis. A few friendly encounters — perhaps punctuated by a favorite game or treat — and the threat evaporates, as does the car chasing.

Predatory chasing can often be corrected using a leash or a distraction (such as an unpleasant noise) to interrupt the start of the chase. When the dog turns his attention away from the chase, reinforce the behavior with praise (and an occasional treat). Of course, the surefire method to keep a dog from chasing cars is to keep him safely fenced or leashed.

Try giving the dog who sees cars as wayward sheep something more constructive to do with his herding instincts. Give him plenty of exercise, including several long walks or runs each day, or play running and jumping games with a Frisbee. These dogs are good candidates for organized sports like flyball and agility training, too. If you have a herding dog (like a Collie or Sheltie), the best thing to do is train him for herding trials — after all, it’s what they were born and bred to do! Again, this is something you should consider before you adopt a dog from a herding breed. It takes a lot of time to keep a dog like this busy, but you’ll both be happier you made the investment.

When to Call the Vet

This type of behavior usually doesn’t require any veterinary attention.

Next we’ll look at dogs who chew things they shouldn’t — and how to stop them. You no longer have to live in fear that you’ll wake up one morning and find your shoes are chewed to pieces.

Stopping a Dog from Chewing

A dog’s mouth is the canine equivalent of our hands; it’s what dogs use to pick up and examine things, evaluate their potential use, and transport them from one place to another. Chewing lets a dog know what something feels like, how it tastes, and whether it’s good to eat. It’s a natural part of dog behavior: You can no more train a dog to stop chewing completely than you can train him to stop breathing. Chewing is also an important part of the pup’s development. Just like babies, puppies chew in part to soothe sore gums during teething. It can take up to a year for a pup’s adult teeth to come in, so this is another instance where you’ll need lots of patience to teach your dog what he can chew and what he can’t.

Naturally, your dog will be attracted to anything with your scent on it, so be sure to put away shoes, socks, and other items you’ve handled that you don’t want destroyed. In fact, getting a puppy is terrific incentive to get everyone in your household to pick up clothes, shoes, and toys — if you don’t, the odds are they’ll be gnawed into oblivion. It won’t take too many instances of a favorite item getting shredded before even the most careless family member is putting things away. Never give a dog old shoes or clothing to chew on. Shoes especially will retain your scent. In fact, never give your dog anything as a chew toy that is the same as something you don’t want him to chew; he won’t be able to tell the difference between the old boot you gave him to gnaw and your new hiking boots.

Make those toys you want your dog to chew (and he should have a number of them) as appealing as possible. If he seems to be going exclusively for things with your scent on them, put chew toys in the laundry hamper for a day or two before giving them to your dog. Rubbing something tasty on the outside of rubber balls or other toys or stuffing treats inside of hollow toys can encourage the dog to select those items to chew on his own. In general, be sure you’re giving him the message clearly from the beginning. Give him the appropriate toys to chew, and praise him for chewing them. Always keep a chew toy within reach (even carry one with you). If you see your dog working on something you don’t want him to chew, quickly remove the item and replace it with a toy, then immediately praise him for chewing the correct item. There a million things in your home you don’t want him to chew; it’s much easier to teach him to recognize the handful of items he can chew.

If you want to give your dog bones to chew on, stick to large knucklebones or thigh bones. Before you hand them out, sterilize bones by boiling them for half an hour. Never give small bones or bones that could splinter easily, such as chicken or turkey bones.

Some dogs remain very active chewers all their lives. Destructive chewing is especially common in dogs who spend a lot of time alone, since it’s a way of working off boredom or anxiety. "Home alone" dogs need to have lots of different toys, which should be rotated to keep things interesting. When you’re home with the dog, be sure he gets lots of exercise and quality time with you.

When to Call the Vet

As with any behavior problem, have your vet take a look at your dog before you start any corrections. On occasion, a destructive chewer is signaling his teeth or gums are bothering him. If there’s a physical cause for the behavior, no amount of training or correction will change it.

Now let’s consider how to stop a dog from eating stool. It’s in the next section.

How to Prevent Chewing
Of course, the most important part of prevention for chewing is common sense: Keep everything you don’t want chewed out of your dog’s reach, or keep your dog out of areas where nonchewable things can be easily found. Dogs who chew only when left alone can be put into their kennels or crates. (Never use the crate as punishment. The crate should be thought of as your dog’s den — a safe and happy place.)

Since you can’t put things like the sofa or dining room table on a high shelf, you’ll have to resort to other methods. Some trainers recommend applying a mixture of cayenne pepper in petroleum jelly or some other unpleasant-tasting substance to furniture legs and other potential chewing zones. (Test the substance on an inconspicuous spot first to make sure it won’t damage the finish.) Upholstery can be protected by putting double-sided tape (or a flattened loop of masking tape, sticky side out) on items such as furniture skirting, curtains, and bedspread hems. If the tacky feel doesn’t dissuade your dog from chewing, you can try dusting the outside with a nontoxic, unpleasant-tasting substance such as cayenne pepper.

Corrections for chewing inappropriate items should only be made when you catch your dog in the act. Never reprimand a dog after the fact. No matter how much you think he looks like he knows he’s been bad, he’s really only reacting to you and your anger. Instead, when you catch him chewing something you don’t want him to, quickly take away the incorrect item (you can also interrupt the unwanted chewing with a shaker can or other distraction for emphasis), immediately substitute it with a chew toy, and then praise him lavishly.

Stopping a Dog from Eating Stool

Dogs will eat just about anything, including their own feces or that of other animals. As disgusting as this sounds, it’s common enough to get a fancy medical name: coprophagy, from the Greek kopros (dung) and phagos (one who eats).

Yes, it’s an unpleasant topic. But you have to realize sometimes coprophagy is a natural and normal act. Newborn puppies haven’t yet learned to eliminate on their own, so the mother dog licks them to stimulate urination and defecation, and then licks them again to clean them up. In other circumstances, nature will prevent all that waste from…well, going to waste. For instance, cats need a higher percentage of fat in their diets than dogs, which means a higher level of waste fat in their stool. Anyone who has dogs and cats knows the pooch will have his nose in the litter box, searching out the leftover nutrient in "kitty chocolates."

When adult dogs eat their own stool, though, it’s a different story. Usually, it’s a sign of loneliness or boredom, although on occasion, miscues in housebreaking will result in the dog eating stool because he’s learned the presence of stool sometimes gets him punished. Actually, coprophagy doesn’t present any problem for dogs, with the possible exception of eating stool containing parasite eggs. It is a major aesthetic problem for the owner, however, who must witness it and whose face the dog then tries to lick. You can try to break the habit by relieving the dog’s boredom or loneliness: Give him more attention and exercise, rotate his toys so he doesn’t have to play with the same old thing all the time, and feed him more than once a day so he has something to look forward to.

Prevention is the only sure cure. Pick up after your dog right away, or muzzle a coprophagic dog when walking in public areas. Set up cat litter boxes where Rex can’t get his nose into them — or simply keep them clean of stool by scooping several times a day, especially before and after feline mealtimes.

When to Call the Vet

As soon as you notice this behavior, make a trip to the vet — there may be a physical cause for a dog’s coprophagy. A belly full of worms or other parasites could rob Rex’s body of vital nutrients, and he might be eating whatever he can find to try and make up for it. There might also be a nutritional deficiency in his diet. Adding brewer’s yeast to his food will boost his intake of B-vitamins. Pumpkin or raw carrot will add fiber to his diet and help him feel full. In some cases, solving the problem is as simple as switching Rex over to a food with more fat, fiber, or protein. Your vet can recommend a brand better suited to Rex’s dietary needs.

A dog who constantly digs can be just as irritating and destructive as a dog who obsessively chews. In the next section, you will learn how to stop your dog from digging excessively.

Stopping a Dog from Excessive Digging

Digging is another natural dog behavior. They do it for lots of reasons. Terriers, for example, do it simply because they’ve been bred to do it for countless generations — part of their original job of digging out burrows and going in after varmints like rats and badgers. Other dogs dig to fix themselves a place to sleep, to stash some food, to make a secure hiding place, or out of pure boredom. And some do it just because it’s fun.

If your dog has started excavating your yard or digging holes in your love seat, try to figure out his motive. Is he bored and trying to while away the hours doing a little relandscaping? Is he trying to beat the heat by making a bed in the cool earth? Is he an unneutered male trying to get under the fence and after that female on the next street? Or maybe he’s burying bones or other treats to enjoy later on? Once you think you have a handle on his reason for digging, you can take steps to change the behavior.

Now, if your dog is one of those who’s been bred to dig, you’ve got a tough row to hoe. You’re never going to get him to quit, so you’re going to need to give him the opportunity to dig where it’s okay. Try giving him his own plot of dirt or a sandpit (fewer muddy tracks) to dig in. Encourage him to dig there, and praise him when he does. Keep the area appealing with lots of toys and treats. If he digs because he’s trying to find a cooler place to lie down, simply provide more shade in that spot or move him to a place where he can be more comfortable — under a tree or in the house, for instance. The dog who’s trying to escape might be a little more difficult to deal with. Some people have gone so far as to put concrete or wire beneath their fences to keep digging dogs in. Neutering or spaying takes away a major motive for escape. Other dogs feel anxious or threatened out in the open for long periods of time. Sometimes, just providing shelter — access to a garage, shed, or doghouse — is enough to put an end to the great escape.

Again, use distraction techniques when you catch your dog in the act of digging where you don’t want him to. As soon as he stops, praise him, play a favorite game, give him a toy, or take him to his designated digging area. Never correct a dog for digging after the fact. This only confuses him, making him anxious and more likely to dig!

When to Call the Vet

Digging behavior usually doesn’t require any veterinary attention.

Now let’s look into dogs who fight excessively, and how to stop this behavior. It’s covered in the next section.

Stopping a Dog's Fighting Behavior

Dogs get into scrapes with other dogs as a way of figuring out who’s dominant to whom in canine society, to defend territory (including mating rights), out of fear, to protect their food, and sometimes as a defensive "first strike" when they encounter a dog who has attacked them in the past. A neutered or spayed dog who has spent his formative early weeks of life with his mom and littermates and has had plenty of socialization since — with other dogs and people, too — has the best chance of staying out of fights. Of course, all that is water under the bridge once you have an adult dog who is a fighter. You might always have a fighting dog, but you can take steps to keep the situation under control.

Your reaction determines how your dog will react to other dogs. If you anticipate trouble when you see other dogs headed your way, your dog will pick up on your uneasiness and immediately perceive the approaching dog as a threat. Keep a loose lead, keep moving, and keep up a happy stream of conversation. Your dog needs to learn to view the approach of other dogs as normal, not negative.

Every dog, especially one who’s prone to fighting, should be obedience trained. When another dog approaches, require your dog to go through an obedience routine or perform some other activity to take his attention off the other dog and focus it on you. If he starts growling or barking at the new arrival, you can now legitimately correct him for failing to respond to commands, not because of the approach of another dog.

Reproduction is a driving force behind territorial and aggressive fighting. Neutering a male dog is an absolute must for controlling and correcting fighting. Female dogs can be aggressive, too, and spaying is just as important. In fact, neutering and spaying have significant, long-range health and behavior benefits for all dogs.

When to Call a Behaviorist

All dogs are not created equal, especially when it comes to dominance. If there’s fighting between two dogs in your own household, they may be trying to figure out who answers to whom. A behaviorist can help you understand what’s going on and offer advice on how to solve the problem. Remember, to a dog, being dominant or subordinate is a perfectly normal and natural thing. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your dogs must treat each other as equals. Correcting dog behavior means occasionally thinking like a dog.

If your dog growls whenever you get close to one of his bones or food, it can be a real nuisance. In the next section, we’ll learn how to cure your dog of excessive guarding.

Stopping a Dog's Excessive Guarding

Instinct tells a dog to protect his food. However, it’s important for you to have complete control over what goes into your dog’s mouth. Part of this is for safety. If your dog starts to pick up something dangerous or deadly, such as rat poison, you need to be able to get it away from him without losing your fingers. However, access to food is also a dominance issue: When your dog responds by taking his food or dropping things out of his mouth on command, he is recognizing you as the dominant dog. Food guarding is a frequent trigger for dog bites, too. Therefore, the sooner you can establish that you and other family members are the ultimate authority when it comes to meals, the better off you’ll be.

If your food guarder is still a puppy, you need to let him know everything he gets comes through you: food, toys, even petting. Tell your puppy to sit or lie down before you feed him, and make him wait until you give the release word, such as okay or take it, before he starts to chow down. If he comes up and nudges you for attention, use the same tactic to make it your initiation. He should also learn it’s okay for you to touch him while he eats, so give him a pat when you put down his dish, and make it a habit to add a little food to his bowl while he’s eating. This way, when you are near his food dish, it is always a happy occasion.

Location means everything when you feed your dog. If he’s off in a corner, he may feel more possessive than if he were eating in a more spacious area with room to move around. Practice giving him food and taking it away. To do this, give your dog very small portions at a time. Each time he finishes a serving, take his dish away and refill it with another small amount until all his food is gone. As you take away and replace the dish, praise him for being a good dog. Once he’s responding well to having his dish removed and replaced, move on to the next step: adding the food to his dish while it’s still in front of him. Let him eat some of the food while you’re off doing something else, then walk up and add something special to the dish, such as a piece of hot dog or a liver treat.

Let’s get one thing clear, though: All this is so you have the ability to control what goes into your dog’s mouth. Practice these techniques now and then so you can maintain your dominance relationship with your dog. The most important thing to remember is not to pester your dog while he’s eating. Since most of Rover’s meals should be in peace, teach all household members — especially children — that he is to be left alone at mealtime.

Guarding Other Possessions

Lisa is a working single mom with two young children, ages 4 and 7. She got their dog, Hugo, from the pound as a companion for her kids and protection for the house. Hugo is a sweet-natured dog, excellent with the kids. However, he often growls and bares his teeth at them when he has a toy. "I don’t get it," Lisa told the behaviorist. "My kids can just walk into the room where he’s sitting with his toys and he growls. He even brings a ball for them to throw, chases it, and then snarls at them when he brings it back!"

A dog who’s possessive about possessions is making a statement — you just need to make sure you’re understanding it. In Lisa’s case, part of the problem was a miscue on playing. Hugo loved to play fetch, but after several rounds of running down a tennis ball, he just wanted to lay down and chew. Unfortunately, the children thought his flopping on the ground a few feet away was part of the game and would take the ball away and throw it again. Hugo learned the only way he could end the game was to act threatening.

In other cases, it’s more a matter of dominance. Using the same techniques as for food guarding can be effective, but owners often need to be assertive in other ways, too. Keeping the dog on a leash — even in the house — sends a clear message that you’re in control and everything is fine. Obedience-train your dog, and when he starts guarding a toy, issue a command, changing the focus from the toy to the behavior required. Praise him when he responds to the command (even if you had to correct him or use the leash to get him to do it). As part of his obedience training, every dog should have a command to stop him from picking something up or drop something already in his mouth. (Variations of this command are "Drop it!," "Leave it!," "Don’t touch!," and "Out!")

If a particular kind of toy causes the green-eyed monster to visit your dog, dump it. Bones are especially likely to turn even the nicest dogs into jealous, possessive brutes. If your dog can’t handle them — or certain other toys — don’t give them to your dog. Don’t forget to lavish your dog with praise when he does something right. Any time your dog turns away from a toy to respond to a command or lets you take something away, don’t hesitate to tell him what a great dog he is. The amount of praise you give should always outweigh the number of corrections you make.

When to Call a Behaviorist

If guarding behavior becomes a recurring problem for your dog, an animal behaviorist can recommend the proper course of treatment. Once a remedy has been established, make sure all household members learn how to approach this problem.

Even if you enjoy it when your dog jumps up to greet you after a long day, some of your house guests might not. In the next section, we will learn how to keep your dog on the floor.

Stopping a Dog from Jumping

Whether it’s a body slam from a bubbly big breed or the frenzied hind-leg ballet of a toy pooch, jumping up is a universal trait — and problem — in our canine companions. There’s no doubt this behavior is cute in puppyhood, but as a puppy grows — especially if he’s a big dog — what was once cute can be downright dangerous. You may not mind the full-contact greeting, but the first time your two-year-old niece or 87-year-old aunt gets decked coming in the front door, you’ll think very differently.

In fact, even though jumping up can be solicitous, friendly behavior, it is more often a dominance thing. Especially in adult dogs, a subordinate would never think of putting his front paws on the body of a dominant dog. So the excited, shot-from-a-cannon greeting that makes you feel good may actually be your dog saying, "You came back! Okay. Just remember I’m the top dog here." You can respond on two fronts: Teach your dog that spontaneous jumping up is not acceptable, and train him to jump up on command when you say it’s okay.

To curb his overly physical greeting, act as relaxed and laid-back as you’d like him to be. When you come home, don’t run into the house, calling excitedly for your pup. Instead, make his greeting part of a routine rather than a special event. Walk in the door, hang up your coat and keys, and then greet the dog calmly, away from the front door. If Bruno tries to jump up, step aside and don’t pay any attention to him. Like kids, dogs love to be noticed, whether it’s for good behavior or bad. Yelling at your dog or kneeing him in the chest will only excite him more, so avoid any kind of verbal or physical reinforcement of his jumping. Once your dog learns you don’t want him to jump on you, teach him to sit when you come home. If you reward the sit with a treat or praise, your dog will soon learn good things come to he who sits and waits.

When to Call the Vet

This type of behavior usually doesn’t require any veterinary attention.

Now let’s consider another dog behavior that can become excessive — marking his territory. It’s covered in the next section.

Teaching Your Dog to Jump Up on Command
If you want to teach your dog to jump up only on command, be sure your dog first knows when not to jump up. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or torn, and make sure your dog’s nails are trimmed and filed. (It might be a good idea to brush his teeth, too!) Pat your chest and say, "Up!" When you want the dog to get down, step back and say, "Off!" (Don’t use the word down or you will confuse him when you try to teach the down command.)

Always use the chest pat and the word up to let your dog know it’s okay to greet you this way. If he tries to jump up on you or anyone else without an invitation, firmly tell him, "Off," and then ignore him. Dogs are smart, and Bruno will get the message that he is only allowed this behavior when you say it’s okay. Be sure your friends and family follow this routine, too, or Bruno will be one confused dog. Dogs like rules, and they like everyone to follow the same rules.

Stopping a Dog from Marking Territory

We can’t even imagine how the world smells to a dog. A dog’s sniffer is an incredibly fine-tuned, delicate instrument compared to our own sniffer. It makes sense, then, that scent-marking — spraying urine on places and objects to mark territory and claim ownership — is an important part of canine communication. The chemical scent-messages in a dog’s urine tell other dogs just about everything they need to know: where the marking dog hangs out, how long it’s been since he’s been around, and (in the case of a female) sexual receptivity. A dog who’s nervous because he’s home alone may mark furniture or walls to reassure himself that everything is all right. Scent-marking can also be a way of asserting dominance, which is why some dogs will lift their legs on other dogs or even people.

Scent-marking is a perfectly normal and natural behavior that is instinctive in your dog. The idea is to let your dog know it is only to be done at specific places and times and not on your living room rug, bathroom floor, or bedspread. Once again, your dominance relationship with your dog can make all the difference. Obedience-train your dog in a positive and humane way, and run him through his commands regularly. This not only clarifies your dominance, it gives a dog who gets bored, lonely, or anxious during the day something to look forward to. Make him work for food, toys, play, and petting. If he wants one of those, have him respond to a command or two first.

Always walk through doors before he does, and don’t let him jump up on you or get on the furniture, especially your bed. In canine society, you usually only get to jump on or lay next to an equal or subordinate dog. Neutering, especially before the dog is one year old, is another good preventative. Your dog will still be protective of home and family, but he won’t have a hormone-driven desire to stake out reproductive territory.

Spraying due to separation anxiety is another matter. Your best bet here is to slowly get your dog used to being home by himself. Start with something simple, like leaving him alone in a room for just a minute or two and then returning. Then leave the house, returning after a few minutes. Each time you practice this, stay away for just a little bit longer. Once your dog learns you always come back, he’ll be more comfortable staying by himself. Confining him to a crate can also help him feel more secure.

To deter your dog from spraying furniture, attach a piece of aluminum foil to the area where your dog likes to spray. The next time he does it, the urine hitting the foil will make a noise and may also splash back on him.

Finally, don’t confuse scent-marking with an ordinary housebreaking problem. A large puddle of urine on the kitchen floor or near the back door is probably a sign the dog needed to get outside while you were gone — not a display of dominance!

When to Call the Vet

As with any behavior problem, have your vet take a look at your dog before you start any corrections. If there’s a physical cause for the behavior, no amount of training or correction will change it.

Dogs love to pull on leashes, but if they do it excessively, you’ll want to train them out of this habit. We cover how, in the next section.

Stopping a Dog from Leash-Pulling

Try this simple experiment. With your dog standing calmly in front of you, gently push backward on his chest or the front of his neck. What happens? Most dogs will lean into the pressure. This natural response has been bred to a science in sled dogs such as the Siberian Husky and in breeds who were also originally used as draft animals, including the Newfoundland. You’ve got absolutely no chance of controlling one of these born-to-pull dogs with brute strength.

We’ve all seen even tiny dogs straining at the end of the leash, bodies close to the ground, tongues lolling, breathing with a loud, choking rasp. The same instinct is at work. The trick is to teach your dog how to walk nicely on a leash from the very beginning. You don’t have to expect him to walk perfectly on heel, but he should be able to stay with you without pulling, and he should make all the starts, stops, and turns that you do. If you use a jewel-link training collar (don’t think of it as a choke collar — that’s not how you should use it), any time the dog begins to pull, give a quick snap and release on the leash and tell him, "Heel" or "Slow" (whichever word you choose, be consistent). When he backs off, praise him.

Another alternative is a head collar — a device similar to a horse halter. Marketed under the name Gentle Leader, it’s widely available through veterinarians and trainers. The collar loops around the dog’s muzzle and behind his ears, with the leash snapping on under his chin. Since you control his head with the head collar, all the rest of him can’t help but follow. Instead of hitting the end of the leash, feeling the pressure on his neck, and instinctively pulling harder, a dog in a head collar ends up getting his nose turned back toward you, slowing him down immediately. A retractable leash can also help keep pulling under control. Because it expands and contracts with the dog’s movement, the dog has nothing to pull against. The brake allows you to control where the dog walks.

If you’ve got a sled dog or draft breed, don’t fight his instinct; instead, harness it and make it work for you. Let your dog pull you on skates or skis, or train him to pull a sled or dog-size cart. He’ll get a workout, he won’t be in trouble for pulling, and you’ll have a new way to haul things.

When to Call the Vet

This type of behavior usually doesn’t require any veterinary attention.

We’ve covered 11 distinct dog behaviors that can get out of hand, and we’re certain this should give you more confidence in training your pooch to shed bad habits. Good luck!

© Publications International, Ltd.

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