«THE DOGS TRUST GUIDE TO BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS - and what to do about them Behaviour problems can be seen in dogs from all walks of life (not just those ...»
THE DOGS TRUST GUIDE TO
- and what to do about them
Behaviour problems can be seen in dogs from all walks of life (not just those from Rehoming
Centres) and may appear to be more common than in the past. This could be due to the way that
our lifestyles have changed. Many more dogs are left alone at home whilst we are out at work and in the home they are treated as members of the family, rather than a worker or just a 'pet'. There was a time when an aggressive or problem dog would have immediately been destroyed.
Fortunately these days, owners give dogs a chance and work to resolve problems before turning to rehoming and using euthanasia as a last resort.
Why do problems occur?
Problems occur for a variety of reasons. Each dog and case is different and causes can be very simple or complicated. Your dog's problem(s) could be caused by one or several of the following
• Lack of socialisation - From 3-14 weeks of age, puppies need to be safely exposed to as many different and new experiences as possible to prepare them for later life. Dogs that have not had this early socialisation may grow to be fearful of people, things and places and this can lead to many problems including aggression.
• Boredom - Dogs that are bored through lack of mental stimulation or 'things to do', may amuse themselves with destructive behaviour, for example.
• Excess energy - A lack of physical exercise can also lead to 'bad behaviour', as a dog must find other ways to get rid of his pent-up energy.
• Owner behaviour - Owners can train their dogs to 'behave badly' by accident, simply by giving attention at the wrong time.
• Unrealistic owner expectations - Because we tend to get very 'close' to our dogs, we sometimes forget that they are still animals and may treat them more like children. We may think that they have more 'intelligence' or 'awareness' than they really do and these unfair expectations can lead to disappointment.
• Breed specific traits - Certain types and breeds of dog have been bred for hundreds of years for specific tasks, which may be incompatible with living in a typical family home.
• Bad breeding practices - Unscrupulous breeders may have indiscriminately bred their dogs purely for money, without considering temperament.
• Diet - It is thought that some dogs' behaviour may be affected by what they are fed. It is possible that diets that are too high in protein or the wrong type of protein may cause hyperactivity in certain dogs. Allergies to certain ingredients may also adversely affect behaviour.
• Inadequate or incorrect training - Without proper training, dogs may be uncontrollable.
So, what should you do if you have a problem with your dog's behaviour?
• Read on - To get an idea of what type of problem it is and whether you need to see a trainer or behaviourist.
• Take your dog to the vet - Some behavioural problems can be caused by medical conditions or illnesses - so it is essential to rule out this possibility.
• Ask your vet to refer you to a reputable behaviourist – You and your dog will need to have a personal consultation with the behaviourist to accurately diagnose the problem and recommend a treatment plan for you to follow. With some problems you may need to attend follow-up consultations, or keep in contact by phone if any difficulties occur.
Going to a behaviourist can be quite expensive - so please make sure that you find a reputable one, such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) or the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists (UKRCB). If you have pet insurance, remember to check the policy details, as you may be able to claim for the cost of consultations.
If you have adopted a dog from Dogs Trust and are having problems with his training or behaviour, please contact the Rehoming Centre that you adopted him from, for free help and advice.
Common behaviour problems The following behaviour problems are some of the most common that are referred to behaviourists by vets. Each problem has an example of how it may appear to the owner, possible causes and how it might be dealt with.
The most common behaviour problems include (in no particular order):
• Training problems
• Housetraining problems
• Problems during travel
• Repetitive behaviours
• Attention-seeking behaviours
• Fearful and phobic behaviours
• Separation problems
• Inappropriate chase behaviour
• Aggression - towards people and other dogs Training problems
• Your dog appears to ignore your commands
Possible causes include:
• Using training techniques that are inconsistent or confusing for the dog
• Fear of punishment use during training
• Medical conditions - i.e. deafness Example - Why doesn't my dog do what I tell him to do?
One of the main reasons that dogs don't do what we tell them is because we haven't taken enough time to train them properly, or the training that has been given merely confuses them. Just because a dog happens to guess the correct response to a command once, doesn't mean that he understands the command properly or that he will get it right the next time. Without consistent repetitive training with positive rewards, giving the correct response can be a real hit or miss experience for your dog and can lead to him giving up.
If you have used punishment in training for incorrect responses -either physical or verbal - it can affect the way your dog acts when told to do something. If your dog feels threatened, he may 'freeze' or 'fool around' to try to avoid further punishment. If you get angry with him for doing this, he may then try even harder with these 'signals' and a vicious circle begins.
Dogs can also find it difficult to generalise in their learning. If you teach a dog to come on command perfectly in your home or in a training class, he will not automatically be able to take that training experience and apply it to another environment or place - so he won't necessarily come to you as well in the park.
So, what can you do?
• If you are having problems, go to a good training class for support and instruction on the best training techniques for your dog.
• Make training fun and non-threatening for your dog so that he is happy to do what you ask him.
• Training should always be based on positive rewards, be consistent and repeated until your dog really understands each command you train him to do. Make sure that you train the same command in different circumstances and environments so that he can learn to generalise.
Make training a life-long part of owning your dog -he will forget commands if you do not use them enough in everyday life.
Further information/courses of action
• See a vet if you think your dog may be deaf and a trainer if you need help to get over particular training problems.
• Go to a good local training class. See the APDT for more details in the ‘Useful contacts’ section.
• Perhaps try a different way of training such as clicker training, to see if this suits you both better.
• Soiling in the house or in an inappropriate area
• Refusing to go to the toilet in front of the owner and then messing in secret
• Soiling when left alone
• Urinating when excited, nervous or anxious
• Urine 'scent' marking in the home
Possible causes include:
• Medical problems - including incontinence and being too physically immature to be able to 'hold' it for long enough periods.
• Anxiety or submissiveness
• Inadequate or incorrect toilet training
• Effect of past punishment by owner, or owner's behaviour Example - Why does my dog wait until we get back to the house after our walk, to go to the toilet?
If a dog is punished (shouted at, told off, hit, shaken or had his nose rubbed in an 'accident') for going to toilet in the wrong place during toilet training or at any other time, the dog may learn that it is not safe to go to toilet in front of his owner. Some dogs may learn that it was actually the place that was wrong, but many others won't. This may include going outside as well as inside because the dog has learnt that to avoid punishment he must not go in front of people - regardless of where he is. So, even though all through the walk your dog is desperate to go to the toilet, he will wait until he gets home and into the spare bedroom where he can poo out of sight. If when the mess is found later, you take him upstairs, show him his mess and tell him off - this will reinforce his belief that being anywhere near his poo and you is bad and to be avoided.
Another possible reason for this problem may simply be that the owner has always ended the walk as soon as the dog has gone to the toilet. The dog may then have learned to 'hold on' for as long as possible to make sure that his walk doesn't end too quickly. He then gets ‘caught short’ on return to the house.
So, what can you do?
• Never punish your dog for 'accidents' in the house. Dogs never have accidents out of malice or on purpose, so should never be punished for this. Dogs that look guilty when you return home to find an unpleasant doggy mess, do so merely because they are used to being punished on your return. They display a submissive or appeasing body and face posture (which does look very guilty!) to try to prevent the telling off that is about to come.
• Always clear up 'accidents' quietly without a fuss and out of sight of your dog. Wash down the effected area with a biological solution (diluted biological washing powder will do) or a specialist commercial cleaner for pet odours from a pet shop or supermarket, to completely remove the smell.
• Retrain your dog by taking him outside every hour on the hour to go to toilet and confine him to a small sleeping area or tie him to you so that you can supervise him constantly the rest of the time. When you let him outside, watch him from a window so that he feels safe to go to toilet without you being there. If you see him start to go to the toilet, quietly walk outside and give him gentle praise, being careful not to interrupt what he is doing. When he has finished, give him lots of excited praising, treats or have a fun game with him as a reward. If this is successful, he should start to feel better about going outside. After a while you can move onto standing in the doorway and then to standing outside with him when he 'goes'. Always heap praise and rewards onto him when he has finished going where you want him to and ignore any accidents. He'll soon get the idea.
• In time you can even introduce a command word as he starts to 'go' and train him to go whenever you tell him to. Please remember to pick up his poo in public places.
Further information/courses of action
• Please take your dog to the vet to rule out any medical causes.
• You may need to see a behaviourist or trainer to help you decide the correct course of treatment and subsequent training.
Problems during travel
• Barking at things outside of the car
• Whimpering, shaking or salivating during travel
• Sickness or diarrhoea
• Jumping around excitedly in the car
• Destructive behaviour in the car - chewing the car interior
Possible causes include:
• Over-excitement in anticipation of an exciting or fearful event at the end of the journey, i.e. a walk or visit to the vet
• Car sickness, or fear of the car's motion
• Aggression or protectiveness of the car
• Over-stimulation from seeing exciting things out of the car windows
Example - Why does my dog bark non-stop when we travel in the car?
If a dog can see exciting things (a man on a bike, pedestrians, other dogs etc) outside of the car, he may become frustrated or excited, which may cause him to bark. When the journey ends he is let out and 'rewarded' for his barking with a walk. The dog has learned that barking in the car results in a walk and will now be more likely to bark on the next journey. This is a very easily formed habit for the dog, especially if his walk is the most exciting part of his day.
So, what can you do?
• Firstly, always make sure that your dog is secured safely within your vehicle using a car harness or travel cage.
• If your dog is excited because of what he can see outside of the car, then try to tether him in the footwell so that he cannot see out of the window. If this is not possible, a travel cage covered with a blanket may work. Always remember to reward him when he is quiet.
• If he is excited because he is anticipating a walk or other rewarding event, you will need to start by training him to settle in a stationary car - praise good behaviour and ignore any unwanted barking. When you have achieved this, you can progress to turning the engine on. If he is reliably quiet, you can then try moving the car a short distance, (a few feet) arriving back where you started. You can then gradually increase the distance travelled, as long as your dog stays quiet. At the beginning of the training you will need to get someone else to do the driving, so that you can safely concentrate on commanding and rewarding your dog.
• If you shout at your dog when he barks, he may regard this as praise, or think that you are joining in with him - confirming that he is correct to be excited. Either way, you will be inadvertently encouraging his behaviour. As difficult as it will undoubtedly be, you must only talk to him or give attention when he is quiet and well behaved. If he won't stop barking even though you are ignoring him, you will need to take a passenger who can do something to interrupt the barking (blow a loud whistle or spray a jet of water into his mouth for example).