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Naughty or Nasty Behaviors

In this section you'll find ways to cope with the most common problems of dogs — barking, chewing, digging, jumping up, and so on. They're described as naughty or nasty behaviors because they are considered such in a human household, where the rules are quite different from those a dog would use to survive in the wild. “Naughty” dogs and “nasty” behaviors can be remedied with persistence and patience — and the help in this chapter.

Barking

Out of respect for other household members, neighbors, tenants, and anyone with a low tolerance for barking, correct this problem — otherwise, you may be forced to get rid of your dog or face eviction. Don't worry that your dog will stop barking altogether. Teaching barking inhibition increases her value as a watchdog because when she barks, you'll know it's for good reason.

To correct barking, even if it is only a problem in your absence, teach the dog to be “quiet” on command when she's standing next to you. If your dog will obey the “quiet” command without making you raise your voice or repeat yourself, no matter what the distraction, barking in your absence will usually subside. If it doesn't, you may be unintentionally reinforcing excessive barking — you may be attempting to silence a dog by petting her or giving her a toy, or you may be letting her be vocal without consequences.

If you use the “quiet” command and never tolerate barking or try to appease her, but she continues to vocalize in your absence, find out exactly when and why she is barking. Record her with a tape recorder when you leave, ask a neighbor about her habits, and spy on her. If she isn't barking at outside noises, separation anxiety is probably the problem. Read and follow the suggestions in the section later in this chapter on “Separation Anxiety.”

If she is barking at outside noises:

  • Teach her not to bark at outside noises when you are home. Keep her leash attached and periodically knock on the walls to create strange sounds. Say nothing as you run over to correct with Bitter Apple. Alternately, you can give her a series of rapid-fire commands to distract her from the noise and, in turn, stop her barking. An added benefit to this approach is that both her obedience and self-control will improve.

  • Keep her in a covered crate in a noise-insulated room with a fan or other generated white noise in your absence. Occasionally crate her when you're home to confirm that she's peaceful when confined.

  • Although rarely necessary, investigate these options as a last resort:

  • Antibark collars automatically emit a warning buzz when the dog vocalizes. The collar will deliver a timely correction if the dog continues to make noise after the warning. The two most popular collars correct by delivering a mist of annoying citronella at the dog's muzzle or a mild electric shock.

  • Antianxiety medication. See your veterinarian to find out if your dog is a good candidate and to discuss benefits and risks.

Begging

It often takes only one tidbit for your clever dog to be convinced that your meals are better than his and that you're willing to share if he begs. If you've fostered this bad habit, it can be broken, but you probably can't be cured. On the other hand, if you've acquired a dog with a begging habit, keep him out of the room when food is near, enforce the “down-stay,” or teach him to go to his bed.

In addition, follow these feeding rules: feed him dog food in his dish and never share goodies or feed him from your hands or a plate. Finally, when you eat or prepare food, completely ignore him.

Chewing

Here's the lowdown on the things you should be giving your pup to provide for her needs and reduce the chances of her putting her teeth around the wrong things:

To avoid problems, give your dog only toys such as hard Nylabones, sterilized bones (from a pet shop, not a grocery store), rubber Kongs, or squeaky toys and balls of the proper size and durability for your dog. These are solid, chewable items. Encourage your dog to chew on them by smearing a tiny bit of peanut butter or spreadable cheese on them or — better still — inside, if the item has a hole.

Be aware that certain items can increase problems with inappropriate chewing, soiling, or guarding behavior. Avoid giving your dog personal items to chew on, such as slippers, socks, gloves, or towels. If she is attracted to the family's stuffed toys, don't allow her soft dog toys that are made of fleece or are stuffed. If she's attracted to rugs or tassels, don't provide her with rope or raglike toys.

Edible products such as rawhide, pig's ears, and cow hooves increase your dog's thirst and can upset her stomach and even get lodged in the intestines — a medical emergency. Some dogs get defensive and possessive around edible items. If your dog is having house-soiling problems or gets tense in the presence of these edible items, get rid of them. Of course, if you want to give them and they keep your dog busy without causing side effects, consult your breeder or veterinarian.

In addition to providing dogs with proper toys and exercise, it is best to keep intriguing items out of reach — eyeglasses, remote controls, laundry, plants, dried flowers, and so on. Allow her to drag a leash or tie it to your belt as an umbilical cord so you can correct her if she begins exploring the wrong thing, then direct her to play with an appropriate toy. If she is off-leash, distract her from inappropriate chewing with a sharp clap of your hands as you say “Hey!” followed by praise and play with an appropriate toy. Smear Bitter Apple cream on tempting woodwork. Confine your dog in a safe place when you can't supervise her, and teach the shopping exercise.

The Shopping Exercise

Teach your dog the difference between his toys and taboo items. Choose a word to mean “get that out of your mouth” (use the same word whether he has a finger, a slipper, or a bone). To do so, place a number of personal items and paper items on the floor and allow your dog to explore them. As he picks up a taboo item, command “drop it” as you jerk the leash, moving away from the item toward one of his toys. Get him to play with the correct item.

If he doesn't drop the taboo item as you move him away, spray your finger with Bitter Apple and slide your finger along his gum line as you command “drop it.” If he still doesn't drop it, spray Bitter Apple directly against his lip line and redirect him to an appropriate toy.

Digging

Digging is practically the only problem that cannot be prevented, lessened, or solved with obedience training (although sometimes training indirectly reduces the behavior because it relieves boredom). Dogs don't dig because they are dominant, belligerent, unaware of authority, or out of control — they do it instinctually, to make a cool or warm place to lie down in or to make a nestlike den for their puppies. Interesting smells in the soil and the wonderful feeling of vigorous burrowing and dirt in their toes are hard for any dog to resist. Therefore, monitoring your dog and correcting digging attempts is an ongoing process — you aren't fighting your dog, you are fighting nature.

Your best option is to never leave your dog unsupervised in an area with digging potential, but if you insist on correcting, here's what you'll need to do:

  • When you can't supervise your dog, leave her in a run or tied out on concrete, patio block, or a similar undiggable surface.

  • Provide a comfortable environment for her. Fresh water and shelter from heat, cold, wind, and rain must always be available.

  • Exercise her vigorously and regularly so she doesn't seek aerobic activity from digging.

Correcting digging requires you to monitor your dog more closely than the Secret Service guards the president. Any time he begins digging, startle him without saying a word. If he is leashed, jerk it, then praise. If he is tied out, attach a second leash, long enough for you to hold and jerk. If he is in the backyard, create a sharp noise, spray him with water, or toss a shaker can at him.

House Soiling

This problem is often the result of optimistic owners wrongly assuming a dog is housetrained after a brief period of appropriate behavior. Hormonal changes, varying weather conditions, diet, and medications can quickly disrupt good potty habits. To prevent house soiling problems from recurring, wise owners do the following:

  • Watch and/or accompany your dog to his potty area. If he is prone to becoming distracted from the task, using a light jerk of the leash will encourage him to do his business quickly. Never assume that because your dog has been outdoors for a lengthy period that he won't soil the house when brought back inside.

  • Supervise indoor activity during “dangerous” times, for example when there is unusual activity in the household, when he has been more active, eaten anything atypical or consumed a lot of water, or when he's chosen not to relieve himself despite your pleas.

  • Never discipline after the fact. Instead, treat your dog as totally untrust-worthy. Crate or confine your dog in a safe place when you can't watch him and set him up to have an accident in your presence. Consider surreptitiously following him during dangerous times, ready to issue a surprising correction. A shaker can works well for this purpose because it is lightweight and harmless but is very startling when tossed at his rear end the moment he contemplates misbehavior.

Jumping Up

Some dogs have no desire to jump up. They're content to let you bend down to pet them. Others jump up either because they are very bold and sociable or because they've been rewarded for doing so with petting and attention. Stop encouraging bad habits by controlling yourself. Greet your dog only after she's settled down. If that's more than you can bear, respond to her jumping by folding your arms, looking overhead and shuffling into your dog until she is forced to walk away. Advise your guests and household members to do the same.

Another way to correct jumping up is to attach a leash to your dog's collar and step on the lead so she has only enough slack to begin jumping but will be stopped before she is able to pounce on someone. Of course, if she's obedience trained, simply tell her to sit when she is excited and release her from the command only when she appears to have more self-control.

To stop jumping up, the choice is yours:

  • Shuffle or stumble into the dog as she jumps.

  • Stand on the leash so it tightens every time she attempts to jump up.

  • Teach the “off” command. Enforce by pulling your dog off her target with the collar or leash if necessary. Praise the instant her feet hit the floor.

Counters and Furniture

Jumping on counters and furniture is the result of giving your dog too much unsupervised freedom too soon. Distract your untrained dog every time he considers looking at the counter or hopping on the furniture: toss a shaker can at him, clap your hands sharply, or jerk his leash even before he misbehaves.

Many people enjoy having their dogs on the furniture. Dogs love it, too: furniture smells like you, it's comfortable, and it usually affords him a better view of what is going on both inside and outside. Once you allow him on furniture, it becomes his domain, so don't expect him to wait politely for the next invitation.

If he's sneaking on the furniture despite your consistent disapproval, provide your dog with his own pieces of furniture — several very comfortable dog beds (store-bought or homemade) located in various areas of your home. If you ordinarily allow him on furniture, teach him to get “off” on command.

Mouthing and Nipping

For puppies aged three to six months, mouthing is very common because it is their teething stage. Natural though it may be, you must stop mouthing of flesh and valuables regardless of when it occurs, so that it doesn't become habitual. It can also be scary and painful for children and some adults when a puppy clamps down on them with her needle-sharp puppy teeth. This can lead to unnecessary anxiety and fear around the puppy.

Correct chasing or nipping of children by never allowing unsupervised contact. Always intervene to curtail disrespectful, inappropriate actions from puppy or child. Attach a leash to your pup that will allow you to pull him away as the child says “ouch.”

Here are some tips for how to handle a mouthing puppy:

  • First, keep your puppy leashed any time mouthing may occur (especially in the house), provide her with plenty of exercise, and encourage play with proper toys such as hard Nylabones and Kongs. Flavor the items by rubbing or filling them with a special soft food treat.

  • Offer your puppy clean wash rags that you've wetted, wrung out, and frozen. Chewing on these relieves the discomfort of teething. Replace with a fresh one when it begins to thaw.

  • Correct mouthing by either screeching “ouch!” and then pulling the leash so the puppy moves away, then eliciting play with the proper toy, or by using Bitter Apple spray on pup's lip line while gripping her collar with your free hand.

My puppy won't stop biting when I say “ouch” or jerk the leash. Is there any other way to stop him?

Issue a stronger correction by spraying Bitter Apple on his lip line as he is biting. Make sure to hold his collar with your free hand as you spray to ensure proper aim. Also, only engage in play when the puppy is leashed and you have the Bitter Apple bottle in your pocket. Consider giving and enforcing “sit,” “down,” “come,” or other commands to redirect his energy until he regains his calm disposition.

Stealing and Scavenging

If you were all alone in someone else's house, what would you do when you got bored? Would the thought of looking at their stuff or even rummaging through cabinets, closets, or the refrigerator tempt you?

Now you know how a dog who is left alone for hours at a time feels. He is trapped and bored and has no hands with which to do arts and crafts, but he does have plenty of senses yearning to be indulged. When given too much freedom too soon, he will quickly discover the joys of hunting for household treasures too often left easily accessible by negligent humans. When he is “rewarded” by finding something interesting to devour (for him), he seeks to replicate the experience, which leads to the habits of stealing and scavenging.

Many dogs even steal or scavenge when you're home. They know the only guaranteed way to rouse you from the recliner is to show off the valuables they've confiscated. Police the canine klepto by:

  • Incarceration (crating)

  • Chain gang (umbilical cording)

  • Surveillance (making sure you know where he is at all times)

There are simple things you can do to avoid being a victim of stealing or scavenging, too. Do them diligently, because the one time you forget and your dog discovers he has found his “treasure,” it's like winning the lottery and he will keep coming back. The common sense things you must do include:

  • Keep the garbage out of reach.

  • Close cabinets and closets and put laundry away.

  • Teach the “drop it” or “leave it” command.

So that your dog gets the message, dispense justice fairly by:

  • Only correcting crimes in progress; never correct stealing after the fact.

  • When you discover the infraction, leash your dog, invite him to make the same mistake, and correct it with a leash jerk followed by praise.

Stool Eating (Coprophagia)

So your dog has a thing for poop — her own or that of other animals? Don't be embarrassed. This tendency is so common that virtually every dog training book devotes a section to it. Nutritional deficiency can be the cause for this behavior, so you should first consult a veterinarian. As a rule however, coprophagia is simply a behavioral problem.

Preventative measures are the best solution. Accompany your dog outdoors on-leash and command her to go potty so you'll be able to clean up immediately and stop the habit before it starts. If she prefers to eat other dog or animal poop, the leash will allow you to pull her away from that, too.

Products such as Forbid® can be added to your dog's diet to make the resulting poop less palatable, which therefore may dissuade your dog from sampling it. However, many dogs will instantly resume the behavior once they are no longer fed the supplement. Supervision and attention to cleanliness are the best remedies.

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