Easy Fixes to Common Dog Behavior Problems
Whether you're a first-time dog owner or someone who's spent their entire life surrounded by four-legged friends, training a new dog is always a little bit tricky. While clear commands, consistency, and positive reinforcement are considered the most effective ways to teach any dog—from a willful puppy to even the most stubborn senior—a new trick, it's important to also consider your pet's personality. Certain dogs just responded to training faster than others, so you'll want to give your friend time to catch on.
If you're dealing with particularly pesky behavioral problems, it's important to address them as early as you can. That's where we come in. Here, we're answering your most-pressing questions about common behavioral issues many dogs exhibit. Is Spot stealing food from the table or being too rough taking a treat from your hand? Our practical bits of advice will help you resolve these issues in no time. Having a hard time keeping Spike from jumping on visitors or yourself? In addition to retraining your dog to understand that these behaviors aren't acceptable, you also may need to retrain yourself a little, too. Next time your dog jumps on you, it's important to ignore them for a few seconds so that they begin to understand this action doesn't result in attention. As for jumping on guests, consider your actions when the doorbell first rings. There's a good chance your pup is feeding off your excitement.
Whatever problem you're hoping to work through, it's crucial that you remember there's a solution. Your pup wants to be the best friend to you, so with some thoughtful work—on both of your parts!—you'll both be happy with the results.
Stealing Food from the Table
Put half of a turkey sandwich on a regular plate on the table that your dog is stealing from. Let the dog go to the table and eat the sandwich. Then, place another plate with a turkey sandwich covered with plastic wrap on the table. Rub meat on the wrap so it smells like the sandwich. Move that plate on top of the plate from which your dog just stole the sandwich. Let your dog go to the table to try to eat this sandwich. When he tries to steal the food, throw something near him, such as keys or an aluminum bowl. Do not throw the object at him. Be sure to throw behind him, so he doesn't associate the sound with you. The sound of the dropping object will startle the dog, and he'll back off. Repeat until he learns not to eat from the table. You may need to repeat this procedure for each table the dog is eating from.
Each time your dog starts to pull, stop the dog for 10 seconds, saying, "Easy. Easy. Easy." By stopping in your tracks every time he pulls, the dog will eventually learn that he won't gain any ground by pulling on the leash. You should start to see results in a few days, unless you have a large dog with a real propensity to pull—this could take several weeks of consistent training before seeing results with such a dog.
Jumping on People
When you get excited after the doorbell rings and say, "Who's at the door?" you're conditioning the dog to get amped up. Before answering the door, put your dog on a leash and have your dog sit. Tell your guests to ignore your dog for at least the first 20 minutes they come in the house. If your dog starts to jump, gently pull on the leash. Give your dog a treat that lasts a while when the doorbell rings, so that every time he hears the doorbell, he associates it with the food reward rather than with exciting people at the door.
Being Too Rough When Eating Out of Your Hand
To prevent your dog from snapping at your hand or accidentally biting your fingers when you feed him from your hand, try saying "easy," and opening your hand only when he taps your fist with his nose. Put the food or treat in your hand and make a fist. If he uses his teeth, gently bump his nose.
Having an Exploratory Nose
Sniffing is what dogs do, and most of the time there's nothing wrong with that. It only becomes an issue on walks, when curiosity can sidetrack your dog and prevent her from getting down to business. During your stroll, carry treats in your hand and periodically wave them to catch the dog's attention. With a tasty treat tempting your dog, she will do her best to keep up with you.
Stealing Food from a Plate in Your Lap
Often, dogs will try to steal food from the plate in your lap when you're having guests over or at a party. To prevent your dog from stealing food in this manner, say "leave it" and pull back on the leash. Repeat multiple times.
Crying at Night
Try letting the dog sleep by your bed in a crate. You may have to take your puppy out a couple of times during the night to toilet. However, if you know your dog is only crying for attention, a reassuring hand through the crate is often enough to help with sleep. As the puppy begins to sleep through the night, you can gradually move the crate farther away from your bed until it is in its desired place.
Jumping on You
When your puppy jumps on you, turn your back immediately and ignore the animal until she places all four paws on the ground. Wait three seconds, and then give attention. Your puppy will quickly realize that jumping up results in nothing, while remaining on the ground leads to the positive attention she desires.
Digging Up Your Yard
If Daisy is turning your garden into a construction zone with her digging, don't punish her: It will only reinforce the naughty behavior. And she may actually be trying to tell you something. Dogs do this when they're bored, attempting to cool off, looking for a way out of an enclosed space, or hunting for small animals that burrow or nest underground. Keep her tied up (with enough slack to run around the yard) in a shady spot away from rodent holes, and with toys to entertain her.
Alternately, lay some wire mesh just under the surface of the soil so the dog learns that it's unable to dig too deeply. Because animals are creatures of habit, once they discover that the area doesn't afford them a good opportunity to dig, they'll look elsewhere to satisfy their urges. Lastly, you can train your dog to dig in another area by creating a special digging spot and burying some treats in the soil. Once the dog discovers the buried treasures, it will be more likely to return to that spot.
The best cure for dog barking is intense behavior modification. Most people work and don't have the time to spend training their dogs not to bark, so a shock collar is often considered a quick-and-easy solution. A more humane idea is to use a citronella collar. You put the collar on when you leave for work, and if the dog barks excessively, the collar releases a puff of citronella. This is not harmful to the dog in any way, and it usually distracts the animal and keeps it from barking. The collars are very expensive, but they are worth the cost if they keep the peace. If that fails, you should find an experienced dog trainer or animal behaviorist in your area.