Observe and act… Dog behaviour is as complicated, or more, as human behaviour. Though they lack the
ability to talk, they manage to convey a lot through the display of various kinds of behaviour. As a dog owner, you may find it quite difficult in the beginning to understand certain kind of dog behaviours and what they mean, but with a little observation and with time, understanding dog behaviour will be a lot easier. There are also certain dog behavioural problems that you, as a pet parent, should know about, so that you can either prevent them from developing or modify the behaviour appropriately with the help of a canine behaviourist who would design a modification programme that combats your dog’s behaviour problem the best. Understanding and modifying dog behaviours will help you deepen your bond.
Training… a must… Training a dog for basic obedience is one way of making sure that your dog does not develop unwanted behaviours along the way. Physical force should never be used in dog training as it may turn a normally mild-mannered pooch in to a fearful or skittish dog who can become aggressive as well. Use positive reinforcers such as praise, toys or treats to train your dog in a manner that creates trust and a positive bond between you and your canine.
Reasons for behaviour issues…
Behaviour problems can be seen in dogs from all walks of life, these issues could very well arise due to change in our lifestyle or various other reasons such as:
- Lack of socialization: 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 who have no t 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 who are bored through lack of mental stimulation might amuse themselves with destructive behaviour.
- 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.
- Pet parents’ behaviour: Pet parents can train their dogs to behave ‘badly’ by accident, simply by giving attention at the wrong time.
- Breed specific traits: Certain types and breeds of dog have been bred for hundreds of years for specific tasks, which might be incompatible with living in a typical family home.
- Bad breeding practices: Unscrupulous breeders might have indiscriminately bred their dogs purely for money, without considering temperament.
- Inadequate or incorrect training: Without proper training, dogs can be uncontrollable.
Common behaviour issues…
Some of the common dog behaviour problems are:
- Barking: Most dogs bark, howl and whine to some degree. Excessive barking is considered a behaviour problem. Before you can correct barking, determine why your dog is vocalizing in the first place. Also teaching your dog to be “quiet” can be very useful at such times.
- Chewing: Chewing is a natural action for all dogs. However, chewing can quickly become a behaviour problem if your dog causes destruction. When you are not home, keep your dog in an area where he is safe and busy with the chew toys that you have left behind. Another important thing to do is to make sure that he gets plenty of exercise before you head out.
- Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety is one of the most commonly discussed dog behaviour problems. Manifestations include vocalization, chewing, inappropriate urination and defecation, and other forms of destruction that occur when a dog is separated from his pet parent. True separation anxiety requires dedicated training, behaviour modification and desensitization exercises. Medication may be recommended in extreme cases, but this should be a last resort.
- Inappropriate elimination: Inappropriate urination and defecation are among the most frustrating dog behaviours. They can damage areas of your home and make your dog unwelcome in public places or at the homes of others. It is most important that you discuss this behaviour with your veterinarian first to rule out health problems. Inappropriate elimination is unavoidable in puppies, especially before 12 weeks of age. Older dogs are another story – many require serious behaviour modification to rid them of the habit.
- Begging: Begging is a bad habit, but many dog owners unfortunately encourage it. This can lead to digestive problems and obesity. Dogs beg because they love food – but table scraps are not treats, and food is not love! Yes, it is hard to resist that longing look, but giving in “just this once” creates a problem in the long run. In a pack setting, a subordinate would never beg from alpha dogs without reprimand. When you teach your dog that begging is permitted, you jeopardize your role as pack leader. Before you sit down to eat, tell your dog to stay, preferably where he will not be able to stare at you. If necessary, confine him to another room. If he behaves, give him a special treat only after you and your family are completely finished eating.
- Chasing: A dog’s desire to chase moving things is simply a display of predatory instinct. Many dogs will chase other animals, people and cars. All of these can lead to dangerous and devastating outcomes! While you may not be able to stop your dog from trying to chase, you can take steps to prevent disaster. Your best chance at success is to keep the chase from getting out of control. Dedicated training over the course of your dog’s life by teaching him to come while being called is the best solution.
- Jumping up: Puppies jump up to reach and greet their mothers. Later, they may jump up when greeting people. Dogs may also jump up to exert dominance. A jumping dog can be annoying and even dangerous. There are many methods to stop a dog’s jumping, but not all will be successful. Lifting a knee, grabbing the paws, or pushing the dog away might work for some, but for most dogs this sends the wrong message. Jumping up is often attention-seeking behaviour, so any acknowledgment of your dog’s actions provide a reward! The best method: simply turn away and ignore your dog. Do not make eye contact, speak, or touch your dog. Go about your business. When he relaxes and remains still, calmly reward him. It won’t take long before your dog gets the message.
- Aggression: Dog aggression is exhibited by growling, snarling, showing teeth, lunging and biting. It is important to know that any dog has the potential to become aggressive, regardless of breed or history. However, dogs with violent or abusive histories and those bred from dogs with aggressive tendencies are much more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour towards people or other dogs. Canine aggression is a serious problem. If your dog has aggressive tendencies, consult your vet first – it may stem from a health problem. Then, seek the help of an experienced dog trainer. Serious measures should be taken to keep others safe from aggressive dogs!
- Fears and phobias: Dogs can harbour fears and phobias just like we do, though often to a greater extent. Common phobias often include vacuum cleaners, dryers, thunderstorms, fire crackers, etc. As a puppy is growing up he will naturally come across a wide range of new and potentially frightening, even terrifying, situations. But with the reassuring presence of his mother, brothers, sisters, and eventually his pet parents, the young dog can get used to dealing with them. Any dog’s future depends on his early experiences and training, as does his capacity to assess situations more or less likely to cause fear or distress.
Another factor is where and how the puppy has been raised. If reared in a quiet, remote area where he is unaccustomed to everyday noises, then he will of course become immediately suspicious or fearful if re-homed to a noisy environment.
Equally, if adult dogs develop a fear then this could rub off onto a litter. It is important to introduce any puppy to as many different noises and places as possible whilst he is young enough to decrease the chance of such phobias arising later in life.
Even if an adult dog finds certain situations terrifying, it is never too late to take remedial action. There are a number of ways of lowering the dog’s level of sensitivity to anxiety-causing stimuli by following a de-sensitisation programme designed by a canine behaviourist one step at a time can relieve him of his fear.
(Malaika Fernandes is a canine behaviourist, trainer and groomer based in Mumbai).