When Good Dogs Do Bad Things: Proven Solutions to 30 Common Problems
by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis
by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis
Problems, Problems, Problems...
Yours or the Dog's
Will Rogers should have said, "I never knew a dog I didn't like." When good dogs do bad things they are not necessarily problem dogs; they may simply be dogs with problems, and that makes a world of difference. Dogs with problems are the Clark Gables and Joan Crawfords of the canine world. Lovable rogues, they live the lives of good dogs going wrong. We love our rogues and we love them even more when they have mended their ways. This page is the first step in that direction.
It is impossible to anticipate dog problems. Who can predict which sweet and adorable puppy will become a barker, a biter, or a destroyer of furniture? There is nothing more depressing than your new "best friend" developing a taste for your couch or leaving something on your carpet for you to step in.
Sooner or later every dog has a problem. Even the owners of obedience-trained dogs will need help. The need may be immediate or in the near future. Unfortunately, some dogs may be pure gold for years and then suddenly create an unpleasant situation for the family. Housebreaking failures are among the most common problems that come back to haunt us, along with barking, howling, and destructive chewing. The most critical problem is biting, which requires immediate attention and serious consideration.
It is altogether possible that a dog and its owner are ready to talk to their lawyers. Maybe the dog keeps dragging sacks of trash into the living room or peeing and dumping everywhere but outside. The disenchanted dog owner may be trying to cope with all night howling or chewed-up furniture legs. Perhaps the dog bit someone. The family pet may be hiding under the bed to avoid the obscenities and broomsticks flung in his direction. But dogs and their owners do not divorce. When things go sour, the dog is simply thrown away. The frustrated owner takes him to the pound or tries to situate the animal "on a farm." In any case, he loses his home. A dog removed from his home is emotionally shaken and psychologically harmed. The sight of a dog led away from his home and family forever is a very sad one. When the animal looks back at his owner for the last time, it can break your heart. In many instances he is doomed to an uncertain fate, including the possibility of a lethal injection.
Some dog problems are preventable and many are not. However, once a problem exists your choices are to solve it, live with it, or get rid of the dog. If you feel, as we do, that animals are not objects but are living creatures with feelings and are entitled to kindness and respect, we suggest that you try to solve the problem if you can. We recognize the fact that not every problem has a solution. But most do.
DOG TRAINING AS OPPOSED TO PROBLEM SOLVING
A dog that is obedience-trained behaves much better than one that isn't. Let us understand the difference between obedience training and solving dog problems. Obedience training is a teaching process that creates in a dog's mind a set of desired responses to specific commands that are given vocally and with hand signals. This procedure makes life more convenient for people, safer for dogs, and happier for both. A proper training course offers a step-by-step, systematic method of organizing a dog's responses to authority and directs the dog toward obeying various but quite specific commands. An obedience-trained dog has learned to walk gently in "Heel" at the side of his owner; to "Sit" on command and then to "Stay"; to lie "Down" on command, and "Stay"; to "Come" when called; to obey "Go To Your Place"; and to relieve himself in a place most desirable to humans. This discipline is accomplished by a professional dog trainer or by a determined dog owner with an obedience-training book. (An obedience course for pets should not be confused with obedience training that is taught for the sport of Obedience Trials sponsored by the American Kennel Club, although there are similarities in the basics of the training. Dogs trained for Obedience Trials become highly skilled and advanced beyond the daily necessities of a good house dog. AKC Obedience Trials are an important and enjoyable aspect of the dog sport and highly recommended for those with an ongoing interest in dog training.)
Solving dog problems is quite different from obedience training. Where obedience training teaches a dog to obey specific commands, solving dog problems is sharply focused on changing unwanted behavior, whether a human is present or not when it occurs. Problem solving is also an attempt to change unacceptable dog behavior that has developed over a period of time. Obedience training is conditioning and problem solving is reconditioning. Both are aspects of behavior modification.
Reconditioning techniques and solutions are offered to solve such problems as jumping the fence, digging up the yard, lack of housebreaking, chewing, and all the other unwanted habits. We do encourage you to obedience-train your dog as well. What must be understood is that even an obedience-trained dog might defecate in the house and dig up your yard. You will still have to deal with your dog's behavior problems, and that must become your number one priority.
DOG PROBLEMS/PEOPLE PROBLEMS
Problem behavior appears off and on throughout the life of a dog. The first time is during the growth and development stage of puppyhood. Until they are educated and corrected, all young dogs behave in a way that is troublesome for humans. Grown dogs can become problematic suddenly, without warning, catching you quite by surprise, or gradually, without attracting attention, until the problem reaches a serious stage. Sometimes the owner is unaware of a problem until the neighbors slip a petition under the door asking her to move. It is safe to say that most dog problems are present in the first year of life. It is a crucial time for everyone. However, there are solutions for the majority of problems in the majority of dogs. Success depends upon trial-and-error with the solutions offered here, on the nature of the dog, and on your determination to work patiently until the problem is solved.
Toward that end it would help to understand something about the nature of the most common problems that dogs develop along the way. Although all dog behavior in the home can be understood by comparing it to dog behavior (or wolf behavior) in the wild, it seems to depend on whether it is a dog problem or a people problem. A dog problem is behavior that is not only undesirable but in some way unnatural for domestic dogs. Among such "dog problems" are destructive chewing of objects, biting (friend or foe), and begging for food or attention.
A people problem would be behavior that is natural for dogs even though it may be totally unacceptable to humans. Most pet owners would pass out if a dog hunched his body and let go on the carpet in front of dinner guests. That is a people problem. A housebroken dog (one that eliminates when and where you want him to) is behaving artificially for a dog. In the wild, a dog (or wolf) uses his urine and feces to claim territory and establish boundaries, among other things. Although he would not relieve himself where he eats or sleeps, anyplace else or in front of other members of the pack is quite acceptable. The most common "people problems" are housebreaking, barking, and digging behavior.
There is one other important source of behavior problems for dog owners to be aware of. On occasion a dog will develop a physical ailment that could very easily result in unwanted behavior. For example, a bladder infection or bladder stones could cause a dog to urinate indoors. Food changes, water changes, or emotional upset could cause diarrhea, and house training would be very difficult for a dog with this condition. If a dog has a kidney infection, what is the point of setting up a housebreaking program? A dog in pain may snap or bite if touched in the tender area. But dog owners must realize that these behavior problems are unusual and temporary. Once the medical problem has been taken care of, the behavior problem, in all probability, will disappear, unless the behavior has had enough time to become habitual. If that happens, the behavior problem must be dealt with as recommended in this book.
Make no mistake; pet owners do not have to live with problem behavior whether it's natural to the dog or not. The message here is to deal with the root cause of the problem, not merely its symptoms. When trying to solve behavior problems a knowledgeable dog owner not only knows what to do but is more understanding and patient and therefore more successful.
Myths of Dog Ownership
1. All big dogs need a lot of exercise. Not true. Breeds such as the Newfoundland, St. Bernard, or Kuvasz need some exercise but spend most of their day sleeping.
2. Small dogs do not need exercise. Not true. Some small breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier, Norwich Terrier or West Highland White Terrier have a great deal of energy and require a physical outlet for it.
3. Small dogs do not have to be trained. Not true. These breeds require more housebreaking training than others and are incessant barkers.
4. Dogs behave badly out of spite or jealousy. Not true. Thinking this is to assign highly complex human responses to dogs. Because many people do not know how or why a dog problem develops, they tend to personalize it. Dogs bring out intense emotions in people for good or bad, and dog owners often believe their dogs are feeling exactly what they are feeling. It doesn't happen that way. Dog behavior is different from human behavior.
5. Dogs feel guilty when they do something wrong. Not true. Guilt, one of the most troublesome and complicated areas of human psychology, should not be applied to dog behavior. In humans, guilt is experienced as emotions, thoughts, and intellectualized concepts sometimes caused by or resulting in irrational behavior. What humans mistake for guilty behavior in dogs is really an expression of anxiety. Dogs may hide or cower or get that low-eared, droopy look when you arrive because they have done something forbidden. But that "hangdog" look stems from associating punishment, yelling, or rejection from you with the misdeed. That "guilty" look is the fear of your arrival and not a feeling of remorse. It is the result of your having hit him with a newspaper, chased him under the bed, or gone berserk at him in a previous experience. Wouldn't you lower your ears and hide in the corner under those circumstances? If a dog felt truly guilty, he might regret his misbehavior and attempt to correct himself.
6. It's cruel to have a big dog in on apartment. Not true. This myth is usually accompanied by the statement that city life is not good for a dog. If that were true, there wouldn't be millions of dogs living happily in the large cities of this country, as they do. There are probably one million dogs in New York City or Chicago and at least two million dogs living in Los Angeles. Because of the obvious restrictions of city life, city dog owners tend to pay more attention to their pets' needs than in any other circumstance. They walk them in the coldest, wettest, hottest weather, exercise them, rush them to the vet for the slightest ailment, and keep the grooming shops busy and prosperous. Most city dogs have a great life.
7. You hove to hit your dog to control him. Not true. Hitting a dog is a terrible thing to do. It doesn't make you or the dog feel good. It can only make your dog fear you and/or teach him to be aggressive. How would you teach or correct your dog if you didn't hit him? The techniques in this book offer a better way.
8. You have to knee your dog in the chest to keep him off. Not true. Why would you want to use your body negatively? If you knee your dog ten times you'll probably hit his chest just once, but you may hit his jaw, his right or left leg, or possibly his side. Ask a veterinarian about possible injuries from this technique. How, by the way, would you knee a Yorkshire Terrier? There is a better way to correct this behavior that is not so hard on you or the dog.
9. You hove to step on the dog's bock paws to keep him off. Not true. You could break or dislocate a bone. This technique helps develop aggressive behavior, especially toward you. And then there is the pain that is caused.
10. Housebreaking involves rubbing o dog's face in his own mess. Not true. This does not accomplish anything. All it does is scare the dog. Your hands and your angry tone become associated in the dog's mind with a terrible experience. It is an inhumane expression of frustration and rage disguised as a teaching method. If it worked, why would it become necessary to keep repeating it? The truth is that it does not work.
11. Never spoil your puppy by letting him get away with anything. Not true. It is a popular misconception that you must constantly discipline a puppy and never let him get away with things. We expect puppies to do everything wrong if they are normal. The dog owner's job is to educate himself and then educate the puppy. This involves obedience training geared for puppies and correcting some puppy behavior that leads to serious problems such as nipping.
12. A dog has to be free. Not true. Letting him loose is fine if you want to get a new dog every three months. Dogs need to be restricted for their own safety and out of respect for other people. Dogs cannot be made to look both ways when crossing a street. Many communities prohibit free-roaming because of possible destruction to property a dog may cause or harm he may bring to innocent strangers. An untethered or unleashed dog is also a nuisance. Whether he lives in the city, the suburbs, or the country, a dog on his own has a short life expectancy.
13. Applying guilt to a dog is an effective training technique. Not true. One of the great myths of dog ownership is that if you make him feel guilty enough he will stop eating the carpet and knocking you down with his front paws. Saying to a dog such things as "What did you do?" or "You bad dog!" in an accusing tone of voice, may have a punishing effect. It may even have a correcting effect (in some situations), but it does not teach the dog anything. In dog training the animal must first be shown what to do. Then he is rewarded for doing it. After that the dog is corrected when he doesn't obey a command. When a child enters a classroom for the first time, he is never tested before the subject is taught. Why make a dog feel guilty for doing something wrong when he wasn't taught the correct thing in the first place? The reality is that dogs are going to behave in their natural way until we teach them to do otherwise. Guilt is just another form of punishment and it is hardly justified or productive in dog handling.
A PHILOSOPHY OF DOG TRAINING AND PROBLEM SOLVING
We believe that dogs need love and affection. They respond well to it, making dogs and humans feel good. If you rely on this idea for teaching from beginning to end, you will have a happier, more accomplished pupil. Problem solving should not change the positive aspects of the dog's personality. The fun and pleasure of owning a dog do not come to an end because you decide to solve a behavior problem. The solution is achieved by bonding with your dog.
People bond with their dogs by creating a happy environment. Be loving and affectionate verbally by talking to him in the nicest way possible; physically, by touching and stroking him. Even your body language has an effect. You can constantly tower over a dog and overwhelm him or you can occasionally get down on his level and treat him as a pal. Different styles of treatment can make dogs and humans feel good or bad about each other.
It is important to understand what to expect from a dog at various ages. Your feelings change for the better when you learn to expect less maturity from a three-month-old puppy and more from a three-year-old dog. When a three-month-old dog nips we say, "He's only a puppy. He just needs to be corrected." But if a three-year-old dog chews your furniture, it's a serious problem. Each age group requires a separate approach to problem solving. The techniques used may vary from age range to age range, or they may be the same but applied with less or more intensity. The age and the type of problem demand separate ways of dealing with these situations even though both may deal with the dog's teeth.
The key to being a successful dog owner is your emotional relationship with the animal. If you can translate loving and caring feelings into a method of training and problem solving you will not lose the dog's personality or make him feel less wanted. After all, we just want to solve the problem, not remake the dog into something else. When anger, frustration, and rage enter into a problem situation, you may win the battle and lose the war. The goal is to retain the dog's happy disposition and outgoing personality while changing unwanted behavior. That is what most dog owners want to accomplish.
Copyright © 1986 by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis