In This Chapter
- Understanding the limits of punishment
- Helping a dog overcome his fears
- Calming the anxious, energetic, or barking pup
- Working with your Pom’s aggressive tendencies
- Dealing with nuisance behaviors
Squelching Bad Behavior: The Two Major Methods
Understanding the pitfalls of punishment
– Punishment doesn’t tell a dog what to do; rather, it tells a dog what not to do. Anyone who’s ever tried to follow instructions of any sort can understand how frustrating this not-so-helpful type of guidance is. Eventually a dog will quit trying to figure out what you want altogether.
– The timing of the punishment is usually too late to be effective. In reality, a dog usually has dug several holes or barked a few thousand times before the owner decides to do something about it, but in order to be effective, the punishment needs to happen immediately after the infraction.
– It can cause aggressive behavior. Although severe punishment has long been the advice for dogs that show signs of aggression, in most cases, it’s the worst response because it can actually cause aggressive behavior. Just like in humans, pain can make a dog want to strike out and direct that aggression back toward the source.
And you thought you were being clear
The key to training is communication, and too often, what you have with punishment is a failure to communicate. Pity the poor pup who has to decipher your mixed messages in the following situations:
You discover your dog has urinated on the carpet.
Your dog has an irritating habit of running and barking at visitors.
Your dog growled once when you reached for his food bowl.
Your dog ignores you when you call.
You come home and find your dog has made a shambles of the place.
What You Say/Do
You find him sleeping, drag him to the wet spot, and scold him while rubbing his nose in it.
You tell your visitors to kick at him.
You yell at him and take the bowl from him to teach him a lesson.
When your dog does come, you snatch her, look her in the eye, and yell that when you say “Come” you mean come!
You angrily scold him.
What Your Pom Learns
Every once in awhile, when he’s sound asleep, you go insane. He begins to mistrust you.
Yep, he was right: Visitors are bad. He’d better bite them next time.
He was right: You really did want to steal his food. Next time he may have to bite you because growling didn’t work.
Coming to you got her punished. She won’t do that again.
You’re in a bad mood when you come home and should probably be avoided. Next time you come home, he slinks away, which you interpret as acting guilty because he knows he’s messed up something.
– It can lead to some unwanted behaviors that may be related to emotional aspects of flight-or-fight. Examples are
- A dog that runs away when situations remind her of punishment
- A dog that’s fearful of punishment so she avoids you or snaps at you because she’s scared
That doesn’t mean punishment never works. The problem is that it only works under specific situations, and more often than not, those guidelines aren’t met when you punish your dog. For punishment to work, it ideally needs to follow these ground rules:
– It’s severe enough to offset the rewards of the infraction.
– It happens immediately after the infraction.
– It happens the first time the infraction occurs.
Helping a Fearful Dog Be Brave
Fearfulness can be inborn, but it also may be the result of poor socialization or a traumatic event during puppyhood. You can address fearfulness by training, drugs, or both. The type of fear your dog exhibits determines which method(s) works best. Keep these two distinctions in mind:
– A dog with generalized fear is more likely to have a genetic predisposition and is less likely to benefit from training. Medication or general socialization may be the best bet in such cases.
– A dog with a specific fear is more likely to be suffering the consequences of a specific event; he’s more likely to be helped through behavior modification than with medication.
Training away the fear
– Gradually expose him to whatever it is he’s afraid of. For example, if he’s afraid of strange dogs, start so far away from one dog that he just barely notices it. Then the next day — and only if he’s calm — move a little closer.
Your dog is learning to be calm. If he’s still afraid at the end of a session, you’ve only reinforced his fear. You’ve pushed him too hard, or you didn’t expose him long enough. Because staying long enough might mean pitching a tent, my advice is to back off next time and go more slowly.
– Prevent inappropriate responses. Keep your dog from biting, running away, and so on out of fear. Instead, if he looks like he’s going to freak out, get his attention and have him do a simple trick. Then reward him for the trick by moving away from whatever he wanted to get away from. This step gives him some control while teaching him that looking to you for leadership is the best solution.
– Encourage responses incompatible with fear. Rather than just have your dog stand there and think about how scared he is, get him to do something like relaxing, eating, playing, hunting, or walking. This way he begins to associate good events and feelings with the feared object.
Freaking out your dog on purpose: Flooding
The common alternative to desensitization is flooding, a practice in which you expose your dog to his fear at superhigh levels and for extended periods of time. The logic presumes that normal levels of the feared event, then, will seem like nothing in comparison. The result doesn’t turn out that way, but, unfortunately, dog trainers still try this method all the time.
For example, is the dog afraid of people? A trainer that uses the flooding method would take the dog to a shopping center and hold him while everybody and anybody who goes by can pet him. The only problem is that this approach works no better than locking a person in a room with spiders. You’re likely to end up with a dog really afraid of people — and shopping centers.
Flooding is ineffective for two reasons:
An example of this strategy is taking your dog for a walk with another person if your dog is afraid of strangers. Allowing him to focus on the walk — and have fun with the stranger — is better than just standing there while a stranger pets him.
– Let him see other dogs and you behaving appropriately. If your dog is afraid of strangers but has a doggy buddy, he may be encouraged to join in the greetings if his best doggy friend is getting petted and eating treats from a stranger.
Your dog can take cues from you as well. When he acts fearful, avoid clutching him to you, pulling on the leash, or coddling him. Instead, act jolly, like there’s nothing at all to be afraid of. Have him do a trick if you really want to pet and reward him, so he earns it.
– Fear of strange people: Select the people you want her to meet. Instruct them to stop a short way from the dog, not looking at her, not even facing her. They should ignore her while you talk or walk with them. Let them offer a treat, again without looking at the dog, and let the dog make the approaches. Remember to proceed gradually.
– Fear of strange dogs: Walk the dogs together, with the other dog on a leash, of course, held by his owner. Keep the other dog from getting in a position where he can chase your dog by keeping them both on leashes.
– Fear of the veterinary clinic: Take her for short visits to the clinic’s waiting room. Just pop in and back out; then go for a ride in the car to a place she really likes.
– Fear of thunder and other loud noises: Fear of thunder is a difficult phobia to treat because you can’t control how loud the booms are. In many cases, drug therapy is needed so the dog can experience being calm during a thunderstorm.
For other loud noises (such as gun shots), try to drown out the bangs with loud music. For some reason, this seldom works for thunder; dogs seem to be able to sense the thunder through the music. But you can try. If loud noises are an ongoing problem, you can help your dog deal with them by gradually exposing him to louder and louder noises and rewarding him for calm behavior, just as you would for any other fearful thing.
Medicating away the fear
The field of fixing doggy behavior problems
If your dog has a serious behavior problem, especially one that has you considering giving him up or even euthanizing him (behavior problems are some of the most common reasons for these choices), your veterinarian may be a source of behavior information.
However, because veterinarians are expected to keep up-to-date in many fields covering several species, they can’t be specialists in every field. So, for serious behavioral problems, a certified clinical behaviorist can be of more help. Clinical behaviorists are trained in diagnostics and treatment and have the advantage of being able to recognize and treat organic problems such as brain tumors, epilepsy, and chemical imbalances that may be responsible for behavior problems.
Professional canine behaviorists are often satirized in movies as asking dogs about their dreams or showing dogs inkblots, but in fact, these behaviorists are usually highly trained veterinarians with specialized training in behavior or animal behaviorists with PhDs. They work with animals that have behavior problems using the latest animal behavior, behavior modification, and drug knowledge. Your veterinarian can consult with one or refer you to one in your area (go to www.avma.org/education/abvs/vetspecialists.asp for a listing of diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists).
Your dog’s obedience instructor also may be a source of information. Like veterinarians, dog trainers vary widely in their levels of behavioral training. Look for a trainer who is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com) and is certified through the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers (www.ccpdt.org).
Combating Separation Anxiety
– Center a lot of her destruction on exits, trying to dig under doors, peel screens from windows, or chew through door frames
– Gets so upset that she urinates and defecates on the floor and then spreads it around as she paces back and forth in agitation
– Barks or howls, calling for her owner and angering the neighbors
Instead of punishing her, you’re better off turning around and sitting outside to cool off first. Your dog isn’t doing this to spite you. Although she appears to look guilty, she’s actually scared because she saw you go crazy the last time you came home after she had done this. As much as she wanted you to return, now she slinks away in fear.
– Start with short times away. Leave for only short periods — maybe a minute — at first. Your goal is to return before your dog has a chance to get upset. Work up to longer times gradually, repeating each level several times before moving to a longer period of absence, always using your I’ll be right back cue (see the later bullet).
You want her to associate the cue with feeling calm. If you must be gone longer than your dog can tolerate, don’t give her the I’ll be right back cue (see the later bullet in this list). You don’t want to lie to her.
– Downplay departures. Make the difference between you being home or gone as subtle as possible — no long farewells and as few cues as possible that you’re leaving.
Common cues are putting on your shoes, picking up the car keys, or turning off the television. Instead, rattle the keys and turn the television off at random times throughout the day when you’re not going anywhere.
– Use an I’ll be right back cue. You can also give your dog a cue that tells her you won’t be gone long — spray some air freshener in the room, turn on a radio (if you don’t usually have one on), or put down a special bed. Incorporate one or more of these cues into your short-time departures (see the first bullet in this list).
– Return nonchalantly. Nobody but a dog can greet you after a ten-minute absence like you’ve just been on a trip around the world. But for now, keep the reunion low key. Ignore her until she’s calm. Even better, give her a cue to do a trick and then reward her for that to take the focus off your return.
– Find a safe place. If you need to leave your dog for a long time, play it smart and place her where she can’t do much harm. You may need to crate her or place her in an exercise pen (see Chapters Prepare to Be Pomerized! and Saving the Carpets: Housetraining for details).
These options don’t help cure her problem — they just confine the range of destruction. And confinement isn’t a longterm solution. Eventually some dogs come to associate the crate or pen with being left, and they become anxious as soon as they have to go in them.
– Consider antianxiety aids — for your dog. Antianxiety or antidepressant drugs may help dogs that are extremely stressed. Usually you must give these drugs on a continuous basis, not just when you’re leaving. However, you may need to add some drugs for the treatment of panic when the dog is going to be left alone.
As with all drug therapy, this decision should be made with the guidance of a clinical behaviorist.
– Consider getting a canine companion for her. Most separation anxiety focuses on the presence or absence of people, not dogs. For the older puppy or adult dog, a person is the primary caretaker and essentially takes the place of a parent. But sometimes another dog can help alleviate separation anxiety.
Calming a Ping-Pong Pom
– Throw balls for him inside the house.
– Take him for walks and runs.
– Practice some agility obstacles.
– Teach him some challenging tricks.
– Speak calmly and quietly.
– Ignore any pushy or overactive behavior. She must display acceptable behaviors to earn your attention.
– Have her sit and stay if she wants you to go play again.
– Reward your active dog when she’s calm, even if that reward is then doing something active!
You don’t want a dog that’s a lump on the rug — you just want one that can follow your schedule.
– Show her that relaxing can be rewarding by giving her a massage as she lies down and relaxes. Soon she’ll realize that sharing calm times with you can be just as pleasurable as the active times.
Quieting a Barking Nuisance
1. Wait until she’ quiet momentarily and then give her a treat.
If need be, you can throw a clattering can filled with coins on the ground to stop her momentarily so she can be quiet enough to begin training. his may be easier if you have her sit and stay first (see Chapter Mastering Manners and Basic Commands for teaching this command).
2. Keep repeating Step 1, gradually increasing how long she must be quiet before getting a treat.
3. Add a cue word like “Shhhhh” as you start your timing.
Eventually, she figures out that the cue means she gets a treat if she’s quiet.
4. Try Step 3 when there’s really something to bark about.
You can’t stop her from barking entirely, but you may get it under control.
– If she’s outside, bring her in — when she’s quiet — so she can share daily activities with the rest of the family. (Sometimes that means you have to stand by the door and wait for her to hush up for five seconds.)
– Give her something to do that’s more fun than barking. It’s hard to bark when you’re busy chewing a bone or working the food out of a treat toy.
– Make sure she has plenty of exercise. It’s hard to bark when you’re asleep.
Collaring that bark
Shock collars may quell the barking momentarily, but they don’t work in the long term. Citronella collars, which automatically spray a distasteful citrus scent when the dog barks, are more effective — perhaps because the scent lingers.
However, some dogs figure out that they can avoid the spray by barking and jumping backward; others just bark until it empties and then bark with wild abandon. Even if they do refrain from barking when the collar is on, many dogs figure out it’s safe to bark when the collar is off.
Nipping Biting in the Bud
– Play that just gets out of hand
– A response to pain or fear
– A fight with other dogs
– Protection of the home territory, the family, or food
– A protest against being controlled
– Without known causes
A dog who is biting out of fear demonstrates a number of telltale signs. He tends to
– Crouch, with tail tucked and ears back
– Alternately snarl and whimper or even snap in the air
– Bite quickly and attack briefly
– Immediately call your dog to you and have her act calm by sitting for a reward. Removing the dog from the frightening situation can be a reward in itself!
– Make note of the objects or events that trigger her fear and aggression — and avoid them! Events may include your own actions of cornering her, reaching for her, and prodding her into facing something that scares her.
– Remember that the dog has two problems: an inappropriate fear and an inappropriate reaction to that fear.
- Treat her fear following my suggestions in the earlier section “Helping a Fearful Dog Be Brave.”
- When you can’t avoid a trigger, do what you can to minimize her reaction by having her sit or heel.
Obviously, punishing an already frightened dog doesn’t help the situation at all; it just makes the problem worse. But, unfortunately, letting him have his way just rewards his bad behavior, and reassuring or petting him sends the wrong message. People may think they’re soothing the savage beast by stroking him gently as he growls and barks, but they’re really saying, “Good boy! Get ’em!”
– Eliminate the possibility for her to act in a territorial manner by removing her
- From the fenced yard when passersby are expected
- From the front door area when you expect company
- From view of the mailbox when you expect the mail carrier
– Reward her for sitting and staying when strangers arrive
– Have visitors bring her treats
Owners often make territorial aggression worse by trying to reassure the dog or by distracting him with a game or treat — in both cases rewarding him for aggressive behavior. Screaming at the dog is just as bad because the dog thinks you’re screaming with him, not at him.
Getting Him to Drop the Begging
Your dog repeats actions that bring him rewards. If you give him a treat when he barks at you while you eat, he quickly learns to bark or beg at the table. If you decide to stop (I mean really stop) giving him food, he learns it does him no good, so he quits.
Minimizing a Dog’s Food-Guarding Response
– Drop special treats into her bowl while she’s eating.
– Give her small portions, wait until the bowl is empty, and then immediately fill it with better treats.
– Feed her meals one kibble at a time, dropping each into her bowl as she finishes the one before.
– Never take away any food unless you replace it with something better.
If you have more than one dog, they may guard their food and treats from each other. In this case, simply feed them separately; only give them chewies or treats in a private room or in their crates. Dropping a treat between them can start a fight or cause one dog to gulp it down so fast he chokes. Never allow a treat to be abandoned in the house somewhere. It may cause a later dispute, perhaps when you are gone.
Discouraging Disgusting Eating Habits
This menu choice is so common that it has an official name: coprophagia. Nobody knows why dogs eat feces, but it doesn’t seem to be because of a nutritional deficiency or digestive disorder. Eating feces may be a natural behavior for dogs, perhaps left over from their days as village waste scavengers. Why some dogs do it and others don’t is a mystery. Stopping it is a challenge. The best cure and prevention is diligent feces removal. Here are a few other suggestions:
– Add hot sauce to the feces (although she may just gobble it down and run for the water bowl!).
– Use commercially available food additives, usually containing monosodium glutamate, to make the feces taste bad — or at least taste worse.
– Put a muzzle on her, which stops the eating but not the trying; this tactic can lead to messy results.
– Ask your veterinarian whether the drugs that treat obsessive compulsive behavior may help. Some dogs appear to exhibit a compulsion to eat feces.
Dogs eat other nonfood objects such as fabrics and rocks. Many of their choices can cause obstructions in the throat or digestive system, though, and require surgical removal to save the dog’s life. Prevention is through diligent removal of objects from the dog’s reach, possibly supplemented by drug therapy for obsessive compulsive behavior.
Putting a Stop to Mounting Embarrassment
Saying “No” to bad ways of saying “No!”
Unfortunately, many dog trainers still believe in the dominance theory, a method of training popular in the ’80s and ’90s that models wolf-pack behavior. The basis of this method, however, was a study that wasn’t representative of normal wolf-pack behavior much less domestic dog behavior.
Nevertheless, trainers still talk about the method and how to be alpha (boss) with your dog. For example, they advocate shaking a dog by the scruff of his neck as a way of telling him “No.” In reality, wolves don’t do anything like that, and the act can permanently injure a small dog.
In order to show him who’s boss, advocates also throw a dog to the ground and roll him on his back until he stops struggling. But again, wolves don’t do that. This particular act is responsible for many, many dog bites. If somebody suggests these methods to you, please just say “No!”
by D.Caroline Coile,Ph.D.