Whenever I teach class, I start off with a review of the commands we are going to cover in the program. I then discuss what equipment each student will need to successfully train their dog. I also make it a point to ask each owner what breed or type of dog they will be bringing (my first group lessons are typically without the dogs). After sharing a lit- tle breed knowledge with the rest of the class, I then open up the floor for any questions the students may have. Without fail, almost all the questions I am asked concern problem behaviors. These include: How do I stop my dog from jumping up on people? My dog nips and mouths on my hands and feet. My dog is a maniac when she comes in the house, barks excessively, steals food off counters, eats my furniture, is tearing up my yard, etc.
The truth is, far more people enroll in training classes to address behavior problems than they do to teach their dogs basic commands. For this reason, chapters 5 and 6 of this book are devoted to helping you solve or curtail many of the common behaviors that dog owners find challenging.
These methods have worked with millions of people and are tried and tested. Remember, no method works for every dog. In addition, for training to be effective, it must be done consistently.
These are the goals for this chapter:
- Identify the problem you wish to address.
- Learn the solutions to the behavior problem you wish to solve.
- Apply the solution with patience, consistency, understanding and love.
Here are the problems I’ll cover in this chapter:
- Puppy nipping and mouthing
- Unruly behavior in the house
- Begging food from the table
- Stealing food from counters
- Jumping on furniture
- Excessive barking
When addressing a jumping problem, it is important not to do anything that may make it worse or create other problems. As with all training, you need to give your dog a consistent message about jumping: specif- ically that jumping is not a desired behavior. Many owners don’t real- ize that they give their dogs mixed messages. For example, do you play in a rough, excited way with your dog, accepting the inevitable jump- ing that comes with this kind of play, but when you’re dressed for work, discourage the exact same jumping behavior? If your answer is yes, this causes confusion and even anxiety in your pet.
This is why it’s important to avoid rough games and excitable greet- ings, because these types of interactions encourage jumping. Owners who teach their dogs that jumping is acceptable some times but not other times will almost always have difficultly eliminating the prob- lem. When you’re interacting with a dog who tends to jump, greet and interact with her in a calm and gentle fashion. Most important, teach the dog alternative, acceptable ways to greet you. This cannot be over- stated. Earlier, I mentioned that punishment or correction has a place in training. Now I’m going to share something even more important.
It is far more effective to praise and reward proper behavior than it is to correct improper behavior.
Remember the old saying, “You attract more bees with honey.” This is relevant in dealing with jumping! You need to teach, praise and reward your dog for greeting you the right way.
Consider teaching your dog to sit as a form of greeting and to play fetch instead of leaping all over you. Remember, jumping is primarily a play and greeting behavior. Also remember that although jumping is unacceptable in dog-human interactions, it is normal and acceptable behavior between dogs. This is another reason why it is so important to avoid encouraging it at any time.
Be prepared before you play with your puppy. Always have several toys and treats on hand. Instead of playing roughly, which includes wrestling and vigorous petting, direct the dog’s attention to her proper toys.
A good way to get your dog to focus on proper toys is to teach her to play fetch. This can be accomplished with what I call the two-toy game. It involves taking two toys at a time and teaching the dog to fetch them. Get the dog to focus on one of the toys and then toss that toy across the room. When the dog runs over and grabs it, pull out the other one and focus the dog’s attention on that toy. Encourage her to come toward you by coaxing her with the second toy. When she runs over to you, take the first toy from her and then toss the second toy. If the dog is reluctant to give up the first toy, trade her for a food treat. Use the food treats consistently until the dog understands that the faster she drops the first toy, the quicker she gets a treat and you throw the second toy for her. When she willingly and consistently gives up the first toy, you may start to slowly eliminate the food treats. Remember, if the puppy gets too wound up and starts to jump, tone the game down or stop playing.
If this game is played while the puppy is wearing a leash and head collar, you can easily stop the jumping with a gentle tug of the leash the moment she jumps. Please note, I said “gentle tug.” Then wait until the puppy has been calm for two long seconds before resuming the game. Also remember, never let your dog wear a leash or head collar unattended.
A word about head collars: This is one of the things that has changed in the last few decades and, in my opinion, changed for the better. In most cases head collars are far more effective for controlling behaviors like jumping than collars worn around the dog’s neck. The reason is that you can control the dog’s head and body more effectively and with less force using a head collar.
When she jumps, simply say “no” and gently tug the leash. The head collar makes this correction easy to administer. Hold the dog’s head and body away from you until the dog is visibly calmer and not jumping. Then allow her to greet you again. If she reapproaches you without jumping, praise her. This technique can be extremely effective with most dogs, provided you are consistent and the dog wears the leash and head collar whenever you interact with her. However, if she only wears it half the time, you will likely wind up with a dog who only behaves when she’s on a leash.
Teach other people interacting with your puppy how to greet her properly, so they do not inadvertently encourage jumping behavior. Make sure the dog’s primary handlers greet her properly with hands kept slow and low and excitable greetings avoided.
Once you’ve addressed the issue of not encouraging jumping behavior with your greetings and play, the next step in eliminating the jumping problem is to focus on praising appropriate greeting behav- iors. This is accomplished by encouraging and rewarding proper behaviors whenever you can. Coax your dog to you and reward her for sitting when she gets there. This should be done every time you greet your dog. If it is, most dogs will learn to greet you by sitting in two to four weeks.
A question I often hear is: How do I teach my dog to sit?
There are several ways to get the dog into a sitting position, includ- ing holding a piece of food two to four inches over the top of the dog’s head and slowly bringing it back toward her rear. This will encourage most dogs to sit. The food treat can be given after the dog has been in the sit position for two seconds.
Another method involves gently placing the dog into the sit posi- tion by holding the collar with one hand and gently pushing the dog’s rump down with the other hand, as you pull up slightly with the hand holding the collar. Praise the dog after she has been sitting for two sec- onds. The key here is to encourage and reward the sit response when- ever possible. The stronger the sit behavior is, the more likely the dog will sit when greeting owner, family and friends.
Consistently give the dog an appropriate negative consequence for jumping. One negative consequence is for the dog to lose her playmate. When the dog jumps, turn away and instantly stop all interaction with her. Most dogs will continue to jump for 15 or 20 seconds before try- ing something else. Usually they will come around to face you and then jump again. If this happens, turn the other way and continue to ignore the behavior. Make sure you do not touch the dog with your hands or look down at the dog at this time, as the dog may interpret those behaviors as rewarding.
You may need to ignore the dog like this for up to two or three minutes before the dog stops jumping and tries another approach. Other approaches may be to bring a toy or to sit. If your dog tries any of these approaches, instantly praise her. Be careful to avoid praising the dog too excitedly, as that may stimulate more jumping. If, after two or three minutes, the jumping has not stopped, you may need to walk away from the dog. This means literally walking out of the room and not allowing the dog to follow you. After two or three minutes you can return, and may be surprised to find that your dog greets you in a far more subdued fashion.
The method I’ve just described takes a nonphysical approach to eliminating jumping. The primary focus is praising the dog for engaging in appropriate behavior. This can be highly effective. However, it is not always effective and is not for everyone. For owners training large dogs with long nails, owners with small children or elderly people who may be unsteady on their feet, this may not be the best method.
Other techniques involve saying “no” the instant the dog jumps. This “no” command is followed by a physical correction that is suffi- cient to stop the jumping behavior. The type of correction needed may be different for every dog. A leash correction is a gentle tug on the leash in a downward motion. Remember, the head collar greatly increases the effectiveness of leash corrections. You can also gently push the dog away from you. Another correction involves lightly squirting the dog with water. I have found this correction to sometimes work, although I remember a case involving some Labrador Retrievers who were great fans of water and loved being squirted. In fact, they would deliberately jump just to get wet! You may need to try several different corrections to find the one that is most effective for your dog. If a particular correction does not work in a couple of tries, stop using it and try another.
It’s very important to remember that after saying “no” and cor- recting the jumping, the dog must be encouraged to sit and then praised for this appropriate alternative behavior.
Guests present another challenge. Although some guests may be cooperative and patient enough to ignore the dog, most will not be enthusiastic about allowing a dog who isn’t theirs to jump all over them for two minutes while they ignore the behavior. A good way to handle guests is to first understand that until the dog learns to prop- erly greet you and immediate family members, it is unlikely she will greet your guests properly. Once she has learned to greet her family properly, the dog should be put on a leash and head collar whenever she greets new people. To accomplish this, hang a spare leash and collar by the front door so that when a guest arrives you can instantly put your dog on the leash. Then invite the guest into your home, encouraging the dog to sit the moment the guest walks in. When the dog sits, the behavior should be praised by both you and your guest. If the dog jumps on the guest, say “no,” gently tug the leash to pull the dog off the guest, encourage the dog to sit and then praise her when she does.
If, every time the dog jumps she hears “no” and receives a negative consequence for this behavior, and every time she sits she gets praise, most dogs will learn to sit and not jump. There is nothing cruel about this technique, and it has worked for millions of dog owners.
Basic obedience exercises like sit-stay and down-stay around dis- tractions will teach the dog to focus on you and develop some impulse control. This will teach her that she doesn’t have to react to every movement people make, and will be rewarded with treats and praise for not reacting.
It is especially important for the dog to get plenty of practice at the front door. Initially, practice when there are no visitors. Get the dog used to your opening and closing the front door. Then graduate to knocking on the front door and ringing the doorbell many times each day, while the dog is in a sit-stay at the front door. These practice lessons will teach the dog to be calmer when you open the door, making it easier to teach the dog to remain in her sit-stay when guests come through the front door. Practicing this routine at the front door several times each day will not only decrease jumping, it will also lessen the dog’s excitement in general, which helps reduce excessive barking at the front door.
Finally, please remember that jumping is a normal behavior and one that will not be eliminated overnight. Some of your dogs may have jumped on you or guests thousands of times, and to expect that any training method will be successful after two or three tries is not realis- tic. It could take several weeks or as long as a month to curtail a diffi- cult jumping problem. You need to have patience, practice often and be consistent. If you are, you will be able to deal with this and all prob- lems over time.
PUPPY NIPPING AND MOUTHING
When dealing with a nipping or mouthing problem, it is important not to do anything that may make it worse or create other problems. It is criti- cal to give the dog a consistent message that nipping is unacceptable.
To accomplish this, avoid rough games like play-slapping and wrestling with the dog. Also avoid rough or vigorous petting, espe- cially around the face. When interacting with a nippy dog, keep your hands slow and pet the dog in a gentle fashion. Owners of nippy dogs should also avoid tug-of-war games. All these types of interactions encourage nipping. Since nipping is normal behavior among dogs, it is very important to consistently remind your dog that nipping humans is unacceptable. Owners who teach their dogs that nipping is acceptable some times but not others will have a difficult time eliminating the problem.
Whenever possible, make sure nippy, active puppies get plenty of exercise. Some puppies nip because they don’t have other acceptable ways to burn off energy. This is why proper exercise is a great way to curtail nipping. It is also wise to teach the dog to play fetch games, as this is a great energy burner. Teaching the puppy to fetch will help her learn that it is acceptable and fun to put her mouth on her toys, as opposed to your skin.
Be prepared before you play with your puppy by always having several toys and treats on hand. If you play with your dog with your hands, she will use and view your hands as toys. Direct the dog’s atten- tion to proper toys such as hard rubber and vinyl chew toys and inter- active toys like Buster Cubes.
As I said in the section on jumping, teach the dog to play fetch. A good fetch game involves encouraging the dog to fetch using two toys at a time. (I have explained how to teach this game on page 75.) Remember, if the puppy gets too wound up and starts to nip, give a leash correction, tone the game down or stop playing altogether.
Another good game to play is hide-and-seek. In this game, you encourage the dog to find you by hiding and calling her name. When she finds you, praise and reward her. This game is even better when a second person is also hiding. As soon as they hear the dog being praised and rewarded for finding you, this person can call and encour- age the dog to find them. The game also teaches the dog to associate positive things with coming when called. Here too, avoid getting the dog too excited and stop the game if the dog starts to nip.
Teach people interacting with your puppy to greet her properly so they do not encourage mouthing or nipping. Hands should be kept slow and low. A treat held in one hand can be used to focus the dog’s atten- tion while she’s petted gently with the other. This will teach the dog to associate positive things with being petted and not nipping. If the dog nips at any time, immediately stop the food reward. You can also have one or two toys on hand to redirect the dog’s attention if she becomes overly excited.
The instant the puppy puts her mouth on human skin, the person involved should freeze. This is very important and may take a little practice, since it is a natural reaction to pull away when nipped. Once you freeze, say “off” or “no.” While it is not necessary to yell, a sharp tone is acceptable. Most puppies will take their mouths away, look at you and/or back away a bit. After two to three seconds of no nipping, gently and calmly praise the non-nipping response. If the puppy starts to nip again, repeat the process. If, after two or three times, the puppy continues to nip, give the dog a few minutes of time-out by walking away from her.
Although this may seem a passive way to address this problem, it can communicate a powerful message to the dog. That message is, “I will not interact with you when you’re too rough.” After several min- utes you may approach and resume playing with the dog, provided the dog does not start nipping again Do not tolerate or continue to play with a mouthing puppy even if she is tiny and the bites don’t hurt. Some dogs do not respond acceptably or at all when you freeze and say “no” or “off.” If this is the case, consider other methods. Try spray- ing your hands, feet and clothes with an anti-chewing spray. This spray is a bitter-tasting substance that most dogs will not like, and is avail- able in most pet supply stores. Although it sounds mean, I have found the spray is much more effective when sprayed in the dog’s mouth the very first time it is used. This means before spraying it on your hands or feet for the first time. You will only need to spray it in the dog’s mouth once, and it will likely help the dog develop a strong aversion to the taste, making it far more effective when you spray it on your hands and feet.
A little planning will go a long way if you’re using this method. Most owners have an idea of when their dogs will nip—common times include when you come home after work, when you sit down on the couch to watch TV at night or when you go out in the backyard. If you can identify scenarios in which nipping is likely to occur, you can more easily and consistently spray your hands and feet before the nipping happens. It is also important to keep the spray accessible whenever you are interacting with your dog, so it can be applied quickly, if needed.
Another way to address this problem is to put the dog on a leash and head collar whenever you interact with her. If you’re worried about her chewing the leash, use a chain link leash. In most cases, head col- lars are far more effective than collars worn around the dog’s neck for controlling behaviors like nipping. This is because you can control the dog’s head (including her teeth) more effectively and with less force using a head collar. When she nips, say “no” and gently tug the leash. The head har- ness makes this easy to do. Hold the dog’s head away from your body until the dog is visibly calmer. Then put your hands or feet back toward the dog’s mouth, avoiding fast movements. If she sniffs or nuz- zles, both of which are appropriate greetings, calmly praise her. This technique can be extremely effective with certain puppies, provided you are consistent. If the dog wears the leash whenever you interact with her, you will be fine. However, if she only wears it half the time, you will likely wind up with a dog who only behaves when she’s on a leash.
Basic obedience exercises like sit-stay and down-stay around dis- tractions will teach the dog to focus on you and to develop some of the impulse control needed to deter nipping. It is important to practice obe- dience exercises around the very distractions and activities you know make the puppy want to nip. This type of practice will teach her that she doesn’t have to react to every movement people make, and will be rewarded with treats and praise for not reacting.
You may also be able to prevent a lot of nipping by exercising the puppy before any petting or interaction. A tired puppy is much less likely to nip.
Remember that nipping, like jumping, is a normal canine behavior and will not be eliminated overnight. Your dog may have nipped thou- sands of times, and to expect that any training method will be success- ful after two or three applications is not realistic. It could take several weeks or as long as a month to curtail a difficult nipping problem. You need to have patience, to practice and to be consistent. If you are, you will be able to deal with this and all problems over time.
UNRULY BEHAVIOR IN THE HOUSE
Consistency is extremely important when you’re teaching a dog to have a calm attitude in the house. If you play chase or fetch, or wres- tle with the dog in the house and encourage the dog to engage in unruly behavior inside, this is going to make it much more difficult for the dog to learn to be calm in the house. Managing your dog’s activi- ties inside by keeping her on a leash will reduce the opportunities she has to misbehave.
As you begin to train your dog to be calm in the house, make sure the dog is getting enough exercise, especially before allowing her to move around freely inside. Otherwise, you are going to find it more difficult to teach calm behavior.
Most people underestimate their dog’s exercise requirements. I’ve seen owners whose dogs live in the backyard most of the time. These owners are often faced with a vicious circle: They would bring their dog in if the dog behaved, but because the dog doesn’t, they leave her out. This makes the dog more excited when she’s brought in, which causes the owner to leave the dog out. Additionally, they assume that because their dog is fairly energetic, she is going to get all the exercise she needs when she’s left alone in the yard. This is usually not true. What’s more, as dogs get a little bit older, they often have a very human attitude toward exercise—you know the old joke: Whenever I feel like exercising, I lie down until the feeling passes. Often the only thing that causes dogs to become active is a new situa- tion that excites them, such as coming into the house. The bottom line here is, take the dog for long walks, give the dog some exercise, play with your dog in the yard, and you will find it easier to deal with this problem.
To begin teaching your dog to come in calmly, you will need to put
your dog on a leash and head collar every single time you let your dog inside. I stress, every single time. That means when you bring the dog in, if 10 minutes later you need to take the dog out to go to the bath- room, when you bring the dog back inside again, even if it is only five minutes after that, the dog goes back on the leash. You must be con- sistent with this.
When you bring her in, slowly walk the dog through the house. Have some food treats available to reward the dog when she is being calm, especially if she walks calmly by something that ordinarily excites her. If, for example, you bring her in and she sees the cat— which would normally stimulate her to go crashing through the house—as long as she is not trying to drag you, definitely reward and praise her. After the initial tour, take the dog to a well-trafficked area and safely tie her to a suitable object. Use a chain link leash to prevent her from chewing through the leash. Give the dog a comfortable pad to lie on and a nice chew toy. Give her food rewards, petting and praise, when she is quiet.
Never leave the dog unattended on a leash or a head collar. Also, make sure when you tie the dog to something in the house that you do not tie her in such a way that she could jump up or over it and hang herself. Be very careful about tying the dog, and never leave the dog unattended when she is tied to something.
Give extra rewards when the dog remains calm even though some- thing exciting is happening around her. For example, she is lying calmly, chewing her toy, when suddenly the kids come running into the room; if she still remains reasonably calm, praise and reward her. What do I mean by “reasonably calm”? She may look up from chewing her toy. She may even stand up. But, as long as she does not start barking, jumping three feet in the air or generally going crazy (remember, she is tied to something), praise and reward her. Remember not to praise her in a way that makes her wild.
Trainers know that positive reinforcement of a desired behavior will strengthen that behavior. Actually, positive reinforcement of any behavior will strengthen that behavior. One of the things you want to remember is not to inadvertently reward inappropriate behaviors. That is one of the reasons you should bring the dog inside on a leash. Look at what typically happens when you bring your dog inside unleashed. The dog crashes through the house like a maniac, and what is your response? Often it is to chase after the dog, which then encourages the dog to run and the whole thing becomes a big game. Even though you are not deliberately reinforcing this wild behavior, the dog is thinking, “Wow, they let me in the house and then they chased me all over the place. This is fun!”
If the dog cannot be calm in the house, or gets excited after a calm period and you cannot calm her back down, simply take her outside or put her in her crate.
As soon as possible, teach the dog some simple obedience com- mands and add these commands to the tour you give the dog whenever she enters the house. Obedience is very important and can be useful when dealing with this behavior problem. In fact, over time, using the “stay” and “down” commands, you will be able to teach your dog to go to a specific spot in a room and lie down. This can really come in handy if you want your dog to be well mannered in the house.
As soon as the dog knows some obedience commands, you can use these commands when your dog becomes disruptive. Calmly tell the dog “no” and give the dog a series of obedience commands to get her back under control. Make sure you give the dog plenty of praise for responding correctly to any obedience command. Simply put, getting better control of the dog, giving the dog exercise and teaching the dog to come in calmly by walking the dog through the house on a leash and head collar will enable you to address unruly house behavior.
Unruliness at home is a relatively simple problem, but if untreated, owners often experience a snowball effect. Here is a story I have heard more than once: “I have a dog I would love to bring into the house, but I don’t because the dog misbehaves. So I leave the dog out in the back- yard, and when I go out to greet the dog she jumps all over me because she doesn’t see me all that often. This makes me not want to spend as much time with the dog, which makes the dog crazier.”
The problem here is that after six months of this, the dog is spend- ing 231⁄2 out of 24 hours each day out in the backyard. Dogs are social animals, just like people. This means that when left to their own devices, dogs will instinctively look for others of their own kind and establish some sort of a social bond. Dogs are not comfortable being outcasts and being by themselves all the time. This means your dog needs companionship in order to remain emotionally stable. Yet, because the dog misbehaves and her owners lack the knowledge to modify the unwanted behavior, the dog doesn’t get the social contact she needs for proper development. Some dogs, in circumstances like this, jump fences. Other dogs bark excessively. Still other dogs dig, chew or engage in separation anxiety behavior. This is why many dogs end up homeless and in shelters.
Now, I am not saying that you have to teach the dog to come in calmly or you are going to have a separation anxiety problem. Just understand the correlation here and make sure you teach your dog proper behavior so that she can get the social contact she needs to remain happy and emotionally stable.
BEGGING FOOD FROM THE TABLE
To solve this problem, you need to show the dog what you would like her to do during your meals. The simplest way to do that is to establish a spot near the dining area that your dog learns to like going to. Since the spot will not be at the table, it will not be possible for your dog to beg and be in her spot at the same time.
The key is for your dog to learn to love being in this spot. This will take a little time but is well worth the effort. To accomplish this, make it a point to take your dog to this spot five or six times a day. Once there, safely leash the dog and give her a special toy to play with. Praise her when she chews it and remains calm in the spot. For the first week don’t have the dog in the spot during meals, leave her in the backyard. During the second week, sit at the table along with the rest of the family while she is in her spot so that she gets used to this, but still avoid having her there during meals. If you do this correctly and consistently, by the third week, your dog will be comfortable lying qui- etly in her spot while the family sits at the table. At this point, you can start to have her in her spot during meals. Remember to keep the whole experience positive.
Even after several weeks, some dogs will whine or bark when leashed during meals. To eliminate this, start off by ignoring the behav- ior. Many dogs will stop if they don’t receive ANY response on the part of the owners. This is easier said than done. If the dog persists after 15 minutes, calmly get up and with as little interaction as possible (no talking!), take the dog outside, go back and finish your meal. The dog will quickly learn that excessive barking will not be rewarded with attention or food. Although it can be a bit grating, most owners capa- ble of ignoring barking for a week or so will see a marked decrease in the barking behavior. However, some dogs won’t stop unless they are put outside. If the dog barks outside, ignore the behavior.
Remember, as with all problems, consistency, patience, and proper technique are essential. Do this and you will be successful.
STEALING FOOD FROM COUNTERS
This is a very common problem. Jumping on counters, especially to steal food, can be dangerous to your dog. There is no guarantee that the dog won’t jump up on the counter and get uncooked chicken, lamb, pork or some sort of meat with bones that, if ingested, could cause medical problems. Additionally, most dogs will be far less inclined to want to eat their dog food if they’ve had the taste of forbidden fruits such as lasagna, ribs, T-bone steak or barbecued chicken. So it is best to teach the dog not to jump up on counters.
First, like every behavior, consistent training is critical to success- fully modifying it. I have seen hundreds of dog owners standing by the counter preparing something to eat, then casually take a piece of food off the counter and hand it to the dog. When you do this, you teach your dog that food is on the counter. To be fair, most dogs suspect this anyway, since they can smell it. What many dog owners don’t realize is that when you feed your dog from the counter, you are also teaching her that food for dogs is on the counter.
This problem can be handled by combining several training meth- ods. First, don’t feed the dog from the counter. Second, teach the dog that ignoring food on the counter is a good behavior and one you will reward. Third, learn the art of properly booby-trapping the counters to make sure the dog won’t be able to get the food off the counter when she jumps up. Booby-trapping will teach the dog to associate negative consequences with jumping on the counters. Here is where punishment has a place in training. The simple fact is, dogs, like people, engage in behavior because that behavior is rewarding to them. In the case of stealing food off counters, the 12-ounce T-bone is a pretty good incen- tive to keep jumping. Especially after the dog gets the steak a few times.
Many owners and a few trainers try to solve the problem by cor- recting the dog when they see the behavior take place. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the problem is most dogs will try a little counter thiev- ery when you are not around. If they succeed, what do they learn? Answer: to grab the T-bone when you are not looking. Not exactly the lesson you want to teach.
Other trainers suggest strict management as the solution. By man- agement, I mean never allowing the dog unsupervised accessibility to the counters, thus, preventing the behavior as opposed to correcting it. The problem here is that, especially when food is involved, dogs will be dogs and never is a very long time. Inevitably I get the call from a shocked owner whose 10-month-old dog ate a complete rib roast. “She’s never done this before,” they say. My question is usually, “Has she ever had the chance?” Often, the answer is “no.” The bottom line is that management is an important tool in preventing this behavior, but it is not the only tool. I recommend a three-pronged approach (kind of like a fork) in dealing with this problem.
- As I’ve already said, never ever feed the dog from the counters.
- For at least four months, the dog should never have unsupervised access to the counters. This means a spot similar to the one you used when dining must be created for the dog. For the first two months, the dog should be in her spot if you are preparing food. During months three and four, periodically allow the dog to come by the counters when you are there preparing food. The dog should always be on a leash and head collar at these times. If the dog begins to jump on the counter, instantly say “no” and pull the dog away from the counter. Immediately put the dog back in her spot and don’t give her another opportunity to engage in this behavior for at least a week.
Consider whining, staring and begging (with pleading, starv- ing eyes) to be unacceptable behaviors around the counters. If this occurs, swiftly say “no.” If the dog stops after three seconds, briefly praise and go back to preparing the food. If the behavior occurs again, put her back in her spot. Additionally, make it a point to walk her by the counters on leash four or five times a day when food is out, consistently praising her for no jumping and no begging. If you do this consistently, you will find that after four months your dog ignores food on the counters—or does she?
- After four months, give the dog an opportunity to steal food if she chooses. However, this opportunity will be a setup. This is where booby-trapping comes in.
For example, put that T-bone on the counter and then booby- trap the counter with a motion-sensitive sound alarm. Let the dog in the kitchen and then walk out of the room. If the dog jumps up on the counter and attempts to grab the food, the alarm will sound. Remember to put the food far enough back on the counter so the dog can’t get it. When the alarm sounds, get in there and tell the dog “no.” Then immediately take the dog on leash over to the counter and praise her for not jumping. It is important the dog understand the behavior she is being corrected for is jumping on the counter, not walking near it.
Some dogs will not be deterred by the sound of the alarm. For these dogs, I recommend the Radio Systems Scat Mat and a sound alarm. The Scat Mat is a flat plastic mat that emits a very low electrical charge when touched. It feels like a static shock and is not dangerous to pets or people. The mat should be placed on the counter with the food placed back far enough on the mat that the dog will not be able to reach the food without receiving sev- eral seconds’ worth of this static shock. There is almost no dog who will do this to get the food.
Additionally, the sound alarm will go off, which is your cue to get in there and tell the dog “no.” Then, as noted above, imme- diately take the dog on leash over to the counter and praise her for not jumping.
Remember, consistency is extremely critical in shaping all behav- iors, especially here, because any time the dog is able to jump up, get the food and get away with it, she is getting a very special reward for this behavior. That means access really must be prevented from areas where there might be food left out until the dog has been fully trained, specifically set up and tested.
JUMPING ON FURNITURE
Like stealing from the counters, jumping on furniture is a common problem. The solution is very similar to the counter-stealing challenge. This problem can be handled by combining three training methods: consistency, counterconditioning and correction.
- First, consistency. The dog must not ever be allowed to jump on the furniture. It can’t be OK some times but not others. This also means the dog cannot have unsupervised access to the furniture for a period of at least four months.
- Second, counterconditioning. Start off teaching the dog to go to her spot whenever you are sitting on the furniture. This means making a spot that is comfortable and positive for the dog. Use a blanket or even a doggie bed and give your dog special treats or toys at the spot. For the first two months, the dog should be leashed to the spot to prevent her from wandering. Remember, make the spot comfortable and positive. This is where the dog goes every time you sit on the furniture. In addition to teaching the dog to associate positive things with being in her spot, it also teaches her to associate positive things with not jumping on the furniture.
- During the third and fourth months, reinforce the idea that good things happen when she’s not on the furniture by taking the dog over to the furniture on a leash and head collar and praising her when she walks by it without jumping. If she does jump, say “no” and gently guide her away using the leash. Then take her back to the furniture and praise her for not jumping. Do this specific exer- cise six or seven times every day for at least two months. I know it’s a lot of work, but believe me, it’s a lot less work than having to replace your furniture. After four months of consistent training, apply the art of booby-trapping just to make sure the dog really gets the lesson. Booby-trapping will teach the dog to associate negative things with jumping on furniture.
Starting at the beginning of month five, give the dog an opportu- nity to jump on the furniture if she chooses. However, this opportunity will be a setup. This is where booby-trapping comes in.
Most people have more than one piece of furniture in a room. It’s not always practical to booby-trap each piece, so I recommend putting boxes on the furniture that’s not booby-trapped during the setup. This way, the only piece of furniture the dog can jump on will be the booby- trapped one. You can always switch the boxes around and give the dog an opportunity to jump on different pieces of booby-trapped furniture on different days.
To properly booby-trap, set a motion-sensitive sound alarm near the furniture in a way that will trigger the alarm when the dog jumps up on it. This is an important point. The alarm should not be positioned so that it goes off when the dog goes near the furniture. You’re looking to correct jumping on the furniture, not walking by it. Put your dog outside or in another part of the house and test the alarm yourself. Does it go off when you sit on the couch? If yes, it’s probably set correctly. When you’re sure the alarm is set correctly, let the dog in and then walk out of the room. If the dog jumps up on the furniture, the alarm will sound loudly. When it does, get in there and tell the dog “no.” Then immediately take the dog on leash over to the furniture and praise her for not jumping. This may sound strange, but it’s important to show the dog the difference between jumping on the furniture, which is bad,
and not jumping, which is good. As I noted in the section on stealing food from the counter, some dogs will not be deterred by the sound of the alarm. For these dogs, I recommend the Radio Systems Scat Mat and a sound alarm. The Scat Mat is a flat plastic mat that emits a very low electrical charge when touched. It feels like a static shock and is not dangerous to pets or people. Place the mat on the furniture. When the dog jumps up, she will get a harmless but unpleasant zap. Dogs will look to avoid this zap by not jumping, much the way you’d avoid shaking someone’s hand after walking across a shaggy carpet in loafers. Harmless, but unpleasant. Additionally, the sound alarm will go off, which is your cue to get in there and tell the dog “no.” Then as I’ve already noted, immediately take the dog on leash over to the furniture and praise her for not jumping.
My own dog, the world’s cutest Basset Hound, was a rescue whom I obtained at 10 months of age. This dog loved to be up on the couch. He had obviously learned this before I adopted him. Part of my solu- tion was to get him his own bed. I then took him to this bed and pro- ceeded to praise, feed, dance, laugh and generally make all his experiences on the bed very positive. This, coupled with a little cre- ative booby-trapping, taught the dog in five months to stay off my couches. Five years later, he still doesn’t go on them. He is so well trained that once, when I was on vacation, my pet sitter said she was concerned my dog might have a physical problem. I asked why and she said, “I spent three days trying to get him to jump up and sit with me on the couch. It’s not that high a jump and he wouldn’t even try. I thought maybe there was something wrong with his hips.” I laughed and explained to her what a good boy he was. Everyone reading this book can have the same response from their dogs.
Many owners and a few dog trainers try to solve the furniture jumping problem by correcting the dog when they see the behavior take place. The problem with that is, most dogs will switch to jumping up when you are not around. If they succeed, they simply learn to take a nap on your chair when you’re not there.
Other trainers suggest strict management as the solution. By man- agement, I mean never allowing the dog unsupervised access to the fur- niture, thus, preventing the behavior as opposed to correcting it. Unlike the stealing food challenge, strict management might work in this case— but it might not. Booby-trapping will certainly let you know whether management did the trick. If you booby-trap the furniture and the dog never jumps up on it, then after a few months you can consider the prob- lem solved. If management by itself didn’t completely curb your dog’s couch potato urges, I can assure you a few booby-trap experiences will.
Remember, consistency is extremely critical, as are patience and understanding.
There are many reasons dogs bark and bark excessively. The word “excessively” is important, because a little barking is normal. Dogs bark to express themselves verbally, and they are entitled to a little verbal expression. However, barking that is triggered by the slightest provo- cation and/or goes on for more than a few seconds can be a problem.
Excessive barking is a tough problem to address in a book like this, because sometimes barking is a sign of aggressive behavior. This can be a very serious problem, as anyone facing a dominant 120-pound Rottweiler whose only desire is to make a meal of your leg can attest. Because of the risk, I am only going to cover the simpler and less dan- gerous types of barking in this book. If you have any suspicions that your dog may be aggressive, seek out a professional trainer for advice. I am a professional trainer, but a local pro will need to come out and observe you, your family and your dog to get the specific information needed to make a proper diagnosis and assist you.
That said, to address any barking problem, it is important to first know why your dog is barking because solutions vary based on what is motivating the dog to bark. Let’s look at three types of barking and ways to address them:
- Excited play alert barking
- Learned barking
- Boredom barking
Excited Play Alert Barking
This barking is usually directed at things the dog sees but can’t get to. These things may include other dogs, people, a ball, squirrels or other small animals such as cats. Most puppies begin exhibiting this type of barking by four and half months of age. The barking dog’s demeanor is playful and excited. Look at the dog’s body language. Body posture often includes play bowing or bouncing around. Play bowing is when the dog puts her head toward the ground and sticks her bottom in the air. It’s a cute, wiggly, bouncy kind of posture—the dog looks like she’s playing. You do not have to be an expert to recognize this. Facial features are generally relaxed, with ears held loose. Her tail may be wagging, but not stiffly. The hackles on her back are not up. While she’s bouncing around, she’s also barking. It is cute, but after a while the barking can be a little dif- ficult to endure. Neighbors may agree.
To deal with this type of barking, you need to take a couple of steps. First, most dogs won’t bark unless they become really excited. So, for a period of three or four months, try to avoid deliberately get- ting your dog so wound up that she spends the next 20 minutes bark- ing and bouncing around. This doesn’t mean you can’t play with the dog. It simply means don’t get her completely worked up. When play- ing, if she does become overly excited, stop the game for a few min- utes until she calms down and stops barking.
The dog should also learn to engage in an alternative behavior when confronted with the types of things that stimulate this barking. For example, if she really gets excited, refocus her attention on a favorite toy.
It is really critical to focus on teaching your dog to listen to you, first without distractions and then with distractions. Teaching her to lis- ten to you around the types of things that may stimulate her barking will be very helpful in enabling you to attain enough control to elimi- nate this behavior. Remember to enthusiastically praise acceptable nonbarking focused behavior whenever it occurs, especially around distractions. If a dog barks when she sees squirrels and her owner patiently and persistently works the dog in obedience exercises while around squirrels, praising all nonbarking behavior, over time this dog will learn to watch her owner and not bark, even around squirrels.
This type of motivational technique is desirable when working with excited play alert barking. Physically punishing a dog for play alert barking may initially suppress the barking, but you run the risk of the dog developing negative associations to whatever she was barking at, increasing the likelihood of a future aggression problem. That being said, I will go on record that sometimes it may be necessary to admin- ister a correction for excessive play barking. The correction should only be administered after a “quiet” command (so it is really a correc- tion for not following your command), and should always be followed by rewards such as praise, petting, food treats and toys once the dog is silent for at least two seconds. These rewards for silence after a cor- rection are important to prevent the dog from developing negative associations with the thing she was barking at. A dog who barks at chil- dren riding bicycles may begin to dislike children if she associates cor- rections with children.
Corrections may include a gentle yank on the leash and head col- lar. The most important criteria for choosing a correction is that it must be effective in just one or two applications and it must not stress or frighten the dog, only stop the barking. Using a gentle yank on the leash as an example, a complete training scenario might sound like this:
After three months of teaching his dog to listen and focus when there is little or nothing going on around them, Mr. Smith takes his dog to a quiet street where squirrels are frequently seen both on the ground and in the trees. Mr. Smith’s dog, a seven-month-old Labrador Retriever puppy named Cole, loves squirrels and would happily spend his life barking at them. Mr. Smith works Cole for a few minutes to get his focus before going to the squirrel street. Once there, Cole sees the squirrels and starts barking. Mr. Smith tells Cole “quiet,” waits two long seconds, and when Cole does not respond he gently tugs Cole’s leash, causing Cole to focus on Mr. Smith. The head collar is very effective for this type of training. Mr. Smith does not hurt Cole, and his objective when tugging the leash is not to cause pain, but to temporar- ily shift Cole’s focus from the squirrels to him. After Cole looks at Mr. Smith for two seconds, Mr. Smith praises and rewards Cole for his nonbarking, focused behavior. This keeps Cole focused on his owner for an additional 10 seconds, before Cole forgets himself and starts barking at the squirrels again. When this occurs, Mr. Smith repeats the entire sequence. Mr. Smith does this at least three times a week for two to four months. If he keeps it up, he will be able to take Cole anywhere without excessive barking.
While this behavior can take a while to control, it is certainly work- able. Other things worth mentioning: If you encourage your dog to chase cats or any small animals, stop now. You should also be careful not to praise your dog in an attempt to calm her down. The only time praise should be given is when the dog is not barking.
Generally if a behavior is successful, it will likely occur again. In most cases of excessive barking, there will be some learned behavior regard- less of whether the initial motivation for barking was excited play barking, boredom or something else. The most common examples of learned barking include barking at the owner or other people for atten- tion, barking at the door to be let in or out, barking at a ball or toy so the owner will throw it, and barking at an owner or a cabinet for food. Often, owners will reward the exact behavior they wish to prevent. For example, the dog barks to be let in or out and you let the dog in or out. The dog barks to be petted and you pet the dog. You’re by the cabinet that contains the dog treats when your dog barks and you say some- thing like, “She’s so smart. She knows where the food is,” and then give the dog a treat. In situations like these, it’s easy to see why some dogs learn to bark: It gets them what they want.
Sometimes not just dog owners, but also family and friends reward unacceptable barking behavior. This further stimulates the barking prob- lem. To eliminate this type of behavior, several things need to happen.
First, owners must identify all circumstances in which the dog barks and honestly assess whether they or others are rewarding the barking. Once you’ve identified how and when you’re encouraging the dog to bark, stop rewarding this behavior.
Two, immediately start an obedience program with your dog. The goal is to get your dog to obey basic commands such as sit, sit-stay, come, down, down-stay, loose leash walking or heeling without dis- tractions, and eventually around distractions. This can take four to six months, sometimes even longer. It is critical for success. Also included in the list of basic commands is no.
Three, look to teach alternative appropriate behaviors (instead of barking) that the dog can be rewarded for. This will not always be pos- sible, but certainly it can be accomplished in most cases. For example, if your dog barks to be let in or out, consider installing a doggie door or consider teaching the dog to come and lie at your feet whenever she has to go out. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Of course, the dog needs to know how to come and lie down, which is why obedience is so important.
Assuming your dog understands these commands, how would you teach a dog to come and lie down, as opposed to barking, when she has to go outside? The answer: Every time she barks to be let out, tell her “no.” If necessary, consistently put her on a leash and head collar. This way you can give her a gentle tug if the “no” isn’t enough to stop her from barking. The instant she is quiet, tell her “good girl” and then have her come and lie down by you. As soon as she does this, praise and take her outside. Do this every single time she has to go out. After three or four months, she will run over to you and lie down when she has to go outside.
This is admittedly a little tougher to teach when she has to come inside. For that challenge, you will need to think of another acceptable behavior. Some dogs scratch on the door with their paw or even ring a little bell. Others simply sit quietly by the door. Whatever behavior you choose, the key is to reward the behavior by letting her in. Also, do not allow anyone else to reward your dog for any type of learned barking. A word of caution regarding ignoring undesirable behavior. Owners must be prepared for an initial increase in barking. The behavior got the desired reaction in the past, so the dog will just turn it up to try to get what she wants now. Behaviorists call this an extinction burst, but I have always just called it irritating. Bottom line, consistency is criti-
cal, so is patience, understanding, and maybe a little more patience.
Some breeds of dogs are more inclined to whine, bark or howl when they are bored. If your dog is barking, howling or whining and a cause cannot be determined, start by taking her to a veterinarian. Sometimes dogs vocalize when they are in pain. Often there may be no external signs of the pain, such as when dogs are suffering from dental disease, urinary tract infections, ear infections and other conditions.
Boredom barking can go on for hours. Solutions include giving the dog more mental and physical stimulation. Since dogs are social ani- mals, obtaining another dog for company or employing a dog walker can be helpful. A proper exercise program and toys such as chew toys, Buster Cubes and other interactive toys, and hunting for hidden food treats are all effective remedies. Corrections are somewhat difficult, since this type of behavior often occurs when no one is around. Sometimes a recording of your and your family’s voices may be played for additional stimulation.
As I’ve already mentioned, barking needs to be dealt with cau- tiously because it is often a precursor to aggressive behavior. Owners are advised to be careful and take the time to properly identify why their dog is barking before attempting to treat it. If you are unsure, con- tact a professional. As with all problems, owners need to remember that solutions do not occur overnight and that practice, patience and consistency are the formula for good results.