10 Crazy Dog Behaviors - Explained

Help your shy pup feel comfortableHelp your shy pup feel comfortableTackling reader questions about barking, biting, digging, and more, dog trainer Kathy Santo helps you to understand what's behind your dog's behavior problems - and explains how you can address it.

Help Your Shy Pup Feel Comfortable

Q: We recently got a four-month-old Havanese puppy from a pet store who is very scared of people, especially my husband. She barks at him and pulls away when anyone on the street stops to pet her. How can I help her become comfortable with new people and situations?

A: For fearful dogs, I usually try a technique called counter-conditioning that involves, in your case, having the person she's afraid of always arrive bearing gifts - usually in the form of special food such as cut-up chicken breast or a piece of cheese. Initially your husband may have to throw the treat near your dog and gradually work up to handing it to her. Remember Pavlov's dog? In the end, as a result of this technique, your dog will associate the person with something positive (food) and will begin to show an appetitive response rather than a fearful one.

However, if the fear is so great that the dog is unable to eat or focus on anything but the fear, then we have to do something called systemic desensitization. This process employs the counter-conditioning techniques that I mentioned, but it moves a lot slower, exposing the dog to the fear-inducing stimulus gradually. Begin with your husband standing far away without making eye contact with your dog. Reward her, and praise for correct, calm behavior. Only when she's totally relaxed in the presence of whatever causes her fear can you move to the next step, which is incrementally reducing her distance from the fear-inducing stimulus. Remember, you must proceed slowly in order for this process to work, but if you're patient and read her responses correctly, you will have success.

In the meantime, make sure you're not contributing to the problem. Owners who comfort their fearful dogs with "It's okay, sweetie, it's okay" are actually sending the wrong message. This happy, reinforcing tone is translated as praise for their fearfulness. Instead, say nothing so as not to encourage her timid behavior. Also, consider a small puppy kindergarten class for the dog - it will help her adjust to people and other dogs, as well as learn important obedience skills.

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Preparing Your Dog for Guests

Q: When anyone comes to the door, our dog starts barking and runs away when I try to remove her from the room - very embarrassing for our guests! What can I do?

A: For the embarrassing, but not unusual, issue of barking at arriving guests, try this approach. Work on good "sit" and "stay" commands and keep a leash by the front door. Use the leash to enforce a new rule: Never open the door without the dog being on a leash. When she's leashed, you can control the situation if she chooses to ignore your commands. In addition to these suggestions, find a small obedience class where she can become better socialized with other dogs and not behave as aggressively.

How to Housebreak Your Puppy Housebreak your puppy

Q: My puppy has "accidents" in the same exact spot in my house. What can I do to prevent her from using the tile hallway as her personal Port-O-Let?

A: Don't allow her out of your sight. I know, easier said than done, but if you put her on leash and attach it to your belt buckle, you'll definitely notice the cues she gives when she needs to go out - sniffing and circling are the most obvious. If you can't always watch your puppy during the housebreaking phase, and it is a phase, I promise, then she should be put in her crate or other small confined area after you've walked her. Most puppies won't soil their living quarters, so if she needs to relieve herself, she'll let you know by barking, scratching, whining. You may think that since your puppy was outside an hour ago, she can't possibly need to go out again, but if she's sniffing and circling, take her out right away. Never, never punish a puppy for having an accident in the house. The blame rests solely on the shoulders of the human in the house who failed to monitor her properly. Now for the importance of cleaning up well. If your puppy smells even a hint of her previous transgression, she'll interpret it to mean that she's found the indoor bathroom. Use a nontoxic cleaner specifically designed to eliminate odors caused by pets. Or try the old standby of first cleaning with soap and water, and then using a mixture of 25% white vinegar and 75% water as an overspray to mask any lingering odors.

Related: How to Prepare for a Pupppy

Why Dog Breeds Act Against Type

Q: Why is my breed acting against type? Like, they told me he'd be mild and docile - but he totally isn't! What can I do?

A: Stereotyping a breed is akin to stereotyping people: "Which type of child is least fussy at bedtime?" Puppies are naturally curious and have boundless amounts of energy. You say destruction, they say entertainment. They need supervision, attention, and training to become well-mannered dogs. Even some dogs acquired as adults, whether from breeders or shelters, will suddenly get the urge to redesign that upholstered furniture. Most puppies or adult dogs who exhibit destructive behavior do so because they're bored, overtired, or under-exercised. Giving them appropriate toys, teaching them what not to chew, and making sure they get enough sleep and exercise will reduce your chances of finding a pile of sawdust where your kitchen chair was. Dog ownership has good days and days when you ask "Why?" but the joy, companionship, and unconditional love that dogs give make it all worth it.

Stop your dog's incessant barkingStop Your Dog's Incessant Barking

Q: My three-and-a-half-year-old cocker spaniel barks nonstop when people come over to our house. She recently recovered from autoimmune hemolytic anemia and has since become extremely protective of my husband and me. The dog has never bitten anyone, but with the tone of her bark, I'm afraid she may someday - my worst nightmare. Would it help to socialize her, or is she too old?

A: Socializing her will definitely help, but I feel you should have a professional consultation. Choose someone like a behavior modification specialist, who can diagnose her as aggressive, fearful, or just very vocal. Once that is established, a behavioral modification plan can be put into action to treat this issue once and for all.

Ending Submissive Urination

Q: I have a one-year-old female rottweiler/German shepherd mix who pees when she meets new people. I've consulted a veterinarian and she has given some suggestions - asking people to ignore the puppy when they come in and not using a high-pitched voice to greet her. Unfortunately none of these ideas have worked. Do you think she'll grow out of this behavior?

A: Submissive urination is a common problem in dogs and is normally outgrown. In addition to what you're already doing, these suggestions will help.

Counter-condition your dog to respond differently to new people. Whether it's at home or on the street, when you see her notice a new person (even before they've come up to you), tell her to "sit" and give her a special treat. After a while, when the dog sees a new person, she'll sit on her own and look to you for a reward, instead of peeing.

The people who meet your dog should be asked not to make direct eye contact with her, and if they speak to her, make sure they use a quiet, calm voice. They should never reach out to touch her - if she wants to be petted, she'll go to them.

If you think your puppy is a low-confidence dog, find a local dog club and enroll her in a beginner obedience/agility course. Her confidence will grow as she masters commands and obstacles, and she'll enjoy working with you while she gets more experience with new people.

Continue working with your vet on this issue. She can monitor your dog's progress to be sure she doesn't have a bladder infection or another condition that might cause this behavior.

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Getting your dog to love her bedGetting your dog to love her bedGetting Your Dog to Love Her Bed

Q: My dog has a big bed in the kitchen. Instead of using it, she lies under the glass-top coffee table when we watch TV or under the desk when I work. The table is full of fur and nose prints, and my legs cramp up because there's no place to put them. How can I make her love her bed?

A: Your dog is giving you lessons in Canine Behavior 101. First lesson: most dogs retain a den instinct from their ancestors. Simply put, it means that they derive comfort and security from being in a place that approximates a den. A big dog bed in the middle of the kitchen doesn't meet that criterion. A close-fitting, cavelike location does, hence her preference for the coffee table and computer desk. She also wants your companionship, which is your second lesson - dogs want to be with their pack. Consider buying her two inexpensive airline crates; remove the doors, put in soft blankets, and place them in the rooms that she prefers. You'll meet both her needs at the same time - to be in an enclosed area and to be with you and the family.

Related: Annoying Pet Problems, Solved

Stop Dog Nipping

Q: We have a three-year-old Great Dane who is wonderful in every way except for his habit of nipping people he doesn't like at our home, office, or camper. He has always been somewhat protective, especially of me. However, in the last few weeks he has been nipping progressively harder and actually drew blood - twice! Once he bit an acquaintance of ours who was walking down our back lawn toward us. The other was an older woman at our front door, whom he had only met once. Our vet, who said our dog was "dominant/territorially aggressive," prescribed a low-protein diet and a hormone called Ovaban. I have two questions: Have you ever heard of this treatment to prevent dogs from biting? Do you have any behavior-modification methods we could try instead of or in addition to the hormone treatment?

A: Yes, I've seen the use of pharmacologicals and a lower-protein diet used for treatment of aggression, in conjunction with a behavior-modification and dominance-management program (especially for aggression that is deemed territorial). Drugs alone won't solve this problem - a behavior-modification program must be set in motion, too.

In regard to your second question, I do have behavior-modification methods that would be in addition to, not instead of, the treatment prescribed by your vet. Since he's your vet, and has seen the dog in person, he has a better handle on how to approach this medically. Behavior modification is in order here, but you really need to find a behaviorist to diagnose what the specific problem is. The only way that can be done is with a face-to-face consultation. However, I'll give you my "theoretical" diagnosis and plan.

For a dominant dog, I would immediately instill a "no work, no reward" program. The dog would learn to recognize that I am in control of everything in his life - feeding, playing, walking, etc. - and that those things come with a price attached, whether it is a "sit" or "down." Refusal to obey a command results in no payoff. If your dog doesn't know commands, now is the time to start teaching him! My book, Kathy Santo's Dog Sense, will help you do that.

I would also have him drag a leash around when you are supervising him, so if he loses control and gets dominant and/or aggressive, you can control him.

Next, no more eye-level encounters. That is to say that there will be no jumping up allowed - not on couches, people, beds, nada. Dominant dogs that are at your eye line feel much more powerful and, subsequently, dominant.

This is a good way to get you started, but you have a long road ahead of you. Finding a good behaviorist in your area is key!

What do dogs do when you're not around?What do dogs do when you're not around?What Dogs Do When You're Not Around

Q: What does my dog do all day when I'm not home?

A: The majority of dogs treat your leaving the house as a ritual. They don't do the torturous emotional flogging we humans fall into: "Oh, no, is she still mad about the shoe incident?" Dogs live in the moment. You leave, they sigh, they assess what's available to meet their needs, they get bored, they sleep (hence the energetic, enthusiastic greeting you receive when you come home). You'll notice, however, that I said "most" dogs. There are a small percentage who have separation anxiety, destructive tendencies, and/or incredible energy. These dogs don't do well when left alone for long periods, and if you have one, I'm guessing you already know what they do when you're out, because you've had to replace the bedroom carpet and the kitchen baseboards (twice). If your dog has separation anxiety and/or destructive tendencies, find a dog behaviorist who can solve the problem. If he has high energy, invest in a dog walker or doggie day care to give him the play outlet that he needs. Remember, his needs are his needs. If you don't give him a channel for his energy, he'll find a way to meet his needs that I promise will be something you'd prefer not to have happen.

Related: 15 More Wacky Canine Questions Answered

Training Your Dog to Stay Off Your Bed

Q: I want to train my dog to stay off my bed, but he keeps jumping back on. Usually at 5 a.m.! Why does he do this?

A: Because he can. Most dogs who jump on the bed while you're sleeping have been allowed to do so at other points during the day, either because of your inconsistency ("The dog is on the bed again, but I'm late for work"), familial sabotage ("Daddy's away on a business trip, so you can sleep here until he comes home"), or by design ("I just want to snuggle with my puppy for a while"). You will have to first train him to not jump on the bed at any time - day or night. Confining him to a crate or another room works well, but watch out: dogs consider a sofa to be the next best thing to a human's bed. Provide a dog bed or blanket that fills his need for a comfortable night's sleep. If his issue is that he misses your companionship, give him a few extra-special "good night" toys to distract him from loneliness. The final step is teaching your dog where he should sleep at night. When you remove a behavior from your dog's repertoire - whether it's digging, barking, or jumping on the bed - you're creating a hole in his routine. If you don't fill the hole with something you want him to do, he'll replace it with something equally entertaining. To him. So if you only teach him not to jump on your bed at night, he may decide to hop up on someone else's bed. Worse, he may become restless and decide to take up chewing as his newest hobby. Prevention is the key here.

- by Kathy Santo

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