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As is my custom, when I find myself teaching clients a particular lesson over and over, I immortalize the lesson in writing. So, here goes ...
Pretty much every dog I train has some sort of behavior "problem." I enclose "problem" in quotation marks because that is what humans call it ... but that's rarely what it actually is. More accurately, the "problem" is just a simple dog behavior, such as chewing, barking, jumping up on people, nipping, whining, etc. Those are "problems" for us, but they are just ... what dogs do.
Nobody promised me a rose garden, but sometimes I wish someone would have. Life has been stressful lately: teenager issues, running a business, multiple projects with tight deadlines, financial obligations -- you know, the same junk you deal with. But when life is stressful, I put on a happy face, work hard and try not to burden others with it.
However, my wife knows me well enough to tell when I am stressed, and she admonishes me to lighten my load, breathe and stop driving like a moron. But you probably won't know I am stressed unless I reveal it to you because I am clever and have a vested interest (which I like to call professionalism) in keeping myself to myself.
Dogs, however, are more honest than I am. They have no interest in being professional.
It does not take long for chewing-obsessed dogs to do a lot of damage. They can turn the legs of wooden furniture into sawdust, ventilate your shoes, make your shag carpet bald and un-upholsterer your furniture. The good news is, destructive chewing usually is easy to stop.
Here are a few tips for dealing with destructive chewing:
This article is not about training your dog to stop chasing your cat (although that may be the topic of a future article). It is about whether you really want to train your dog not to chase your cat.
Clients occasionally ask me how to train their dogs to not chase their cats. The question always sends me into a moment of reverie about my home (zoo, really) ...
As a trainer, I never discourage dogs from barking to alert you someone is at the door. In fact, I think alert-barking is useful because it lets the person at the door know you have a dog (which could be discouraging if an uninvited knocker has ill intentions). However, some dogs become so excited by the doorbell that it is extremely difficult to calm them, much less get them to hold a sit-stay so you can safely let your guests in.
Few things fray the nerves more than a dog that barks incessantly for attention. In fact, constant yapping ranks up there with soiling carpets and dismantling sofas in the amount of frustration it causes owners.
To beat incessant barking, you must be consistent and patient. It may even become necessary to purchase some earplugs. But if you set firm boundaries and insist upon them, your dog will learn that barking no longer accomplishes his goal – your attention.
For tens of thousands of years, humans have bred dogs to accentuate characteristics that are useful for us and eliminate traits we dislike. That is why dogs integrate so easily into our families and are called “man's best friend.” They can help us navigate streets if we cannot see, pick up the phone for us if we cannot reach it, hunt with us, herd our livestock, guard our homes, play sports with us and be loyal friends when we have had a lousy day.
Science regularly sheds light on what we have suspected all along: dogs are brilliant at deciphering our facial expressions, body language and verbal communication. They can follow the point of our finger, which even chimpanzees struggle to do. Sometimes it seems they understand us in an almost human way.
But what does this have to do with training dogs and dealing with behavior issues?
After seeing their dogs make progress during training, clients sometimes confess to me with a sense of relief that they previously thought their dogs were dumb. Typically, they had equated their dogs' behavior problems and lack of responsiveness to obedience commands as deficiencies in their dogs. It is understandable; if a human just stared at you when you told him to sit down, or if he repeatedly peed on your floor despite multiple corrections, you might come to a similar conclusion.
All dogs need an outlet for their energy, and a couple walks per day usually will suffice. However, some dogs seem to have an endless amount of energy, regardless of how much activity and attention you give them. These dogs usually are prone to mischief and require a more thoughtful training and management approach than the average dog. If this sounds like your dog, the solution is right in front of your nose. More accurately, the solution is your dog's nose.
When someone has a very problematic dog, I (the dog trainer) am usually the last person to know. But when I finally do hear about it, I encounter a lot of human frustration: someone at their wits' end because their dog has destroyed an expensive sofa, shredded a mattress, or uninstalled some linoleum; or someone who is feeling angry and betrayed because their dog bit them or a family member.