Common Behavior Problems and Solutions
Many of the dogs that come into foster programs will have one or more of the following common behavior problems. In fact, the previous owner's inability to deal with these problems may have led to the dog's surrender. Your foster dog will become more adoptable if you work diligently to correct these behaviors:
Also see: Training Concepts
The Ten Day Rule, or the "Honeymoon Period"
It's a good idea to keep a foster dog for at least two weeks to truly evaluate his temperament (as well as to make sure he isn't harboring any illnesses). It is not unusual for a new dog to be very quiet and timid at first. Don't be surprised if new behavior problems crop up after about 10-14 days. This is actually a welcome sign, because it means that the dog is beginning to feel relaxed and letting his true personality show. Try to withhold judgements of the dog's temperament until this initial period has passed.
- Rule out medical problems (intestinal problems, bladder infections, etc.)
- Supervise the dog constantly. Don't let him out of sight. (Use doors, gates or leash)
- Confine the dog whenever he can't be supervised (use a crate)
- Reward correct behavior: Give praise and treats when he does it right
- Feed on a set schedule. Don't just leave food in his bowl all day.
- Remove water several hours before bedtime
- Go outside on a schedule. Do not rely on the dog to tell you he needs to go.
- Go out frequently to figure out his schedule. Gradually eliminate unnecessary trips.
- Watch for signs like circling, sniffing, and whining.
- Interrupt the dog if you see him start to go (clap hands, "no, outside!")
- If it's too late, don't punish. The dog probably won't make the connection.
- Clean with enzymatic cleaner to remove odor.
- Neuter the dog
- Keep the dog on a leash tethered to your waist
- Interrupt the dog as he starts to lift his leg
- Crate the dog when you cannot watch him
- Tie a towel or "bellyband" around his waist to catch any leaks
- Spray any marked areas with an enzymatic cleaner
- Supervise the dog constantly
- Confine the dog whenever he can't be supervised (use a crate)
- Use a bitter tasting spray (found at pet supply stores) on inappropriate items
- Puppyproof the house. If you leave your socks on the floor and the dog chews them, whose fault is that?
Dogs bark for different reasons. If the reason is...
- Boredom: Provide exercise and mental stimulation. Teach games like "find it" and provide challenging, food-dispensing toys like buster cubes and kongs.
- Loneliness: Bring the dog into the house with you
- Separation anxiety: Gradually teach the dog to tolerate being alone for longer periods
- To get attention: Ignore the dog. Reward quiet behavior.
- Stress: Ignoring won't work if dog is barking to relieve stress. Refocus the dog with obedience commands (sit, down, watch me, etc.) or move away from the source of stress.
- Guarding the neighborhood: If you can't supervise the dog to correct the behavior, confine him in a quiet area away from windows and doors so he won't be overstimulated by everything going on outside.
- If all else fails, consider a bark collar. Two types: shock and citronella spray. Collar choice depends on dog's temperament. Effectiveness depends on quality of the collar and consistent, correct collar use. Both types are humane and effective if used correctly, but consider the dog's temperament first, and watch for side effects (for example, generalized fear of the place where the collar went off).
- Ignore the dog when it jumps. Instruct every person the dog meets not to reward jumping with *any* attention. Remember, even shouting "no" is a form of attention. No need to kick or knee the dog in the chest; just turn away.
- Train an incompatible behavior: sit or "four on the floor." Dog can't jump and sit (or stand) at the same time.
- Be consistent!
- Teach an incompatible behavior, eg: "wait." Dog must sit (or stand or down or make eye contact with you) before door opens, and must wait to go through the open door until given permission. Start with the leash attached, and practice until you can open the door and the dog doesn't budge.
- Clicker training -- Click and reward (treat) every time the dog is walking beside you with a loose leash
- Be unpredictable -- Abruptly change direction any time the dog stops paying attention to you.
- "Be a tree" -- Don't move forward unless the leash is slack (this has never worked for me, but may work for some)
- "Penalty yards" -- Return to the starting line each time the leash gets tight
- "Walking with a goal" -- Choose a goal that your dog will find rewarding (put some chicken on the ground several feet away, or choose a favorite smelly telephone pole). The dog must keep a loose leash in order to reach the goal.
- Targeting -- Teach the dog to touch your hand for food rewards. He can't pull if he is walking beside you.
- Management -- Use a special collar or harness for short-term management, while also continuing to work on long-term training solutions:
- Gentle Leader headcollar -- Fits around the neck and muzzle, like a horse's halter. Gently and effectively reduces pulling by giving you control of the dog's head. Do not jerk the leash because you could injure the dog's neck. Also make sure you keep the dog on a fairly short lead so that he can't get a running start and hit the end of the lead, twisting his neck. Disadvantages: There is an adjustment period, during which most dogs will try to paw or rub the collar off. Dogs can learn to pull with this type of collar.
- Prong or pinch collar -- Gives immediate, effective control for dogs that object to a headcollar. Some people refer to the pinch collar as "power steering." Collar must be fitted correctly to be effective. Advantage over Gentle Leader is that there is no adjustment period. Some dogs are more sensitive to the pinching sensation than others, so use with caution and consult an experienced trainer for assistance.
- Front-attach harness -- Makes it difficult to pull by putting the attachment point in front of the dog's chest, thus pulling the dog off balance. There are several brands on the market. Very effective if the dog's only issue is pulling. Not a good choice for dogs with other issues (such as lunging and barking at other dogs or people) since you have no control of the dog's head.
- Flexi (retractable lead) -- Most dogs enjoy the extra room to manuever and will trot happily back and forth, rather than running to the end of the lead and continuing to pull. Please practice using your flexi before going out in public. In inexperienced hands, dogs on retractable leashes can be a nuisance or even a hazard. Read the instructions that came with your flexi and practice using the brake and retracting the lead in a quick, fluid motion.
- Management -- Make sure the yard is secure. Keep the dog on leash when outside.
- Neutering -- This can reduce the tendency of a dog to roam, but will take some time to have an effect. Don't expect this to completely cure the problem because running away is already an established behavior.
- Practice recalls -- Start with the dog very close (in the house, on leash, or in a fenced area) and reward the dog every time it comes to you. Gradually increase the distance.
- Choose a special recall cue and make sure the dog is always rewarded for responding to the cue.
- Never call the dog for something unpleasant, like getting a bath.
- Don't call unless you are reasonably sure the dog will respond, or are in a position to enforce the command (dog is on a long line). Don't give him the option of not coming until he is reliably responding to the cue in training sessions. Otherwise, you are just teaching the dog to ignore your recall cue.
- Don't repeat your cue. If the dog fails to come on the first cue, go and get him.
- Do lots of repetitions until the dog responds without hesitation, regardless of distance and distractions.
- Remote training collar or e-collar -- This is a very effective tool to gain off leash control if used under the guidance of an experience trainer. For consistent performance, stick with quality brands (Dogtra, Tritronics). Use the lowest level that your dog can perceive. In general, commands should first be taught via another method (clicker & treats, leash & collar) and only then reinforced with the collar. Remember that the dog must first be taught what the sensation from the collar means and how he can stop the stimulation by complying with your command. The dog should be on a long line to begin this training.
If your "training plan" consists of strapping on a collar, letting the dog run free, and pushing buttons until the dog magically returns to you, PLEASE do not even consider using an ecollar.
Consult with a trainer for help if your dog...
- Bites or snaps
- Growls or snarls when being handled
- Guards food or toys
- Exhibits any other behavior that would make you afraid to have the dog around other people or animals