Bow-Wow Psychology

Proper Petiquette reinforces dog’s good behavior

(Scott Craven, Gannett News Service,  Democrat and Chronicle, 3/24/04)


            Dogs want nothing more than to please, unlikely as that might seem when you come home to find your designer blinds torn from the windows, your designer couch sprouting fluff and your designer shoes stepping squarely in a puddle of, yes, that.

            There are as many methods to teach dogs new tricks as there are ways to get pet stains out of carpeting.  The key is choosing the best method while wasting as little time as possible on those rendered ineffective by a dog’s temperament or an owner’s inconsistency.

”There is no one way to get dogs to do what you want them to do,” says Sam Kabbel, president of Pet Behavior Solution in Mesa, Ariz.  “What works for one may not work for another.”

            Pet behaviorist Andy Luper says most methods use positive reinforcement (reward good behavior), negative reinforcement (punish bad behavior) or a mix of both.  Here are some ideas for two common problems:

            Jumping Dog.  The most common problem, Luper says, is jumping.

            For most dogs, Luper says, you can first try positive reinforcement.  Kneel to be closer to the dog.  Tell him to sit.  Praise him with words and petting.

            Give the dog something else to focus on.  Hand him his favorite toy and encourage him to play.  If the toy doesn’t distract him, get him to sit and lie down.  When he does, give him praise or a treat.

            You may try a knee in the chest as the dog jumps, using punishment as a way to stop the action.  Such negative reinforcement should be used only as a last resort, Luper says, and never on a dog that reacts by biting.

            Kabbel says many owners reinforce the jumping without knowing it.

            “People cuddle their dogs when they jump, then push them off,” Kabbel says.  “The dog remembers the cuddle.”
            If the dog continues to jump, move abruptly toward him as he leaps.  Dogs don’t like their personal space invaded any more than people do, Kabbel says.

            If that has no effect, hold his paws until the dog becomes uncomfortable and wants to escape.  But like the knee trick, that is a last resort and recommended only for dogs that will not take it as a threat.

            Chewing Dog.  Such behavior is among the most difficult and frustrating habits to correct.

            Cynthia Uthoff watched her collection of stuffed toys disappear one at a time, falling victim to three border collies.  Her dogs also would dig up her backyard plants and get into the trash can.

            One of the two reasons is typical behind chewing, Kabbel says.  The dog is bored or, more commonly, is anxious when left alone.

            If the destruction begins shortly after you leave, it’s likely due to separation anxiety.  If it occurs throughout the day, it is likely due to boredom.

            The easiest thing to do is to remove the items or to make them inaccessible.  Uthoff was told to put the stuffed animals out of reach and to fence off the plants.  It worked.

            Of course, such items as a couch, chair or rug would be difficult to remove from the dog’s environment.  You might confine the dog, Kabbel says.

            Some attempt to curb the canine carnage through use of remote negative reinforcement.  They will coat items with bitter apple or install motion detectors that emit a buzz or siren when the dog approaches an off-limits area, Kabbel says.

            A more personal approach to negative reinforcement includes scolding a dog caught in the act, or shaking a can full of coins or pebble. (Note from Suzanne Phillips:  I have used a small handful of coins in a coffee can topped with a plastic lid.  Rather than “shaking” the can, I found that moving it downward abruptly, or giving it just one very firm shake, creates one loud noise.   My dogs paid more attention to the one loud sound than the ongoing sound that occurs when “shaking”.  If they do not respond to the noise, you can toss the can in their direction…DO NOT LET THE CAN HIT THEM…so that it falls nearby.  This usually creates “respect for the can”.  Often it just takes picking up the can to generate their positive behavior.)

                Unpleasant consequences can work in many cases, Kabbel says.  But the most effective solution is to treat the boredom or anxiety rather than the symptoms.

            Activity is boredom’s natural enemy.  Before going to work, exercise your dog with a long walk or a game of fetch.  Do the same when you return home.

            Overcoming separation can take weeks or months.  You must teach the dog to be independent.  It should sleep on the floor, not in your bed.  It should learn to spend more time with a chew toy than dogging your steps.

            The dog should also be accustomed to your departure, Kabbel says.

Pick up your car keys as you would if leaving, but stay inside.  Once the dog relaxes when you pick up the keys, go outside for a few minutes and return.  In the next phase, start the car and drive it around the block.

            In extreme cases, dogs can be given medications, including Prozac, but Kabbel cautions about the use of Pills.

            Luper says the key is to focus on the dog’s self-confidence.  Teach it to be alone.  Give the dog “down” and “stay” commands, then leave the room for up to 15 minutes.

            A dog’s anxiety peaks in the first 15 minutes of separation.”  Luper says.  “If he makes it past that, he will be fine.”


            Notes from Suzanne Phillips:  Years ago, when I had just one dog, he had occasional bouts of separation anxiety.  But, since I have had two or more dogs, that has never occurred.  Having the companionship of another dog appears to be comforting to many dogs when left alone.

Since some breeds will respond to one type of correction, while others will not, you should investigate more information about your dog’s breed(s).  While my Old English Sheep dogs were corrected by a firm shake of “the can”, my Great Pyrenees pay no attention to it.