Frequently, when meeting strangers who have dogs at home, the conversation turns to "bad behavior." It goes like this. The person asks, "How do you keep your dog from jumping on people when they come in the door?" Or, "Whenever I leave Fluffy in the house alone she tears something up! How do you stop that?"
I always struggle with my response, because I know the person is looking for an easy "fix." Unfortunately, while I think there might be a fix, it is usually not "easy," and a two-minute conversation is not enough time for me to fully explain things.
Ideally, I would observe the dog in the home while I interviewed the owner. Owners who coddle and pet their anxious, vocal dog are not soothing it; rather, they are reinforcing the dog's bad behavior!
In many cases, the bad behavior of the dog stems from poor leadership and misguided expectations on the part of the owner. Good behavior in the dog often requires a change in the behavior of the humans living with the dog. Who wants to hear that?
There is one time when even a properly raised puppy can develop unwanted behavior, or irritating problems can become huge problems--PUBERTY. Dogs undergo hormonal changes as they sexually mature (from about six months of age onward). During this phase they may "challenge" your authority; it may seem that everything you taught them went in one ear and out the other. (For more on this, click here to read the article, "Adolescent Dogs" by Gina Micciulla.)
When I was in Ohio last month attending my brother Jim's Installation Service, my husband Andy, who had stayed home with the dogs, said to me on the phone, "Guess what Mike did today?"
What now? I asked, hesitantly.
"When I walked him out to 'park' this morning, he lifted his leg against the fence!" At nine-months, FLD Mike was maturing.
Don't let him do that! I warned. I knew I had a job to do when I got home. FLD Mike started "marking" in the house soon after.
A POTTY-TRAINING "REVIEW"
FLD Mike's marking, or the "fixing" of it, is MY responsibility. The second (and so far, the last) time Mike "marked" in the house was after a prolonged play period with my nieces. I wasn't watching him carefully and he peed on the wall upstairs. I had to revert to potty-training like he was eight weeks old again, following my "review" rules:
1. KEEP CLOSE WATCH
- No unsupervised time in the house.
- "Park" on-leash, NEVER near an upright object where he can "mark."
- Stay vigilant on walks, especially when passing trees, fences, bushes, etc.
- Take him out frequently to "park," especially after heavy play or drinking.
3. "CORRECT" when he starts to lift his leg.
It is best to "catch" him when he's sniffing around. The other morning, FLD Mike was sniffing the couch where Gypsy had lain. He sniffed from one direction, turned, and sniffed some more. As he moved his body closer, I yelled, NO! He stopped, moved away, and looked at me as if to say, "What?!" But, he didn't mark, and he hasn't since.
STRATEGIES FOR OTHER BAD BEHAVIORS
(Such as counter surfing, pulling on leash, barking, chewing inappropriate items, etc.)
This approach is to circumvent the behavior. Remember, a tired puppy is a good puppy! An un-neutered male dog has 13 times the testosterone in his body than a neutered male. That means he will need twice as much exercise!
- Obedience exercises. Take five or ten minutes several times a day and have your puppy SIT, DOWN, STAND, STAY, COME, MAT, etc. Whatever commands he or she knows, run through them.
- Long DOWN-STAYS or SETTLES. Your puppy is "working" when he or she is settled near you, waiting for a release or another command.
- For us Future Leader Dog puppy-raisers, that stimulation comes whenever we bring our puppy out in public!
SET THE DOG UP TO "CORRECT" THE SPECIFIC BEHAVIOR
For instance, stage a temptation with a dog that "counter surfs." Put a piece of cheese, or a treat, close to the edge of the counter. With your dog on leash, let him or her sniff at it. Use the LEAVE IT command. Reward the dog when he or she looks at you instead of the temptation. (Note: even though the use of treats in training should have been phased out by this age, it is fine to reintroduce treats as a reward in high distraction situations such as this.)
Practice this exercise frequently. When your dog starts to show disinterest, do the exercise off-leash. This time, drop a cookie sheet, or a can filled with coins, when your dog begins to sniff at the temptation. The idea is similar to potty-training--you want to "catch" your dog JUST as he or she is THINKING about grabbing that tasty treat on the counter. TIMING IS CRUCIAL.
If you are diligent, consistent, and persistent (!) with your adolescent puppy, eventually he or she will sustain all the obedience and good behavior learned from you before the onslaught of hormones. Like Andy reassured me during his children's teen years, "Statistically, they'll make it through this!"
So will you AND your puppy!