Are there some behaviors your beloved dog does that drive you mad? Deep down, we know these are normal behaviors. We love our furry little beasties, but how do we learn to deal with their persistent attachment to habits we don’t like? And what are some tips on training to stop them? This is National Pet Peeve Week, so what better time to consider this question?
1. Chew it, chew it, chew it
Dogs enjoy chewing. Puppies are obsessed. Normal behavior for puppies is to explore their world with their mouths, which may not be a problem until they explore and destroy your favorite objects. Also, the dogs will use chewing for self-soothing when they have teething pain.
When my black Poodle, Jasper, was a puppy, I thought I had the house puppy-proofed. I put things where he couldn’t reach them, kept doors closed, did not leave around shoes and socks. But, guess what? The little devil found my one comfortable pair of sandals and made sure they were impossible to wear, chewing off straps. I was not a happy camper. So what to do?
Rule out nutritional issues. Tummy upsets can trigger chewing. A quick trip to the vet can help rule out any physical reasons for the behavior.
Continue to puppy-proof. Put away shoes, socks, children’s toys, anything tempting. Give your dog chew toys. (Avoid using old shoes for toys, as puppies will not know the difference between old and new shoes.)
Block access to certain areas with gates or crates, if you need to leave forbidden items in places they can access. You may have success with taste deterrents like bitter apple. One of the most effective deterrents for many undesirable behaviors is setting up regular playtimes and exercise opportunities. A bored dog will find entertainment any way he can.
2. Can you hear me? Bark bark!
Dogs bark. It’s a fact of life. Our Chihuahua, Sissy, barks at car doors across the street, sounds none of us can hear, a doorbell on television, the door opening. Barking means communication. What is your dog trying to tell you? It’s up to the human to figure out what he is trying to tell you.
Barking dogs could be telling you there is danger, or at least perceived danger. Then again, they might be bored. Pent-up energy can trigger barking just for a release. Or they want to talk. Some breeds naturally communicate more with barks, growls, whines and noises. Jasper and Sissy will bark at any doorbell, including the ones on television and the sound of car doors slamming in the neighborhood. They are telling us someone is coming.
Regular, energetic exercise is as important for your dog as yourself. Schedule interactive playtimes like walking, running, chasing toys and plastic discs, or chasing water from a hose or sprinkler in the summer. If you and your pet look forward to playing, walking and having fun a couple of times a day, you will both have a more interesting day. Remain calm yourself. Agitation on your part can trigger more barking and even trigger a barking contest. Call in the professionals if necessary. Take your buddy to obedience school. Never give up.
3. Hump, hump, hump — it’s normal for a dog!
Another normal behavior we hate to see in our pets is one that many people not only find annoying, but downright unacceptable. When we brought our female dog into our household, our male Poodle was fascinated, and he has tried humping behavior more than once. Sissy wants nothing to do with it. Both dogs are fixed, but humping behavior can be seen with males, females, dogs who are spayed or neutered and even those who are not.
While most owners consider humping to be sexual in nature (and dogs do indulge because it simply feels good), it’s also a way to sort out social rank. This behavior may also be used to relieve tension and even get attention — sometimes the dog wants attention, even if it’s negative. Puppies may also practice mounting one another.What to do?
First, distract and redirect them. Once more, active play, scheduled a couple of times a day, as well as walks and runs, will help steer the dog toward acceptable behavior. Introduce a toy as a distraction, or a pillow or other object. Puzzles with food inside will keep them busy. If the dog has decided you are his object, get up and move and walk away. Lots of exercise and a strict schedule can help. For some dogs, give them privacy a couple of times a day to hump their favorite object. Luckily, a firm no works for Jasper, plus a growl from Sissy.
4. Digging to China
Your yard is now a moonscape. Why? Because your guard dog, companion, and best friend is bored. Or he wants to hide food, find a bone, or smell an animal; or he sees you gardening and wants to mimic the same digging behavior. Possibly he doesn’t have enough outdoor toys.
The Bloodhounds behind our house used to dig and chew through the bottom of the back fence. I think Sparky the hound was bored and lonely and just wanted to come visit Jasper. It took more than one escape into my yard and visits to our neighbor to get measures in place on their side of the fence.
If your dog spends a lot of its time outside, observe her behavior. She could be digging to find a cool spot in the summer. Provide a dog house, fresh water and shaded areas. Redirect the dog’s energy with active play, balls and discs. Regular walks help channel desires in a better direction; puzzle-type toys with treats inside can keep a digger busy for a long time. Remember, attention and affection does wonders.
For extreme diggers, keep them inside and only take them out on a leash. Consider providing a safe digging space with a child-size sandbox, loose dirt and some buried toys. Reward the dog for using the safe space.
All of the above behaviors can drive you crazy, but many of them can be greatly improved by making certain your furry buddy has plenty of attention, interaction, exercise and activity. Boredom can escalate any bad behavior, even in humans. Remember, behaviors we label as “bad” may be normal for your pet.
“Instinctive behaviors lose pets their homes every year,” says Amy Shojai, certified animal-behavior consultant and co-author of Strays, the Musical, which she wrote to explain natural pet behaviors and save pet lives. “By understanding what constitutes ‘normal,’ we can give dogs legal opportunities to do what comes naturally. That saves our relationship, and keeps dogs in their homes where they belong.”
We love our furry buddies, even though some of their behaviors can threaten to push us over the edge. I’m sure some of our own behaviors don’t thrill them either. Positive reinforcement and giving them the ability to indulge in their instinctive activities without getting them in trouble will make life easier for us and our pets.
Does your dog have any behaviors that you’d like him to stop? What are your doggy pet peeves? Let us know in the comments.
Learn more about dogs with Dogster: