Dog Behavior

Sometimes being a pet owner is hard, but we want to make sure you're getting all the best tools and resources for you and your pet. When it comes to training animals of any species, the only beneficial, humane training method is force-free, fear-free, positive reinforcement.

Dog Behavior Help

Behavior Management Tips

Recommended Reading

Choosing a Trainer

Choosing the Right Class

Types of Professional Help

Find Professional Help

Behavior Management Techniques

It’s important to recognize that management is not a form of training and will not change the behavior itself. Management is a tool to use at times when training cannot occur or if the animal has high levels of stress or anxiety with a situation.
 
Being consistent and eliminating opportunities to practice the behavior can help prevent unwanted “training” sessions and decrease frustration and conflict. Below are examples of some common behavior problems and potential management solutions.
Issue: The Escape Artist
Whether your dog is rudely barging out the door or escaping the fenced yard, this is a serious safety issue and training is not only important, but effective. In the meantime, management is a key component to keeping your dog safely at home. 

Management Tips:

  • If your dog shoves past people to run out the door, then secure them in a crate or room with enrichment items before you open the door. If young children tend to open the door, add an additional lock up high and out of reach

  • Most backyard escape artists actually climb the fence versus jump it, and some dig under it

  • Check your fence perimeter and secure any gaps or holes. Make sure there are no objects, like wood piles or snow mounds, near the fence that your dog could use as a ramp or launching pad

  • If your dog is digging under the fence, one option is to bury chicken wire from the bottom of the fence inwards several feet

  • Always supervise your dog while he’s outside, even if it’s just watching him through a window. Leaving a dog unattended outdoors is risky and irresponsible

 
Issue: Pulling on the Leash / Reactivity
Dog-walking problems can range from simply pulling on leash to displaying wild exuberance when the dog sees a person or another dog, from barking to growling or lunging at others. Dogs may be over stimulated, frustrated, fearful, anxious or any combination of those. But, with a little training, management and some “quick fix” strategies, you can be on your way to helping your dog’s walks go more smoothly in no time.
Management Tips and Quick Fixes in a Pinch:
  • Use a no-pull harness or head halter
  • Cross the street
  • Do a U-turn and move back in the opposite direction
  • Turn and move away in an alternative direction and route
  • Move out of the way until the human or dog distraction has passed by
  • Redirect: If your dog looks as if they are about to react, use an interrupter such as a treat, a cue for a known behavior, or something like a hand clap or a light tap/tickle on the back that doesn’t scare the dog, but simply breaks their focus
  • Use visual barriers (e.g. a building, a parked vehicle, a tree or bush) to reduce the intensity of the situation by blocking the dog’s view of the passing person, car or dog. Then keep the dog busy by rewarding some cued behaviors or simply feeding a couple of treats
  • If your dog ever reacts, turn and move your dog far enough away that they can calm down. Then, reassess and see if the triggers can be lessened the next time. Avoid punishment, like leash jerks or yelling
Issue: Jumping on Counters and Taking Stuff

Dogs who steal and counter surf are typically “people” dogs who enjoy attention from their owners and are driven by interactions with them. When they steal items or grab something off the counter, chances are the pet owner runs after the dog, yelling, screaming, or laughing. Those reactions strengthen the behavior. Counter surfing can also be a form of mental enrichment, causing dogs to work hard to find the next reinforcer (especially if food items have been stolen in the past)

 

Management Tips:

  • Place a baby gate at the entrance to the kitchen to prevent the dog from entering and stealing food from counters

  • Keep the dog on leash or place the dog in a crate with food enrichment before the family spends time in the kitchen. This keeps the dog busy during meal preparation and can eliminate counter surfing

  • Keep all items on counters out of reach to eliminate the potential for accidental training sessions if management fails

Issue: Jumping on Guests

Jumping up on humans is a natural behavior in dogs. It may have developed as a greeting style because humans lack the natural traits dogs rely on for social interactions with other dogs: Our ears aren’t mobile and we don’t have tails or pheromones or glands that emit scent. But when dogs jump up, most humans try to push them down, ask them to perform another behavior, or scold them. The dog understands this as a form of attention and greeting from the human, not understanding that the person would like to be greeted in a different way.

 

Management Tips:

  • Crate the dog before the guest enters the home. This will help to manage and potentially eliminate any chaos at the door

  • Use a Kong stuffed with high-value reinforcers such as peanut butter, canned dog food, and cream cheese to provide mental stimulation during crate time and keep the dog’s mouth busy while guests enter the home. If the dog’s mouth is busy, barking and arousal may be decreased, which will help when you start teaching appropriate behaviors

  • Keep the dog on leash at a distance from the door and distracted with some yummy treats. Keeping a distance from the guests’ entry can help eliminate excitement and set the dog up to offer more appropriate behaviors. Let the guest get settled and explain the rules for training with the dog in the home

Issue: Chewing on Non-Chew Items

Chewing is another normal canine behavior. It begins during the first few weeks of the puppy socialization period and sometimes continues throughout the dog’s life.

 

Management Tips:

  • If the dog is chewing something inappropriate, replace it with a more appropriate item such as a chew toy or food enrichment toy to keep the pet engaged and mentally stimulated

  • Create barriers into rooms where chewing commonly occurs (if this is occurring with furniture, rugs, etc.). Baby gates and closing doors in the home can be beneficial in these situations

Issue: Bark! Bark! BARK!

The first thing to understand about barking is that, just like digging, chewing, and jumping up, it is a normal dog behavior. Your goal should never be to completely stop your dog from barking, but rather to reduce the frequency of barking in certain situations.

Although barking is common, it can be one of the more difficult behavior issues to address because it occurs for many different reasons, and each reason requires a different solution. If your dog is barking simply to get your attention, you’d use a very different approach than if the dog is barking because he is afraid of something or someone.

 

Management Tips:

  • Consider closing blinds/curtains, applying an opaque window film, or using other visual barriers to manage the situation

  • If out on a walk, increase the distance between the dog and trigger by doing a quick about turn, crossing the street, or walking behind a car or building

  • If the barking occurs mostly indoors, increase the dog’s daily enrichment and exercise to help stave off boredom and promote sleep. Also, pair treats with the sight/sound of the dog’s trigger

 
Issue: Digging in the Garden
Digging is a natural dog behavior, especially for certain breeds. The best management technique to to provide the dog with an appropriate place to dog.
Management Tips:
  • Build a sandbox for your dog where they're allowed to dig
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended outside
  • Place a fence around the garden
  • Lay chicken wire a few inches under the dirt

Recommended Reading: Handouts & Books

"The Dog Who Loved Too Much" by Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Using examples from his own practice, Dodman intelligently and humorously talks about symptoms, treatment options and helpful tips for prevention. 

 

"The Dog: A Natural History" by Adam Miklosi

"Dog Behaviour, Evolution and Cognition" by Adam Miklosi

Choosing a Dog Trainer​ or Training Class

The same advice for finding an obedience class also relates to finding a quality trainer. Dog training is unregulated and unlicensed. Anyone can claim to be a dog or cat trainer, so be sure to do your homework and ask questions.

This handout "Red and Green Light Training" from Fear-free Happy Homes provides all the information you need to find a quality, fear-free trainer.

 

Additional recommended reading from Companion Animal Psychology: "How to Choose a Dog Trainer" by Zazie Todd, PhD.

Be wary and avoid people who use terms like "balanced training methods," "dominance,” “pack leadership” and "alpha." The concept that one dog needs to be the “boss” of the others when explaining dog-dog relationships is false and shows archaic, outdated thinking. You want a trainer who participates in continuing education and is knowledgable of the lastest and greatest in dog behavior science and training techniques.  


Which training methods do you use?

The answer you want to hear is reward-based training methods, also known as positive reinforcement, force-free or humane training methods.

You might also want to visit during one of the trainer’s sessions to see the style, techniques and tools being used. If the trainer does anything that you are uncomfortable with, keep looking. You want to find a trainer who uses humane training methods, someone who will give you and your pet a positive experience. If you are told by a trainer that he or she is not qualified for your case, ask for a referral to a behavior counselor or animal behaviorist.


Are you certified through a national certification program?

The best qualifications to look for include CTC, KPA CTP, VSA-CDT, VSPDT, and PMCT (those are the letters that will appear after your dog trainer’s name). Increasingly, dog trainers may have a relevant undergraduate or graduate degree in animal behavior.

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lisa Radosta recommends checking the certifications of trainers and lists common options, including many of those above, as well as CCPDT, PPG and IAABC. 

 

Choosing the Right Class

  • Humane training methods focus on reinforcing good behavior without force or physical confrontation. Use of shock collars, choke chains or pinch collars or using collars to lift dogs off the ground (“stringing them up”) are not appropriate nor humane training methods

  • Quality obedience instructors communicate well with people and with dogs. Remember that they are instructing you about how to train your dog

  • Specific problems you may have with your dog may not be addressed in a basic obedience course. If you’re seeking help with housetraining, excessive barking, aggression or separation anxiety, ask if the course covers these issues – do not assume it will

  • Ask the instructor what training methods are used and how they (the instructor and staff) were trained. Also, ask to observe a class before you commit to one. If you’re refused an observation, or if your observation results in anything that makes you uncomfortable, look elsewhere. Beware of people who state that they use "balanced" or "mixed" training methods - this often means they use both punishment and positive reinforcement

  • Avoid anyone who guarantees his or her work; who uses punishment; or who wants to take your dog and train him for you (effective training must include you and the environment in which you and your dog interact)

 

Different Types of Professional Help 

Pet owners should begin addressing their pet’s behavior issues by accessing recommended reading, contacting a behavior helpline and attending force-free obedience classes. If your pet’s behavioral issues persist, one-on-one, hands-on assistance is likely needed. In these cases, you should first consult with a certified pet trainer or behavior counselor, who will let you know if additional assistance is needed from a certified applied animal behaviorist or board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Behavior Counselor

A behavior counselor is often a certified pet trainer, but he or she should also have more experience and knowledge, including a background in learning theory, awareness of the latest scientific knowledge and hands-on training. A behavior counselor should be able to analyze and diagnose the problem, devise and explain a possible solution and do necessary follow-up. Like trainers, some counselors are species-specific. There is no certification for behavior counselors, but you can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Behavior counselors are generally listed as trainers who work on behavioral issues.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

These are people who have been certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) as either an applied or an associate applied animal behaviorist. Certification by ABS means that an individual meets certain educational, experiential and ethical standards required by the society. For help in finding a certified animal behaviorist, visit the website of the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.

Board-certified Animal Behaviorist

A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who has completed an approved residency training program in veterinary animal behavior and passed a board exam. Veterinary behaviorists can rule out health problems and dispense medications, which are sometimes used to help change behavior in pets. You can think of animal behaviorists as the equivalent of psychologists, while veterinary behaviorists are the equivalent of psychiatrists. For help in finding a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, talk to your veterinarian or visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

You can also email behavior@pawsforliferescue.org and we can put you in touch with a trainer.

 
 
 
 
 

Fear Free Certified Practices and Professionals

Fear Free Certified Professionals include veterinarians, technicians, trainers, groomers, pet sitters and more. Each individual is responsible for maintaining their certification. 

 

Fear Free Certified Practices take Fear Free to the next level, from an individual to a joint effort that requires the entire practice team to achieve certification. Fear Free Certified Practices have successfully implemented Fear Free into all aspects of the business: culture and leadership, client education, staff training, facility and patient visits.

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The Association of Professional Dog Trainers

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is the world's largest dog training community. The APDT website can help you find a certified trainer near you.

 

Click on "Trainer Search," then enter your zip code and the mile radius you’re willing to search within. Be sure to check the box for “Certified Trainers Only.”

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Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers mission is to establish and maintain humane standards of competence for dog training and behavior professionals through criteria based on experience, standardized testing, skills and continuing education.

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International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants' mission is to elevate the standard of animal behavior consulting worldwide.

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American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior unites veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in both understanding animal behavior and treating behavior problems that affect the welfare of animals and the people who care for them.

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