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We all hope that our pets will fit harmoniously into our homes and families, but some dogs behave in ways that are problematic for their owners, such as barking incessantly, digging, chewing, and showing aggression. The key to improving the behavior of your dog is training. Working with your puppy or dog to understand the root cause of problematic behavior and instill better habits through dog training can bring your Oklahoma home back into harmony and your dog closer to your heart.
One way to prepare for pet ownership is to make sure you understand the natural behaviors associated with that pet. Here are a few basic behaviors inherent to a dog’s constitution and disposition:
Chewing. Chewing is one of a dog’s fundamental hunting instincts and needs to be expressed. It is also good for strengthening your dog’s teeth and jaws. To accommodate this behavior, you need to focus your dog’s chewing needs on items designed specifically for this purpose. Give your puppy plenty of chew toys that are made from softer materials, nothing too hard that might crack or chip its teeth.
Roaming. Roaming is also part of a dog’s hunting behavior. For indoor dogs, this can be a problem. That’s why you need to keep your dog active with plenty of toys and activities to stimulate it physically and mentally. Regular varied walks are beneficial to both indoor and outdoor dogs. Looking at the same four walls (whether indoor or outdoor) gets boring. The instinctual hunting roaming behavior should be differentiated from reproductive roaming behavior. Contrary to popular opinion, there are no behavioral or developmental problems associated with NOT having sexual relations. The hormonal influence of an intact dog greatly increases the probability of breaking away for unsupervised roaming, and therefore greatly increases the risk of injury to your dog. Spaying or neutering your dog by six months of age is highly recommended by the doctors and staff of Pet Medical Center.
Scratching and Licking. Scratching and licking are normal activities for your dog and are part of normal cleaning and comfort behavior. Be careful though: dogs do not spend significant amounts of time grooming themselves like cats do. If you see that your dog is licking at certain parts of the body numerous times, you are probably observing itchy skin behavior. That is an indication of underlying disease, so your dog should be seen by a veterinarian. Any licking or scratching that is producing abrasions or rashes also suggests the need to visit your veterinarian.
Vocalizations. Dogs communicate in a number of ways including vocalization. Whining can indicate underlying pain or anxiety, or may be a way to show that your dog is sorry for misbehaving. Growling is an obvious vocalization that is hard to misinterpret, as it is almost always an indication of fear or aggression. Barking is probably the vocalization that most commonly causes concern on the part of pet owners and/or their neighbors. Excess barking can cause distress and anxiety within all members of a household or neighborhood. There are a number of reasons that a dog might bark excessively, including breed, inherited disposition, boredom, or threat.
Pack Mentality. Your dog views any other member of the household (human or pet) as members of its pack. Strong willed dogs will try to become the alpha member of the pack if they are allowed to do so.
Most problem behaviors for dogs are the result of boredom, inactivity, lack of attention, stress, illness, or inappropriate training techniques. That’s why it is so critical to provide your dog with lots of daily physical and mental stimulation. Stress may result from any change in routine, like a new family member (human or animal), relationship problems between the human members of the family, or boarding and grooming, and can result in problem behaviors.
Inappropriate training happens when dog owners want to train dogs to respond in a particular way but inadvertently reward the wrong behavior. For example, if your dog barks and cries for you to get up and play with it at nighttime, you may, after a time, just give in to make it stop. This actually rewards the dog’s behavior and teaches it to repeat these cries to get your attention. When training dogs around behaviors, it is critical that you identify which behaviors you want to reinforce and which you want to change. Then only reward completion of the desired behavior. Don’t give in to your dog when training for change. One or two bad nights of sleep to make the message clear is a smaller price to pay than a lifetime of getting up to play with your dog in the middle of the night.
If you experience problem behaviors with your dog, the first thing to do is rule out any medical causes. You also need to make sure you pay attention to where your dog is in its life cycle. Adolescence and old age create physical changes that may cause stress to your dog. Then you can look to training solutions. Commonly demonstrated problem behaviors in dogs include:
Dogs don’t understand your motivations or preferences and they won’t learn to behave in any way other than those that are innate. The only way to train a dog is with patience, consistency, and routine. To teach new positive behaviors, you have to give your dog a chance to get accustomed to your desired behaviors and reinforce positive achievement with rewards (treats) to motivate the dog to adopt the change.
Changing negative behaviors can be harder. If you are unclear about how to get your dog to change a problem behavior, your vet can also give you techniques that can help you get your dog behaving the way you expect, or you may be referred to a professional training facility. There are several great options for dog training in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas. There are also lots of helpful websites that give you the benefit of first-hand experience from other dog owners.