Behavior and Training

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Dogs exhibit a wide array of behaviors -- some natural for them, others frustrating for you. It is important to understand what is normal activity for dogs and give them the constructive time and space to act upon them, like digging and chewing. Other behaviors can be problematic to socialization, cleanliness and health. These are behaviors you will need to train your dog either not to do or to do differently.

Natural Behaviors

Some dog behaviors can be annoying when done to excess, but are part of your dog's natural makeup. You'll need to find ways to give your dog a healthy outlet for each of these activities at some time during the day.

Chewing. Puppies and adolescent dogs need to chew to help them adjust to new teeth and changes in their jaws. For puppies, in particular, chewing is a form of learning about the world. Providing your dog with a variety of chew toys gives it a productive way of handling this behavior. If you still have problems with destructive chewing, there may be another problem, such as boredom, anxiety or a health issue.

Digging. It is not unusual for dogs to want to dig, although some breeds are less inclined to this behavior than others. If your dog is a digger, give it some place to exercise this instinct. Create a digging area in your yard. If available, walk your dog on a beach where it can dig to its hearts delight. You can even add a sandbox to your yard for designated digging. If you don't have a yard, find somewhere on your walks where your dog can safely search and dig through dirt, earth or sand. With enough planned digging, your dog won't need to dig at other times.

Barking. A dog vocalizes, like many other animals, to express itself. It may whine when it is unhappy, make soft sounds in its sleep, growl with fear or anger and bark to express excitement or call for attention. It's only when barking becomes excessive, inappropriate or goes on at the wrong hours that it becomes problematic. In these cases, there are training techniques you can pursue to teach your dog when it is—and is not—okay to bark.

Jumping. Different dog breeds have different inclinations for jumping depending on the purposes for which they were bred. Small dogs, in particular, may have a tendency toward jumping when they are excited or want attention. You need to establish limits for your dog's jumping as soon as you bring your dog home. Teach your dog not to jump when meeting new people by holding it down with one hand so that all four feet are on the ground. You can train your dog not to jump on furniture or not to jump around children. The earlier you begin the training, the more likely you'll be able to avoid jumping problems throughout your dog's life.

Chasing. Searching, retrieving, running and chasing are all natural forms of work and play for dogs. Usually they can get enough of these during exercise and play time. However, some dogs may have a tendency to want to chase things inappropriately, such as cars or unknown people. This is one reason why you need to keep your dog on a leash whenever you are outdoors. You will need to undertake specific training to teach your dog not to chase inappropriately.

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Basic Behaviors

Every dog needs to acquire certain behaviors for safe and comfortable living. Among these, housetraining is first and foremost. (Click here to go to the section on Housetraining.) There are also a few commands you must teach your dog to be able to keep it out of harms way. These include commands for "come," "sit," "stay," "lie down." It also includes the ability to walk on a loose leash without pulling, stay calm in a confined environment and not bite people. These form the basics of what have been referred to as "obedience" training. Without these basics, your life with your dog will be chaotic and, at times, potentially dangerous.

Training for all dog behaviors takes consistency, repetition and routine. Positive rewards, in the form of verbal acknowledgment, extra petting, cuddles and sometimes treats, is the way to teach your dog new behaviors. Even if your dog appears to have mastered a behavior, don't assume it really understands until it consistently exhibits the behavior in the face of excitements or distractions. One of the most important techniques you will need to learn along with your dog is how to capture its attention. You want to be able to draw your dog's attention to your eyes at a moment's notice to prevent your dog from acting on aggressive or dangerous behaviors.

There are reams of materials loaded with basic techniques for training your dog for each command. However, it is recommended that new dog owners pursue training with their dog and a trainer so that you can learn the correct signals and behaviors to keep your dog in the best control. Without this assistance, you may end up giving your dog mixed signals that prevent it from learning all the behaviors you want.

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Problem Behaviors and Training

Breeding, boredom, anxiety, adolescence, fear and aggression. These are the most frequent causes of problem behaviors in dogs. Usually concentrated and consistent training focused on positive reinforcement and rewards can overcome these issues. In some cases, your dog may need a more experienced trainer to "unlearn" particularly ingrained problem behaviors. You can find training options that are one-on-one, two-on-one or for small groups. Ask your vet or a fellow dog owner about effective trainers and training programs in your area.

Commonly exhibited problem behaviors in dogs include:

  • growling,
  • over-excitability,
  • biting or nipping at people,
  • jumping,
  • running away,
  • chasing cars, people or other animals,
  • excessive barking,
  • excessive chewing,
  • excessive licking or slobbering,
  • other obsessive behaviors,
  • eating dog or cat feces,
  • begging for food,
  • separation anxiety,
  • stress whining,
  • aggressiveness towards other dogs or people,
  • humping,
  • urine marking, and
  • destructive behavior.

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