Tips for changing common behavior problems in dogs.
1 – Counter Surfing. Dogs are opportunistic animals. If they can do it…they will!
Good sense and management are the most reliable ways to stop counter surfing. Push back all food items on your counters and make sure that food is put away and out of reach of your dog. Prevention is a really good strategy.
Nasty scolding or other unpleasant corrections rarely work. Dogs will not necessarily connect the correction with the behavior. They know you are angry but do they understand why? Even if you succeeded in stopping the behavior while you are present…what about when you are not present. Let’s say you just made a yummy sandwich and your phone rings. I know my dog would have no problem helping himself to that sandwich if I were not present.
2 – Reactivity to other dogs. When your dog looks toward the strange dog, say “YES” and give your dog a high value treat while moving away from the strange dog. By moving away you decrease pressure and by pairing the presence of the other dog with a high value treat you change the dog’s emotional association toward strange dogs.
3 – Separation Anxiety. Does your dog follow you from room to room in your house? Many dogs with separation anxiety will do this. A dog who has low self confidence will seek comfort from you. Dogs need to learn how to be alone.
Establish a “safe place zone” for your dog by gating off a kitchen or other area. Begin by leaving the dog behind the gate as you move about the room normally. Watch for signs that the dog is starting to relax. Eventually add in moving out of sight by going to another room, as part of the routine. Gradually move to the front door, through the door, and then back inside etc…only progressing if the dog remains relaxed behind the gate.
Think about all the routine signals that you tend give to your dog that tells him/her you are about to leave. Things like picking up car keys, getting your coat, all tend to start raising anxiety in dogs even before you have left. Start doing all these things regularly but…don’t leave! The cues will no longer predict leaving.
4 – Jumping on people while greeting. As the person approaches, scatter treats around your feet. Let your dog forage for them. People approaching predict treats around your feet.
Once the person is close to you the highest excitement has passed and you can usually cue the dog something easy like “sit” or “4 on the floor” and reward the dog for that behavior. Reward the behaviors you like. You can always go back to scattering more treats.
5 – Pulling on leash. Teaching a dedicated “puller” to walk on a loose leash on a neck collar takes skill and persistence. But today there are many great pieces of humane equipment that you can buy to walk your dog comfortably.
Front attach harnesses like The Sensation Harness, The Balance Harness and The Freedom Harness are designed to stop pulling by giving the dog a mild, aversive sensation when they hit the end of the leash. The harness puts pressure on the shoulder. The dog will correct themselves in order to avoid the sensation.
Head halters like the Gentle Leader and the Halti are worn over the top of the muzzle, a sensitive area on a dog. When the dog hits the end of the leash, it puts pressure on the top of the muzzle and the dog will turn away to relieve it. This is a self-correction. The dog learns to avoid the sensation by not pulling.
For severe behavior problems including aggression, contact a certified Behavior Consultant (IAABC.com).