How to Teach Your Dog Good Manners
In her first 81 years, Flo Frum faced many challenges, but never one quite like this. She began to feel like a prisoner in her own home in Oceanside, California—because of Buddy, her newly adopted minischnauzer puppy.
WHAT’S A WOMAN TO DO?
Buddy instantly bonded with Flo and didn’t want to be apart from her, even for a few minutes. When she would go into another room and close the door, Buddy would cry out for her attention. “He stuck to me like glue,” she says.
Each time she placed Buddy inside his soft-sided crate, he would deliver high-pitched yelps until she rushed over to let him out. She felt guilty and frustrated about having to leave the house, even to shop for groceries. She began turning down lunch invitations.
Flo knew what was happening: She was being outsmarted by a pup. Acting on the advice of an animal behavior specialist, Flo fought back— with treats. Not just any treats, but grade-A, beef-flavored ones.
“I began telling my dog, ‘Buddy, I have to go now’ and ushering him into his crate and tossing in a few of these treats,” recalls Flo. “I would then leave his sight and wait in the garage until he stopped howling. It took a few times before Buddy finally caught on.”
Buddy, now three, zooms to his crate located in the den whenever Flo starts saying, “Buddy, I have to go now.”
“It’s amazing. He will stop in the middle of playing with the neighbor’s dog or greeting a house full of guests and race to his crate,” says Flo. “Now I can leave my house and do errands or visit with friends and not feel guilty about leaving Buddy.”
Success—finally. Today, Flo enjoys life with her well-behaved dog. You can, too.
TEACHING ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR
Stymied by your dog’s determination to dig up your tomato plants? Tired of his marathon barking each time a delivery person rings your doorbell? Frustrated by his desire to treat your shoes as chew toys?
“There are far too many young adolescent dogs running households,” says Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist who is director of Animal Behavior Consultations in the Kansas City metropolitan area. “Responding to inappropriate behaviors by yelling or using physical punishment can often cause these problems to worsen.”
So, what’s the solution?
“You need to provide for your dog’s needs by giving him enough exercise and mental stimulation,” explains Dr. Hunthausen, who lectures on animal behavior at professional veterinary conferences all over North America. “You need to set your dog up for success and always acknowledge good behavior. Be consistent, and have everyone in the house reinforce the household rules so your dog learns what to expect.”
Patrick Melese, DVM, a boardcertified veterinary behaviorist and director of Veterinary Behavior Consultants in San Diego, says it is important to recognize what is considered normal behavior in dogs and offer a more acceptable alternative. Below, we offer two common examples and suggestions for nipping the undesirable behavior in the bud.
1. Jumping Up to Greet
In the dog world, licking another dog’s mouth is an accepted form of saying hello. Dogs will often leap up to give people a similar greeting. When dogs are pups, some people often mistakenly encourage this behavior. After all, it’s hard to resist a cute 10-pound Labrador retriever pup when he paws at a person’s legs to say hi.
“By reaching down and responding with a hug or a pat on the head, the person inadvertently reinforces to the pup that this is an acceptable behavior,” notes Dr. Melese. “The problem is that this 10-pound pup quickly grows into an 80-pound adult.”
Curb the leaping by teaching your dog the commands “off” and “sit.” For better control, start by fitting your dog in a head collar with soft straps that slip over the top of the neck and the base of the muzzle. Attach a leash six feet or longer in length. Ask a friend to enter your home and not greet your dog in any way. As your dog races to deliver an airborne hello, gently but firmly pull the leash so that your dog must turn his head toward you. Firmly say “Off!”
When your dog stops trying to jump and sits down, immediately say, “Good sit!” and praise him or give him a treat. Repeat this scenario a few times to help your dog understand what earns a reward. Once your dog has mastered the sit on a leash, you can then teach him to sit politely in a spot near your door to greet guests. “This way, your dog still gets to be social and greet welcomed guests, but in a more desired manner by sitting politely rather than jumping all over the visitor,” says Dr. Melese.
2. Nipping Fingers and Toes and . . .
What about pushy pups who like to mouth, even nip, the hands of their owners? Mouthing is a very common behavior for puppies who have sharp baby teeth that are falling out to make room for adult teeth, explains Dr. Hunthausen. Still, pups need to learn that nipping hurts and hands are not chew toys. “About 95% of puppy play involves aggressive behavior such as chasing, pouncing, barking, growling, and nipping,” Dr. Hunthausen says.
During play sessions with your pup, let out a loud “ouch” if your pup mouths or nips your hand. In canine circles, pups learn bite inhibition when their littermates cry out with yip sounds. It is important to immediately end the play session so your puppy learns that biting causes fun times to cease. Once your puppy stops nipping, direct him to a more acceptable form of play by offering him a chew toy and praising him.
You can also teach him to stop play biting on cue by teaching him the “off” command. First, show him a small treat to garner his attention and say “OK” in an upbeat voice and hand over the treat. Then show him another treat and say “off” in a firm tone. If your pup does not touch your hand or the food for two seconds, say “OK” and give him the treat. If he touches your hand, firmly say “off” in a loud voice while making direct eye contact. Once he backs away from your hand and the food, say “OK” and give him his food reward. “It is best to practice this every day to achieve a consistent response,” says Dr. Hunthausen.
Consistency has proven to be the right approach for Flo Frum with her dog, Buddy. In addition to being crate trained, Buddy now heeds her commands to sit and stay. Flo says, “He has really turned into a great dog and a true buddy.”
WHY DOES MY DOG DO THAT?
Here are a few examples of common canine behaviors that may seem quirky or puzzling to people:
Sniffing crotches. Dogs rely on their noses to provide them with information when meeting another dog. They aim for the rear end of other dogs because the scents are more intense there than on other places on the body. Dogs are not intending to be rude when they exhibit a similar greeting to a person; they are merely seeking details about the person. Teach your dog to shake “paws” with human visitors instead.
Barking when delivery people ring the doorbell. A dog barks to alert the leader of his pack—his owner—of this approaching “intruder.” His barking behavior becomes reinforced because the delivery person leaves. In the dog’s mind, he has successfully stopped another home “invasion.” Keep a stash of treats in a dogproof container by your door, and enlist the aid of your regular delivery person or a friend to have your dog sit and be quiet to receive a treat before the person departs.
Drinking out of the toilet. Disgusting to us, yes, but to a thirsty dog, the toilet simply provides a porcelain oasis of fresh, cool water in a huge bowl that never moves or tips over and is always full. Counter this concern by keeping the lid down and providing your dog with an automatic pet water fountain or tossing a few ice cubes in his nonskid bowl that you fill with fresh water daily.
Need Help with a Particularly Vexing Problem?
Ask your veterinarian for suggestions. If necessary, he or she can direct you to an animal behavior expert in your area.
When training your dog, you can use praise, petting, play, treats, or toys as positive reinforcement. After your dog has learned the desired behavior, you can begin phasing out the rewards. Of course, your dog will always appreciate you treating him to lots of affection.