What Does “Dominance” Mean?
In order to understand why your dog is acting “dominant,” it’s important to know some things about canine social systems. Animals who live in social groups, including domestic dogs and wolves, establish a social structure called a dominance hierarchy within their group. This hierarchy serves to maintain order, reduce conflict and promote cooperation among group members. A position within the dominance hierarchy is established by each member of the group, based on the outcomes of interactions between themselves and the other pack members. The more dominant animals can control access to valued items such as food, den sites and mates. For domestic dogs, valued items might be food, toys, sleeping or resting places, as well as attention from their owner. In order for your home to be a safe and happy place for pets and people, it’s best that the humans in the household assume the highest positions in the dominance hierarchy. Most dogs assume a neutral or submissive role toward people, but some dogs will challenge their owners for dominance. A dominant dog may stare, bark, growl, snap or even bite when you give him a command or ask him to give up a toy, treat or resting place. Sometimes even hugging, petting or grooming can be interpreted as gestures of dominance and, therefore, provoke a growl or snap because of the similarity of these actions to behaviors that are displayed by dominant dogs. Nevertheless, a dominant dog may still be very affectionate and may even solicit petting and attention from you.
You May Have A Dominance Issue With Your Dog If:
• He resists obeying commands that he knows well.
• He won’t move out of your way when required.
• He nudges your hand, takes you’re arm in his mouth or insists on being petted or played with (in other words, ordering you to obey him).
• He defends his food bowl, toys or other objects from you.
• He growls or bares his teeth at you under any circumstances.
• He won’t let anyone (you, the vet, the groomer) give him medication or handle him.
• He gets up on furniture without permission and won’t get down.
• He snaps at you.
What To Do If You Recognize Signs of Dominance In Your Dog
If you recognize the beginning signs of dominance aggression in your dog, you should immediately consult an animal behavior specialist. No physical punishment should be used. Getting physical with a dominant dog may cause the dog to intensify his aggression, posing the risk of injury to you. With a dog that has shown signs of dominance aggression, you should always take precautions to ensure the safety of your family and others who may encounter your dog by:
• Avoiding situations that elicit the aggressive behavior.
• During the times your dog is acting aggressively, back off and use “happy talk” to relieve the tenseness of the situation.
• Supervise, confine and/or restrict your dog’s activities as necessary, especially when children or other pets are present.
• When you’re outdoors with your dog, use a “Gentle Leader” or muzzle.
• When you’re indoors with your dog, control access to the entire house by using baby gates and/or by crating your dog. You can also use a cage-type muzzle, or a “Gentle Leader” and leash, but only when you can closely supervise your dog. Dominance aggression problems are unlikely to go away without your taking steps to resolve them. Treatment of dominance aggression problems should always be supervised by an animal behavior specialist, since dominant aggressive dogs can be potentially dangerous.
The following techniques (which don’t require a physical confrontation with your dog) can help you gain some control:
• Spay or neuter your dog to reduce hormonal contributions to aggression. NOTE: After a mature animal has been spayed or neutered, it may take time for those hormones to clear from the system. Also, long-standing behavior patterns may continue even after the hormones or other causes no longer exist.
• “Nothing in Life is Free” is a safe, non-confrontational way to establish your leadership and requires your dog to work for everything he gets from you. Have your dog obey at least one command (such as “sit”) before you pet him, give him dinner, put on his leash or throw a toy for him. If your dog doesn’t know any commands or doesn’t perform them reliably, you’ll first have to teach him, using positive reinforcement, and practice with him daily. You may need to seek professional help if your dog is not obeying each time you ask after two to three weeks of working on a command.
• Don’t feed your dog people food from the table and don’t allow begging.
• Don’t play “tug of war,” wrestle or play roughly with your dog.
• Ignore barking and jumping up.
• Don’t allow your dog on the furniture or your bed, as this is a privilege reserved for leaders. If your dog growls or snaps when you try to remove him from the furniture, use a treat to lure him off. Otherwise, try to limit his access to your bed and/or furniture by using baby gates, a crate, or by closing doors.
• Always remember to reward good behavior.
• Consult your veterinarian about acupuncture, massage therapy or drug therapy.
• Obedience classes may be helpful in establishing a relationship between you and your dog in which you give commands and he obeys them (be sure to choose a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods). Obedience classes alone, however, won’t necessarily prevent or reduce dominance aggression.
A Note About Children and Dogs
From your dog’s point of view, children, too, have a place in the dominance hierarchy, because children are smaller and get down on the dog’s level to play, dogs often consider them to be playmates, rather than superiors. Small children and dogs should not be left alone together without adult supervision. Older children should be taught how to play and interact appropriately and safely with dogs; however, no child should be left alone with a dog who has displayed signs of aggression.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2003 ~ All rights reserved
Dog aggression is any behavior meant to intimidate or harm a person or another animal. Growling, baring teeth, snarling, snapping and biting are all aggressive behaviors. Although aggressive behaviors are normal for dogs, they’re generally unacceptable to humans. From a dog’s perspective, there’s always a reason for aggressive behavior. Because humans and dogs have different communication systems, misunderstandings can occur between the two species. A person may intend to be friendly, but a dog may perceive that person’s behavior as threatening or intimidating. Dogs aren’t schizophrenic, psychotic, crazy, or necessarily “vicious,” when displaying aggressive behavior. Because aggression is so complex, and because the potential consequences are so serious, we recommend that you get professional in-home help from an animal behavior specialist if your dog is displaying aggressive behavior.
Types Of Aggression:
Dominance aggression is motivated by a challenge to a dog’s social status or to his control of a social interaction. Dogs are social animals and view their human families as their social group or “pack.” Based on the outcomes of social challenges among group members, a dominance hierarchy or “pecking order” is established (see our handout: “Dealing With Dominance In Dogs”).
If your dog perceives his own ranking in the hierarchy to be higher than yours, it’s likely that he’ll challenge you in certain situations. Because people don’t always understand canine communication, you may inadvertently challenge your dog’s social position. A dominantly aggressive dog may growl if he is disturbed when resting or sleeping, or if he is asked to give up a favorite spot, such as the couch or the bed. Physical restraint, even when done in a friendly manner, like hugging, may also cause your dog to respond aggressively. Reaching for your dog’s collar, or reaching out over his head to pet him, could also be interpreted by him as a challenge for dominance. Dominantly aggressive dogs are often described as “Jekyll and Hydes” because they can be very friendly when not challenged. Dominance aggression may be directed at people or at other animals. The most common reason for dogs in the same family to fight with each other is instability in the dominance hierarchy.
Fear-motivated aggression is a defensive reaction and occurs when a dog believes he is in danger of being harmed. Remember that it’s your dog’s perception of the situation, not your actual intent, which determines your dog’s response. For example, you may raise your arm to throw a ball, but your dog, perceiving this to be a threat, may bite you because he believes he is protecting himself from being hit. A dog may also be fearfully aggressive when approached by other dogs.
Protective, Territorial And Possessive Aggression: Protective, territorial and possessive aggression are all very similar, and involve the defense of valuable resources. Territorial aggression is usually associated with defense of property. However, your dog’s sense of territory may extend well past the boundaries of “his” yard. For example, if you walk your dog regularly around the neighborhood and allow him to urine-mark, to him, his territory may be the entire block! Protective aggression usually refers to aggression directed toward people or animals that a dog perceives as threats to his family, or pack. Dogs become possessively aggressive when defending their food, toys or other valued objects, such as Kleenex stolen from the trash!
Redirected Aggression: This type of aggression is relatively common, but is a behavior that pet owners may not always understand. If a dog is aroused into an aggressive response by a person or animal that he is prevented from attacking, he may redirect this aggression onto someone else. A common example occurs when two family dogs become excited, bark and growl in response to another dog passing through the front yard. The two dogs, confined behind a fence, may turn and attack each other because they can’t attack the intruder. Predation is usually considered to be a unique kind of aggressive behavior, because it’s motivated by the intent to obtain food, and not primarily by the intent to harm or intimidate.
Dogs differ in their likelihood to show aggressive behavior in any particular situation. Some dogs tend to respond aggressively with very little stimulation. Others may be subjected to all kinds of threatening stimuli and events, and never attempt to bite. The difference in this threshold at which a dog displays aggressive behavior is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. If this threshold is low, a dog will be more likely to bite. Raising the threshold makes a dog less likely to respond aggressively. This threshold can be raised using behavior modification techniques. How easily the threshold can be changed is influenced by the dog’s gender, age, breed, general temperament, and by whether the appropriate behavior modification techniques are chosen and correctly implemented. Working with aggressive dogs can be potentially dangerous, and should be done only by, or under the guidance of, an experienced animal behavior professional who understands animal learning theory and behavior.
What You Can Do
• First check with your veterinarian to rule out medical causes for the aggressive behavior.
• Seek professional help. An aggression problem will not go away by itself. Working with aggression problems requires in-home help from an animal behavior specialist.
• Take precautions. Your first priority is to keep everyone safe. Supervise, confine and/or restrict your dog’s activities until you can obtain professional help. You’re liable for your dog’s behavior. If you must take your dog out in public, consider a cage-type muzzle as a temporary precaution, and keep in mind that some dogs can get a muzzle off.
• Avoid exposing your dog to situations where he is more likely to show aggression. You may need to keep him confined to a safe room and limit his people-contact.
• If your dog is possessive of food, treats or a certain place, don’t allow him access to those items. In an emergency, bribe him with something better than what he has. For example, if he steals your shoe, trade him the shoe for a piece of chicken.
• Spay or neuter your dog. Intact dogs are more likely to display dominance, territorial and protective aggressive behavior.
What Not To Do
• Punishment won’t help and, in fact, will make the problem worse. If the aggression is motivated by fear, punishment will make your dog more fearful, and therefore more aggressive. Attempting to punish or dominate a dominantly aggressive dog is likely to cause him to escalate his behavior in order to retain his dominant position. This is likely to result in a bite or a severe attack. Punishing territorial, possessive or protective aggression is likely to elicit additional defensive aggression.
• Don’t encourage aggressive behavior. Playing tug-of-war or wrestling games encourages your dog to attempt to “best” you or “win” over you, which can result in the beginning of a dominance aggression problem. When dogs are encouraged to “go get ’em” or to bark and dash about in response to outside noises or at the approach of a person, territorial and protective aggressive behavior may be the result.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2003 ~ All rights reserved.
It is normal for dogs to explore the world with their mouths. However, chewing can be directed onto appropriate items so your dog is not destroying items you value. Until he has learned what he can and cannot chew, it is your responsibility to manage the situation as much as possible, so he doesn’t have the opportunity to chew on unacceptable objects.
Taking Control by Managing the Situation
• Take responsibility for your own belongings. If you don’t want it in your dogs mouth, don’t make it available. Keep clothing, shoes, books, trash, eyeglasses, cell phones and remote controls out of your dogs reach.
• Don’t confuse your dog by offering him shoes and socks as toys and then expect him to distinguish between his shoe and yours. Your dogs toys should be obviously different from household goods.
• Until he learns the house rules, confine him when you are unable to keep an eye on him. Choose a safe place that is dog proof with fresh water and safe toys (see our handout: Dog Toys and How to Use Them). If your dog is crate trained, you may also crate him for short periods of time (see our handout: Crate Training Your Dog).
• Give your dog plenty of people time. Your dog wont know how to behave if you don’t teach him alternatives to inappropriate behavior and he cant learn these when in the yard by himself.
• Take your dog to an obedience class to teach him important commands, like leave it. Classes may have the added benefit of reducing destructive behavior because they will help your dog burn off some excess energy (see our handout: The Educated Dog).
• If, and only if, you actually catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise and offer him an acceptable chew toy instead. Praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
• Have realistic expectations. It is virtually inevitable that your dog will, at some point, chew up something you value. This is often part of the transition to a new home. Chewing is normal teething and investigative puppy behavior (see our handout: Dealing with Normal Puppy Behavior: Chewing); however, dogs will engage in destructive behavior for a variety of reasons. In order to deal with the behavior, you must first determine why your dog is being destructive.
Play, Boredom and/or Social Isolation
Normal play behavior can result in destruction, as it may involve digging, chewing, shredding and/or shaking toy-like objects. Since dogs investigate objects by pawing at them and exploring them with their mouths, they may inadvertently damage items in their environment. Your dog may be chewing for entertainment if:
• He’s left alone for long time periods without opportunities for interaction with you or other family members.
• His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
• He’s a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and he doesn’t have other outlets for his energy.
• He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active lifestyle to be happy.
• Play with your dog daily in a safe, fenced-in area. If you don’t have a yard, a tennis court can be a good place to play. Fetch is a great game that will use up your dogs excess energy without wearing you out!
• Go for a walk. Walks should be more than just bathroom time. On-leash walks are important opportunities for you and your dog to be together. Don’t forget to allow time for sniffing, exploring, instruction and praise.
• Increase your dogs opportunities for mental stimulation. Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them daily. If you have time, take an obedience class.
• Provide your dog with lots of toys (see our handout: Dog Toys and How to Use Them).
• Rotate your dogs toys to refresh his interest in them. New toys are always more interesting than old ones.
• Try different kinds of toys, but when you introduce a new toy, watch your dog to make sure he wont tear it up and ingest the pieces.
• Consider the various types of toys that can be stuffed with food. Putting tidbits of food inside chew toys focuses your dogs chewing activities on these toys instead of on unacceptable objects.
• Make your dogs favorite off-limits chew objects unattractive to him by covering them with heavy plastic, aluminum foil, hot pepper sauce or a commercial anti-chew product.
• Consider a good doggie day care program for two or three days a week to work off some of your dogs excess energy.
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to display behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to their owners. This includes following you from room to room, frantic greetings and reacting anxiously to your preparation to leave the house. Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:
• A change in the families schedule that results in your dog being left alone more often.
• A move to a new house.
• The death or loss of a family member or another family pet.
• A period at a shelter or boarding kennel.
These behaviors are not motivated by spite or revenge, but by anxiety. Punishment will only make the problem worse. Separation anxiety can be resolved by using counter conditioning and desensitization techniques (see our handouts: Separation Anxiety and Tools for Managing Your Pets Anxiety).
Attention-Seeking Behavior Without realizing it, we often pay more attention to our dogs when they are misbehaving. Dogs who don’t receive much attention and reinforcement for appropriate behavior may engage in destructive behavior when their owners are present as a way to attract attention even if the attention is negative, such as a verbal scolding. From a dogs point of view, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
• Make sure your dog gets plenty of positive attention every day playing, walking, grooming or just petting.
• Ignore (as much as possible) bad behavior and reward only good behavior. Remember to reward your dog with praise and petting when he’s playing quietly with appropriate toys.
• Make his favorite off-limits chew objects unattractive or unavailable to him.
• Teach your dog a drop it command so when he does pick up an off-limits object, you can use your command and praise him for complying. The best way to teach drop it is to practice having him exchange a toy in his possession for a tidbit of food.
• Practice Nothing in Life is Free with your dog (see our handout: Nothing in Life is Free). This gets your dog in the habit of complying with your commands and is a good way to make sure he gets lots of positive attention for doing the right things so he wont have to resort to being naughty just to get your attention.
Fears and Phobias
Some dogs are afraid of loud noises. Your dogs destructive behavior may be caused by fear if the destruction occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers or construction sounds, and if the primary damage is to doors, doorframes, window coverings, screens or walls (see our handouts: Helping Your Dog Overcome the Fear of Thunder and Other Startling Noises and Tools for Managing Your Pets Anxiety).
What Not To Do
Punishment is rarely effective in resolving destructive behavior problems and can even make them worse. Never discipline your dog after-the-fact. If you discover an item your dog has chewed even just a few minutes later, it is too late to administer a correction. Your dog doesn’t understand that, I chewed those shoes an hour ago and that’s why I’m being scolded now. People often believe their dog makes this connection because he runs and hides or looks guilty. Dogs don’t feel guilt; rather they display submissive postures like cowering, running away or hiding, when they feel threatened by an angry tone of voice, body posture or facial expression. Your dog doesn’t know that he’s done something wrong; he only knows that you’re upset. Punishment after-the-fact will not only fail to eliminate the undesirable behavior, but may also provoke other undesirable behaviors.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved
Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they’re left alone. Typically, they’ll have a dramatic anxiety response within a short time (20-45 minutes) after their owners leave them. The most common of these behaviors are:
• Digging, chewing and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to escape and reunite with their owners.
• Howling, barking and crying in an attempt to get their owner to return.
• Urination and defecation (even with housetrained dogs) as a result of distress.
Why Do Dogs Suffer From Separation Anxiety?
We don’t fully understand exactly why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and, under similar circumstances, others don’t. It’s important to realize, however, that the destruction and house soiling that often occurs with separation anxiety is not the dog’s attempt to punish or seek revenge on his owner for leaving him alone, but is actually a panic response.
Separation anxiety sometimes occurs when:
• A dog has never or rarely been left alone.
• Following a long interval, such as a vacation, during which the owner and* dog are constantly together.
• After a traumatic event (from the dog’s point of view) such as a period of time spent at a shelter or boarding kennel. After a change in the family’s routine or structure (a child leaving for college, a change in work schedule, a move to a new home, a new pet or person in the home).
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Separation Anxiety?
Because there are many reasons for the behaviors associated with separation anxiety, it’s essential to correctly diagnose the reason for the behavior before proceeding with treatment. If most, or all, of the following statements are true about your dog, he may have a separation anxiety problem:
• The behavior occurs exclusively or primarily when he’s left alone.
• He follows you from room to room whenever you’re home.
• He displays effusive, frantic greeting behaviors.
• The behavior always occurs when he’s left alone, whether for a short or long period of time.
• He reacts with excitement, depression or anxiety to your preparations to leave the house.
• He dislikes spending time outdoors by himself.
What To Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
• For a minor separation anxiety problem, the following techniques may be helpful by themselves. For more severe problems, these techniques should be used along with the desensitization process described in the next section.
• Keep arrivals and departures low-key. For example, when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes, then calmly pet him.
• Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you, an old tee shirt that you’ve slept in recently, for example.
• Establish a “safety cue”–a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells your dog you’ll be back. Dogs usually learn to associate certain cues with short absences by their owners. For example, when you take out the garbage, your dog knows you come right back and doesn’t become anxious. Therefore, it’s helpful to associate a safety cue with your practice departures and short-duration absences.
• Some examples of safety cues are: a playing radio; a playing television; a bone; or a toy (one that doesn’t have dangerous fillings and can’t be torn into pieces). Use your safety cue during practice sessions, but don’t present your dog with the safety cue when you leave for a period of time longer than he can tolerate or the value of the safety cue will be lost. Leaving a radio on to provide company for your dog isn’t particularly useful by itself, but a playing radio may work if you’ve used it consistently as a safety cue in your practice sessions. If your dog engages in destructive chewing as part of his separation distress, offering him a chewing item as a safety cue is a good idea. Very hard rubber toys that can be stuffed with treats and Nylabone-like products are good choices.
Desensitization Techniques For More Severe Cases Of Separation Anxiety
The primary treatment for more severe cases of separation anxiety is a systematic process of getting your dog used to being alone. You must teach your dog to remain calm during “practice” departures and short absences.
We recommend the following procedure:
• Begin by engaging in your normal departure activities (getting your keys, putting on your coat), then sit back down. Repeat this step until your dog shows no distress in response to your activities.
• Next, engage in your normal departure activities and go to the door and open it, then sit back down.
• Next, step outside the door, leaving the door open, then return.
• Finally, step outside, close the door, then immediately return. Slowly get your dog accustomed to being alone with the door closed between you for several seconds.
• Proceed very gradually from step to step, repeating each step until your dog shows no signs of distress (the number of repetitions will vary depending on the severity of the problem). If at any time in this process your actions produce an anxiety response in your dog, you’ve proceeded too fast. Return to an earlier step in the process and practice this step until the dog shows no distress response, then proceed to the next step.
• When your dog is tolerating your being on the other side of the door for several seconds, begin short-duration absences. This step involves giving the dog a verbal cue (for example, “I’ll be back.’), leaving and then returning within a minute. Your return must be low-key: either ignore your dog or greet him quietly and calmly. If he shows no signs of distress, repeat the exercise. If he appears anxious, wait until he relaxes to repeat the exercise. Gradually increase the length of time you’re gone. Practice as many absences as possible that last less than ten minutes. You can do many departures within one session if your dog relaxes sufficiently between departures. You should also scatter practice departures and short-duration absences throughout the day.
• Once your dog can handle short absences (30 to 90 minutes), he’ll usually be able to handle longer intervals alone and you won’t have to work up to all-day absences minute by minute. The hard part is at the beginning, but the job gets easier as you go along. Nevertheless, you must go slowly at first. How long it takes to condition your dog to being alone depends on the severity of his problem.
Teaching The Sit-Stay And Down-Stay
Practice sit-stay or down-stay exercises using positive reinforcement. Never punish your dog during these training sessions. Gradually increase the distance you move away from your dog. Your goal is to be able to move briefly out of your dog’s sight while he remains in the “stay” position. The point is to teach him that he can remain calmly and happily in one place while you go to another. As you progress, you can do this during the course of your normal daily activities. For example, if you’re watching television with your dog by your side and you get up for a snack, tell him to stay, and leave the room. When you come back, give him a treat or quietly praise him.
Because the above-described treatments can take a while, and because a dog with separation anxiety can do serious damage to himself and/or your home in the interim, some of the following suggestions may be helpful in dealing with the problems in the short term:
• Consult your veterinarian about the possibility of drug therapy. A good anti-anxiety drug should not sedate your dog, but simply reduce his anxiety while you’re gone. Such medication is a temporary measure and should be used in conjunction with behavior modification techniques.
• Take your dog to a dog day care facility or boarding kennel.
• Leave your dog with a friend, family member or neighbor.
• Take your dog to work with you, even for half a day, if possible. What Won’t Help A Separation Anxiety Problem
• Punishment is not an effective way to treat separation anxiety. In fact, if you punish your dog after you return home it may actually increase his separation anxiety.
• Getting another pet. This usually doesn’t help an anxious dog as his anxiety is the result of his separation from you, his person, not merely the result of being alone.
• Crating your dog. Your dog will still engage in anxiety responses in the crate. He may urinate, defecate, howl or even injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate.
• Leave the radio on (unless the radio is used as a “safety cue” – see above). Obedience school. While obedience training is always a good idea, it won’t directly help a separation anxiety problem. Separation anxiety is not the result of disobedience or lack of training, it’s a panic response.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
What is Canine Rivalry?
Canine rivalry refers to repeated conflicts between dogs living in the same household. Animals that live in social groups establish a social structure within that group. This social structure is hierarchical and dogs determine their place in the hierarchy through control of and access to various resources, such as food, toys and attention from people. A stable hierarchy in which each individual knows and accepts his rank provides dogs with a sense of comfort and belonging. Conflicts arise between household dogs when there is instability in the social structure; that is, when the ranking of each dog is not clear or is in contention. Dogs may warn each other initially by snarling, growling or snapping, but not causing injury. However, the conflict may sometimes intensify into prolonged bouts of dangerous fighting, which may result in one or both dogs being injured.
Getting Professional Help
Ongoing canine rivalry is potentially dangerous. Dogs or human family members could be severely injured as a result of fighting. Because resolving rivalry problems requires managing the dogs’ somewhat complex social behaviors, it’s often necessary for owners to obtain assistance from a professional animal behaviorist. Certified animal behaviorists are trained to observe, interpret and modify animal behavior.
Why Conflicts Occur?
Conflicts between household dogs develop for a wide variety of reasons. Conflicts may occur if:
• A new animal has been introduced to the household.
• A resident animal has died or no longer lives in the house.
• A resident animal is re-introduced after an absence.
• A young dog reaches social maturity, which is usually between 10 months and 2 years of age, and challenges the established higher-ranking dog.
• A high-ranking dog ages or becomes ill and cannot maintain his higher status.
Understanding Status Seeking Behavior and Social Structure
The dogs’ positions in the hierarchy are determined by the outcome of their interactions. The results of this complex and dynamic process will depend on the dogs themselves, without regard to your preferences. Any attempt on your part to interfere may result in increased conflict.
• How dominance is established: Dogs usually determine their social ranking through a series of behaviors, which include body postures and vocalizations that don’t result in injury. Examples of these behaviors are one dog “standing over” another by placing his paws or neck on the shoulders of the other, mounting, lip licking or rolling over onto the back. Some dogs may take toys away from other dogs, insist on being petted first or exercise control over other resources. However, because of past experiences, inadequate socialization or genetic tendencies, some dogs may escalate these displays into aggression with very little warning.
• The Social Structure: Do not attempt to influence or define the dogs’ rankings by treating them equally or by preventing a higher-ranking dog from asserting his position over another dog. The social hierarchy of the dogs is dynamic and complex, so even attempts to “support the dominant dog” may be counter productive. The dogs should be allowed to determine control of resources, such as toys and favorite sleeping places, amongst themselves. As much as possible, refrain from interfering in the dogs’ interactions with each other. But most importantly, establish yourself at the top of the hierarchy. Practicing “Nothing in Life is Free” (see our handout) is an easy and non-confrontational way to establish leadership by taking ultimate control of all resources the dogs find valuable. If your position as leader is clear, it will help the dogs sort out their lower places in the social structure more peacefully.
• Breaking up a fight: If you need to break up a fight, do so by squirting the dogs with water or making a loud noise to try and interrupt them. Never attempt to break up a dog fight by grabbing the dogs by their collars or getting any part of yourself in between them. Touching dogs while they are fighting can result in what is called “redirected aggression,” where a dog may bite you because he thinks you are part of the conflict.
What You Can Do To Help
• If the dogs involved are intact males or females, spay or neuter both dogs.
• Make sure that all of the humans in your household are at the top of the hierarchy by practicing “Nothing in Life is Free.”
• Establish fair rules and enforce them consistently. This helps all the dogs feel more secure and also reinforces your role as leader.
• With the help of a professional animal behaviorist, elicit and reinforce non-aggressive behaviors using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques. These procedures must be designed and tailored to specifically meet the needs of each individual case and require professional in-home help.
• Punishment will not resolve the issue and can actually make it worse.
• You should be aware that if you respond to this type of problem inappropriately, you run the risk of intensifying the problem and potentially causing injury to yourself and/or your dogs.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
Bark! Bark! Bark!
Some canine behavior problems, such as house soiling, affect only a dogs owners. However, problems such as escaping and excessive barking can result in neighborhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances. Therefore, barking dogs can become people problems. If your dogs barking has created neighborhood tension, its a good idea to discuss the problem with your neighbors. It is perfectly normal and reasonable for dogs to bark from time to time, just as children make noise when they play outside. However, continual barking for long periods of time is a sign that your dog has a problem that needs to be addressed.
The first thing you need to do is determine when and for how long your dog barks, and what is causing him to bark. You may need to do some detective work to obtain this information, especially if the barking occurs when youre not home. Ask your neighbors, drive or walk around the block and watch and listen for a while, or start a tape recorder or video camera when you leave for work. Hopefully, you will be able to discover which of the common problems discussed below is the cause of your dogs barking.
Social Isolation/Frustration/Attention Seeking Your dog may be barking because he’s bored and lonely if:
• He’s left alone for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.
• His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
• He’s a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and does not have other outlets for his energy.
• He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs a job to be happy.
Expand your dogs world and increase his people time in the following ways:
• Walk your dog daily its good exercise for both of you.
• Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible.
• Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them every day for five to 10 minutes.
• Take an obedience class with your dog.
• Provide interesting toys to keep your dog busy when you’re not home (Kong-type toys filled with treats or busy-box toys). Rotating the toys makes them seem new and interesting (see our handout, Dog Toys and How to Use Them).
• If your dog is barking to get your attention, make sure he has sufficient time with you on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising), so he doesn’t have to resort to misbehaving to get your attention.
• Keep your dog inside when you’re unable to supervise him.
• Take your dog to work with you every now and then, if possible.
• If you work very long hours, take him to a doggie day care or have a friend or neighbor walk and/or play with him.
Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:
• The barking occurs in the presence of intruders, which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school and other dogs or neighbors in adjacent yards.
• Your dogs posture while he’s barking appears threatening tail held high and ears up and forward.
• You’ve encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.
• Teach your dog a quiet command. When he begins to bark at a passer-by, allow two or three barks, then say quiet and interrupt his barking by shaking a can filled with pennies or squirting water at his mouth with a spray bottle or squirt gun. This will cause him to stop barking momentarily. While he’s quiet, say good quiet and pop a tasty treat into his mouth. Remember, the loud noise or squirt isn’t meant to punish him; rather it is to startle him into being quiet so you can quickly reward him. If your dog is frightened by the noise or squirt bottle, find an alternative method of interrupting his barking (throw a toy or ball toward him).
• Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him that the people he views as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog is not barking, then reward him for quiet behavior as he obeys a sit or down command. Use a very special food reward such as little pieces of cheese or meat. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward his quiet behavior. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have them feed him a treat or throw a toy for him. In order for this technique to work, youll have to make sure your dog doesn’t see people outside between sessions.
• If your dog barks while inside the house when you’re home, call him to you, have him obey a command, such as sit or down, and reward him with praise and a treat.
• Don’t inadvertently encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside.
• Have your dog neutered (or spayed if your dog is a female) to decrease territorial behavior.
• Limit the dogs access to views that might be causing him to bark when you are not home.
Fears And Phobias Your dogs barking may be a response to something he is afraid of if:
• The barking occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers or construction equipment.
• Your dogs posture indicates fear ears back, tail held low.
• Identify what is frightening your dog and desensitize him to it (see our handouts, Helping Your Dog Overcome the Fear of Thunder and Other Startling Noises and Tools for Managing Your Pets Anxiety).
• Mute noise from outside by leaving your dog in a basement or windowless bathroom and leave on a television, radio or loud fan. Block off your dogs access to outdoor views that might be causing a fear response, by closing curtains or doors to certain rooms.
Your dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if:
• The barking occurs only when you’re gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
• Your dog displays other behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, frantic greetings or reacting anxiously to your preparations to leave.
• Your dog has recently experienced a change in the family’s schedule that results in his being left alone more often; a move to a new house; the death or loss of a family member or another family pet; or a period at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.
• Separation anxiety may be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques (see our handouts, Separation Anxiety and Tools for Managing Your Pets Anxiety). Bark Collars Bark collars are specially designed to deliver an aversive whenever your dog barks. There are several different kinds of
• Citronella Collar: This collar contains a reservoir of citronella solution that sprays into your dogs face every time he barks. A citronella collar is considered humane and does work with some dogs. One possible drawback is that the collar contains a microphone, so the aversive is delivered in response to the sound of the bark. Therefore, other noises may set off the collar, causing your dog to be sprayed even if he did not bark. Also, some dogs can tell when the citronella reservoir is empty and will resume barking. You can also purchase a citronella collar that is activated by a handler.
• Aversive Sound Collar: This collar emits a high-frequency sound when your dog barks. Some are activated by the noise of the bark, while others are activated by a handler. The rate of success for this type of collar is reported to be quite low.
• Electric Shock Collar: WE DO NOT RECOMMEND an electric shock collar to control your dogs barking. The electric shock is painful to your dog and many dogs will choose to endure the pain and continue barking. These collars are expensive and their success rate is very low. Also, redirected aggression toward people or pets that are around the dog may result. The main drawback of any bark collar is that it does not address the underlying cause of the barking. You may be able to eliminate the barking, but symptom substitution may occur and your dog may begin digging, escaping or become destructive or even aggressive. The use of a bark collar must be in conjunction with behavior modification based on the reason for the barking, as outlined above. You should never use a bark collar on your dog if his barking is due to separation anxiety, fears or phobias, because punishment always makes fear and anxiety behaviors worse.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
Helping your pet adjust to the arrival of a new baby is much like preparing a young child for the same event. Handling your pet’s curiosity, anxiety and increased insistence for attention may seem like an overwhelming task, in addition to preparing yourself and your household for the baby’s arrival. You can, however, help your pet adjust to the big changes ahead with minimal time and effort by making gradual adjustments to your lifestyle before the baby arrives.
Sounds And Smells
Your pet is very sensitive to sounds and smells and uses these special abilities to gather information. From your pet’s point of view, you and your home have specific identifying smells that are uniquely yours. There are also certain sounds that your pet considers “normal” for your household. Even the different tones of voice you use send important signals. Your baby won’t actually change those scents and sounds that are part of your identity, but the baby’s arrival will certainly add some new and very different ones. It’s important that you introduce these new smells and sounds to your pet gradually in a calm and pleasant atmosphere.
Each time you introduce something new to your pet, make the experience positive. Stroke him, give him treats and praise him for his good behavior when he’s faced with a strange new sound or smell. Relax! If you act anxious, your pet will be anxious too.
Pets tend to feel alarmed and defensive when faced with unexpected sounds. Take a little time to become familiar with the “normal” sounds of your household. Is your home normally quiet, with little background noise? If so, how does your pet react to “extra” sounds like a vacuum cleaner, a ringing telephone or a whistling teakettle? If your home is normally noisy, your pet may simply sleep through the usual sounds, but how does he react when something unusual occurs? The more strongly your pet reacts to unexpected sounds, the more important it is for you to help him adjust to the “baby sounds” which will become a regular part of your home environment.
Try to recognize what smells are prominent in your home, including your own personal scent. Your home has its own mixture of smells that makes it feel familiar and safe – cleaning products, kitchen odors, even dust. Also be aware of the products you use that help create your own individual scent, such as soaps, hair care products, toothpaste, deodorant, laundry detergent and cologne. Any new smells should be added gradually, layered on over a period of weeks. Be aware of the effect these changes have on your pet. While you do this, try to keep one part of your home smelling “right” for your pet.
In order to prepare your pet for the new baby, borrow some baby sounds and smells. Visit a friend’s baby or a nursery and make a tape recording of baby sounds like gurgling, laughing, screaming, crying and kicking. Handle a baby and absorb some of the smells of baby lotion, powder and food. Go directly home and spend some positive, relaxed time with your pet. Give him a massage or play with him while the baby smells mingle with your own odors and you introduce the recorded baby sounds.
Start out with the volume turned fairly low and if your pet doesn’t react strongly to the sounds, gradually increase the volume to a normal level. As you play the tape, look at your pet and speak calmly, using your pet’s name. Smile! It adds a special tone to your voice that helps your pet relax. Repeat these sessions daily until the baby’s arrival. After a week or so, add the actual sources of the odors to the sound-and-smell sessions with the supplies you’ll be using for your own baby. Think about your pet’s perspective. How does a baby bottle smell when it’s freshly sterilized? When it’s dirty? Borrow a dirty diaper and let your pet become accustomed to that smell, too.
Borrow a baby! After a few weeks, combine baby sounds and smells (which should be familiar to your pet by now) with the bustle and attention of a visiting baby. This is an excellent “dress rehearsal” for the extra visitors and attention you and your baby will receive during the first few weeks after delivery.
After you bring your baby home, be aware of the ways you use your voice. Do you only speak to your pet with negative tones when the baby’s in the room (“no,” “off,” “don’t,” “stop”)? If so, your pet will certainly connect unhappy feelings with the baby’s presence. While you hold your baby, smile at your pet and use his name. Give your pet a small treat when the baby is fed to distract your pet from the smell of the baby’s food. Make time with the baby a pleasant time for your pet as well.
If you’ll be redecorating or rearranging your home, do it long before the baby arrives. With your supervision, let your pet explore any off-limits areas, then exclude him from these areas before the baby arrives. Screen doors are excellent, inexpensive barriers for off-limits areas like the baby’s room. Your pet can still see, smell and hear all the action and so can you. If an off-limits room has been a favorite area for your pet, this will be a major change for him. Move his favorite things from that room into another area, if possible in the same arrangement.
To boost your pet’s confidence, establish a private, comfortable place that your pet can use as a safe retreat. Select an area you can close off, if necessary. The “safe-zone” should include a water bowl, a nest composed of a soft towel or your pet’s bed and some worn, unwashed clothing with your smell on it. If your pet is a cat, you should include a litter box in this area also.
Your pet can choose to retreat here, or you can choose to confine him to this “safe zone” when things get extra hectic. Spend some positive time with your pet in this area every day, and if he must be confined for an hour or so, it mustn’t seem like punishment. During the transition, respect your pet’s need for rest and privacy. This will become especially important when your baby reaches the crawling stage. In addition to a “safe-zone,” cats should also have access to plenty of escape routes, hiding places and perches.
Routine is important to pets because they need to know what to expect. Think ahead and gradually begin establishing new routines early on. Include in your adjusted schedule at least once a day, quality time for just you and your pet, with no competition for your attention. This “non-baby” time is very important for your pet and for you!
Some of the changes in your post-baby routine won’t be permanent, like getting up at all hours of the night. Help your pet handle temporary schedule adjustments by ignoring any extra attention-getting ploys used at those times. Try to get back to your normal routines as soon as possible.
The first priority for an animal faced with a new family member is to determine who will be top dog (or cat) in the relationship. Dogs and cats live by an unwritten code of ranking in their relationships. For most dogs and cats, it isn’t really important which one comes out on top, only that the rank be decided.
Whether you have one pet or several, your own position in the family’s social order should be clear – you must always be the top-ranking animal in your family. This will be especially important as your baby’s arrival approaches. When your position as leader of the family is secure and it’s clear that the baby belongs to you, your pet should not challenge the baby’s important rank in your home.
If your pet is very protective of you or your home, is a little pushy about food and toys, has been known to behave aggressively toward other animals and/or challenges your rank as leader, then you probably have a dominant pet (see our handout “Dealing with Dominance in Dogs”). In this situation, it’s especially important that family rank and household rules be firmly established before your baby’s arrival. You may need to seek the help of an animal behavior specialist.
Reinforce house rules and manners to remind your pet that you are the leader in your family (see our handout “Nothing in Life Is Free”). If your pet hasn’t learned basic manners or obedience commands, now is the time to start. Train your dog to sit and lie down on command. This physical control will be especially important when your arms are filled with your baby and various baby paraphernalia.
Be sure that your pet understands when (if ever) jumping onto people or things is appropriate. If cats have always had access to any surface in your home (counters, tables and so forth) you need to decide which places will be off-limits after the baby’s arrival. Start training your pet now to discourage him from jumping onto those places. Be considerate, though, and be sure to allow your cat access to some high-up places in your home. Dogs should only be allowed to jump when specific permission is given.
If your pet likes to spend time in your lap, teach him to ask permission before jumping up. You don’t have to eliminate lap-time completely, just limit access to those times when you can give him your full attention and an entire lap. Teach your pet that your voice, your look and your presence are also positive forms of attention — that you don’t always need to touch him to show affection. You can do this simply by talking calmly and pleasantly to your pet as he lies or sits nicely at your feet. Use his name, smile and make eye contact with him.
Insist on good manners from the beginning. Don’t accept any whining, growling or pushy behavior in an attempt to gain attention. Give your pet plenty of time and attention whenever you can, but not when he’s demanded it!
Plan short periods of play time, treat time and snuggle time with your pet – with and without your baby in the room. Meals should be eaten in the same room and at the same time whenever possible.
Whenever anything inappropriate is in your pet’s mouth, offer him a treat in trade for the object, say “drop it” and when he takes the treat praise him enthusiastically and offer him a toy that he’s allowed to have. As a “rule of thumb,” if you don’t want it in your pet’s mouth, don’t leave it on the floor.
Encourage a positive relationship between your baby and your “furry child” by involving them in activities you can all enjoy. Settle into your favorite chair by a sunny window, with your baby in your lap and your cat on a table beside you, so you can stroke them both at the same time! Walk with your baby in a stroller and your dog on leash, just like you did before the baby came, but with this nice addition. Share mealtimes, and when your baby gets a treat or a toy, be sure your pet has something nice to hold, too.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
Living with a dog can be beneficial to children. Dogs can enhance children’s self-esteem, teach them responsibility and help them to learn empathy. However, children and dogs may not always automatically start off with a wonderful relationship. Parents must be willing to teach the dog and the child acceptable limits of behavior in order to make their interactions pleasant and safe. Selecting A Dog What age is best? Many people have a warm and fuzzy image of a puppy and a child growing up together. If you have a young child and are thinking of adopting a puppy (less than 1 year old), there are a few things you need to consider.
• Time and energy
Puppies require a lot of time, patience, training and supervision. They also require socialization in order to become well-adjusted adult dogs. This means they need to be taken places and exposed to new things and new people. If you have a young child who already requires a lot of care and time, you should ask yourself if you will you have enough time to care for a puppy as well.
Puppies, because they’re babies, are fragile creatures. A puppy may become frightened, or even injured, by a well-meaning, curious child who wants to constantly pick him up, hug him or explore his body by pulling on his tail or ears.
• Rough play
Puppies have sharp teeth and claws with which they may inadvertently injure a small child. Puppies also tend to jump up on small children and knock them down. All interactions between your child and puppy will need to be closely supervised in order to minimize the chances of injuries.
• Advantages of getting an adult dog
Adult dogs require less time and attention once they’ve adjusted to your family and household routine, although you’ll still need to spend time helping your new dog with the transition to his new home. You can better gauge how hardy and tolerant an adult dog will be of a Childs enthusiasm and you can work with your local animal shelter to adopt a dog that has previously lived with children. As a general rule, if your child is under 6 years old, its best to adopt a dog that’s over 2 years old. Although puppies can be a lot of fun, and its exciting and rewarding to help them grow into wonderful companions, they do require significantly more time to train and supervise than an adult dog. What breed is best?
Very small breeds of dogs, such as toy poodles or Chihuahuas, may not be good choices for a young child. These dogs are fragile and may become easily injured when around rambunctious children. They also tend to be more easily frightened by a lot of activity and noise. Frightened dogs may snap or bite in order to protect themselves. Larger dogs or sturdier small breeds, like pugs or beagles, are often better able to tolerate the activity, noise and rough play that is an inevitable part of living with children.
• Breed type
Some of the sporting breeds, such as Labrador’s and golden retrievers, can make good pets for families with children. Breeds that have been selected for protective behavior, such as chows and Rottweilers, are not usually recommended. Its sometimes difficult for this type of dog to comfortably tolerate the many comings and goings of children and their friends who may be perceived as territorial intruders. Herding breeds, such as border collies and shepherds, are inclined to herd children, chasing and nipping at their heels.
While generalizations can be made about specific dog breeds, it is just as important to consider a dogs individual temperament. A dogs personality is shaped by both past experiences and genetics. Who will care for the dog? Its unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to have sole responsibility of caring for a dog. Dogs need basic things like food, water and shelter, but they also need to be played with, exercised and trained on a consistent basis. Teaching a dog the rules of the house and helping him become a good companion is too overwhelming for a young child. While responsible teenagers may be up to the task, they may not be willing to spend an adequate amount of time with the dog, as their desire to be with their friends usually takes over at this age. If you’re adopting a dog for the kids, you must be prepared and willing to be the dogs primary caretaker.
Starting Off Right
Below are some guidelines to help you start off on the right foot. Remember, children should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without adult supervision.
• It’s safest for both your child and puppy if your child is sitting down whenever he wants to hold the puppy. Puppies are squirmy and wiggly and may easily fall out of a young child’s arms and be injured. If held insecurely, a puppy may become frightened and snap or nip in response.
• Have your child offer the puppy a toy to chew while being petted. When puppies are teething, they tend to chew on everything, including hands and arms, so having a chew toy handy will divert the puppies teeth away from your child. An added benefit is that the puppy will come to associate pleasant consequences (getting a treat) with being held by your child.
• For larger dogs, have your child sit in your lap and let the dog approach both of you. This way you can control your child and not allow him to get carried away with pats that are too rough. You are also there to teach your new dog to treat your child gently. Petting and giving affection: Children often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog may view this as a threatening gesture, rather than an affectionate one, and may react with a growl, snap or bite. You should teach your child to pet your dog from underneath the dogs chin, rather than hugging him or reaching over his head. You should also teach your child to avoid staring at, or looking directly into, your dogs eyes. Giving Treats: Children tend to become somewhat fearful and anxious when a dog tries to take a treat from their hand. This causes them to jerk their hand away at the last second. The dog may then jump up or lunge to get the treat, which may result in the child being knocked down. Have your child place the treat in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers. You may want to place a hand underneath your child’s hand to help guide him.
Supervising Play: Children run with quick, jerky movements and have high-pitched voices. These actions are highly stimulating to a dog. Consequently, your dog may respond by chasing or jumping up on your child. Encourage your child to play quietly around the new dog until both become more comfortable with each other. Your dog also needs to learn which behaviors are appropriate and which are not. Our handout Dealing with Normal Puppy Behavior: Nipping and Rough Play outlines procedures for discouraging rough play and encouraging appropriate play. However, most children under the age of 10 are not capable of carrying out these procedures, so its helpful to teach your dog a leave it command that you can use when play gets too rough. Taking an obedience class together is a good way to teach your dog to respond to commands. Punishing your dog for inappropriate behavior will not help. If he learns that being around children always results in bad things happening to him, he may become defensive in their presence.
Your dog wont know the difference between his toys and your child’s toys until you teach him.
• Your child must take responsibility for keeping his playthings out of your dogs reach.
• If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, then give him an acceptable chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
• Don’t give your dog objects to play with that could cause confusion, such as old socks, old shoes or old children’s toys that closely resemble items that are off limits. He can’t tell the difference!
• Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although its normal for a dog to growl or snap to protect these items, its not acceptable. At the same time, children need to learn to respect their dog as a living creature who is not to be teased or purposefully hurt and who needs time to himself.
If your dog is growling or snapping at your child for any reason, the situation needs IMMEDIATE attention. Punishing your dog is likely to make matters worse. Please refer to our sheet on When the Behavior Helpline Cant Help for information on where to get further assistance and guidance in this matter.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
Dogs and cats are territorial animals. This means that they “stake out a claim” to a particular space, area or object. They let other people and animals know about their claim by marking it with a variety of methods and at many levels of intensity. For example, a dog may bark to drive away what he perceives as intruders to his territory. A cat may mark a valued object by rubbing it with her face. Some pets may go to the extreme of urinating or defecating to mark a particular area as their own. Urine-marking is not a house soiling problem, but is a territorial behavior. Therefore, to resolve the problem, you need to address the underlying reason for your pet’s need to mark his territory in this way.
House Soiling Or Urine-Marking? How To Tell The Difference!
Your pet may be urine-marking if:
• The problem is primarily urination. Dogs and cats rarely mark with feces.
• The amount of urine is small and is found primarily on vertical surfaces. Dogs and cats do sometimes mark on horizontal surfaces. Leg-lifting and spraying are dominant versions of urine-marking, but even if your pet doesn’t assume these postures, he may still be urine-marking.
• Any pet in your home is not spayed or neutered. Both intact males and females are more likely to urine-mark than are spayed or neutered animals. However, even spayed or neutered animals may mark in response to other intact animals in the home.
• Your pet urinates on new objects in the environment (a shopping bag, a visitor’s purse), on objects that have unfamiliar smells, or on objects that have another animal’s scent.
• Your pet has conflicts with other animals in your home. When there’s instability in the pack hierarchy, a dog may feel a need to establish his dominance by urine-marking his territory. If one cat is intimidating another cat, the bullied cat may express his anxiety by urine-marking.
• Your pet has contact with other animals outside your home. A cat that’s allowed outdoors may come home and mark after having an encounter with another cat outside. If your pet sees another animal through a door or window, he may feel a need to mark his territory.
• Your dog marks frequently on neighborhood walks. What You Can Do:
• Spay or neuter your pet as soon as possible. Spaying or neutering your pet may stop urine-marking altogether, however, if he has been urine-marking over a long period of time, a pattern may already be established.
• Resolve conflicts between animals in your home (see our handouts: “Canine Rivalry” and “Feline Social Behavior and Aggression Between Family Cats”).
• Restrict your pet’s access to doors and windows through which they can observe animals outside. If this isn’t possible, discourage the presence of other animals near your house (see our handout: “Discouraging Roaming Cats”).
• Keep your cat indoors. He’ll be safer, will live longer, and will feel less need to mark his territory.
• Clean soiled areas thoroughly (see our handout: “Successful Cleaning to Remove Pet Odors and Stains”). Don’t use strong smelling cleaners as these may cause your pet to “over-mark” the spot.
• Make previously soiled areas inaccessible or unattractive (see our handouts: “Aversives For Dogs” and “Aversives For Cats”).
• If making soiled areas inaccessible or unattractive isn’t possible, try to change the significance of those areas. Feed, treat and play with your pet in the areas he is inclined to mark.
• Keep objects likely to cause marking out of reach. Guests’ belongings, new purchases and so forth, should be placed in a closet or cabinet.
• If your pet is marking in response to a new resident in your home (a new baby, roommate or spouse), have the new resident make friends with your pet by feeding, grooming and playing with your pet. Make sure good things happen to your pet when the new baby is around (see our handout: “Preparing Your Pet for Baby’s Arrival”).
• For dogs: watch your dog at all times when he is indoors for signs that he is thinking about urinating. When he begins to urinate, interrupt him with a loud noise and take him outside, then praise him and give him a treat if he urinates outside. When you’re unable to watch him, put your dog in confinement (a crate or small room where he has never marked) or tether him to you with a leash.
• For cats: try to monitor your cat’s movements. If he even sniffs in an area he has previously marked, make a loud noise or squirt him with water. It’s best if you can do this without him seeing you, because then he’ll associate the unpleasantness with his intent to mark, rather than with you.
• Practice “nothing in life is free” with your dog (see our handout: “Nothing In Life Is Free”). This is a safe, non-confrontational way to establish your leadership and requires your dog to work for everything he wants from you. Have your dog obey at least one command (such as “sit”) before you pet him, give him dinner, put on his leash or throw a toy for him. Establishing yourself as a strong leader can help stabilize the hierarchy and thus diminish your dog’s need to mark his territory.
What Not To Do:
Don’t punish your pet after the fact. Punishment administered even a minute after the event is ineffective because your pet won’t understand why he is being punished.
Pets Aren’t People
Dogs and cats don’t urinate or defecate out of spite or jealousy. If your dog urinates on your baby’s diaper bag, it’s not because he is jealous of, or dislikes your baby. The unfamiliar scents and sounds of a new baby in the house are simply causing him to reaffirm his claim on his territory. Likewise, if your cat urinates on your new boyfriend’s backpack, this is not his opinion of your taste in men. Instead, he has perceived the presence of an “intruder” and is letting the intruder know that this territory belongs to him.
Dominance Or Anxiety?
Urine-marking is usually associated with dominance behavior. While this is often the case, some pets may mark when they feel anxious or upset. For example, a new baby in the home brings new sounds, smells and people, as well as changes in routine. Your dog or cat probably isn’t getting as much attention as he was used to getting. All of these changes cause him to feel anxious, which may cause him to mark. Likewise, a pet that is generally anxious may become more so by the presence of roaming neighborhood animals in your yard, or by the introduction of a new cat or dog into your household. If your pet is feeling anxious, you might consider talking to your veterinarian about medications to reduce his anxiety while you work on behavior modification.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
Selecting A Crate Crates may be plastic (often called flight kennels) or collapsible, metal pens. Collapsible fabric kennels are designed for use when the owner is present and may not contain a dog for long periods while unsupervised. Crates come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores. Your dogs crate should be large enough for him to stand up and turn around in.
The Crate Training Process Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dogs age, temperament and past experiences. Its important to keep two things in mind while crate training; one, the crate should always be associated with something pleasant; and two, training should take place in a series of small steps don’t go too fast.
Step 1: Introducing Your Dog To The Crate
• Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to him in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened open so it wont hit your dog and frighten him.
• To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop small food treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If he refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay don’t force him to enter. Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If he isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.
Step 2: Feeding Your Dog His Meals In The Crate
• After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding him his regular meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate. If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, put the food dish all the way at the back of the crate. If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the dish a little further back in the crate.
• Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat his meal, you can close the door while he’s eating. At first, open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until he’s staying in the crate for 10 minutes or so after eating. If he begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving him in the crate for a shorter time period. If he does whine or cry in the crate, its imperative that you not let him out until he stops. Otherwise, hell learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine and hell keep doing it.
Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog To The Crate For Longer Time Periods
• After your dog is eating his regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine him there for short time periods while you’re home. Call him over to the crate and give him a treat. Give him a command to enter, such as, kennel up. Encourage him by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, praise him, give him the treat and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for five to 10 minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let him out of the crate.
• Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave him in the crate and the length of time you’re out of his sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him crated when you’re gone for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.
Step 4: Part A Crating Your Dog When Left Alone
After your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods when you leave the house. Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys in the crate (see our handout, Dog Toys and How to Use Them). You’ll want to vary at what point in your getting ready to leave routine you put your dog in the crate. Although he shouldn’t be crated for a long time before you leave, you can crate him anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving. Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give him a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly. When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excited behavior by responding to him in an excited, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low key. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.
Part B Crating Your Dog At Night
Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside. Older dogs, too, should initially be kept nearby so that crating doesn’t become associated with social isolation. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer. Puppies that are healthy can have their water taken from them a few hours before bedtime to help decrease the frequency of potty trips they need to make during the night.
Potential Problems Too Much Time In The Crate
A crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is crated all day while you’re at work and then crated again all night, he’s spending too much time in too small a space. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate his physical and emotional needs. Also, remember that puppies under 6 months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They cant control their bladders and bowels for longer periods.
Whining If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether he’s whining to be let out of the crate, or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures outlined above, your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate. Try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, hell probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse. If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to eliminate. If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Do not give in, otherwise you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants. If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast, you will be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety will not solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures (see Separation Anxiety).
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2003 ~ All rights reserved.
Positive reinforcement is the presentation of something pleasant or rewarding immediately following a behavior. It makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future, and is one of the most powerful tools for shaping or changing your pet’s behavior.
Correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward must occur immediately, or your pet may not associate it with the proper action. For example, if you have your dog “sit,” but reward him after he’s already stood up again, he’ll think he’s being rewarded for standing up.
Consistency is also essential. Everyone in the family should use the same commands. It might be helpful to post these where everyone can become familiar with them. The most commonly used commands for dogs are “watch me,” “sit,” “stay,” “down” (means lie down), “off” (means off of me or off the furniture), “stand,” “come,” “heel,” (or “let’s go” or “with me”) “leave it” and “settle.” Consistency means always rewarding the desired behavior and never rewarding undesired behavior.
For your pet, positive reinforcement may include food treats, praise, petting or a favorite toy or game. Food treats work especially well for training your dog. A treat should be enticing and irresistible to your pet. It should be a very small, soft, piece of food, so that he will immediately gulp it down and look to you for more. If you give him something he has to chew or that breaks into bits and falls on the floor, he’ll be looking around the floor, not at you. Small pieces of soft commercial treats, hot dogs, cheese, cooked chicken or beef, or miniature marshmallows have all proven successful. Experiment a bit to see what works best for your pet. You may carry the treats in a pocket or a fanny pack on the front of your belt. There are even special treat packs available in many pet stores. Each time you use a food reward, you should couple it with a verbal reward (praise). Say something like, “Good boy” in a positive, happy tone of voice.
Note: Some pets may not be interested in food treats. For those pets, the reward could be in the form of a toy or brief play.
When your pet is learning a new behavior, he should be rewarded every time he does the behavior (continuous reinforcement). It may be necessary to use “shaping,” with your pet (reinforcing something close to the desired response and gradually requiring more from your dog before he gets the treat). For example, if you’re teaching your dog to “shake hands,” you may initially reward him for lifting his paw off the ground, then for lifting it higher, then for touching your hand, then for letting you hold his paw and finally, for actually shaking hands with you.
Intermittent reinforcement can be used once your pet has reliably learned the behavior. At first, you may reward him with the treat three times out of four, then about half the time, then about a third of the time and so forth, until you’re only rewarding him occasionally with the treat. Continue to praise him every time, although once he’s learned the behavior, the praise can be less effusive – a quiet, but positive, “Good boy.” Use a variable schedule of reinforcement, so he doesn’t catch on that he only has to respond every other time. Your pet will learn that if he keeps responding, eventually he’ll get what he wants. If you have a dog who barks until you reward him by paying attention to him, you’ve seen the power of intermittent reinforcement.
By understanding reinforcement, you can see that you’re not forever bound to carry a pocketful of goodies. Your pet will soon be working for your verbal praise, because he really does want to please you and he knows that occasionally, he’ll get a treat, too! There are many small opportunities to reinforce his behavior. You may have him “sit” before letting him out the door (helps prevent door-darting), before petting him (helps prevent jumping up on people) or before giving him his food. Give him a pat or a “Good dog” for lying quietly by your feet or slip a treat into his Kong toy when he’s chewing it, instead of your shoe.
Punishment, including verbal, postural and physical, is the presentation of something unpleasant immediately following a behavior which makes it less likely that the behavior will occur again. To be effective, punishment must be delivered while your pet is engaged in the undesirable behavior, in other words, “caught in the act.” If the punishment is delivered too late, your pet will feel “ambushed.” From his point of view, the punishment is totally unpredictable, and he’s likely to become fearful, distrusting and/or aggressive. This will only lead to more behavior problems. What we humans interpret as “guilty” looks, are actually submissive postures by our pets. Animals don’t have a moral sense of right and wrong, but they are adept at associating your presence and the presence of a mess, with punishment.
If you’ve tried punishment and it hasn’t worked, you should definitely stop using punishment and use positive reinforcement instead. Physical punishment usually involves some level of discomfort or even pain, which is likely to cause your pet to bite, as that is the only way he knows to defend himself. Scruff shakes and “alpha rolls” are likely to result in bites, especially if the dog doesn’t perceive you to be his superior. Also, punishment might be associated with other stimuli, including people, that are present at the time the punishment occurs. For example, a pet that’s punished for getting too close to a small child may become fearful of or aggressive to that child.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2000 ~ All rights reserved.
Many adult dogs adopted from animal shelters were housetrained in their previous homes. While at the shelter, however, they may not have gotten enough opportunities to eliminate outside, and consequently, they may have soiled their kennel areas. This tends to weaken their housetraining habits. Additionally, scents and odors from other pets in the new home may stimulate some initial urine marking. Remember that you and your new dog need some time to learn each others signals and routines. Even if he was housetrained in his previous home, if you do not recognize his bathroom signal, you might miss his request to go out, causing him to eliminate indoors.
Therefore, for the first few weeks after you bring him home, you should assume your new dog is not housetrained and start from scratch. If he was housetrained in his previous home, the re-training process should progress quickly. The process will be much smoother if you take steps to prevent accidents and remind him where he’s supposed to eliminate.
Establish a Routine
• Take your dog out at the same times every day. For example, first thing in the morning when he wakes up, when you arrive home from work, and before you go to bed.
• Praise your dog lavishly every time he eliminates outdoors. You can even give him a treat. You must praise him and give him a treat immediately after he has finished and not wait until after he comes back inside the house. This step is vital, because rewarding your dog for eliminating outdoors is the only way he will know that is what you want him to do.
• Choose a location not too far from the door to be the bathroom spot. Always take your dog, on leash, directly to the bathroom spot. Take him for a walk or play with him only after he has eliminated. If you clean up an accident in the house, leave the soiled rags or paper towels in the bathroom spot. The smell will help your dog recognize the area as the place where he is supposed to eliminate.
• While your dog is eliminating, use a word or phrase like go potty, that you can eventually use before he eliminates to remind him of what he is supposed to be doing.
• Feeding your dog on a set schedule, once or twice a day, will help make his elimination more regular.
Supervise, Supervise, Supervise
Do not give your dog an opportunity to soil in the house. He should be watched at all times when he is indoors. You can tether him to you with a six-foot leash, or use baby gates, to keep him in the room where you are. Watch for signs that he needs to eliminate, like sniffing around or circling. If you see these signs, immediately take him outside, on a leash, to his bathroom spot. If he eliminates, praise him lavishly and reward him with a treat.
When you’re unable to watch your dog closely, he should be confined to an area small enough that he wont want to eliminate there. It should be just big enough for him to comfortably stand, lie down and turn around in. This could be a portion of a bathroom or laundry room blocked off with boxes or baby gates. Or you may want to crate train your dog and use the crate to confine him (see our handout: Crate Training Your Dog). If he has spent several hours in confinement, when you let him out, take him directly to his bathroom spot and praise him when he eliminates.
Most dogs, at some point, will have an accident in the house. You should expect this, as it is a normal part of your dogs adjustment to his new home.
• If you catch your dog in the act of eliminating in the house, do something to interrupt him like making a startling noise (be careful not to scare him). Immediately take him to his bathroom spot, praise him, and give him a treat if he finishes eliminating there.
• Do not punish your dog for eliminating in the house. If you find a soiled area, it is too late to administer a correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your dog’s nose in it, taking him to the spot and scolding him, or any other type of punishment, will only make him afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. Animals do not understand punishment after the fact, even if it is only seconds later. Punishment will do more harm than good.
• Cleaning the soiled area is very important because dogs are highly motivated to continue soiling in areas that smell like urine or feces (see our handout: Successful Cleaning to Remove Pet Odors and Stains).
Other Types of House Soiling Problems
If you have consistently followed the housetraining procedures and your dog continues to eliminate in the house, there may be another reason for his behavior.
• Medical Problems: House soiling can often be caused by physical problems such as a urinary tract infection or a parasite infection. Check with your veterinarian to rule out any possibility of disease or illness.
• Submissive/Excitement Urination: Some dogs, especially young ones, temporarily lose control of their bladders when they become excited or feel threatened. This usually occurs during greetings, intense play or when they are about to be punished (see our handout: Submissive and Excitement Urination).
• Territorial Urine-Marking: Dogs sometimes deposit urine or feces, usually in small amounts, to scent-mark their territory. Both male and female dogs do this, and it most often occurs when they believe their territory has been invaded (see our handout: Territorial Marking Behavior in Dogs and Cats).
• Separation Anxiety. Dogs that become anxious when they are left alone may house soil as a result. Usually, there are other symptoms, such as destructive behavior or vocalization (see our handout: Separation Anxiety).
• Fears or Phobias. When animals become frightened, they may lose control of their bladder and/or bowels. If your dog is afraid of loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, he may house soil when he is exposed to these sounds (see our handout: Helping Your Dog Overcome the Fear of Thunder and Other Startling Noises).
• Surface Preferences. When a dog has been trained to eliminate on only one type of surface, such as newspapers, or has not been offered a variety of surfaces, such as being confined to a run with a concrete floor, a surface preference may develop. This can be difficult to change but is often managed by ensuring that their preferred substrate is unavailable indoors, but is available in an outdoor location.
Permission to use granted by: Dumb Friends League ~ Copyright 2004 ~ All rights reserved.