Is your dog digging, chewing, or destroying things? How about refusing to come to you, bolting out the door, or jumping up on you and your guests?
If you answered yes to any of these, your dog has a training problem not a behavior problem. These problems can usually be fixed simply by consistently training your dog everyday. Digging, chewing, and destroying things usually occur because the dog is bored. However, they can also be signs of seperation anxiety. I will go more into that later.
Training problems occur because the dog simply doesn’t know how to act in a human excepted way to any given situation. Therefor, the dog acts out like it would with other dogs in a pack. Jumping up is caused because the dog is trying to lick our lips. The only way for him to reach our lips is to jump. Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing in the dog world, because it signifies that the dog is accepting the guest on his property. When your dog does this to you, he’s trying to tell you, "Welcome back! Did you catch a good meal for us? Give me some!" In other words, he thinks you went out hunting, killed and ate some prey, and he wants you to throw some of it up for him to eat! In a pack of wolves or wild dogs, the hunters will often feed the members of the pack left at the den this way. Mostly, the pups. Because we’ve bred dogs to keep neoteny qualities (puppy qualities) they do this to us throughout their puppy and young adult lives.
Digging is also a training problem rather than a behavior problem. Why? Because it is not a temperament fault, the dog doesn’t know not to dig. With training or prevention, this problem can be resolved. This is a common problem in terriers because terriers were bred to be earth dogs. That means they were bred to flush out prey from their burrows. For dogs, digging is a fun activity! It stimulates their minds because there is some problem solving involved. For instance, if a dog is sniffing around the yard and finds some wild onions or walnuts beneath the soil, he has to figure away to get to them to eat them. Therefor, he digs. The reward is that he’s figured out the problem and gets the desired object or food. If you have a digger in your home, there are a couple of ways to solve this problem. You can either get a sand box and bury some of his favorite treats in it, and/or make sure he gets plenty of exercise each day. Remember, a tired dog is a good dog!
Chewing is also a training problem. Chewing releaves tension and stress for dogs. If your dog is chewing on things he shouldn’t be, it’s because he doesn’t know better yet. Buy him two or three of his own chew toys that he can chew on whenever he wants, for as long as he wants. Praise him for chewing on just these toys. Make sure that the toys are hard enough that he can’t destroy them in one sitting. If you use rawhides to satisfy your dog’s chewing needs, then supervise him with it. Some dogs will try to soften the rawhide and swallow it hole, which is a choking hazard. Some people like to use bitter sprays on furniture legs and so on to keep the dog from chewing on those areas. This works with some dogs, but not all.
Ok, so now we’ve covered some basic training problems. What about behavior problems? Behavior problems are temperament faults. Meaning aggression and food possession. If your dog is growling at you when you pass by him while eating, then he’s got a true behavior problem. Behavior problems are not always easily solved. However, establishing dominance (leardership) over your dog will help a lot. Make sure you eat before your dog, and then when you feed him make him work for it by sitting first or laying down. Alpha males and females in a wolf pack always eat first, are infront of the rest of the pack, and they set the rules. If your dog is showing dominant aggression towards you, he doesn’t see you as the leader and is trying to enforce his rules.
Seperation anxiety usually occurs because the dog has a strong bond to it’s human. When the human leaves, the dog has a kind of panic attack because he’s not sure if the human will come back or not. In most cases, serperation anxiety is a training problem, because the dog has learned the bad behavior in place of the acceptable behavior. Seperation anxiety can be very difficult to cure in a dog, but preventing it is pretty easy. If your dog has already developed this problem, then talk with your vet about possible prescriptions that can calm the dog down while your gone. Using medication with a training program is ideal. This is a common problem in spaniels because they tend to bond with their humans very quickly and tightly. To prevent seperation anxiety, distract the dog before you leave with a nicely stuffed kong or an ideally sized bone for your dog. You can also crate the dog and give it a treat. The dog will begin to associate you leaving the house with getting a treat and is less likely to develop seperation anxiety. Crating the dog will prevent the dog from injuring himself during a panic attack.
Some dogs have extreme behavior problems that make them "Red Zone" cases. Meaning, they simply want to kill whatever they don’t like. These are the dogs that will attack anyone or anything at anytime. If your dog exhibits this kind of behavior, seek a professional in your area immediately!
On the reverse side of "Red Zone" are the scared dogs. These are the dogs that are scared of everything. This could be because of negative associations as a pup, breeders seperating puppies from the mother and littermates too early, or being crated without being let out since puppyhood. Puppies generally bounce back pretty quick, but if these dogs are not properly socialized before maturity, they are more difficult to rehabilitate. However, many people consider handshyness to be a behavior problem, but this is not the case. Handshyness is a training problem because the dog has learned to be afraid of hands. Dogs are not handshy from birth.
In summary, behavior problems and training problems are different. Training problems occur when the dog doesn’t know what the owner wants him to do. He thinks he can do what he wants. Behavior problems are inbred problems that occur as temperament faults. Typical behavior problems are food possession, aggression and timidness. Sometimes, behavior problems and training problems intermingle to form bigger problems. Customized training is appropriate in these situations.
If your dog suffers from true behavior problems, it is a good idea to hire a private trainer to help. Do not attempt to correct the problems yourself, or you could get injured and/or make the problem worse. Leave behavior problems to the professionals. Training problems, on the other hand, can be solved via a trainer or you can buy a book and try yourself. Just make sure you stay consistent so as not to confuse your dog. Frustrated dogs often give up and won’t listen at all. Bottom line, trainers are your best bet. Check back after awhile, and I’ll tell you how to find a good trainer in your area.