Animal Behavior Clinic

Preventing Canine Behavior Problems

To achieve optimal behavioral health and to prevent the development of behavior problems in the future, the specialists at Tufts’ Animal Behavior Clinic can assist you in developing an individualized management plan and training program for your puppy or adult dog. For more information, or to set up an appointment, call the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic at 508-887-4640.

Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, including to ward off “intruders,” to attempt to reunite themselves with their “pack,” and to gain attention from owners. Prevent barking and other excessive vocalizations by teaching your dog that guests are associated with positive experiences. Gradually exposing your dog to your absence will be a first step towards avoiding excessive vocalizations associated with separation anxiety. If you don’t reward attention-seeking barking with your attention, the behavior will eventually extinguish because it does not reap the desired reward. To prevent nuisance barking that stems from insufficient stimulation, ensure that your dog receives daily mental and physical exercise.

While there are a variety of techniques to teach bite inhibition, one strategy is to emit a loud, high pitched “OUCH!” when your puppy mouths you too hard, then completely withdraw your attention for 30 seconds. This must be done every time your puppy bites too hard. Puppies normally learn how to control their bites from their mothers and siblings.

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However, because puppies are often adopted out by eight weeks of age, they don’t have the opportunity to learn from their canine family. Thus, it’s up to you to teach your puppy these skills. If your puppy continues to disregard your attention withdrawal every time he bites, ask yourself how much exercise your puppy received that day? If you’re the only chew-toy in town and your puppy is insufficiently exercised, then you’ll end up being the brunt of his seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for social interaction “doggie style.”

Remember that teaching bite inhibition teaches your puppy that he is not allowed to put pressure on people or clothing. However, he still needs to chew so you must provide proper chew toys to allow him to exercise his jaws. This is especially important when puppies are teething.

Exercise and Environmental Enrichment
At Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic we believe that “A tired dog is a happy dog.” Ideally, a young healthy dog should have a minimum of 20-30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise. Some ways to get your dog’s heart rate elevated include long walks, running, fly ball, games of Frisbee or fetch, and swimming. Swimming is great for older dogs as it is not as demanding and puts less stress on their joints than other kinds of aerobic exercise. Agility classes are also a great way for your dog to get exercise, and for you to enhance your communication skills and bond with your dog. Aerobic exercise also stimulates the production of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that helps to stabilize mood and produces feelings of contentment, which can help relax an otherwise anxious or aggressive dog. It is also important to provide some environmental enrichment for your dog. Too much time spent bored, can lead to destructive and attention-seeking behaviors. There are several types of interactive toys you can provide your dog with at home such as food puzzles, treat balls, and “Kong” toys filled with food or delicious treats. Putting your dog’s toys on rotation will keep them novel and fun. You can also provide your dog access to a window with a bird feeder for home entertainment. Take your dog to new places filled with interesting and new smells for them to investigate. Some dog owners also choose to take their dogs to a doggie daycare for socialization and interaction while they are away at work.

Neutering and Spaying
If you do not plan to use your dog for breeding, have him or her castrated or spayed. Neutering can ameliorate a variety of animal behavior problems and may lower risk for various health problems in the future.

Outdoor Confinement
Dogs that are allowed to roam free run the risk of being hit by cars or injured by other animals. In addition, with some breeds of dogs that are extraordinarily predatory, you run the risk that they may injure or kill neighboring pets or livestock.

Practice safe containment by providing a sheltered and enclosed outdoor space for your dog. In most cases, the safest solution is to install a solid fence. Invisible fences can be considered as a last resort if your dog is not aggressive and if you are available to supervise his behavior when he’s loose in the yard. Since dogs are territorial, you run the risk that your dog may injure a person or another animal that crosses your invisible fence and enters your property. Tie outs are not recommended as safe restraint for dogs for many reasons. Dogs that are regularly chained are prone to excessive barking and may develop aggressive tendencies.

Most towns have leash laws; find out what yours are. When walking your dog, it is best to keep him on leash unless he is trained to work off leash. This is for your dog’s safety and shows consideration for others. While your dog may be friendly, other dogs and people may not appreciate his enthusiasm!

Social Behavior
Dogs are a very social species and form strong attachments with their human family members. Given their pack behavior tendency, it is important that you establish your leadership role over your dog as early as possible. Structure and positive reinforcement go a long way in establishing appropriate social roles.

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Because dogs are very social, some dogs may form dysfunctional attachments to their owners that can result in separation anxiety. Therefore, it is important to teach your dog to be comfortable when separated from you for increasingly longer periods of time. Gradually accustom your dog to being away from you in 10-minute increments. In addition, if you continually give in to your dog’s demands (demanding petting, demanding playtime or treats), you will be reinforcing needy and/or bossy behavior.

Establish proper play behavior by socializing your pet early to a variety of people and other animals. Puppy play classes provide an excellent opportunity for exposure in a controlled environment. Many veterinarians discourage taking puppies to puppy class until they are fully vaccinated at four months of age. While there is some risk that your puppy could contract an illness from such exposure, far more dogs are surrendered to shelters because they received insufficient socialization to dogs and people at an early age and become excessively fearful or aggressive.

Prevent thievery from turning into an attention-seeking game by ignoring your dog if he steals something that is not harmful or valuable. If you need to retrieve the item, you can offer a trade until you’ve taught your dog to relinquish objects on command.

Reward your dog when he offers to relinquish objects. This teaches him that relinquishing objects is a “good thing” as opposed to keeping them for a game of chase.

Begin teaching obedience commands as soon as you obtain your puppy. Use positive training methods to encourage and reward good behavior. Following your commands should be fun for your canine companion. Remember to regularly incorporate into your dog’s daily routine the commands you’ve taught him. Don’t save the command “come” for obedience class and training sessions. Use “come” whenever you want your dog to approach you and remember to make it worth his while - be it with a kindly smile and pat or a delicious treat. Teaching your dog manners will make him the joy of the neighborhood instead of the local nuisance.

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Teach your dog to calmly accept routine handling by pairing the experience with treats and lots of praise.

Avoid development of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviors by addressing your pet’s innate behavioral needs, encouraging good behavior and rewarding good conduct. By adhering to the following three “rules” you’ll be off to an excellent start!

  • Remember to reward behaviors that you want to encourage.
  • Prevent unacceptable behaviors from happening. This requires time, supervision, and appropriate outlets.
  • Train your dog that acquiescing to your requests reaps desired rewards. Of course there will be times when your dog misbehaves. You should never use harsh physical punishment to correct your dog when he’s behaving inappropriately.

Clicker training is an excellent way of teaching your dog new commands. This positive, reward-based training method uses a click to mark the desired behavior. Initially the sound of the clicker is meaningless to your dog. Therefore, he first needs to be conditioned to associate a "click" sound with a delicious food treat. Every time you click, your dog gets a treat. After a while your dog will understand that the "click" means something good and you can proceed to the next step. This next step is to click when your dog is engaged in desirable behavior that he happens to display, say sitting, and then reward with food. Once a dog has figured out what behavior makes the clicker go off, and after that the food, occur, he will offer that behavior more often. The last step is to use a command word (e.g. "Sit!") and reward him when he responds after the command word is used.

Have a look at this fantastic video about clicker training.

Excessively harsh corrections at the very least may teach your dog that you are not trustworthy and at the very worst could make your dog fearful or even aggressive. Instead, use humane and calm corrections that are appropriate for the degree of transgression. Verbal reprimands said without emotion, ignoring attention-seeking behaviors, time outs, withdrawal of expected rewards and occasional environmental punishers (i.e.water pistol, shake can, fog horn or even better the Snappy Trainer) are all appropriate means of discouraging undesirable animal behavior.

Crate Training
Crate training your puppy by making the crate a pleasant place to be will allow you to confine your puppy when you can’t supervise him. This helps prevent your puppy from developing unwanted behaviors when you can’t keep an eye on him. Do not use the crate for punishment or for long-term confinement.
Teaching your puppy to call his crate “home” will have long term advantages. Once your puppy is fully trained, you will no longer need to use it as a “baby sitter.” However, it is important that your adult dog continues to have positive experiences with his crate as you may need it to restrict your dog’s activities following surgeries or as he recuperates from an illness.

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House Training
Constant vigilance and regular opportunities to eliminate outdoors are essential when housetraining your puppy. You must be willing to take your puppy outside on a scheduled basis, at all hours of the day and night, and anytime he indicates a desire to go outdoors. When you are housetraining, if your dog asks to go outdoors, take him out for a “business” only trip. If he does not eliminate quickly, return indoors and keep your eye on him. Young puppies may need to eliminate every one to four hours when they are awake and active. Adult dogs can usually hold their waste for six to eight hours during the day and eight to ten hours overnight. Each dog is an individual in this department so learn your dog’s physical limits and do not exceed them. As with all training endeavors, patience and consistency are the keys to success. Keep in mind that it may take several weeks or months to reliably housetrain your puppy.

Everyone in the family should chip in and help with all aspects of the training, including taking the puppy outside on a regular schedule, supervising him when indoors, and cleaning up any mistakes with an appropriate enzymatic cleanser.

Teaching your puppy to eliminate on command has obvious advantages. The command technique allows you to not only train your dog when it should eliminate but also lets you designate the latrine area.

Weight Management in Dogs
A fat dog is not necessarily a happy dog. In fact, his health may be at serious risk, and he may become lethargic. By itself, obesity carries with it its own set of physical problems that can contribute to a pet’s early demise. Obese dogs have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, liver disease, diabetes, orthopedic problems and even neurological problems. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can be accomplished with a sensible feeding plan. The amount and type of food your dog requires depends upon his age, activity level and other factors. For specific guidance about your dog’s nutritional needs, contact your veterinarian.