RESOLVING BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS IN PETS

It is not uncommon for the human/animal bond to become a bit frayed due to behaviour challenges in our pets. In fact, behaviour issues are often cited when people give up a pet.

For example, new puppies and kittens are very cute and fun, but they require training so they integrate well with your family and any other pets you may have. The same is true of adopted adult pets, especially if they have ingrained behaviour traits that don’t mesh well with your household.

There are also times where a physical malady can affect behaviour. For example, a pet with cystitis or kidney disease may have issues with inappropriate urination. This is not a behaviour issue, but a sign and symptom of an underlying disease that requires medical treatment from your veterinarian.

CHEWING

A natural behaviour that can quickly become a behaviour problem if your dog becomes destructive. As we previously discussed, those dogs that NEED to chew and are not provided with an outlet are more likely to tend to this destruction. But there are other common triggers for dogs to start chewing:
• Puppy teething
• Boredom/Excess energy
• Anxiety
• Curiosity (especially puppies)

Encourage your puppy to chew the right things by providing plenty of toys and rotating through them to prevent boredom. Always remember that your puppy won’t be able to chew your personal items if you keep them away from your puppy. When you are not home, keep your dog crated or confined to an area where less destruction can be caused. If you do catch your puppy chewing the wrong thing, correct them with your Negative Marker and use the ‘Leave It’, “Drop It’, or ‘Give’ commands to stop them. Replace the item with a chew toy or something else appropriate to chew on.

DIGGING

Most dogs will do some amount of digging, its just instinct. And as we discussed last week, there are some dogs that just NEED to dig. Some breeds like Terriers are more prone to digging because of their hunting histories. In general, the most common reasons dogs will dig are as follows:
• Boredom/Excess energy
• Anxiety or fear
• Hunting instinct
• Comfort-seeking (such as nesting or trying to cool off)
• Hiding possessions (like bones or toys)
• To escape or gain access to an off-limits area.

As with most other problem behaviours, determining the cause of the digging and working at eliminating the source will be the key. Otherwise, providing an appropriate space to dig and training them to use that space will help save your garden.

SEPARATION ANXIETY

Most dogs will vocalise to some degree, but excessive barking is considered a behaviour problem. Brisbane City Council considers excessive barking to be any more than six minutes in any hour between 7am and 10pm or any THREE minutes in any half hour period between 10pm and 7am. When you think about, that’s not a very long period of time.Before you can correct barking, you need to figure out why your dog is vocalising in the first place. Some of the more common types of barking are:

  • Warning or alert

  • Playfulness/Excitement

  • Attention-seeking

  • Anxiety

  • Boredom

  • Responding to other dogs

Removing as many of these triggers as you can will be the key to controlling excessive barking. Another thing to try is teaching the Bark/Quiet commands as outlined below. Knowing what is going to trigger your dog to bark and also knowing the signs that they are about to bark will help immensely with training.

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TEACHING QUIET

Either do this training passively every time that your dog is starting to show the signs that they are about to bark or create a situation that you know will cause your dog to bark. An easy way to have a friend/family member knock at the door or to get them very excited during play.
When your dog barks, briefly acknowledge it by checking for the stimulus (looking out the window or going to your dog) – don’t verbalise anything during this process. Then get their attention by holding up a treat or a toy.Only give your dog the treat or toy when they have stopped barking.
Repeat these steps, but gradually increase the amount of time between your dog stopping barking and them getting the treat.
Choose one simple word for the command. As with all commands it should be easy to remember and should be used consistently by everyone in the house. Examples are QUIET, ENOUGH, SHUSH or HUSH.
Once your dog has remained quiet a few times, add in the cue. While your dog is barking, give your quiet command in a firm but upbeat voice while holding up the reward. Give your dog the reward when the barking stops.
Practice this cue frequently. You can do it anytime that your dog is barking but keep training sessions brief.

CHASING

A dog’s desire to chasing moving objects is simply a display of predatory instinct and centuries of training. Many dogs will chase other animals, people and cars, all of which can lead to some pretty devastating and dangerous outcomes! While you often can’t stop your dog from trying to chase, you can take steps to prevent disaster. Your best chance at success is to keep the case from getting out of control. Providing dedicated training over the course of your dog’s life will teach them to focus on YOU before running off.
• Keep your dog on a leash at all times, unless in a dedicated off-leash area. It is important to note that this is a law in Queensland and can lead you with a big fine if you don’t comply.
• Train your dog to come when called and have excellent recall
• Have a dog whistle or other noisemaker on hand to get your dog’s attention.
• Always stay aware and watch for potential triggers like runners and bikes.

Our veterinary staff strive to help our clients strengthen the bond they share with their pets and we believe that helping you with behaviour issues is an important aspect of our work. Your veterinarian can help you with many of your pet’s problems including inappropriate urination or defecation, aggression, separation anxiety, inappropriate chewing and barking, introduction of new pets into the household, and household pets that are in conflict with one another.

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