Why does my dog…?

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Why does my dog…? The age old question and before we start, know that this blog post is not about answering it. As a dog trainer I get asked this all the time, so I decided to flip it around and ask my friends on social media why they think their dogs do the things they do. Things like barking, digging, chasing cats, pulling on the leash and more. I got some great answers, some not so great answers and some hilarious answers. So first I would like to thank everyone that participated in my little experiment and please know that I am not going to embarrass any of you or call you out publicly.

I did this simply because it is a great question, maybe one of the most important. Why? Because it tells me you understand that there actually is a purpose in what they are doing. You see every behavior has a function. We may not understand what that is, but to your dog it may be very important. Many behaviors serve various functions, and finding out which one is key to understanding our dogs; and in some cases, helping them to find alternative ways to access those functions. Let’s take barking for instance. Is he barking because he wants you to play? Is he barking because he heard another dog and wants to join the conversation? Is there a burglar outside (paper sack blowing by), or maybe he’s been holding his knees together for the last hour and needs to go to the john.

If we don’t take the time and figure out what function the behavior serves, and instead try to suppress it through punishment, we end up with a dog that either shuts down and stops offering behaviors, (good behaviors included) or with a frustrated dog that eventually lashes out in a destructive or aggressive manner. You see, when we suppress behaviors instead of addressing them, the motivation is still there, and in fact can be made stronger. For instance if your dog lunges and barks at the mail man, and you punish him, his thought process is mailman appears, bad things happen to me, I hate the mail man.

Most dog owners have unrealistic expectations for their dogs. We expect them to understand everything we say although they don’t speak our language. We leave shoes, pillows and rugs (i.e. toys) out and then punish them when they destroy them. In short we are terrible communicators and yet we expect them to be great at it. Then there are those who don’t care what the function of the behavior is and only want obedience and compliance no matter what. To those I say fine, next time that paper bag tries to break in and steal your things, I hope your quiet dog watches the whole thing and laughs.

In conclusion, it is up to us to show them ways to achieve their goals in ways that are acceptable to us, and to stop setting them up for failure. This is done by paying attention to our dog, asking the right questions, building strong bonds, training and management.

Seven tips to help your pup cope with fireworks

 

help1. Keep your dog indoors. Insulate her from the loud noises as much as possible by keeping her indoors, preferably in an interior room. The day after fourth of July is the busiest day of the year for dog shelters, because nervous dogs dig under or go over the fence trying to escape the loud noises.

2. Don’t take your dog to the fireworks display. It’s like someone forcing you into a room full of snakes if you were scared of them. This can cause all kinds of psychological damage to your dog.

3. Play music or keep the television on to help mask the sound.

4. Have one of the family stay home with them if possible, or you may return to a destroyed house.

5. If they are showing signs of stress, try wrapping them in a blanket or use a thunder shirt. If your dog has struggled in the past, you may want to try synthetic pheromones like Adaptil. Just be sure to administer it before the fireworks start. In extreme cases, medication may need to be prescribed by your Vet.

6. Comfort her. It is a myth that you can make a dog’s anxiety worse by comforting them. They need our reassurance. Just make sure they are asking for help. Don’t assume they want you to hold them. If they are pulling away, let them.

7. Give them extra tasty treats like chicken or hot dogs. Food releases pheromones that help the dog to feel good. Keep the treats hidden, and when the fireworks begin, feed her the treats. If there is a pause in the fireworks, put the food away. When the fireworks resume, so do the treats. Fireworks predict treats.