Fixing common behaviors that confuse dogs

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We all do what we think is in the best interest of our dogs, but sometimes we inadvertently teach them the wrong things. These are just a few things we do daily that teach our dogs incorrect behaviors. Being more aware of your actions and what they could be teaching can lead to a well-behaved dog with little or no extra effort. Here are some of the most common behaviors and some suggested solutions.

Dog barking at the window

The behavior: When your dog is barking at the window, you yell at them to stop – usually in a louder than normal voice, and get more heated the longer the barking goes on.  Your dog hears you “barking back” and only sees you joining in the fun of barking at the squirrel outside.  You have joined the barking game. Personally, I like for my dogs to bark at the window as a warning, but I get tired of hearing them way before they get tired of barking.

The solution: What I have done is set a limit of four or five barks then tell them “enough.” In the beginning, they had no idea what that meant, but I distracted them away from the window by going to them and calling them away with a treat or toy while giving the “enough” command.  Now after lots of repetition, they know that “enough” means to come away from the window and stop barking.

Picking up small dogs can cause them to worry

The behavior: This one only applies to small dogs, but I see it all the time.  Picking up and carrying the dog all the time can make them afraid to be on the floor when other dogs or people are around.  I have seen many owners who pick up their dogs when they see a larger dog to “save them.” What they are really doing is justifying that there is something for their dog to be worried about.

The solution: If mom or dad is picking her up, little Fifi figures that there must be something wrong. You will be doing your dog a big disservice if you continue to “save her” when there is no danger.  Let her venture out in the world a little –she needs to feel secure in any situation.

Dog jumps on people

The behavior: This is the most common inquiry I get–dogs jumping up on them. Usually the jumping starts when you come home through the door. The natural inclination is to put your hands out and hold off or push the dog off of you. But when you do this, you’re telling the dog that it’s time to play. Think about it.  When you play with your dog, you pet them, lean over them, and your voice goes up. They don’t see any difference.

The solution: Walk calmly past them, arms at your side or folded in front of you, no greeting, and continue putting purses, briefcases, or groceries away. Then you can ask for a “sit” or go outside and greet. After a while of doing this consistently, you should have no problem walking in the door because now your dog will wait until you give the signal that it’s ok to greet. If they are jumping on you at other random times, just make a quarter turn so that your side is facing them with arms folded and not looking at them. This makes you boring to them and they will lose interest in jumping to get your attention when they see it does not work anymore.

Routine before leaving the house or apartment

The behavior: Our cues to the dog that we are leaving and thus giving them a head start worrying about us leaving (if they are inclined to do that). Dogs that are prone to any level of separation anxiety are well aware of our cues that we are leaving. We are very good at giving those cues because we are usually very repetitious in our actions. Dogs are very keen to us putting on our shoes, picking up our keys, getting lunches out of the fridge, picking up purses and briefcases, and putting on coats. Then we make it even worse by saying our goodbyes.

The solution: If your dog whines, barks, or is destructive while you are gone, try having a different routine when you leave. Try leaving through the front door instead of the garage door, or already having your keys in your coat pocket, or just calmly leave without all of the hoopla. This will break the habit of your dog getting all wound up before you leave. You should still leave the dog something to do while you’re gone – a frozen peanut butter Kong, long-lasting bone or antlers to chew.

Playing tug

The behavior: Playing rough or tug with the dog. Nobody enjoys a good game of tug more than I, but teaching a dog to play rough and tug without giving some boundaries can be a recipe for trouble. If you are playing rough or tug with your dog and have no boundaries (chomping up the tug toy until they reach your hand, or putting teeth on you while playing rough), you run a real risk of someone else getting hurt when he or she plays with your pup.

The solution: It’s best to set boundaries from the start. When teeth are put to skin (even with puppies), play stops. When playing tug, ask for “drop it” so you win, and the dog doesn’t continue to pull. You may have to trade a treat for the tug toy as you are saying “drop it.” You should always supervise anyone else playing this game so everyone knows the rules.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at and on Facebook.

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