Lisa Giroux, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada firstname.lastname@example.org
The vast majority of folks who call me or contact me for help with their pet dog have the following complaints:
Gets overexcited and is hard to control.
Barks too much.
Won't come back when he's loose outside.
Isn't reliably housetrained
Can you relate?
Although the items above are certainly a pain in the butt to those who live with the dog, THEY ARE NOT THE ROOT PROBLEM. All of the listed items are symptoms of a deeper "disease." They are SYMPTOMS.
If you have headaches caused by a brain tumor, you can certainly stop the pain of the headaches by taking medication. But what do you REALLY need to do? Mask the symptoms, or cure the brain tumor? The answer is obvious. You need to take steps to get rid of the cause of the headaches. You need to cure the brain tumor. After the brain tumor is taken care of, the headaches will go away. If you don't take care of the brain tumor, eventually you might die.
The brain tumor analogy is almost exactly parallel with what happens to dogs when owners try to mask the symptoms of the deeper problem rather than curing the overall "disease." Dogs that have the "disease" will not get better unless the disease is treated. If you treat the symptoms alone, the disease is still there...and IT COULD KILL YOUR DOG.
With dogs, the first symptoms are usually mild and slightly annoying. Then they get bigger and bigger and WAAAY more annoying. They will not go away without "treatment" and they will DEFINITELY get worse. The dog will not "grow out of it" or magically get better. IT WILL GET WORSE. Before long, the behaviours are so annoying, or even dangerous (biting) that they are potentially life-threatening to the dog...the owner has to "put it down."
Did you know that the number one cause of death for pet dogs in North America is euthanasia? Yes, folks, death is the end of this "disease," almost as surely as for person with a brain tumor who chooses to go untreated. Don't kid yourself. If your dog is not behaving well, he is in danger of dying.
So what is the disease? Here's where you might have to take a deep breath and prepare yourself to be offended and shocked. Please continue reading anyway!
You are probably not taking care of your animal properly.
Improper husbandry (the care and control of your animal) is the cause of each and every symptom listed above. A dog whose basic needs are met does not act the way your dog is acting. That's the disease we have to cure. Most of the dogs that I see are absolutely normal dogs who do not have any intrinsic "problem" in their temperament. Their "problem" is that their owners have not met their basic needs. As a result, the dog behaves in a way that bugs the heck out of the human, and starts the dog down the road toward a one-way trip to the vet.
Here's what dogs need in order to behave well.
If any of these items are not in balance, the dog acts out.
Dogs need thoughtful training in order to know how to act. They do not somehow "get that way." They do not "grow out of" unwanted behaviours. Unless you take time to train your dog how to act, he is going to act how he wants. Usually this is in direct conflict with ease of management in a human home.
Most dog owners benefit greatly from teaching the commands Come, Settle, Off, Sit, Down, and Stay.
Dogs are learning at all times. Unwanted behaviour is usually learned behaviour that the human did not guide or direct. For this reason it is necessary to exercise control of your dog to prevent him learning things that you didn't teach.
Control is necessary not only to teach dogs good habits. Control is absolutely necessary in human society. The simple acts of having a dog on-leash or in a fenced backyard are aspects of the control necessary. However, control is necessary in nearly every interaction the dog has with his world.
Dogs should understand clearly (and without harsh treatment) who is in control (the human). If they do not understand this basic concept, they experience stress when the human tries to take control. They may become very fearful, struggle, and even bite. They often take active measures to avoid accepting direction by running away, staying just out of arm's reach, or other avoidance behaviours. Read more about this on the page "Do You Think Your Dog is Dominant?"
In most pet homes, control is only exercised over the dog when absolutely necessary. Generally, if the dog is not actively bothering someone, they are left to their own devices. The dog learns that 99% of the time, he chooses what to do. 1% of the time somebody directs him.
In order to have a pet that responds to you well, acts in a way that is pleasing to you, and is a safe animal to be around, training and control are necessary.
In order to establish training and control, implement the Nothing in Life is Free program. This program works for older dogs and also as a starting-point for raising a puppy. After you have started Nothing in Life is Free, you can begin training all the different behaviours needed for better management of your dog.
Dogs are cautious creatures as adults. If they encounter something new they normally choose to back away rather than investigate. If they cannot back away they become frightened and may show aggressive behaviour toward whatever is scaring them.
Dogs must be desensitized to human environments or they will be scared, hyper, and show various other reactions to stimulus. Ideally, a dog should be taken to various environments, meet all different kinds of people, and learn doggy social behaviour from all different types of dogs as a young puppy (young pups accept new things easily). However, even an adult dog can be desensitized to all sorts of things. Lack of a good socialization record is the #1 cause of dog aggression (fear aggression).
Another aspect of the socialization issue is that many dogs do not get enough interaction with a living being on a daily basis, and hardly ever get to interact with their own species. Dogs are social creatures, just like us. If they spend too much time alone they start go wonky, just like us. How much interaction are you giving your dog? Just being in the same house doesn't count! Active social interaction is needed. How often does he get to spend time with other dogs, his own species? Most dogs need more.
Please visit Socialization to learn how to socialize your dog.
This is by far one of the biggest reasons why pet dogs act up. It is also the factor that, when improved, almost immediately produces huge improvements in a dog's behaviour and demeanor.
Dogs are programmed instinctually to do a million different things on a daily basis. When we keep dogs as pets, they rarely get to act on any of these instinctual urges. So, they make up stuff to do. Their brains need to be busy, the human doesn't give them an outlet, and the dogs "get busy" on their own.
The lack of adequate mental stimulation causes hyperactivity, inappropriate chewing, development of obsessive-compulsive behaviours, and even health problems.
Many people consider taking the dog for a walk or a free run to be the end-all, be-all answer to a dog that is jumping out of his skin with excitement. This is far from the truth. Mental stimulation is very different from exercise. Although certainly exercise can be combined with some mentally stimulating activities, it does not replace the dog's need for busy-work for his brain. If you don't believe me, try an experiment on yourself. Do not read, speak to other people, do crossword puzzles, watch TV, or engage in any of your favorite activities for one week. Instead, every time you feel like doing one of these things, go walk on a treadmill. See how you feel after a week. You might be fitter, but you'll be jumping out of your skin to do something mentally. You'll be bored and frustrated. This is exactly what happens to dogs all the time.
Please visit Mental Stimulation to learn how to insert far greater amounts of mental stimulation into your dog's day. Be aware, too, that many of the exercises prescribed on that page are cross-purpose because they involve social interactions with humans and other dogs.
Dogs that are well-exercised are far more pleasant to be around. Dogs need to run around freely at least three times a week or so, or they gradually begin to exhibit signs of hyperactivity or become obese.
The biggest reason for a lack of exercise opportunities lies in the dog not being trained very well. If every time you take your dog for a free run, he runs away (and you get very frustrated and/or scared because you can't get him back) you will gradually stop taking him for free runs. As the lack of exercise builds up, the results start to show at home.
A nice routine for doggy exercise is to take him for at least one leash-walk every day, and for a 30-60 free-run three times a week or more. Be aware that daily leash walks alone are never enough exercise for a dog larger than about 10 pounds. For small dogs, indoor ball games can be substituted for outdoor walks, but they are a poor substitute because they don't include logs, grass, groundhog tracks, bugs to chase, birds to watch, or other dogs to play with.
One great way to provide exercise for your dog is to find a couple of other folks who also have dogs, and schedule regular free-runs. Your dog will get some doggy buddies (fulfilling some of his need for more social interaction) and exercise at the same time.
I do not recommend frequenting "dog parks" where the dog is constantly meeting and interacting with strange dogs. You can use dog parks well if you take along a few dogs that already have relationships. Dogs are not instinctually programmed to constantly accept and play with "stranger dogs." Letting them have ongoing relationships is much better. However, if you can't find other "dog buddies," dog parks are better than nothing.
Ever see that documentary "Supersize Me?" This guy decided to do an experiment. He ate nothing but McDonalds food for one whole month. He lived through it, but he felt depressed, queasy, irritable, and experienced massive ups and downs in relation to the blood sugar swings from all the crappy carbohydrates he was consuming. He also gained 27 pounds in 30 days. At the end of the experiment, his blood readings indicated that he was in danger of liver failure.
Dogs that have a poor diet probably experience some of the same effects as the guy that did the Supersize Me experiment. I have had direct experience with improving a dog's temperament through the improvement of their daily diet.
Many dogs are allergic to items in dog food, and allergies to food can express themselves in very different ways. Dogs can have very obvious health issues such as continual ear infections or skin problems, diarrhea, or arthritis when they are eating something their body can't handle. But did you know that allergies to items can also cause behavioural problems? If you don't believe me, do some research on the net about allowing kids to eat certain red dyes. Commercial dog foods are full of all kinds of things that have been shown to have a high instance of allergic reaction, including the meat sources (chicken being the highest, beef next, and so on) and the preservatives and carbohydrate sources.
The best possible diet to feed is a raw, wholesome, fresh homemade diet. If you do a Google search you will find various well-researched and balanced recipes.
Dog food is one of the only products available today that you can reliably predict is better if it costs more. Feed the most expensive food you can afford to feed. Avoid grocery-store brands. Feed dry food rather than wet (wet food is mostly water and your dog has to eat massive amounts to get the nutrition he needs). You can usually feed a smaller portion of good quality dry food because each kibble is packed with more calories and nutrients than the less expensive brands.
Be very wary of following the feeding directions on the back of dog food bags. Most tell you to feed far more than your dog needs. My Search and Rescue certified Aussie eats *half* of the recommended portion on the back of my dog food bag. Of course this can result in obesity, but it can result in another telling behavioural result as well...your dog might (instead of getting fat) use up the excess calories he is getting in restless energy. I cannot tell you how many times I have cut a dog's food by one cup or more a day, and the dog stayed at the same weight...and he became calmer.
If you are not sure if your dog is at a proper weight, visit this page and do an at-home test!
Health Care: Your dog needs to see a vet when he's not feeling well, and I recommend a yearly exam for all dogs, and an exam every 6 months for old dogs.
Research has shown that yearly vaccination is possibly doing more harm than good. Yearly vaccination is too much. Many people think that it's a good thing, so why not do it more often, but there is huge evidence that indicates that yearly vaccination could actually really hurt your dog. I encourage you to educate yourself in regards to this issue and speak to your vet about it. I personally follow a very different vaccination schedule than what my veterinarian recommends. My choices are based on studies and research conducted at Cornell and Guelph Universities that show that yearly vaccines are not necessary to adequately protect your dog against disease.
For more information on the vaccination issue, you can start with this article by Catherine O'Driscoll. She has written an excellent book on the topic as well. This article at Leerburg (link takes you off-site) is a simple overview of some of the common viewpoints of those that are against yearly vaccines.
Now that you have read this article, try a simple exercise.
Sit down with a piece of paper and make 5 columns
Make these items headers at the top of the columns:
Training & Control
Diet and Health Care
Under each item, write down ways that you are going to improve things.
Practice your self-designed program for a period of two weeks. I suggest you mark down the date on the calendar.
At the end of your two weeks, sit down and think about whether or not your dog has changed his behaviour for the better. Ask yourself if he seems more happy, more calm, more relaxed, easier to get along with, easier to control.
If you are like all of my students for the past 14 years, you and your dog will be pleasantly surprised to discover that not only are things better for both you and your dog, but that it was extremely easy to achieve that progress.
Good luck, and don't forget to visit all the referenced links in this article:
Lisa Giroux, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada email@example.com