When Barking Is a Problem

It never stops. Or maybe it just seems that way. It begins in the morning, when the kids get up for school and gets louder as you head out of the door for work. In the evening, it starts up again while you fix dinner, talk on the phone – sometimes even while you watch TV. What happens while you’re away is anybody’s guess, but based on the notes from the neighbors, it can’t be good.

What you’ve got is a dog that barks too much. Now, what are you going to do about it?

Find the Cause of the Barking

 The first step in quieting your pooch is to understand why he’s raising such a ruckus in the first place. Dogs, after all, bark for all kinds of reasons. They bark when they’re anxious or when they’re lonely. They bark to draw attention to themselves or to warn someone encroaching on the property. Sometimes, they bark just because it feels good.

If the dog barks only when you’re home, he’s probably barking for one of two reasons: Either he wants attention or he’s trying to warn you about something. Most dog owners feel safer knowing that their dog will alert them to intruders, so they usually reward alarm barkers. Because you’re likely to want your dog to continue his warnings, you don’t want to discourage barking entirely, but the trick is to teach him to stop barking when you tell him to.

Training the Dog When to Bark

 When trying to curtail a dog’s barking, as with any other training program, be consistent and clear about just what you want your dog to do. If you tell him to be quiet, you must then enforce what you’ve instructed. It doesn’t work to yell “quiet” from three rooms away and then continue to talk on the telephone as your dog rants and raves at the window.

Instead, consider keeping your dog on an indoor lead and having him by your side at potentially problematic times. When you see he’s about to bark, pick up on the lead and tell him to sit. Better yet, pair the lead with a head halter – which gently pulls the dog’s head up, closing his mouth. When he stops barking, release the tension on the lead and praise him. An extra reward, a “shush cookie,” will emphasize your appreciation.

If your dog constantly demands your undivided attention, consider ignoring his demands – consistently – for a week. Try standing up and walking away whenever he starts to bark. This form of training, resulting in gradual “extinction” of barking, is very effective because it removes all rewards that, until now, were reinforcing the behavior. Keeping in mind that even scolding or brief eye contact can be interpreted by your dog as a reward, try to show no response at all. You can take this training a step further by giving your dog attention, such as petting, only when he is quiet. With patience, you can change many kinds of learned behavior through the process of extinction.

More Ways to Abate the Barking Dog

Sometimes, you can cut down on barking by using an anti-bark collar. These collars are most useful for dogs that bark when their owners are away and can’t correct them with voice commands. However, don’t use one with a dog that shows signs of anxiety; it will only make the problem worse. When left on their own, for example, some dogs become extremely stressed, and act out that behavior by barking non-stop. In that case, the dog should be treated for the underlying cause of the problem – separation anxiety – not just his barking.

Anti-bark collars utilize ultrasound, electric shock, and vibrating devices – they work by punishing the dog when he barks. Electric shock may be effective, but is viewed by many as inhumane: Other types of collars that do not rely on inflicting pain are more acceptable. Recently, an anti-bark collar containing citronella oil, its spray triggered by barking, has become available and can be an effective tool for distracting the dog from barking (available from Animal Behavior Systems, Inc., Tampa, Fla.). Remember that some anti-bark collars can be triggered by dogs other than the ones wearing them, resulting in inappropriate punishment. These collars are not appropriate in multi-dog homes in which other barking dogs dwell.

Luckily, most dogs will respond to some intervention to curtail their barking. Whether you simply bring an outdoor dog inside (which should calm the neighbors) or take the time to apply behavior-modification techniques, you can cause a dog to be less of a nuisance and to be more socially acceptable.

Crazy Dogs: Can Dogs Be Mentally Ill?

I have a crazy dog. Maybe you do too. Mine is a terrier, which I think explains a lot. Am I being unfair to the terrier breeds? You could say that; people who love terriers just adore the breed’s quirky, unpredictable behavior. My terrier, Jacob, gets so wound up sometimes he just spins, but when he is not worked up, he is a couch potato or a sweet ball-chaser. Does that mean he’s “crazy” though? Can you call an Australian Shepherd crazy for wanting all his sheep in a neat group? Is a Pointer crazy because he points at game? No, these are all breed-specific characteristics encoded to some degree in the dogs’ respective DNA. They were selectively bred for these traits. Sometimes, when their instincts are not able to be followed, they tend to get into trouble and act “nuts.” These dogs need their “jobs,” and owners need to compensate in some way to fulfill the urges of their dogs.

However, can dogs actually be “crazy,” “mentally ill,” or “off their nut”? The answer is YES.

What Is Mental Illness in Dogs?

According to The Mayo Clinic, “mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions: disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.”

Can Dogs Be “Mad”?

Laurel Braitman, Ph.D, wrote her book Animal Madness in 2014 using her observations based on personal experience and scientific research. “There is not a branch of veterinary science, ethology (the science of animal behavior), neuroscience, or wildlife ecology dedicated to investigating whether animals can be mentally ill,” she writes. “Humans and other animals are more similar than many of us might think when it comes to mental states and behaviors gone awry: experiencing churning fear, for example, in situations that don’t call for it, feeling unable to shake paralyzing sadness, or being haunted by a ceaseless compulsion to wash our hands or paws.” Rather than condemn anthropomorphism (the act of assigning human traits to animal behavior), she recognizes it as a way to understand how animals relate to our human selves. Dr. Braitman states: “Madness is a mirror that needs normalcy to exist. This distinction can be a murky one.” Indeed.

The Role Of Trauma In Dog Behavior Disturbances

In the veterinary clinic, we see our share of nervous, fearful, obsessive-compulsive behaviors. We even see dogs who appear to suffer from more serious mental illness; that is, their behavior or thought processes could be described as inconsistent or contradictory. We often try to discover if there has been a trauma or abuse in their backgrounds when treating these pets. With rescued animals, that history is unknown in many cases. One case I remember is that of a German shepherd who had been trained by a self-proclaimed expert. The man chained the dog and zapped him with stronger and stronger electrical currents until the dog was dangerous and unpredictable. He was what many would consider insane. Our intervention was to prescribe medication and refer the owner to a legitimate trainer (Jon Brinkley of Kennel Club USA) who used various methods to treat the behavior issues. The dog is much better, but he will probably always have mental scars from the first experience. Had he not been treated, he would likely have been euthanized because of his behavior.

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Dogs

Cruelty is not the only source of trauma to the minds of good dogs. San Antonio’s Lackland AFB Defense Department Military Dog Veterinary Service trains combat dogs. Over 2700 such dogs have this training, and approximately 600 of them are deployed at any one time. Sadly, 5 percent of deployed dogs suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The staff at Fort Hood and other groups work diligently to rehabilitate these dogs post-deployment, either to return to service (75% are able to do so) or go into retirement with patient, knowledgeable people. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, veterinary behaviorist and director of animal behavior studies at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says that ”though dogs can learn to tolerate those things that become triggers following a traumatic event,” he doubts whether, “dogs can ever fully recover. In a moment of adrenaline-charged terror, indelible learning takes place, aided by biochemistry.” Dr. Dodman does state that the administration of beta blockers soon after the event may prevent the “stamping” of the trauma into the brain. Sgt. Major James Hamm, founder of Lone Star Dog Training, studied under well-known dog trainer Martin Deeley and feels that rehabilitation can take place by distracting or “splitting” the mind. This works because dogs “do not process information logically nor rationally and do not dwell on events like humans do.”

Canine Depression

Walk through an animal shelter and you can see what depression looks like in dogs. The puppies do not have much of a memory to compare their current status to, but as they get older, or in the case of surrendered or abandoned animals, that questioning, pained look in their eyes will bring tears to yours. Grieving dogs wander the house looking for their housemate or the owner who suddenly is gone, never to return. Tails and ears are carried low, food holds no interest, and time and tender care are needed to work through the experience.

Anxiety in Dogs

I once had an Australian Shepherd that I had raised from puppyhood. She had no fear of thunderstorms until after an incident when she was home with her housemate and a frightening storm struck. Water partially flooded the room they were in, and we returned home to find an anxious bundle of nerves. She was afraid of storms for years but was eventually trained out of it by patience and distraction. Some dogs might also learn neurotic behavior from their owners because they can sense moods so easily. Veterinary advice will include swaddling with cloths or special garments such as Thundershirts, medication, intervention, or distraction-based training methods and stability in the household.

Canine Separation Anxiety Assessment Testing

Assessment Techniques for Separation Anxiety in Dogs 

Canine separation anxiety (SA) is a behavioral disorder marked by a dog’s excessive anxiety when left alone. It is usually manifested as destruction of the owner’s property, often vain attempts to escape, and other behaviors that may be injurious to the dog or annoying to people sharing the dog’s environment. It is important to note that, with separation anxiety, these behaviors occur only in the owner’s absence. The dog is not attempting to “get even” with his owners for leaving him; he is truly distressed at being left alone.

The condition can be treated through behavioral modification techniques and medication. However, the veterinarian will want to make sure the animal suffers from separation anxiety, not simply from boredom, before recommending a specific course of therapy, particularly if the treatment includes drugs. To this end, the veterinarian may ask the dog’s owner to fill out a questionnaire designed to help him or her assess whether a dog truly does suffer from separation anxiety.

What Will an Assessment of Canine Separation Anxiety Reveal?

Separation anxiety is considered to be a syndrome of pathological attachment of a dog to its caregivers. It usually presents as a constellation of behaviors, a syndrome, not just as one or two isolated behaviors. Correctly diagnosing separation anxiety requires veterinarians to consider the various behaviors expressed and to determine whether they fit a pattern. A number of other conditions that may be confused with separation anxiety must be ruled out before a diagnosis of separation anxiety can be confirmed.

How is an Assessment for Separation Anxiety Performed?

Owners fill out a questionnaire that encompasses factors such as the dog’s background (known to influence the development of separation anxiety), its attachment to them, pre-departure and post-departure behaviors, and greeting behavior. The questionnaire should be filled out at the time of a dog’s first veterinary visit for early detection of the syndrome. That way, corrective measures can be taken before the condition exacerbates.

In addition, all owners of newly acquired dogs should be asked to complete the questionnaire to detect separation anxiety so that, if necessary, they can be advised on about “independence training.” Owners of any dogs exhibiting behavior problems when their owner is away from home should be asked to complete the questionnaire so that a definitive diagnosis can be made.

Canine Separation Anxiety Assessment 

Owners may be asked to complete a questionnaire similar to the one below, checking yes, no, or don’t know to the questions relating to the dog’s history (background). While not all dogs with separation anxiety have had a disturbed background, many have, so positive answers in this section provide an element of suspicion that SA is involved. Questions under the heading “behavior” relate to the dog’s attachment level, pre- and post-departure cues, behavior in the owner’s absence, and greeting behavior. Here, affirmative responses may be qualified as mild, moderate or severe. Scoring the behaviors (see below) gives an indication of the severity of the condition.

Note: The following sample of questions and interpretation sections are meant for information only. Any assessment should be done under the supervision and guidance of a veterinarian. Owners should not attempt to diagnose separation anxiety themselves.

History

  • Did you acquire your dog after 3 months of age?
  • Did you acquire your dog at 5 weeks of age or less?        
  • Was your puppy an orphan or hand raised?
  • Was your dog acquired from a shelter, pound, or pet shop?
  • Has your dog had multiple owners during his/her life?

    Behavior

  • Does your dog follow you around the house?
  • Does your dog become anxious at the sound of car keys or when you put on your coat or shoes to go out?
  • Does your dog exhibit other problem behaviors as you prepare to leave?
  • Does your dog bark or whine excessively within 30 minutes of your departure?
  • After you leave does your dog act depressed?
  • After you leave does your dog have a loss of appetite?        
  • Does your dog destroy property only when you are away?        
  • Does your dog urinate or defecate in your home only when you are away?        
  • Does your dog regularly have diarrhea, vomit, or lick excessively in your absence?        
  • Does your dog exhibit an excessive greeting on your return (jumping, hyperactivity, barking, more than 2-3 minutes)?

    Interpretation of Canine Separation Anxiety Test

  • Affirmative answers to 5 out of 10 questions in the behavioral section indicates separation anxiety.
  • Affirmative answers to any of the historical questions plus 4 out of 10 affirmative answers in the behavioral section of the questionnaire is grounds for a diagnosis of separation anxiety.
  • Affirmative responses to 3 of 10 behavioral questions, as long as these include hyper-attachment, destructive behavior, vocalization, or elimination behavior.
  • Affirmative answers to any 3 questions, including one indicating a dysfunctional background, indicates a sub-threshhold level of affliction. I.e. the disorder is present to an extent but is not definitively diagnosable.
  • Affirmative answers to less than 3 questions usually rules out separation anxiety.
  • For scoring, affirmative answers in any area of the history section scores 1 point (maximum score in this category). Responses to the behavioral questions are scored: Does not occur = 0, mild = 1, moderate = 2, severe = 3. A dog diagnosable with separation anxiety will thus have a minimum score of 5 points (5 mild expressions of behavioral anomaly in the behavioral section, or a dysfunctional history plus 4 affirmative answers in the behavioral section). Alternatively, a score of 4 points total, comprising the specific behaviors indicted above could be considered diagnostic. At the other end of the scale, the most severe case of separation anxiety possible would have a score of 30 on the behavioral questions (plus an additional 1 point if the dog had a dysfunctional history, as well).         
  • Dog Behavioral Problems – Dealing with Barking

    Dealing with Canine Barking

    Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, some good, some not so good. Sometimes barking is a welcoming signal, other times not. Sometimes dogs bark briefly, and other times they just won’t quit. And therein lies a problem.

    By nature, some breeds tend to bark more than others. Beagles and Shetland sheepdogs, for instance, tend to be very vocal. Greyhounds and basenjis, by contrast, rarely bark.

    Barking is a form of communication. When people or other dogs are around, barking can be a statement intended specifically for them. When a sound is used as a means of communication from one creature to another, the rudiments of language exist. Language after all is just a complicated arrangement of verbal/vocal cues. We can communicate with dogs by means of our language, but we are often rather poor at understanding their requests. Phrases such as “come here,” “leave it,” “stop it,” inform the trained dog what must be done, but their barking often leaves us stymied.

    Why Do Dogs Bark?

     Barking serves different purposes. Sometimes it is used to repel and sometimes to attract. Some barking tones indicate, “stay away,” whereas others (particularly in the appropriate context) can be interpreted to mean, “I’m over here, where the heck are you?” Even the most inexperienced of dog watchers will notice that dogs have a variety of different types of barking ranging from the muted “woof” of appreciation or alarm to loud angry series of barks indicating aggression.

    Barking often serves as an alarm call. Many owners appreciate such alarm barking and some domestic dog breeds have been selected for an enhanced warning system of this nature. When the barking produces the desired result, the “language” is reinforced and perpetuated. But not all of this “language” is wanted or appreciated by friends or family (let alone the neighbors). The key to dealing with barking is to be able to turn it off.

    When Barking Is a Problem

    In order to deal with a barking problem, you first need to know why your dog is barking.

    Barking To Get Attention

     Most people get a little irritated when the family dog barks and gets whatever he wants. These dogs are pushy individuals who insist on getting their own way, demanding attention and the limelight. This is the kind of dog that will not allow you to sit peacefully and relax. Instead, he will bark in your face demanding to have a ball thrown, to be allowed on someone’s lap, to be given food from the table, etc. 
    So what allows a dog to become like this? In a word, conditioning. Although we sometimes don’t realize it, we are training our dogs all the time through our actions. No dog will persist in a strategy that doesn’t work, whether that strategy is barking, whining, or crying. Whatever produces the goods is what is reinforced. A dog that barks to get attention will have been trained to do so by random intermittent reinforcement for barking. Barking for attention, if ignored, will intensify before it dissipates, because the dog will try even harder, at first, to make his point. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with an attention-seeking barker.

  • Attention withdrawal. Ignore the “bad” behavior and only respond with attention when the dog is quiet. You should not make direct eye contact with the dog, speak to him, or touch him, when he is barking. To the attention-seeking dog, any attention is better than no attention – even if it’s in the form of scolding.
  • Bridging stimulus. If the attention withdrawal becomes tedious, a bridging stimulus can be employed to hasten progress. A bridging stimulus is a neutral sound, such as a duck call, or even a click, that is made as soon as the dog begins a tirade. It signals that you’re about to withhold attention. This strategy can produce a speedier resolution of attention-seeking barking than simply ignoring the dog’s barking because it focuses the dog’s attention on the consequences of its actions.
  • Punishment. Audible punishment can be a deterrent. This can be done by issuing a command, such as “No Bark!” and punishing the dog by shaking a “shake can” (a can with a stone inside of it) or by blasting an air horn/fog horn if he does not respond to the command immediately. The technique sometimes works, but audible punishments are only really effective for more sensitive types of dog.
  • Counterconditioning. Counterconditioning involves training the dog to do something that is incompatible with his previously conditioned behavior, in this case barking. For example, you can train your dog to go to his bed, where he will receive praise from you and perhaps a long-lasting food treat, whenever the stimulus that previously caused barking occurs, such as mealtime or talking with someone on the telephone. The new behavior (eating and lying quietly) replaces and is incompatible with barking for attention.

    Separation Anxiety Barking

    Then there’s barking caused by separation anxiety, which often takes place as you prepare to leave or when you’re not around. There are two types of separation anxiety barking:

  • The acute, hysterical type of barking that occurs within minutes of the owner’s departure, representing panic – a cry for help.
  • The more chronic variety of more monotonous barking expressed by dogs that have all but given up on their ability to do anything about their predicament.

    The two types of barking have similar causation yet sound different and represent different stages of the same condition. The acute variety a distress barking takes the form of intermittent bouts of “expectant” barking, perhaps interspersed with bursts of whining, designed to attract the attention of the owner (or, in some cases, anyone) to the dog’s miserable plight. The treatment for this problem is the same as the treatment of separation anxiety because separation distress is at the root of the problem. Too many owners fail to recognize their dog’s suffering when irate neighbors complain of being disturbed by the dog’s incessant barking. Instead of viewing the problem as a problem for their dog, they only see it as a problem for them. Punishment of such behavior is an all-too-frequent and misguided solution. Physical punishment at any time, especially after the fact, is not only pointless but is counter-productive and inhumane.

    More chronic “stereotypic” barking, with its monotone and seemingly mindless motivation, also derives from separation anxiety. It occurs once the purpose of the dog’s barking has altered to become a simple release for anxious energy – a displacement behavior. Stereotypic barking indicates that a dog has been left alone for extended periods for years and has all but lost faith in its ability to summon anyone’s attention to its plight. In this respect, chronic displacement barking is a barometer of long-term suffering. The humane solution for these dogs is to give them their due by making arrangements to prevent them from having to experience such isolation and futility in the future. Training them not to bark misses the point and will often not work, anyway. Punishment is inhumane. For such characters, much more fundamental issues have to be addressed to bring about resolution of the problem in hand.

  • Territorial Barking

    Urine Marking by Dogs

    What is Canine Urine Marking?

    Urine marking by leg lifting is a typical canine male behavior by which a dog marks his territory. Most owners are not surprised or alarmed if their male dog lifts his leg on a few bushes, fence posts and fire hydrants outside. They understand that it is normal for a dog to do this.

    Some dogs have an obsession about marking their territory. After all, it is their heritage as pack members to live within a well-delineated territory. A territory contains all the commodities necessary to sustain the pack, including various valuable resources, including their mates and their progeny. Making it clear to strangers that they have crossed a line with respect to territory helps avoid unnecessary fighting.

    Dogs use more than simply the odor of urine to define their territory. There are visible clues as well, including marks made on the ground by pawing and scratching. Dogs may also deposit feces strategically to delineate territorial boundaries, These signals, like handwriting, remain long after the sender has gone, providing a reminder to itinerants that they are now entering a restricted area.

    Male urine contains pheromones that are derivatives of a male hormone, testosterone, plus other unique markers. These natural chemicals can be detected by members of the same species and will direct them to alter their behavior. The signal sent is akin to “trespassers will be prosecuted.”

    Male Dog Urine Marking vs Female Dog Urine Marking

    You may have noticed that male dogs, on reaching a previously urine-marked landmark, will often attempt to cover over the urine marks of previous canine visitors with their own urine. In so doing, they sometimes engage in some quite amusing acrobatics, including the reverse handstand sometimes displayed by little dogs when attempting to over-mark lofty scent marks left by larger dogs.

    When male dogs are neutered, leg lifting and the acrobatic displays come to an end in about 60 percent of dogs. Dogs that still mark territory after the surgery may be just acting out hard-to-break habits.

    Some females urine-mark, too, though less frequently than males. This is understandable since no behavior is unique to either sex. Some behaviors, though, so-called “sexually dimorphic behaviors,” are displayed more commonly by one sex. This is the case with leg lifting which is, more typically, a male behavior. But some perhaps dominant females, or those that have been raised in predominantly male litters, also acquire the habit.

    Females do produce small quantities of testosterone, so there will be some small quantities of testosterone breakdown products in their urine. But they also excrete their own urinary (and vaginal) pheromone, parahydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), which signals their estrus status and receptivity to mating. This signaling is (appropriately) strongest during a heat cycle. Most females do not leg lift, but they frequently deposit urine to advertise pending sexual receptivity. Urine marking by intact females is performed more frequently from the squatting posture. Spayed females usually cease urine marking, though the occasional spayed female will urine mark when stressed.

    If urine marking by leg lifting or squatting in females is conducted exclusively outside, it is not usually a problem for the owner and is certainly not one for the dog. The real problem occurs when urine marking is happening inside the home. This can be a real source of annoyance for the owner though, again, it is not a problem for the dog. As natural as leg lifting and other forms of urine marking may be, it’s still not acceptable to owners to have such signaling directed toward their sofa or best wingback armchair.

    Treatment for Dogs that Urine Mark

  • For intact dogs (males or females) the solution is neutering. Approximately 60 percent of “altered” male dogs will cease urine marking within weeks or months of castration. Estrus-related urine marking will be abolished in virtually all females once they are spayed.
  • Neutered males may start urine marking if they are territorially stressed or frustrated. External stresses for dogs include unwelcome visits from neighborhood dogs, especially female dogs in heat. Keeping strange dogs away is of course a logical option.

    Dogs are also more likely to urine-mark if they have an exaggerate view of their own importance within the household. When a dog is strutting his stuff without due respect for his owners, a dominance control program is warranted.

  • Some dogs that leg lift, or otherwise urinate inappropriately around the house, are driven to do so because of prevailing anxiety or stress. A typical scenario is that a dog discovers that his territory has been invaded by a new baby or unwelcome house-guest. The anxiety created by such a situation may cause dogs to signal their disapproval by means of urine marking. In these latter cases, more complicated behavior modification programs, involving acclimation and desensitization of the dog to the offending parties, can be instrumental in correcting the problem.
  • In all cases of in-home urine marking, it is imperative to effectively clean up the odors of previous urine marks by using biological odor neutralizers. Attempting to mask the urine with various scents is almost universally ineffective. It is imperative to use an enzymatic or bacterial product that will destroy the behavior modifying odors at the source. Some trade names of appropriate products are Anti-Icky Poo® (AIP), Nil-Odor®, Odornil®, OdorBan®, Nature’s Miracle®, etc.
  • The Biting Dog

    Understanding and Dealing with Canine Biting

    All dogs are potential biters and biting is a normal part of every dog’s behavioral repertoire.

    Fortunately, it’s relatively uncommon for dogs to bite and injure human beings. Contrary to expectations, victims of dog bites aren’t just burglars or mail carriers – records kept by departments of public health show that the most frequent victims are children and the elderly. Similarly, biters aren’t typically “wild,” uncontrolled dogs; they usually are pet dogs owned by the victim’s family or by a neighbor.

    Why Do Dogs Bite?

    A dog’s motivation for biting usually falls into one of three categories: territorial defense, social dominance or fear – or, all three. Play biting is another matter: It is part of puppies‘ play wrestling and the “mouthing” that occurs lacks the threatening body signals of a serious bite.

    Understanding the problem is the first step in making your dog a safe member of your family and community.

  • Territorial defense usually is defined from the dog’s perspective. To the dog, even a neighbor’s child can be seen as an “intruder.” To complicate matters, owners often reinforce aggressive behavior by encouraging their dogs to be good watchdogs. The tendency to attack strangers is heightened in dogs that are left alone outdoors for long periods of time. This probably is a result of daylong isolation, punctuated by glimpses of passers-by and delivery trucks. These comings and goings can increase the dog’s frustration level and facilitate learned aggression.
  • Social dominance may be a problem for the dog’s own family. Dogs live by rules of dominance and deference communicated by body language that we don’t necessarily understand. They may snap or bite when the “rules” are violated. Take, for example, a cocker spaniel that is awakened with a hug from a toddler. While some dogs would yawn and go back to sleep, others might consider this an egregious violation and might respond with a bite.

    Dominance-related biting isn’t simply a result of holding the “alpha” position in the family – it can be complex and unpredictable. From the dog’s point of view, each bite is provoked, although the provocation can be subtle and difficult for us to appreciate.

  • Fear and edginess play a role in almost every situation. Unfamiliar or intimidating circumstances can push a dog over the edge so that he protects himself by biting. This can happen regardless of whether the victim is a stranger, a familiar child, or a member of the dog’s family.

    How to Stop a Dog from Biting

  • Biting, regardless of cause, is a serious problem that can sometimes lead to serious injury, loss of your dog and/or homeowner’s insurance, and even to lawsuits. If your dog has shown a tendency to bite, you can minimize the chances of further aggressive incidents by keeping him leashed – even indoors – and by not leaving him tied or fenced outdoors when unsupervised.

    A behavioral specialist can guide you through issues of safety and prevention. He or she can help teach both you and your dog to feel confident and safe around frightening or provocative situations without resorting to physical punishment, which often exacerbates any potential for aggressiveness.

    Inappropriate Elimination in Dogs

    Canine Inappropriate Elimination

    About 10 to 20 percent of all behavior problems in dogs fall into the category of “inappropriate elimination.” This term refers to the unseemly practice of dogs either urinating or defecating (or both) on the floor or furniture inside the owner’s house.

    Puppies less than nine weeks old are too young to know any better, but for adult dogs there’s often no excuse. Some offenders were never properly housebroken in the first place and that’s usually the owners fault. Others were housebroken but, for some reason, have suddenly started having accidents inside the house again after years of appropriate behavior.

    The first step is to find out why your dog is having accidents inside the home. Dogs do not naturally soil their dens, so why the home? Homes have doors, preventing many dogs from leaving at will to eliminate properly, and homes are much larger than the average den so the dog can soil many feet away from his normal living area. Thus a confined dog that is “caught short” can often find a low-traffic, out-of-the-way place inside to do his business. A problem like this obviously needs attention but before rushing headlong into behavioral treatments for house soiling, find out whether there is a medical reason underlying your dog’s behavior and address that first, if necessary.

    Medical Causes of Canine House-soiling

    Medical conditions that increase thirst and urination, or in which the bladder or gastrointestinal tract are irritated, may contribute to the house-soiling problems in dogs. The list of such problems is lengthy, but a few of the more common conditions include:

  • Bladder infections or stones
  • Diabetes
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Cognitive dysfunction in older dogs
  • Gastroenteritis, intestinal parasites, and pancreatic problems.

    It is important to have your veterinarian perform a thorough physical examination to rule out underlying medical conditions as a cause of inappropriate elimination behavior. This is particularly relevant if your dog has had a sudden breakdown of house training.

  • Urine and Fecal Marking Behavior in Dogs

    Dogs, like many other species, use urine and feces as a method of communication – a mark that signals possessions and territoriality. Marking typically involves the deposition of small amounts of urine in strategic locations around the house. Unneutered male dogs are champion urine markers, usually by leg lifting, but some neutered males and even females mark their territory with urine, too.

    Neutering male dogs corrects this problem in about 60 percent of cases, but many dogs persist in marking for months or years after the surgery. Bitches that urine-mark do so for similar reasons: Unneutered bitches may show an increase in the frequency of urine-marking around the time of estrus.

    The behavioral approach to treating territorial urine-marking in neutered males and females involves:

    a) increasing owners’ leadership status and

    b) thoroughly cleaning urine-marked sites with an odor neutralizer. If these measure fail to address the problem, treatment with medication may be the only solution.

    Canine Submissive Urination 

    Dogs that exhibit this type of behavior typically squat or roll over and urinate as they greet their owners or strangers at the door. The behavior is really a gesture of appeasement.

    The problem is often temporary, occurring mainly during puppyhood and mostly occurring during the first year of the dog’s life. Submissive urination occurs most commonly in certain breeds (e.g. cocker spaniels) and is more common in females.

    If you can’t wait until your pup has matured beyond the super-submissive stage, avoid making dominant gestures toward her. For example, when you greet your pup, don’t look at, talk to or touch her. Give her a wide berth until you are seated, then allow her to approach at her own speed.

    A reverse dominance program can be employed, too, to build your dog’s confidence. Do not use any harsh or confrontational training methods. Rather encourage your dog to do what you want using positive reinforcement. Allow her to eat without having to work for the food, pet her without her having to obey a command first, and to have a variety of toys available for her at all times. Finally, you might consider playing games that allow her to think she has won.

    Separation Anxiety in Dogs

    Does your dog urinate and defecate ONLY when you are away from home? If so, in all likelihood, anxiety is triggering the behavior. Dogs with separation anxiety typically have a dysfunctional history, follow their owners around the home, look distressed when about to be left alone, whine or bark immediately after their owner leaves, fail to eat in their owners’ absence, and greet them exuberantly when they return home.

    Psychological problems like submissive urination and separation anxiety should be addressed separately and not treated as a simple house-soiling problem.

    Mounting Behavior in Dogs

    Canine Mounting Behavior 

    Movies and TV shows often use the image of a dog mounting any number of different objects (from other dogs to beach balls or even a person) as a comedic element. However, dog owners know this behavior can be frustrating and incredibly embarrassing. The fact that it's a natural behavior often leads to some of the frustration.

    Why Do Dogs Mount?

    A male dog mounting a female dog is a normal reproductive behavior. This position is necessary for breeding purposes; if both the male and female are intact and the female dog is biologically ready for successful breeding to take place this behavior can lead to puppies in just a few months.

    However, confusion is understandable if the behavior doesn't occur for a reproductive purpose. For example, if it's the female dog mounting males or other females, a male mounting another dog's head, or a dog of either sex mounting non-dog species or inanimate objects such as the family cat, stuffed toys, or a person.

    In pre-pubescent puppies, mounting behavior is considered part of play. Puppies of either sex may jump on another puppy at which point instinct takes over as the front legs grasp and the hips begin moving. These puppies are easily distracted, however, and play continues. In puppies of this age, reproduction is not an issue nor is dominance; the behavior is simply play.

    While many dog owners associate mounting behavior with dominance and assume the dominant dog mounts a submissive (or less dominant) dog, this hasn't been shown as true in most situations and with most dogs. In fact, the opposite is more often the case. An anxious or socially inept dog is more apt to try to mount another dog; as those emotions kick in and the dog has to do something to express them, he (or she) often mounts the closest (or favorite) dog.

    Dogs who get over-stimulated or too excited during play will often also mount other dogs. If another dog isn't around or if that dog won't cooperate, the overly excited dog may mount anything else available. Many times during play sessions with several dogs, a dog who feels left out will mount another dog in an attempt to be a part of the play or to get attention.

    Both intact and sterilized dogs of both sexes will participate in this behavior if it serves as an attention-getting device. For example, if the dog begins to mount the family cat (or a person or a toy) and everyone laughs, the dog will try it again later to see if the same reaction occurs.

    Mounting is not inherently a ‘bad' behavior. As a general rule, no harm is done when a dog mounts another dog. Many times the mounting dog is simply ignored. However, if the mounting dog gets too enthusiastic, the dog being mounted may communicate via barking, growls, raised hackles, and other body language to let the mounting dog know that this behavior is not wanted.

    Natural or not, mounting can certainly be an embarrassing behavior for dog owners, especially when it occurs in public! As dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them, mounting behavior can become a bad habit. It can actually become addicting to some dogs. As a result, it's usually a good idea to curb this behavior as much as possible and give the dog something else to do instead.

    Dealing with Mounting Behavior in Dogs

    Interrupt and Redirect Dog's Behavior - Unwanted mounting behavior should be interrupted and the dog redirected to another activity. For example, if your dog is mounting a sofa cushion, interrupt him with an unexpected sound (clap, drop a book to the floor, whistle, or cough). When he stops the action, redirect him by walking away so he follows you, tossing a ball, or encouraging him to play with a toy.

    Punishing the dog by yelling, shaking him, or using other rough punishments doesn't work. In fact, if your dog is mounting out of anxiety the punishments will only increase his anxiety. Instead, interrupt the behavior and then get him interested in something else.

    Exercise can also help as exercise tires the body, relieves stress, and helps eliminate boredom. Brain games are great for relieving boredom, too, and are good for you and your dog to do together. Finally, a training tune-up can get you and your dog working and communicating better keeping your dog's brain busy at the same time. Exercisebrain games, or training won't stop mounting behaviors by themselves, but when used with interruptions and redirections they can significantly reduce the behaviors.

    Dealing with Dogs that Run Away

    Why Do Dogs Run Away?

    Some dogs are just born to run. Although the reasons for running away are varied, there are a couple of common themes. Dogs run away either a) to get to a better place where something rewarding may happen or b) to escape from a real or perceived danger.

    It is useful to remember that dogs’ living ancestors, the wolves, roam for a living. For them, roaming is a natural behavior that involves scouting, hunting, exploration, and discovery. Home, the den is reserved for family affairs but all other good things in life are procured by skillful exploitation of their home range. Typically, a wolf’s or wild dog’s home range covers several square miles and nature has equipped them (and their domestic dog descendents) with a “Cadillac” North Star navigation system that enables them to create and store mental maps. Essentially, they never get lost and can always find their way home. With these awesome skills, all they need is a good reason to go and they’re gone.

    But when the neighborhood is concrete or tarmac and is seething with automobiles and trucks, this can present a problem. Free-ranging dogs get into a lot of trouble in our society and a good number of them wind up in the pound. For this reason, a wandering dog is not a good dog is not a happy dog – not in the long run anyway. If the trucks don’t get them, and they don’t bite or get bitten, the animal control officer will eventually track them down.

    Causes of Dog Roaming

  • Reproductive drive. An intact male dog roams when he detects the odor of estrogen on the wind. Why, though, would a neutered male or a female develop reproductive wanderlust? The answer is because sexual urges are generated in the brain, not in the loins. Although castration causes the male hormone testosterone to fall to zero within about 8 hours, a neutered male remains a male, not an “it.” Castration reduces roaming in 90 percent of dogs but for the remaining 10 percent behave as if nothing has changed.
  • Boredom. Why do dogs climb over and dig under fences? Some say, to get to the other side. People sometimes go to work and leave their dogs tied up or wandering in the yard because they are afraid they will damage the house if left inside. A curious and active dog in a postage-stamp sized backyard is an instant candidate for escape – and thus disaster.
  • Predatory drive. Another very strong, almost magnetic, force that draws dogs away from their homes is prey drive. Seeking and finding prey is one of the most powerful natural tendencies that dogs possess. The thrills and the sweet victory of the chase are their own intrinsic rewards. Although we provide our dogs all the food they need, this extravagance still does not extinguish the drive to hunt in dogs.
  • Social reasons. Like wolves, some dogs have secondary homes or dens. Unless physically restrained, they will leave one home and wander over to the other periodically. I once had five clients sitting in front of me during a behavior consultation on one dog. “Which one of you is the owner?” I asked. They looked at each other for a moment or two and then one of them said, “We all are.” Apparently, the dog in question would wake up in one person’s home and wander over to the neighbor’s house for breakfast. It would then go over to a third neighbor’s home for a mid-morning walk and visit yet another neighbor each evening for dinner. This scenario brings to mind so-called “boomerang dogs” that are discarded by one family but keep returning to the original owners’ home.
  • Physical rewards. Food is a powerful reward for certain dogs. If such dogs learn of a source of food away from their home, they may visit that location whenever they feel a little hungry. One dog discovered that a neighbor always threw out leftover pizza on a Friday night. The dog was always found missing on Fridays.
  • Thunderstorm phobia. There are some phobic dogs that express their great displeasure by attempting to run away from what ails them. If a dog like this starts to run and run, he will eventually find that the storm abates. The running away behavior is rewarded by so-called negative reinforcement – the frequency of running away during storms increases because it stops something bad from happening (apparently, at least). Thunderstorm phobic dogs sometimes become quite skilled at breakouts, leaping from windows, or clearing high fences in a single bound as if they had superhuman powers.
  • Fear of owner. Although rare, I have seen this behavior recently in a dysfunctional dog adopted from a pound. The dog loved the lady owner but couldn’t stand her husband. The dog barked at him from the time he set foot into the house in the evening until the time he left for work the next morning. Tragically, the woman died, leaving the dog to either get over his fear of the man or run away. The dog chose the latter approach but was later recaptured and rehabilitated.
  • Submissive Urination in Dogs

    Dealing with Submissive Urination in Dogs

    Submissive urination can be a frustrating and embarrassing problem. Fortunately, it is often easily corrected. Shy, timid puppies are the most likely candidates for submissive urination but occasionally it persists into young adulthood. This problem is most common in female puppies under 1 year of age.

    Situations that precipitate submissive urination include:

  • Over affectionate greetings
  • Guests entering your home
  • Arguments between people
  • Scolding
  • Loud noises

    Dogs are social animals that use subtle cues to maintain order and prevent disputes. In order to display deference to a more dominant individual, a submissive dog uses gestures such as averting her eyes, rolling on her back, and urinating. So when a dog feels intimidated or threatened, the appropriate response is to offer a submissive signal. These signals demonstrate that the dog recognizes another individual’s dominance. The urination that occurs is not a spiteful act but a natural part of a dog’s behavioral repertoire.

    Before embarking on treatment for this problem, it is wise to contact your local veterinarian. He or she will perform a physical examination of your dog to rule our medical problems that may be contributing to the predicament. If medical problems are involved, your vet will discuss the various treatment options with you like surgery, drugs, and/or various coping strategies.

    Note: Puppies become more confident as they grow older. Most puppies outgrow submissive urination before one year of age. Unfortunately, some owners inadvertently encourage the behavior by coddling their nervous youngster. Touching and praise, which you may believe are reassuring your puppy, are actually telling her, “Continue this behavior; I like it.” Instead, try to ignore timid behavior and praise the puppy when she is acting more confidently.

    Treating Canine Submissive Urination

    There are two objectives in treating submissive urination: The first is to increase your dog’s confidence, and the second is to avoid situations in which the behavior will occur until your puppy becomes more mature. Begin by observing which situations elicit the inappropriate urination behavior. Knowing these, you can design a plan of action.

  • Take your dog to non-confrontational training school. Click and treat training is best. A properly trained dog is usually more confident.
  • Try to expose your dog to as many novel environments as possible. But remember, do not coddle. Praise the dog only when she shows confidence and explores the new environment.
  • Encourage confidence by playing tug of war, retrieving games or play fighting.
  • Scolding and punishment DO NOT WORK. They only make the dog feel more powerless and less in control.
  • Do not loom over the dog, touch her nape, or make prolonged eye contact. These are all dominant signs and will be interpreted as such. Ask strangers to avoid greeting your dog or, alternatively, crouch down to the dog’s level, avert their gaze, and gently encourage her to approach.
  • Limiting your dog’s intake of water when you know guests are coming over can sometimes help. Pick up the water bowl (and close the toilet bowl lids) 3 to 4 hours prior to their arrival. Caution: some dogs with medical problems that increase their thirst should never have water withheld. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian.
  • If your dog urinates out of excitement when you return home and greet her, try to downplay the greeting by ignoring her for a few minutes until she calms down. If the problem occurs when friends greet her ask them to do this, too.

    The above procedures help a great deal in avoiding urination whoopsies until the dog becomes more confident. Positive changes are usually seen in a few weeks, if not sooner. If submissive urination persists after 2 years of age, drug therapy can be instituted at the discretion of your veterinarian. And remember, be patient; accidents will happen.

    Prevention is the easiest way to deal with submissive urination. The right style of obedience class can be an excellent confidence booster for your dog. Such classes can also open your eyes to the ways that you unconsciously reinforce a negative behavior, and will teach you the importance of well timed praise (and other rewards) in a healthy relationship with your dog.