What Is Your Dog Trying to Tell You
What IS your dog trying to tell you? I ask myself this question all of the time.
Sometimes I know exactly what they want (they stare at the cookie jar, or irritate me when it is close to feeding time), and other times it is much more difficult to hypothesize.
But, at least I ask!
I think the problem with a lot of dog behavior problems is that people jump to conclusions, or assume their dog is human or knows better for more on that click here.
People just don’t take the time to think it through, or assume that behaviors are caused by something.
They just jump to “bad dog” even if they have never taken the time to teach the dog differently.
You see, dogs aren’t people, they are dogs.
They don’t come with a rule book, or an owner’s manual (I wish they did), you don’t have to take a class or get a license to own one.
And, people miss the mark a lot by not trying to figure out WHY a behavior is happening or what their dog is trying to tell them.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
I am not making excuses!
This is not an excuse to make excuses for your dog’s bad behavior.
Excuses further bad behavior because they end there… My dog _____ is because he was abused before I got him.
Whereas that can be the reason, using excuses is not helpful, for more on that click here.
I think everyone else will benefit from taking a step back and figuring out what your dog is trying to communicate and why!
Sometimes aggression, heat seeking behaviors, lethargy and other behaviors are a direct link to his health. If a new behavior starts, be sure and check with your vet to make sure he is healthy before assuming he has a new behavior problem and addressing it only as such.
Your Dog is Jumping
He is a dog! And, dogs jump on each other in greeting and play.
If one dog wants another dog to play with him chances are he is going to run by, play bow, jump at or toward that dog and engage it in play.
And, dogs that know each other (family members or friends at the dog park or play groups) almost automatically jump on each other in greeting.
So is it any wonder that your dog can’t control his excitement when you come home or when other people come over?
Have you actually spent time and effort teaching him not to jump on you? Have you taught him that instead of jumping on you, that sitting or lying down will get him the reward? My dogs frantically sit when I come home because then they think I HAVE to pet them and interact; and I am okay with the fact that they think they trained me to do that!
And, can you honestly say that when you have visitors (if your dog is a jumper) that you put him on leash and make sure he sits or lies down before your guest pets him? Have you taught him to go to his bed, instead of jumping on company in order to be rewarded with what he wants?
My guess is, if you are honest with yourself, NO. If you had or have, then he would likely know which behavior is rewarding (sitting or lying down).
And, if he is just jumping at or on you for what seems like no reason… have you provided him with fun and exercise today?
Perhaps his jumping at, on, or near you is a way to get you to engage in play. Your dog doesn’t want to be a couch potato he has needs that must be met both mentally and physically and if you don’t meet them you will see naughty behavior.
Why does your dog dig? Because he is a dog!
Sometimes dogs dig, well, because they are dogs… and that is what dogs do to investigate.
And, especially if he is an earth dog breed (terriers that go to ground to kill vermin) you are fighting instinct.
After all, you can’t smell the mole, opossum or other critter that just walked that path; but your dog can! And, he often digs to get a better whiff!
Dogs also dig because they are bored.
Whenever I hear dog owners complain that the dog they leave outside all day, digs. Of course he digs; what else is he suppose to do all day while you are gone?
Holes, also provide a cool ground to lay on in the summer and a warm spot to lay on in the snow.
If you don’t want your dog to dig, go outside with him or provide him with stimulation so that he is too tired to dig.
If you went on vacation and took your dog, would you let him dig in your families cherished garden? Chances are NO, you would go out with him and prevent it. If you want change sometimes you have to inconvenience yourself long enough to teach your dog what is and is not acceptable!
He’s Nipping and Biting at You
This is another popular way to get another dog to play.
A little nip and a run, is a sure fire way to get your best doggy friend to chase you and nip you back.
Dogs don’t have hands, they can’t play video games together and they don’t read books.
When one dog plays with another it usually involves teeth and nipping and biting.
Don’t get me wrong, hard biting simply needs to stop no matter what and can be very serious and dangerous.
But the average puppy nipping is a way for your dog to tell you he wants you to play. It is also a great way for you to realize you aren’t meeting his playtime and mental stimulation needs.
Nipping is simply not acceptable at my house. It is the one behavior that you can get in serious trouble over. But I always have to ask myself; is this ultimately my fault for not giving him what he needs?
He can be taught to go grab a ball, or ask to go outside. I even allow my dogs to snuzzle me, or flick my hands when I am at the computer (I know this is demanding behavior, but at my house I find it acceptable in small quantities). But nipping or biting is never accepted.
However, once I am done doling out punishment (like a time out for more on that and why it works click here) then it is time to make sure I meet my dog’s needs.
And, just teaching him a new command for 5-10 minutes is enough for most dogs to be happy. Mental stimulation and learning something new can be exhausting.
And, you know what else?
Any obedience or command is healthy for both of your relationship. I have never been sad I taught a trick or command (okay once I taught my dog to open my purse… that may have been a slight mistake). But the point is, the more interaction you have with them and teach them, the more control you have over them and the less likely they are to ignore your commands later.
Soiling the House
The other most common problem I hear about is dogs that still have accidents.
First let me say that if your older dog starts having accidents and you don’t know why, it is time for a vet visit. Dogs get bladder infections, UTI’s, and other conditions that cause a normal happily potty trained dog to have accidents in the house. And, only tackling that problem will make a difference.
While working at a vet years and years ago, a cat came in with a bladder infection. He had been inappropriately urinating all over his owners house for a very long time before he came to us. And, the owners were at their breaking point. They didn’t want to invest the money to have his bladder stones surgically removed and were ready to euthanize so they decided to relinquish ownership to my friend and me. We loved him right away and were willing to spend the money and give him the surgery he needed.
But, when the vet went in to do the surgery she found that his bladder had shrunk to the size of a very hard walnut. The odds of him ever having a normal life were almost nonexistent and the pain he must have been suffering constantly must have been tremendous. We opted to euthanize so he wouldn’t continue to suffer.
That taught me a powerful lesson on ignoring a change in potty habits. Just because you ignore it doesn’t me it will go away! Sometimes the damage done, can’t be undone! If you love your pet, he/she is worth the money spent having a vet check out any change.
But if he has always had potty problems, have you ever considered why?
The chances are that the answer to that question is pretty simple but hard to admit.
Some people think (especially with small dogs) that it is easier just to clean it up for more on that click here. And, they don’t devote the time to potty training that owners of bigger dogs must.
Let’s admit that a Mastiff having accidents in your house is different than a Chihuahua.
And, honestly Mastiffs don’t mind the cold and weather as much as a smaller dog (most of the time). This distain for weather, cold, wet, hot etc. does make smaller dogs harder to potty train; but with time and consistency the same result will be achieved.
If you keep your dog on a leash, and take him out every 2 hours to potty and you don’t allow him access to the house without monitoring; you will see a difference in his potty habits.
If, however, you allow him access to the house and don’t crate train when you aren’t available to watch him; then he is going to sneak off and continue to have accidents.
If you yell, he is even more likely to hide his potty habits from you.
Yelling only confirms that he can’t “potty in front of you” it does not mean he has an associate with “outside and inside” and where to appropriately potty.
I have never seen a dog that could not be potty trained. The problem is that people allow the habit to solidify and we all know that habits are seriously hard to break. Find out why it is even more difficult for your dog by clicking here
The thing is, if you get to the root of the problem and think about the situation like your dog would, you will find yourself to be a better owner and trainer.
And, that is what we all want right? To be a better dog owner and dog trainer by understanding them and meeting their needs!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.