While exercise is important for your dog, mental stimulation is just as important (if not more so) because it helps them to stay emotionally balanced and mentally active. Brain games, positive reinforcement training, and play are common practices used to resolve behaviour challenges in dogs. By providing your dog with mental enrichment, you can avoid frustration, boredom, destructive behaviour, repetitive behaviour, and protect your favourite couch from being ripped up in the process.
Top Tip #1: Don’t feed from a bowl.
Dogs actually prefer to “work” for their food, so a bowl is really a wasted opportunity for enrichment. Provide food in a treat dispenser, scattered on the ground, in brain games/problem-solving toys, or training. This will use up extra mental energy.
Top Tip #2: Scent training.
Dogs need to use their noses! Just because they can’t go sniffing around the park now, doesn’t mean you can’t bring the park to them!
Top Tip #3: Games
Play with your dog! Unstructured, no rules. Just play. This will reduce stress, yours, and your dogs’!
Does your cat sometimes “forget” or “refuse” to use their litter box? From cleanliness to compactness, many cats have a problem with the provided toilet area. Here are a few guidelines to follow that may improve kitty’s toilet time:
TOP TIP: Refrain from using household detergents containing ammonia; this is a constituent of urine so kitty will mistake your freshly cleaned items for his toilet! CO2 based cleaners are best at removing odours that even kitty can’t detect.
Cute, fluffy, and boisterous; who can resist a bouncy puppy? We not only tolerate a puppy bounding all over us, we inadvertently encourage it by giving them praise and attention when they try with all their might to spring towards our face with glee. As they get older, heavier, and stronger, this becomes less cute and more of a nuisance behaviour, so we start to discourage them from jumping. Usually we push them off or use reprimands to try to make them stop. But do the reprimands work, or even make sense to our dogs? Absolutely not. The long history of repeatedly jumping is much more powerful than punishment. In fact, reprimands and physical contact can actually encourage a dog to continue jumping, as it adds to the excitement of the situation.
Ignoring them doesn’t work either, because they just end up trying harder and jumping higher. So what does work? We need to interrupt the behaviour before it starts and provide an alternative action. Use a leash or a gate to prevent your dog from jumping in the first place and teach them that sitting on their bottom, or staying calmly on all four paws will get them the attention they want.
TOP TIP: If your dog is already an experienced jumper, have some tasty treats ready the next time you have a visitor. Before your pup has a chance to jump on your guest, scatter the treats all over the floor. This will send them into a sniffing frenzy which will interrupt them from jumping, reduce their arousal, and break the pattern of “see guest > go crazy!”. Now you have a moment to reward them for keeping their feet on the floor. It’s also recommended to teach this with members of the family during calm periods of the day, to set them up for maximum success.
Why do dogs growl? Is it because they are naughty? Are they being rude? Are they angry? Well, dog’s growl for a variety of reasons, but the underlying motivation is: Communication.
A dog will growl to communicate an underlying emotion, sometimes this is fear, sometimes anger, sometimes joy! It’s up to you to get to know your dog to determine the message behind the behaviour.
Look at the context, are they protecting a valuable chew toy or their favorite sleeping spot? Are they in pain? Are they playing tug with you and getting super excited? Is it a particularly hot day? Whatever the reason, it’s important to respect the dog’s boundaries and respond kindly.
TOP TIP: NEVER punish a dog for growling! This would be the same as saying to a friend “I’m scared of spiders!” and having that friend shout at you for being afraid. It will not make you less afraid of spiders, and will probably make you dislike your friend!
One of the most common behaviour struggles noted in dogs is some form of destructive or noisy behaviour while the guardian is away from home.
Dogs have evolved over thousands of years to be in a partnership with humans. This means that they instinctively seek out the company of humans and form strong bonds with their guardians. So when a guardian leaves for an extended period, this can be a stressful event. This stress can be reduced by training your dog that being alone is actually a pleasant experience (see the Top Tip below!).
Depending on a dog’s age, they should not be left in isolation for too long; puppies should not exceed two hours of alone time and adults not more than six hours.
If you have a single dog household, it is imperative that you arrange for a friend, neighbour or dog-walker to break up the time when you have to be away, or you can consider a well run doggy daycare. In multi-dog households the dogs will provide each other with company, but this does not replace their time with you, so time spent away should be kept to a minimum where possible.
Top Tip: While you are PRESENT, teach your dog to chew his favorite toys and to extract food from puzzle feeders. Once some skills and value have developed, your dog will be able to engage in these appropriate activities in your absence. And this means they won’t be chewing the sprinklers or ripping up the couch!
Dogs bite for a variety of reasons but the most common is fear. In general, the obvious signs of fear are relatively easy to spot. For example cowered body posture, tail tucked between the legs, ears lowered. More subtle signals include things like looking away, stillness, lip-licking, and yawning. Learning to spot these signals can save you from being bitten.
It’s also important to realise that dogs don’t enjoy many of the things we expect them to tolerate.
TOP TIP: Guardians have the responsibility to protect their dogs from fear by learning dog body language, preventing fearful situations, and respecting each dog’s personal space and boundaries.
A good recall is one of the most important skills for all dogs to have, if not the most important. Successfully getting your dog to come back to you not only prevents potentially dangerous situations but also allows for greater freedom in off-leash areas.
This behaviour is NOT built into our dogs; it needs to be trained. Fortunately, it’s really easy to do! There are many methods, but in a nutshell, your dog needs to learn that it is always a GREAT idea to come to you every single time you call. Your dog will learn this very quickly if you reward them every single time. Rewards can be in the form of food, toys, games, affection; anything your dog loves. With lots of repetition in low distraction environments, your dog will soon learn that returning to you is better than any other activity.
TOP TIP: Never punish your dog if you have called them to you. This will only teach them that it’s a bad idea to come to you. Even if you’re calling them away from doing something they shouldn’t be doing, they still need to be rewarded for coming to you!
Dogs dig! Some more than others. Often this is to the detriment of our beloved garden beds, causing pet owners a lot of frustration. Terriers tend to be on the top of the diggers list because they were bred to chase and catch rodents in burrows. These types of dogs will never stop digging all together, nor should they, because it’s a very healthy form of exercise and enrichment. We just need to redirect their behaviour to a designated digging area.
TOP TIP: Cordon off a section of the garden (a few square metres, depending on the size of your dog) or fill a kiddies sandpit. Bury some of your dog’s favorite toys here and encourage your dog to dig to find them. Offer lots of praise when they’ve done so. If you catch them digging in an “off-limits” area, call them to you (or go fetch them if they have “selective hearing”) and redirect the behaviour to the new area. After a bit of practice, your dog will learn that digging is only permitted in this spot.
Some dogs dig until they reach a cool layer of earth in which to rest. For these dogs, make sure they have a cool spot to relax in the warmer months. Reward them for relaxing in this area by associating this area with relaxed eating, grooming, and affection.
Without the luxury of spoken language, how do animals communicate with each other? Dogs use a series of facial expressions and body postures. These are often referred to as “Calming Signals”. These include:
- Breaking eye contact/turning away
- Lifting a paw
- Sniffing the ground
- Showing the whites of the eye (whale/moon eye)
- Lip licking (when not eating)
- Yawning (when not tired)
- Walking slowly
- Wagging tail
- Play bow
- Exposing the belly/lying on back
- Lowered head
When a dog shows these behaviours he is communicating that he is not a threat, and the approaching dog/person should disengage or back off. If the approaching dog/person ignores these signals, the dog will escalate to more severe behaviours like snarling, growling, snapping, or biting. Owners may not be familiar with these signals. For example, a dog rolling on his back is not actually asking for belly rubs; he is actually signaling that he is not a threat and would probably prefer if you walked away.
A dog with poor socialization skills will lack the ability to use and/or interpret these signals and will advance to a bite without warning, which is very dangerous. This is why early socialization is so important.
TOP TIP: When dog guardians return home to an upturned dustbin, a destroyed couch, or a puddle of wee on the carpet, their dog will often look at them with the “guilty look”. In actuality, the dog is showing a calming signal (known as “whale eye”) in order to avoid punishment from their person. It’s important to understand that any punishment at this point will not have the desired effect of stopping the preceding behaviour, and should, therefore, be skipped entirely. Instead, improved management and training can prevent unwanted behaviour in the future.
Dogs bark. We all know this. So why does this seem to be a major behaviour problem these days? Perhaps it’s because dogs are living in smaller areas such as security estates and complexes. Perhaps people work longer hours and leave dogs alone for longer. Perhaps dogs don’t go on as many walks or don’t get as much opportunity to be social with new people and/or dogs. Perhaps we’ve become a less tolerant society? Whatever the reason, excessive barking can be distressing to both owners and dogs and should be addressed as soon as possible.
The first thing to do is to determine why your dog is barking. Fear? Boredom? The neighbour’s cat? There are specific protocols based on the underlying cause of the behaviour, but there is one common thread when it comes to the solutions: give the dog an alternative behaviour. This could be in the form of brain games, scatter feeding, chew toys, and/or restricting access to the area in which they usually bark.
TOP TIP: Anti-bark collars are never recommended because they do not address the root of the behaviour. These collars cause the dog to a) become depressed and shut down or b) express the underlying emotion with another undesirable behaviour such as chewing the furniture or aggression. If you are struggling with excessive barking, contact a certified trainer or behaviourist to give you a science-based approach to reducing barking while protecting your dog’s emotional well-being.