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Why does your dog do that?

01/11/2019 - News & Tips

Are you baffled or frustrated with your dog’s behaviour? Are there some bad habits that you’d like to break? Or perhaps some good behaviours that you’d like to train. The first stage in dog training is asking yourself “why does your dog do that?”

Inspired by the incredible Dr Susan Freidman, I sometimes use the acronym WTF to explain doggy behaviour. WTF stands for What’s The Function? When you understand what your dog is trying to achieve by behaving in a certain way, you can understand how to encourage more appropriate behaviours.

Let’s look at some of examples

Lunging at other dogs
In an ideal world, your dog would largely ignore other dogs unless he or she is approached. Good canine etiquette says that when dogs meet there should be a polite sniff and move on. It’s the doggy equivalent of you and I spotting each other in the supermarket, saying “hi” and then carrying on with the shopping.

So why does your dog lunge at other dogs baring teeth and growling at them? It’s actually a fear-based reaction as explained in my blog “what to do if your dog hates other dogs”

Dogs learn by association. For a dog to react badly to other dogs it has probably learned 2 things

1.       Other dogs are scary
2.       Barking, growling and snarling makes scary things go away

WTF – what’s the function of seemingly aggressive behaviour? To make the threat go away.

What can you do?  Work with a qualified trainer to teach your pet that there is a better way.

Chasing other creatures
Domestic dogs are hundreds of generations away from their wild cousins but some of their basic survival instincts are still there. One of the strongest instincts is of course to find food. And how do dogs find food? They go out and catch it. Our pets don’t need to catch their own food. However the thrill of the chase will release a whole cacophony of feel-good hormones into their system….just like the endorphin hit that people get when they exercise.

WTF – what’s the function of chasing other creatures? To get an endorphin hit and feel good.

What can you do? Make sure that the “right” behaviour gives an even better reward than the chasing. So ignoring the “prey” or distraction and staying beside you should earn a huge reward, and that should be whatever it is your dog loves the most. That’s what recall training is all about.

Chewing your property
Chewing is normal behaviour for dogs of all ages and it has more than one function.

WTF – what’s the function of puppy chewing? In puppies, chewing is a way of exploring the world – the mouth is very sensitive. It’s also a way to relieve the discomfort of teething.

What can you do?
Keep your precious possessions out of puppy’s reach and supply lots of chewable alternatives. Frozen whole carrots make great teething toys as do Kong toys, deers’ antlers (available from good pet shops), bull’s pizzle’s (don’t ask!) and pig’s ear’s.  Let them satisfy their need to explore with toys of different materials but never your expensive shoes, or anything small enough to choke on.

WTF – what’s the function of chewing “people property”? Scientists are certain that chewing releases feel good chemicals into the dog’s brain. It’s normal behaviour and probably the canine equivalent of playing solitaire or doing sudoku – no real purpose but it calms the mind and passes the time.

However, when chewing gets out of hand, it could be a sign that your dog is either very bored or somewhat distressed. Certainly it is strongly associated with separation anxiety.

What can you do? Team up with a qualified dog trainer who can help you work out what is troubling your dog and train him or her to settle without needing to destroy your belongings, help them learn which items are chewable and which are a no go.

Pulling on the lead
When you’re heading out to do something and your sleeve gets caught on the door handle, what’s your instinctive reaction? Mine is to give it a good hard pull to free myself and get back to what I wanted to do. Especially if I’m in a rush! And that’s exactly what your dog is doing. He or she is on a mission, the lead is holding them back, so they pull harder to try and free themselves and get there faster.

WTF – what’s the function of pulling on the lead? Probably to be free of restrictions and either enjoy a good old sniff around or escape something that feels threatening.

What can you do? – Dogs are not born knowing how to walk nicely beside people, or even understanding what the lead is. They need to learn that the lead isn’t there to stop them enjoying themselves and that good stuff happens when the lead is slack.

My loose lead program is available in private sessions and is guaranteed tackle pulling on the lead as well as good manners and self-control

Find out about doggy lifeskills classes here

Jumping up
Jumping up is one doggy behaviour that I get asked about a lot. Owners don’t want to reject their dogs’ show of affection but neither do they want their best clothes plastered in muddy paw prints.

WTF – what’s the function of jumping up? To get attention.

What can you do? Give the attention before your dog jumps up. When those front feet leave the floor stop the fuss until they are firmly back where they belong. Provided you are consistent and make sure that jumping up never results in any kind of engagement, it won’t take Rover long to work out that the way to get attention is to keep calm and be polite.
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