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There’s a good dog!
Does your dog bark too much or chew everything in sight? You’re not alone. Here, top behaviourists give their solutions to common canine problems.
All of our dogs have their odd little quirks. From doing a jig at the opening of a food can to stealing and hiding our socks, their strange habits only make them more adorable. But some pets display more concerning behaviour: they can bark all day, chew everything in sight or do both if you dare leave them alone for a few hours.
What can you do about it? Here, three top behaviourists, Nicky Shaw, Lauren Watts and Mat Ward give their advice on how to deal with some of the most common problems faced by owners.
HE CRIES WHEN I LEAVE THE HOUSE
If a dog barks or chews things when its owner isn’t home, most people assume they’ve got separation anxiety. Not so, says Nicky Shaw of Dog Hollow, London. ‘A number of behaviours can be mistaken for separation anxiety – they might be chewing because they’re bored or barking at something they can see through the window. So the first step is to video your dog while you’re not home. If there’s a reason for their behaviour, or they eventually settle after a few minutes of distress, it’s probably not separation anxiety. But if you see them pawing at doors or self-harming – licking paws – it is,’ says Nicky. ‘That’s the time to bring in some professional help.’
If the dog just isn’t happy when you first leave the house, then the trick is to get them feeling comfortable when they re in a different room to you at home. ‘Look at your relationship with them,’ says Lauren Watts of Colchester’s Lead with Lauren. ‘If they follow you around the house, they’re probably not going to cope when you leave. So you need to build independence. Give them a chew toy to distract them as you walk about the house without them; teach them to go to bed without you by leaving a treat there to show them being away from you can be good.’
MY SOFA’S FULL OF HOLES
Puppies chew everything – it’s the way they explore their environment and get relief from the pain of teething. It can continue into young adulthood. If it’s a problem, the simple answer is to swap whatever they’re gnawing on for something you don’t mind being destroyed. In adulthood, chewing could be due to boredom. If that’s the case, the best way to tackle it is with plenty of energetic walks and games.
‘Provide age-appropriate chew toys,’ says Dog Hollow’s Nicky, ‘or they’ll find something inappropriate! My favourites are those you can stuff with wet food and pop in the freezer. Or there are antler dog chews and rubber toys – there’ s lots of choice.’ If it continues, says Lauren, take your dog to the vet. ‘Get their teeth checked – it may be a sign there’s a problem.’
HE WON’T STOP BARKING
It’s perfectly normal for a dog to bark, but if they’re doing it constantly, it can be a headache and risk complaints from neighbours. Mat says that there are two main reasons why dogs bark: a perceived threat – such as seeing a stranger or a dog – or they want something.
For the former, the dog needs to be desensitised to the situation. ‘Look for opportunities to encourage low-threat interactions with people and dogs. Couple that with a treat or some fun play, and they will start to link people and dogs to fun.
‘And rather than try to suppress barking, give them something else to do. Try to establish desirable alternative behaviour like a “Sit”,’ says Mat. ‘You’re saying, “Yes, there’s a stranger, but this is what we do.” ’
MY PUPPY’S PEEING EVERYWHERE!
While this is one of the most common problems behaviourists see, it’s relatively easy to sort out – but it takes time.
‘People don’t realise how long it takes,’ says Lauren. ‘The first few times the puppy has an accident, it’s fine. Then people get frustrated, thinking the puppy should have learnt by now. But it can take six months.’
A key problem is that puppies’ bladders are tiny, and they need to go frequently. So decide where your dog’s toilet is going to be in the garden and take them there every hour – set an alarm – giving them lots of praise when they go. Keep an eye out for signs they might go indoors and take them out immediately.
‘It’s critical you never punish them for making mistakes,’ says Nicky, ‘because they’ll become fearful of going in front of you, and go where you can’t see them, like behind the sofa.’
I’M GETTING A NEW POOCH. HOW DO I INTRODUCE IT TO THE DOG I HAVE ALREADY?
If you think the dog you have would be happy with a new companion, make sure you choose the right partner: an older pet might not welcome a high-energy newcomer,’ says Nicky. ‘Let them first meet on neutral ground, like in a park. Let them sniff each other and watch their body language. If one gets too excited, go for a walk to calm them down.’
At home, leave one in the house while the other explores the garden, to get used to each other’s smells. Watch out for flashpoints like food and toys. Remove them, if necessary, and watch your dogs for signs of trouble when playing or eating.
‘Don’t just leave them to sort it out,’ says Lauren. ‘Take control. Go in and give them something else to do.’ And if the new dog is a puppy, make sure that your older dog has somewhere quiet to go.
‘It’s really important you do everything you can to fulfil the puppy’s significant play needs to take the heat off the older dog,’ says Mat. ‘Spend a lot of time with them, mentally stimulate them – don’t just plonk them down.’