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Myth #1 - A dog that chews things is either terribly bored or simply trying to be vindictive.
This is one of the most common problems when it comes to dogs and undesirable behavior. But it's also not as straightforward as many dog owners think.
Humans play solitaire to keep themselves occupied when they're alone. Dogs chew. It's what they do.
Actually, chewing is much more important to dogs than solitaire is to humans. Dogs need to chew on things to maintain healthy teeth and gums and good jaw strength. Solitaire will do nothing for your dental hygiene.
Puppies need to chew even more when they are teething (in fact, there are special chew toys that can be dampened and frozen to provide relief for painful gums during this process).
So chewing isn't a problem in itself, but destructive chewing is.
Dogs need to learn what they can and cannot chew on, and they are quite capable of doing so when properly taught. Here are four steps every dog owner should take to encourage "constructive chewing."
As always, the best cure is prevention, but dog owners should also always dog-proof their home, especially with puppies. They can be very creative with what they chew.
Anything not removable that has been or is likely to be targeted can be sprayed with a deterrent, such as Bitter Apple.
Whenever you are there with your dog, it is important that you actively teach them commands for "leave it" or "drop." These are given whenever you see them taking something into their jaws that should not be in there.
You may have to orchestrate this training process by adding some of the items that you removed in step 1. But that's what training is all about - setting up safe scenarios in which you can help them differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
These commands will also work well when you are out with your dog and they want to pick up something dangerous or just foul.
Here's where you start teaching your friend which toys belong to them, to chew to pieces if they like (and they will).
Immediately after removing the inappropriate item from their clutches, replace it with an appropriate toy.
It will take some time to really zero in on a few of your dog's most favorite things. But as you try lots of different toys to encourage constructive chewing, keep in mind that the best ones are those designed to promote healthy teeth and gums such as dental chew ropes.
Also, try to find what are called "active toys," which give your dog something to do for an extended period of time. For example, "Kong" balls and rubber toys can be stuffed with food, such as peanut butter or whatever they go for. Often dogs are inactive when they are alone because they're missing you.
The final step is simple but not one to forget. And you already know how best to praise your dog.
All in all the good news is that most dogs will grow out of this phase somewhat at the same time as they figure out what's chewable and what's not.
If your dog's chewing problem continues, however, it is likely to be an expression of nervous energy (the same goes for excessive licking, of themselves and others). The number one cause of nervous energy for dogs is lack of exercise.
A brisk 15-minute walk is simply not enough for many dogs, barely a warm-up for a Border Collie, and it is important to understand that exercise is different from a play session or outing to the park.
The mistake that a lot of dog owners make, which is an unfortunate function of their busy schedules, is that they pack in two high intensity (15-20 minute) fetch sessions at the beginning and end of the day.
True, this is much better than nothing, but the fact that the dog goes more or less from sleeping to sprinting, then from lying around all day to sprinting again, can cause extra wear and tear on the joints and possibly early arthritis.
Like humans, a dog benefits from a decent warm-up and warm-down, and busy owners should do their best to sneak in some longer, less intense exercise sessions.
All the best with it, and don't chew out your dog in the meantime!
Myth #2 - You need to understand and communicate in "dog language" so that your dog will understand you.
This is a notion that I find to be increasing in circulation these days, and a myth worthy of a good swift debunking.
True it is of the utmost importance to be able to "read" the body language of a dog. You need to understand when whining means "I missed you" and when it means "I have severely injured my tail." You need to know when barking means "I am bored and acting out" and when it means "Excuse me there is an ax murderer behind you."
But this stops way short of responding to your dog using what might be thought of as "their" language. You don't need to bark, growl, or whine when you want to connect with your dog on a deeper level. You don't need to get on all fours and mimic the play stance when you want to play a game with your dog (put it this way: you won't see them pick up and throw a Frisbee).
This is nonsense. Dogs are intelligent animals. They know you don't look like a dog, you definitely don't smell like a dog, and so there is absolutely no reason why you need to act like one.
Not only that, it makes you look ridiculous - both in the eyes of other people, and in the eyes of your dog.
Yes, you can still be a human and be a pack leader. In fact, your upright and elevated (human) posture has the added effect of reinforcing your dominance.
With this silly myth laid to rest, allow me to offer you a selection of items that will help you get a handle on how dog's communicate using body language and facial expressions, which is taken from the "Guide to Body Language and Signals" and the "Guide to Facial Expressions and Vocals," both included in the SitStayFetch book:
Use of the Body to Communicate:
Backside in the air and tail wagging:
This means that your dog is keen to play and have some fun, so it's time to get his favorite toy and spend some time giving your dog the play and exercise he needs.
Tail right between the back legs: This indicates that your dog is scared of something or someone. If he is slinking around with his tail like this, you should try and work out what is affecting him.
A wagging tail can mean a number of things from playfulness and happiness to excitement or aggression. If the tail is wagging loosely, he is probably feeling friendly and happy. However, it his tail is high up and wagging rapidly, it could mean aggression. If the tail is relaxed and still, your dog feels contented.
This means that your dog is either frightened of something or that he is ready to go into battle with whatever or whoever has caused the hackles to be raised.
This is normally a sign of submission and may occur in the presence of humans or in the company of other dogs or animals.
This can occur for one of a number of reasons. Your dog may sniff because he smells something unusual - something he is unfamiliar with - and he may be trying to work out what it is. He may sniff to identify a person or other animal, as dogs use their noses rather than their eyes to differentiate. He may sniff to find out more about a new person or dog. In addition, if he is sniffing the floor, fence, or lamppost outside he may have caught on to the scent of another dog that has marked the territory. If your dog is sniffing the floor in the house and is also pacing or circling, he may need to relieve himself so you should get him to his designated area.
If your dog's body is tense and slightly lowered, this indicates anxiety. This may be coupled with a partially lowered tail.
A tense body coupled with a crouching position usually means that your dog is ready to pounce, and is what is known as a predatory position. He might react like this with anything from his favorite squeaky toy to a squirrel or an intruder.
If you notice that your dog is prancing back and forth, bouncing around with his tail wagging, he is usually feeling happy. He may be happy and playful or he may just be happy and excited because you have just come home from work.
These are just a selection of the body postures and actions your dog may display to convey the way that he is feeling. Making yourself familiar with these actions will help you to identify and bond with your dog more closely.
Use of the Head and Face for Communication:
The ears can tell you a lot about how your dog is feeling.
Here are some common ways in which your dog will convey his feelings using his ears:
* Ears close to the head, pointing back or forwards could indicate aggression.
* Perked up ears, with his head turning from side to side indicates that he is alert.
* Slightly flattened and partially back ears indicate that he feels anxious.
* Ears perked up and pointing forward means that he is curious or excited. However, this can also be coupled with a predatory position, in which case he may be just about to start the chase.
* Ears pointing straight up may display a degree of dominance.
* Ears flattened and laid back against head usually indicate fear.
The eyes are also a giveaway of how your dog is feeling, and coupled with his posture, can enable you to work out what your dog is thinking and what he is trying to say:
Narrowed eyes can indicate aggression and challenging behavior.
Slightly narrowed eyes coupled with partially back ears can indicate anxiety.
Wide open and staring eyes are often coupled with a dominant posture and ears up straight to convey his dominance.
Eyes narrowed with lots of white showing indicates that he is afraid or submissive.
Wide open, sparkly eyes usually means that he is ready for a game and some playful fun.
Wide open eyes that are intently focused on something are part of the predatory position.
Your dog will also use his mouth as part of his communication, and here is what to look out for:
Lips drawn back to expose teeth, coupled with snarling, indicates aggression. This could also be coupled with snapping.
Mouth closed or slightly open can indicate alertness or dominance, depending on his posture.
A slightly open mouth that makes him look as though he is grinning can actually indicate anxiety.
An open mouth coupled with panting can indicate excitement and curiosity.
Mouth open to expose teeth with drawn back lips can indicate fear.
A relaxed mouth that is slightly open is normally a friendly and relaxed gesture.
A slightly open mouth with bared teeth may indicate that your dog is on guard.
An open mouth coupled with excited panting can indicate playfulness and eagerness.
Myth #3 - You're only training your dog when you THINK you're training your dog.
Let me explain. Many owners set aside and plan out dog obedience training sessions. They have a set time, gather their set tools (all manner of treats, clickers, leads), and go to a set place (the backyard, the park, or even the weekly dog training class).
This is great! These owners are doing much better than those who believe that a daily pat on the head or a steady salvo of "SIT!" commands every now and then amounts to a successful dog training regime.
But what many caring dog owners either don't realize or simply don't put into practice is the fact that you are effectively training your dog whenever you are with your dog.
Your dog is picking up on your verbal and non-verbal cues all of the time.
If you spring up and run to the phone every time it rings, you are training your dog that it is ok to spring up and run around whenever he hears that ringing sound.
Let's say you are relaxed at night when you get home from work, but totally stressed out in the morning. You are basically training your dog that there is a reason to be stressed out in the morning (not so good when you are about to leave them alone for a while).
If you get nervous each time you pass by the neighbor who walks their Great Dane on the other side of the street in the morning, you are training your dog to be nervous if the Great Dane is in sight.
Remember, even when your signals are not directed at your dog, your dog picks up on them. There is no line that separates formal and informal training. You are training your dog even when you are not "training" your dog. This is what I call "involuntary training." It just happens.
The important thing is to try to recognize moments when you can make this involuntary training work for you.
Structured training is, of course, still an essential part of dog training, and the form of involuntary training that I've just spelled out does not in any way replace the need for such structure.
Here are what we regard to be the key concepts to successful training, and a short description of each:
Perhaps the most important aspect of building a successful relationship with your dog will be your rapport with him. If you make your dog into a close friend by doing such things as talking to him, playing with him, and taking him for long walks, he will be much more responsive and attentive when you are training him.
Spending QUALITY TIME with your dog is the key.
Delivering consistent messages to your dog will help him to view his world as black and white rather than various shades of grey. By consistent messages, I mean the commands that you decide to use to train, praise, and reprimand your dog should always be the same.
It is important that all members of the family are aware of this and use the same commands themselves, as you would not want to undermine the hard work that you have put in to training the dog by having other people confusing him.
By timing I mean the amount of time that passes between your dog's action (or inaction) and corresponding praise (or reprimand). This time should be no more than two to three seconds. If the time is any longer, the chances are your dog will not associate your words with his actions.
Do not fall into the trap of calling your dog to you to reprimand him. As mentioned above, by the time he gets to you he has long forgotten what he has done wrong and now thinks that you are telling him off for coming to you! Always praise your dog when he comes to you.
Dogs are creatures of habit and learn by repetition. It will take several repetitive training sessions for your dog to get the response you require implanted into his brain and for the action to become automatic.
Dogs require refresher sessions throughout their lives so that the conditioned response that you want is not lost.
Remember prevention is far better than having to correct the action at a later stage.
Keep formal sessions short and enjoyable so that your dog maintains concentration throughout. Quality not quantity is the golden rule.
Always finish a training session on a positive note.
Be reasonable in your expectation of what your dog can achieve. It will take time to get results.
You should ensure that you have the dog's full attention and that you are giving your best when performing a training session. You may wish to settle yourself or the dog down by taking a long walk before the session commences.
Use praise whenever your dog has completed an exercise correctly.
Praise should also be delivered to your dog as soon as the desired act has been done (remember the timing thing). When delivering praise look directly into the dog's eyes so that he understands the connection between your voice or touch and his action.
Deliver praise verbally or with the hand by either patting or stroking. Try not to over praise your dog as excessive chatter will only serve to confuse him and may disrupt his concentration for the rest of the training session.
Generally speaking, try not to rely too heavily on food as your only reward or bribe. However, alternating treats with displays of affection can be a useful way of overcoming problems that your dog may have in learning some of the exercises.
Using eye contact can be more effective than using the spoken word -more so if there is a close bond between dog and owner.
If a dog wishes to communicate with you, he will look directly into your eyes trying to read your intent. It is well known that dogs that do not make good eye contact can be difficult to train.
Using a specific hand motion while you give a vocal command can be an effective way of training a dog to respond to different stimuli. And it is useful for getting your dog to respond at long distances.
Eventually you can wean your dog off the vocal command so that he responds to the hand signal alone. Give hand signals in front of and above the dog's head as that is their best field of vision.
Use one command for one action and pronounce that command with the same tone and inflection.
Don't get carried away with the number of vocal commands you create.
You should gain your dog's attention by saying his name before stating a command.
The importance of the trainer being seen as the pack leader in the dog's eyes is imperative. In a pack situation if a dog steps out of line it is chastised and made aware of its transgression immediately by superior dogs in the pecking order.
Giving Corrections is a big topic with a lot of methods to consider. There are three failsafe options with our top recommendation outlined in more detail at Sit Stay Fetch.
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