Labrador Behavior Articles
“RUFUS,NO!” Even dog owners who accept that dogs dig, and who acknowledge that digging is the nature of the beast, occasionally lament, “Why does that dog dig up my flowers?” Dogs do not dig to be naughty, nasty, vengeful, destructive or vindictive.
Dog owners can help themselves and their dogs by keeping digging problems in perspective. Dogs do dig for many reasons, so changing the behaviour when it becomes a problem can be complicated. For instance, Rufus may like to dig in flower or vegetable beds because that is where he sees you, his role model, showing him how!
You dig and put things into the soil (seeds, plants, bushes, stakes). At other times, you dig and remove things (seedlings, weeds, carrots). Your enjoyable gardening pursuits could he mistaken for lessons in digging technique. Unless or until Rufus understands the rules of gardening – “Do as I say, not as I do” – it is counterproductive to punish.
To arrive at a successful solution to the problem, use the three basic rules of discipline:
- Correction when caught in the act followed by praise for stopping.
- Teaching what is acceptable.
- Prevention by removing the opportunity for further misbehavior.
- Leaving dogs indoors while your garden is an easy way to begin reforming problem diggers. If the dog is outside, you must keep an eye on it and teach as you garden. This is especially critical when working with a puppy. Freshly turned soil smells good and offers irresistible temptation. In addition, puppies consider digging pure playtime. A simple 12- to 18-inch fence (reinforced with a few “no’s”) can curb the urge to dig.
In the Genes
Canine digging is linked to survival. Dogs dig safe dens in which to sleep and rear their young. They dig to hide their food supply. Wild canine species bury kill they cannot immediately eat, usually urinemarking the spot, which says to other creatures, “Keep your paws off. This, meat is mine!” Canine specialization has also made a contribution to certain dogs’ digging tendencies.
Terriers were originally bred to extricate prey (especially vermin) from earth tunnels. (The word terrier comes from the Latin word terra, meaning earth.) This behavior contributes to hunting successes, but it can be a gardener’s nightmare.
A small Norfolk Terrier can leave annoying potholes, but an Airedale is capable of digging caverns. Terrier owners face destroyed lawns when the trail of a mole tempts one of these dogs. Keep you cool. Remember, terriers have been digging for the past 800 years or so.
You can’t repair lawn damage by yelling at the dog. If you catch the dog hell-bent for destruction (and vermin), show your displeasure, make the correction and remove the dog from the scene. However, a sure-fire way to put an end to this natural behavior is to eliminate the vermin. Northern breeds, more comfortable in snow banks, sometimes dig to get down to the cool earth beneath the warm surface soil.
Siberian Huskies are known for their excavating enthusiasm, and breeders routinely warn buyers that this is part and parcel of the Siberian temperament. Scolding or punishing won’t solve the problem.
Instead, relocate the dog to the basement or garage where it can he comfortably cool without having to dig.
Our dogs have adapted many of their instinctive ways to adjust to living in our households, but digging remains a common behaviour in all dogs. Like other normal behaviours that we do not find acceptable in our 1990s pets, undesirable digging can be stopped. Digging often begins inadvertently.
For example, a puppy may begin digging while trying to pick up or paw at a stick. The dirt starts to fly and the pup gets carried away with the sheer fun of this new game. A firm but friendly No! combined with the distraction of a game more to your liking will help alter the urge to dig. Watch for signs of the pup’s attempt to repeat the adventure. Puppies are easily dis tracted and more eager to please you than are adult dogs.
Prevention and positive teaching produce results with dogs, especially with puppies. To prevent digging or to teach an alternative, more desirable pursuit, you must monitor the dog when it is outside. This time spent with the dog contributes to a quick and easy avoidance of all three major canine crimes: digging, barking and chewing.
Digging is not just annoying; it can be dangerous in the case of the dog that digs to escape. Occasionally, a dog digging alongside a fence discovers a new world on the other side. Being a normal sort of dog, it will want to investigate further. The problem is, the dog may end up getting lost, killed on the road or, at the very least, in trouble with neighbors.
Once successful at escaping, a dog is likely to continue its forays until it and the escape route are brought under control. A dog with a “don’t fence me in, or “barrier,” fixation requires patient behaviour modification, as well as numerous precautions taken for its safety. Keep calm; don’t punish the dog after an escape. That will only convince the dog that it’s not a good idea to come home after digging out.
Begin by inspecting your fence. For it to protect your dog and your property from intruders, the fence must he in good repair. For the chronic escape artist, install a trench about a foot deep and 18 inches wide directly below the fence on the inside.
Attach strong turkey wire to the bottom of the fence, lining the bottom of the ditch. Fill the trench with large stones and earth, and finish it of however you like. (Thorny climbing roses, perhaps?) While this renovation is under way, keep Rufus indoors, taking him elsewhere on lead for necessary walks. Spray the area thoroughly with one of the products made to keep pets off plants or outdoor furniture. Read the label to be sure it is safe if ingested.
Retrain Rufus by taking him out on a long, loose lead. You want him to attempt to investigate so you can make a correction, and he must be on lead so you have control. As he nears the fence, make a growling sound – aaacht – and say”‘no!” ‘Then,using a happy voice, draw his attention away from the fence. Mending the fence is half the cure; teaching the dog is the other half.
If Rufus responds to a negative command or sound you use for other misbehaviours, by all means use it to stop digging. But it will work only if you use it as you see him assume the digging position and lift one paw. Timing is critical.
An old soda can containing a few pennies or pebbles, thrown on the ground as you shout ‘no! ‘works well with dogs that need only a “don’t even think about it’ reminder. You may prefer to go modern and try one of the ultrasound devices on the market. The point is to have instantly available a means of control from a distance for use when Rufus is off lead. Use the minimum correction to which your dog responds.
What’s a Dog to Do?
The owner of a dog that was kept outdoors was upset because the dog was digging holes all over the yard. He complained that they were unsightly and, worse, filled up with water when it rained. It turned out that the dog was kept on a chain almost 24 hours a day and had nothing better to do.
Digging relieves stress, exercises muscles, provides activity, and it’s fun. So give the dog its due. An intelligent but bored dog had merely discovered the benefits of occupational therapy. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not need endless hours of fresh air to he healthy and happy pets. In fact, most dogs kept much of the time indoors are more relaxed and content, and therefore better behaved. Indoors or out, canine behaviour problems need to be examined to understand the cause.
Only then can you retrain the dog. The dog associates your displeasure with its digging only when the correction takes place precisely as the dirt flies. Don’t be misled by Rufus’looks when you yell at him for something he did hours before.
That is not guilt; it is submission. When you punish the dog after the fact, all it learns is to stay out of your way. Sometimes a dog is relegated to the outdoors because it misbehaved in the house, and no one took the time to pinpoint the cause and solve the problem.
Out of sight, out of mind may be an easy solution for the owner, but not for the dog. He gets a sentence of solitary confinement when all he needed was to be taught right from wrong. The ‘bad dog” in the house inevitably becomes a “bad dog’ outdoors. Dogs left alone outdoors constitute the majority of diggers and barkers.
These behaviours result from the dogs’ desperate need for physical and mental exercise and companionship. You must provide walks and play for the former, more playtime and lots of hu- man contact for the latter. neouts are only for those occasions when it’s not possible to walk the dog; use them only for brief periods of time and never in combination with a choke collar.
Few dogs dig to bury bones, perhaps because dogs are increasingly kept as pets, and we force them to retain infantile characteristics. Today’s predolescent dog in the wild would not be a hunter, nor would it bury surplus meat. It digs and buries only as playlearning. In my lifetime involvement with a variety of breeds, only one dog, a Cocker Spaniel, ever buried anything. On the other hand, a red squirrel that hangs out under my bird feeder buried close to 100 sunflower seeds in a nearby flower bed and followed this marathon by neatly planting” a cup of kibbled dog food putout for pheasants! Digging is instinctive in many animals, but it is often an exercise in futility when the reason for it becomes clouded.
Please Dig Here
It is amazing the lengths to which dog owners will go in their attempts to put a stop to unwanted digging. Creative – but ineffective – methods include filling each hole with pepper and filling a hole with water and pushing the dog’s nose into it. (Attempted drowning never taught a dog anything other than to have a healthy fear of water.)
These methods never work because dogs cannot connect the crime with the punishment. Many behaviour experts recommend providing an outlet for a digging-prone pet. Providing a digging pit and directing a dog’s earth-bound pursuits to a specified area may reduce its tendencies to enter forbidden territory.
I was sceptical about the pit (or sandbox) made expressly to give the dog some- place to dig, so I collected opinions from those who have used the method:
- The owner of a Shih Tzu swears by the sandbox. Her dog stays clean (sand is easier to brush out than dirt), and its toys stay in one place.
- A German Shepherd Dog owner dug an 8-foot-by-10-foot pit, filled it with clean, screened earth, put the dog through an intensive training period until he felt the dog understood what the pit was for and how to use it, only to have the dog start digging all over the yard – something it had never done before.
- A Beagle mix was given a corner of the yard in which to dig. The owner buried dog biscuits as incentives to explore the pit. Barney promptly buried every dog biscuit given to him and otherwise avoided his designated play area.
- Other people advised covering the box or pit before rain or at night to keep out neighboring cats; using a yard spray for fleas and ticks; and watching carefully what the dog had in its mouth when headed for.the burying ground.
- The owners of a Great Pyrenees confessed that their dog had a penchant for their house guests underwear. The dog owners were unaware of their dog’s passion until they discovered the objects of its desire during one spring’s gardening. None of the guests had ever complained about their missing underwear
- Perhaps the most often repeated warning was not to introduce the sandbox idea to any dog that has never shown any interest in digging, because the lesson can so easily backfire. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.
It can be quite frustrating as a dog owner to come home to find any number of items chewed up beyond recognition. Not only can a dog chew up and destroy small things like shoes, television remotes or children’s toys, but they can also certainly tackle larger “prey”.
I have encountered some photos on the Internet of chairs completely chewed up by dogs, couches chewed up by dogs and even walls and doors chewed up by dogs. The intent of this article is to explain this chewing behavior and help find solutions to the problem.
Understanding why your dog chews
The first thing that you need to know is that chewing is perfectly normal behavior for a dog – especially a puppy under a year old. There are two reasons for normal chewing behavior. The first reason is that dogs use their mouths the way that humans use their hands.
Dogs pick up items with their mouths, move their puppies with their mouths and most importantly open things with their mouths. When a dog wants to test if something is good to eat or has something good to eat inside of it, they chew it up.
The second reason for normal chewing behavior is that puppies use chewing to help their adult teeth come in. Just like humans, puppies lose their baby teeth and they are replaced by adult teeth. This can be quite painful and chewing is one way to relieve the pain.
Have you ever noticed that your dog seems to chew on your personal items more than anything else? The reason for this is simple: Your dog likes your scent and is drawn to items that have your scent on them. The more time a dog spends near an object the more likely he is to chew it.
Chewing like other undesirable behaviors can also be a sign of boredom or loneliness. The old saying “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is certainly true for dogs are well (except the whole hand thing). If you notice that your dog seems to chew more when you are gone or when you are not paying attention to him, boredom could very well be the cause.
How to stop undesired chewing
Now that we have covered some of the basic causes of undesired chewing, now we can talk about how to stop this behavior. The first thing to do to accomplish this task is to determine which of the explanations for chewing seems to apply to your dog.
If your dog is chewing because he is teething then it is important to supply your dog with chewing toys to satisfy his teething needs. In reality all dogs should have chew toys around, but it is vitally important for teething puppies.
Never give your puppy an old shoe (or any other household item you wouldn’t want him to chew up if it were brand new). Your puppy cannot distinguish between the 15 year old sneaker and your new designer shoes.
Make sure and praise your puppy for chewing on the appropriate items. If you ever catch your puppy chewing on an inappropriate item, don’t scold them. Instead take away the inappropriate item and replace it with a chew toy.
If your dog seems to be chewing out of boredom then there are two things that need to be done. You need to provide appropriate chew toys.
As I mentioned above, chew toys are vitally important for a teething puppy but all dogs need to have something appropriate to chew on. Just as important is that your dog needs to have regular exercise. Just being let out into the backyard is not enough.
He needs to be walked on leash every day and also have other fun exercise activities such as fetch, agility training or field exercises.
If your dog seems to chew items more when you are gone from the house, this is a sign of loneliness. Being pack animals, dogs can suffer separation anxiety when separated from the rest of the “pack”.
One of the ways dogs relieve this anxiety is to chew on things. More often than not these are items that belong to members of the “pack”. You can add your scent to chew toys by tossing them into the clothing hamper for a few days with some of your clothes.
This will provide your dog with an appropriate chew toy with your scent on it. Also, never make a big deal out of leaving your dog home alone. This will only add to his anxiety.
First of all, I want to say CONGRATULATIONS! The fact that you are reading this article probably means that you have a little one coming soon. Having a baby is probably the most joyous experience a parent can have. The purpose of this article is to help make sure your dog can share in your joy by welcoming the new member of the family.
Before you bring the baby home:
Adjust your dog’s schedule to the schedule he will be following when the baby comes home. If he goes out at 7 am now, but will be going out at 5 am when the baby comes home his schedule should change before the arrival. All aspects of his eventual scheduling changes should be adjusted well in advance.
Your dog should be used to the baby’s belongings. Changes to the baby’s room such as painting and new furnishings should be brought in sooner and not later.
Try to have household scents in the room. With a new paint job and new furnishings, the room can have a lesser “pack” feel to it. A well-used blanket or favorite recliner can bring draw this back. Try to spend time in the room in the weeks to come to the future.
Start bringing the baby’s scent home after childbirth. Soiled clothes and blankets should be brought home as soon as possible and before the baby’s arrival in the house. However, you must prevent situations where you will have to correct your dog over these articles. If you don’t want him too close to these things, then keep them out of reach. You don’t want him to connect bad things with the new baby!
Reduce the attention your dog normally gets a week or more before your new baby’s arrival. Reduce the attention far lower than he will receive after the baby comes home so he won’t feel he is competing for attention with the baby.
Dogs house soil for different reasons. Health problems, of course, we cannot expect a dog to be able to prevent accidents. One sign of poor health is the condition of the stools. Are they well-formed and not too lose? Urinating is also affected by medical conditions. Suspicions that health issues might be involved should receive medical attention immediately.
House soiling can result from behavioral problems. Separation anxiety, demands for attention, or leadership issues need to be addressed directly. But, some dogs just haven’t been taught that the house is no place to potty. Young dogs, or sometimes older dogs, that had less than clean childhoods need to be shown. This section on house soiling is for those dogs.
Clean all accidents with vinegar and water. When a dog urinates or defecates a chemical (pheromones) is released. One of the functions of this chemical is to cause the dog to physically feel as if he needs to relieve himself (natures way of having the dog soil just certain areas). Vinegar breaks the effect of pheromones. Half white vinegar and half water in a squirt bottle works well.
Feed on an exact schedule.
Do not vary the diet.
Feed a high-quality food. The fewer fillers (soy, ash) a food has, the less bulk your dog’s system will need to manage.
Keep everything your dog ingests (food) consistent. If you plan on giving your dog treats, make sure to give the same amounts and type each day through the housebreaking process.
Walk your dog on an exact schedule.
Provide an area that is solely used for elimination. If your dog spends time in an area (such as a small back yard), then it may make more sense to him to relieve himself in an area where he spends less time, such as a basement or spare bedroom.
Catching your Dog in the Act is Critical to Success
This can be tricky! Some tips:
Of course, this is the key.
Know how long after your dog eats till he will have to respond to nature. This varies from dog to dog, but within twenty minutes he should need to.
A brass bell or two on the collar. When the bells sound you maybe able to tell how the dog is moving and where he is off to. This is handy if your dog uses a particular spot to house soil. Pet stores sell small bells for cats that are perfect for this purpose.
When you do Catch your Dog in the Act
Loudly yell “No!” Make it loud and startling. As with any correction, don’t over do it to the point that your dog will lose focus to the act he was doing that caused the correction.
Take the dog directly to where he is supposed to relieve himself. Until you near the area he is to use keep mumbling in a harsh tone.
As you are near the area to be used, be relaxed. You’re not upset that your dog relieved himself. You’re upset where he relieved himself.
Wait for your dog to use the proper area. Stay for a while even if you don’t think your dog will relieve himself.
If your dog does relieve himself in this area then give him lots praise!
Separation anxiety can be a real challenge to deal with. It can cause all sorts of destructive behavior and is never desirable for your dog. The following are some tips and strategies to use to reduce separation anxiety.
Some facts about dogs and separation anxiety:
Wild dogs live in a group that is together 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.
Dogs are not designed to be alone.
Depending on the individual dog, he probably has some level of separation anxiety.
For some owners that means their dog would rather have company then to be left alone. For other owners, this could mean that the dog has chewed up everything in the home and soiled on every conceivable inch of it.
Make coming and going very low keyed. Highly emotional homecomings and departures can instill feelings in your dog that being alone is a bad thing.
Give your dog a feeling that there is a reason why he is being left behind. Use the dog’s name, the word “okay” and sound very expectant in a phrase as you leave. The phrase must be positive (You be good! is not a positive phrase). A good example of a phrase to use is “Watch the house Cheese Steak, Okay?.” This will leave the dog with the feeling something is expected of him and give him a sense of purpose to why he is staying behind.
When leaving try to have calm body language and a gentle tone of voice. You don’t want to cue the dog that he should be worried by your body language. You are running late and stressed and that leaves you dog w/a feeling he should worry. Move slowly so as not to enact a flee response.
Never punish after the fact! This quite possibly will create, or already has created a behavioral problem.
Never intentionally make the dog excited when he is allowed to leave the house.
Your dog should have something appropriate to chew upon when you are gone. Chewing can be a tension releaser. When your dog is stressed over your not being home (or any reason), he can release that stress by chewing on something you provided him.