So you have a problem with Fido, hmm? Well it could be any problem, right? Maybe he is growling at you when you reach down to take his food bowl, or he is snapping and posturing at your other dog during meals? Maybe he is peeing on your bathroom floor every single night? Maybe he keeps vomiting up yellow bile on your brand new carpet? And then you could have a dog that won’t stop pulling on the leash and making walks impossible, or refusing to return home when you call him, despite him stopping and looking at you (and deciding to ignore you).
There are a myriad of problems you might experience over the course of your dog’s life, and each stage of dog maturation is rife with its own special dilemmas. So how does one little article propose to help you on the path to eliminating all of these problems?
Give it a try; it can’t hurt, right?
The very first questions you need to ask for any problem are these:
- Could there be a medical reason for this behavior? Consult your vet with a phone call and an appointment if they think one is warranted.
- Are all of my dog’s needs being met? (Does he need more food, exercise, socialization, playthings and so forth?)
- Is the behavior my dog exhibiting a natural behavior?
- If your dog attacks your other dog (and then you when you try to intervene) every time food is placed down (and I’ve personally received a painful bite or two on my hands on many occasions with rescues) a trainer might call this “food aggression”.
If your dog is attacking others when food is placed down, for example, could he be overly hungry? Are you feeding him enough? You might say he is fine, but maybe he is much hungrier than you realize.
I have seen hunger surprise owner after owner and additional food or higher quality food make remarkable differences in problem behaviors you might not even relate to hunger on a cursory glance.
- If he is urinating on the bathroom floor at night have you considered that there could there be a veterinary cause for his midnight toilet routine? I have seen many dogs suddenly begin having “accidents” in the house due to medical problems that are otherwise quite unobvious.
And the final question is quite important, too. It is important to categorize your particular issue. Sound hard? No sir, it is quite simple. Your doggie dilemma is either a training problem or a behavioral problem. This is an important distinction because how you fix the problem is going to depend on the cause of the problem.
In order to categorize our problem we need to look as closely as possible to see if we can determine a root cause for the problem.
If one doesn’t readily identify itself then that is where a trainer or a behaviorist (depending on your problem’s classification) will come in mighty handy. They will know the root cause(s) for this trouble. As unique and wonderfully special as your furry baby is, he is still a dog and I’d be willing to bet a good amount of ground lamb that this problem has been had by countless other owners. You’re not alone and calling the right professional will help you here, tremendously.
Questions you can ask yourself before finding a professional include:
- Is your dog exhibiting a natural behavior?
- If your dog is growling over food, for example, this is a natural behavior. If the cause isn’t medical then it is behavioral.
- If your dog is urinating on your bathroom floor at night and the cause is not medical then it is behavioral. Urinating is certainly a natural behavior for a dog.
- If your dog is vomiting (natural) you’ll need to speak with a veterinarian first but then you may need to consult an expert in dog nutrition.
- Is your dog failing to learn or perform a learned behavior?
- If your dog is pulling you down the street on a walk this is a failure with a learned behavior. It is unnatural to walk, controlled, on a leash despite it being necessary for the domestic dog for safety purposes.
- If your dog is not coming to you when called this is a failure with a learned behavior. It is unnatural to stop what the dog wants to do and return to a person when beckoned, although this is also a necessity for safety’s sake.
If you’ve determined the root cause of your problem (behavioral or learned behavior problem?) and you have ruled out a medical problem then you must ensure that you are meeting all of your dog’s needs.
“But my dog growled at me when I placed food down. He was certainly very overly hungry, but I’m really concerned that he chose to do that, so feeding him more can’t be the answer, can it?”
You’re right, the growling is concerning and not something we want the dog to decide is a good thing. You should consult a behaviorist specifically for help with this problem.
“But my dog is chewing up all my stuff and he has a couple toys. I don’t think I should provide him with more toys, he should stop chewing on my shoes and stealing my socks because it is unacceptable, needs met or not.”
I’d love for dogs to behave the way we like simply because they feel it is their honorable doggie duty. What noble dogs we’d all have! I’d also like my children to do their chores because they want to help the family, but only some days do I receive that wonderful attitude.
Our dogs do want to please us, this is what makes them particularly suited to domestication and a big reason why humans choose dogs for companionship. But to expect them to work without pay all the time is just unrealistic and uncalled for. Humans can understand the importance of doing things “because it is the right thing to do” and you still can’t get them to do it all the time (especially for no reward), yet we expect our dogs to?
Our dogs obey us because they love us, they want to please us, and because when they please us we give them things that are wonderful for them (food, affection, possessions).
I tell you what, when you start going to work but eschewing a paycheck I will provide you with a dog that will forever do anything you ask simply because he is your dog. 😉
And there you have it: the best way to get on the road to a balanced home again! If you have a medical concern, call the vet. If you have a behavioral concern, call a behaviorist and if you have a training concern call a trainer and always ensure that all your dogs’ basic needs are being fully met and you will fix that little problem in no time flat.
Note: If you’re the “DIY” kind of person while you might not be hiring a behaviorist or trainer but at least you will have the basic knowledge necessary to look into a solution for your specific doggie dilemma. Check out books written by behaviorists and trainers that have studied the science of dog behavior and visit dog forums online. You’ll find lots of people there willing to give you pointers. And when in doubt remember that you probably don’t do everything yourself.
When the car breaks you might tinker, but a mechanic has the equipment and tools to hoist up your car and take it apart in a snap. He also has the code checker that can tell you what is wrong…
Well dog behaviorists and trainers are professionals for a reason. You might be able to tinker and fix many problems yourself but dog trainers aren’t very expensive and have the tools, knowledge and experience to help you solve your problem quickly and effectively without disrupting or damaging your relationship with your dog and your dog’s emotional well-being. You probably wouldn’t get automotive advice from the local baker, likewise don’t get training advice from your co-worker or neighbor.