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Dog Training Articles

Goofy Dog Syndrome?

Jumping up. Pulling like a maniac. Zooming through the house while intermittently ricocheting off of furniture. Wanting to play 25 hours a day. Too much coffee? Of course not. It’s goofy dog syndrome!

When most people imagine getting a dog, they often have visions off leisurely strolls through the park, snuggling by the fireplace, and their loyal pet frolicking with the children. Rarely do dog owners go into pet ownership realizing that a dog, and especially a puppy, is more likely to drag them down the street, bolt out the door to run around the neighbourhood, or hang off the children’s clothing in a nipping frenzy that could be enough to make an adult shed tears.

While not every dog is this goofy, many of them are… particularly young ones. So how do you get your dog to learn when it’s playtime and when to relax? How to be better mannered and to listen when told? To be more obedient while still letting your pet’s glowing personality shine through?

Obedience training.

Yes, loyal readers, here I go again. Talking about how obedience makes all the difference in any behavioural situation. No, I’m not talking about turning your dog into a show dog, police dog, or circus dog. Simply a well-behaved pet who you can enjoy much more once the “goofiness” is brought under control.

Obedience commands such as “heel” (walk at my side), “sit,” “down,” “stay,” and “come,” are intended to be used not as cute tricks, but as a way of life.

For example, if your dog knows how to “heel” and pay attention when you’re walking, he will not be pulling and your walks will be enjoyed much more by both of you. A “down/stay” command can be used to teach your dog when enough is enough and it’s time to relax in the house. The “sit” can be used to eliminate jumping on visitors at the door.

In addition to obedience training, exercise can be a big help in calming down an excited dog. “A tired dog is a good dog” goes a long way in burning off the sillies and helping dogs to identify when is the right time to run (playing ball in the yard), and when is not (in the living room, bouncing off the furniture).

Whether you work with your dog on your own or with a knowledgeable trainer, a little obedience training, leadership, and exercise can go a long way toward eventually having that snuggle by the hearth or leisurely walk in the park that you originally envisioned!


Swimming With Your Dog

Whether in a lake, the ocean, or a plastic baby pool, lots of pet owners like to include their dog in their fun summer activities.

Some breeds are more inclined to enjoy the water than others. However, no matter what type of dog yours is, it’s important to take health, safety, and behavioural measures into consideration.

For example, although most dogs will instinctively pick up on swimming rather easily, it’s important not to just throw him in! Not only could this lead to ingesting unsafe quantities of water or drowning, but even if he ends up swimming fine, the experience may scare him so much that he won’t enjoy the water thereafter. Instead, every dog should be taught to swim at his own pace, in an area where he can get gradually into the water (like walking into a lake), rather than submerged all at once (such as off of a dock).

If you’re swimming with your dog, stay close enough to help your pet if needed, but steer clear of those hard-paddling paws to avoid unintentional scratches.

Since it’s an off-leash activity, obedience is another important aspect in dogs’ swimming. As a responsible pet owner, you must make sure your dog will come when called, and won’t run off to playfully pounce on an innocent child eating a tuna sandwich. Dogs with very strong play drives may swim out too far and then become too exhausted to swim back. Avoid these problems by ensuring your dog is under your command at all times.

Keep an eye out for wildlife in the water (such as snapping turtles), and out of the water (such as ticks). Take care of your dog’s skin and coat by rinsing him with fresh water as soon as possible after swimming, especially if he was in salt water.

You’ll need to frequently call your dog out from swimming and use the down/stay for him to rest in the shade and have some fresh drinking water. Too much swimming could lead to exhaustion, danger, and dehydration. Remember that dogs can get sunburned too, especially ones with thin coats or lightly coloured skin.


Bringing Your Outside Dog In

When the weather starts getting cold, I often start receiving calls and emails from folks wanting to know how to get their “outside dog” to behave inside. Some people say that they had been doing their dog a favor by letting him stay outside to enjoy the fresh air, and others simply feel that dogs belong outside in general. Either way, the biting temperatures of winter weather usually gets lots of pet owners rethinking their dog’s environment. And that’s good.

Domesticated dogs such as those we keep as pets have been bred for many years to interact with humans. Social animals, they need interaction with others in order to exist happily and be properly socialized. Of course, there are some dogs who enjoy their time spent outdoors more than others, but it is safe to say that pretty much all dogs prefer to sleep inside where it’s warm and safe, in the comforting surroundings of their home and humans.

Aside from the guilt that many people experience when their dog spends the majority of their time outdoors in the freezing cold, there is another problem… outside dogs often don’t know how to behave inside! Common issues include the fact that many dogs are so excited to be inside that they act wild and crazy around the house. For example, they may not know that they are not supposed to chew a remote control just like any other “stick,” and since they never have to “hold it in” when they’re outside, they may have housebreaking accidents at first. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to the dog ending up right back outside again due to his poor indoor behaviour.

However, with a little effort, most dogs come around quite nicely. By working with your dog on a few basic commands, such as “sit,” “down” and “stay,” and teaching him the meanings of the words “no” and “good dog,” even a dog who has lived outside for years can learn the rules of the home very quickly.

Remember that you can use your dog’s leash, even indoors, to maintain some level of control. Whenever he does something wrong, tell him “no,” and when he does something right, praise lavishly, “good boy.” Former outside dogs in particular, respond very well to obedience training because they are happy to get your undivided attention.

Another training tip… don’t go from one extreme to another. In other words, don’t go from having your dog live outdoors to having complete free run of the house. Use some household gates to limit his access to other parts of the house and bring him into each area under your supervision only. Have your pet sleep in a properly sized dog crate rather than having run of the living room, etc. A little supervision and common sense can go a long way toward protecting your home’s contents and teaching your dog right from wrong.

Most people are pleasantly surprised how quickly their dog adapts to the rules of the home. And quite frequently, the old-fashioned belief that dogs belong outside are replaced with new old-fashioned scenes of dog and human sitting quietly together in front of a warm, crackling fireplace.


Neglected Dogs: In Neighbourhoods, No Time for Dog

Whether a pet lover or not, just about everyone will experience an occasional pang of heartbreak when they know of an animal who is clearly neglected.

Some cases of neglect are blatantly obvious. For example, the dog who is tied on a chain or left in a kennel out back. The skinny cats and dogs we all sometimes see, who we know belong to someone, but clearly not someone who feeds them enough.

Although there are laws protecting animals from abuse or neglect to some degree, laws generally require that only the animals’ basic needs are met. In its mildest description, this means that food, water and shelter are provided. Therefore, if an officer visits the home and the dog has a dog house, there is a water bowl, and the owners have a bag of food on the premises, it can be difficult to prove neglect or penalize pet owners even if they are barely doing the minimum.

Perhaps these pet owners should put themselves into their dog’s position for a moment. Imagine if they were wearing a fur coat in summer, left out in the hot sun with nothing but a steamy wooden box to go into for “shelter,” and were given food and water only occasionally. Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it?

However, minimums set aside, there are plenty of other pets who are neglected in a different way. Lack of socialization. Since dogs are pack animals, and most have been bred to interact regularly with humans, the loneliness and isolation of being alone out back can be a terrible existence for a dog.

Now, this is not to say that every single dog whose family prefers they live outside is a neglected animal. Plenty of pet owners make time each and every day to go outside and play with their dog, work on some obedience commands, and provide plenty of food, cold water, deep shade and veterinary care when needed.

Unfortunately, there are also a plethora of pet owners who perhaps mean well, but just don’t have the time. Between work schedules, family obligations and other things in life, many dogs fall by the wayside and don’t receive the attention and interaction they require.

Perhaps the children begged for a dog and it’s supposed to be their job to exercise the dog… but they don’t. Or maybe the adults thought they’d be able to make time, but one day runs into another and before they know it, it’s been a week since they’ve done anything but give food and water. Sometimes there are cases of divorce or illness that cause stress on the family.

We all realize that things come up in life. However, a pet is a living animal. Neglecting a pet is not the same as neglecting your housecleaning. This is a living, breathing animal, and just as you wouldn’t let your kids starve because you were too busy to cook dinner, neither should your pet.

Behaviour problems can also be an issue with dogs who are not properly socialized. Dogs whose lives consist of a lonely existence outside will often develop problems such as fear, aggression or extremely wild behaviour. Destructiveness is another common problem… a lonely dog will create activities out of sheer boredom, such as digging holes, chewing things or running away.

Some families seem to want their dog to be an occasional object of entertainment for their family. You may be surprised how frequently people keep their dog out back, rarely spend any time out there, and then can’t understand why the dog acts so wild when they do finally try to be with him. Sadly, this tends to create a cycle wherein the dog acts wild, so they don’t want to be around him. The less time they pay attention to him, the more wild he behaves when they do.

In other cases, dogs who have developed aggression problems may become an issue not only for the pet owners but also for the neighbourhood. As a weekly Newspaper Pet Columnist, I frequently receive phone calls and e-mails from readers seeking additional advice. As of the writing of this article, I’ve recently been contacted by people from five different local neighbourhoods, all describing problems with aggressive dogs. I am certain that this occurs all around the country and the world, not only in my local area of North Carolina.

In one subdivision, there is a house with two dogs that live in the yard, one of whom jumps the fence on a regular basis and has behaved so aggressively, grown men have had to jump onto the hoods of their trucks to avoid being bitten. In another neighbourhood, there is a household that leaves their dogs out in the yard and the pets are so lonely and bored that they bark and howl all throughout the day and night. I could go on and on with examples of how neglect effects not only the dogs’ family but also entire neighbourhoods, not to mention the animals themselves.

Some of the examples above are pretty extreme. Perhaps they don’t apply to your family’s treatment of your pets, or perhaps they do but to a smaller extent. My hope is that reading this article will help readers to realize that this sort of thing is wrong… and like most things, there’s still a chance to make things better.

Why not start now by spending some time with your dog? If his behaviour is wild, you may choose to interact with him on a leash at first, but any interaction is better than none. If necessary, make yourself a large note, and stick it on your fridge, reminding that the dog needs to be fed every day and given water and attention several times each day.

If your pet’s behaviour is a problem that you don’t know what to do about, consider contacting a knowledgeable dog trainer for assistance. Aggression, socialization problems, excessive barking, running away and wild behaviour are all things that can be alleviated if you’re willing to put in some effort, and the cost is likely far less expensive than you may imagine.

There are so many resources for pet owners who need help. Perhaps you’ve had a personal tragedy that makes you realize that you simply can’t afford to feed or care for your pet any more. There are a multitude of organizations and rescue groups who can help you with food expenses, reduced cost veterinary care, or perhaps placing the dog in a new home.

If you’ve been reading this article, and the above issues really don’t apply to your pet, or even if you don’t have any pets at all, you can still make a difference. Next time you see a neglected pet who gives you that heartfelt pang, don’t turn a blind eye any longer. Contact your local animal control division to make a report.

In many areas, you can remain anonymous… the pet owner will not know who it was that made the report or complaint.


Helping a New Dog or Puppy Adjust to Your Home

When you get a new pet, one of the top priorities is to make sure that he adjusts well to his new home environment. While humans are usually excited about their new furry family member, a new dog or puppy might not understand right away what’s expected of him or what it will be like.

One of the best things you can do is to provide consistency for your new dog. Creating a schedule will be instrumental in helping him to adjust. This means that you should choose times of day for feeding, walking, playing, training and quiet time… and do your best to stick to them every day.

Training is another aspect that can help immensely in pets’ adapting to their new home. While you don’t want to overdo it by expecting your dog to be completely trained the first day, spending some time each day teaching him to “sit” and “stay” can help your new dog or puppy to feel more comfortable in the family pack. By providing leadership, you’re helping him realize where he stands in the family pecking order, which will make him feel relieved about knowing, and will also help set the tone for his relationship with your family for many years to come.

Children will need extra supervision, especially during the first few weeks of having a new puppy or dog. It is very exciting for kids to get a dog, but it’s also important to ensure that your new pet has some quiet time each day and that children are not too overwhelming in their enthusiasm. Set clear guidelines early, including staying away from the dog’s food and water, not going in his crate and giving him his own personal space, just as we all need sometimes.

Another thing that can help avoid problems is to supervise your new puppy or dog at all times. Even if you have a fenced yard, it is a good idea to personally leash walk your dog to a designated area to “do his business,” and oversee whatever else he is doing in the yard. This can help create good habits such as using a designated bathroom area, while also avoiding problems such as digging, fence jumping, damaging landscaping, chewing things and more.

Of course, diligent supervision inside the house is best for the first several weeks as well. Puppies will probably require strict supervision far longer than that.

Imagine that you moved to a foreign country that had very different traditions than you were used to. It’s likely that this is how your new dog or puppy feels. Just as you might be nervous, reserved or excited in your new country, it’s probable that your pet feels the same way about his new home. By taking some time to help him learn the “lay of the land,” allowing him some time and space to adjust, and providing love and consistency, you have the best chances of helping your pet become the lifelong friend you envisioned!