You fell head in heels in love with that adorable fluffy little puppy and adopted her. Little did you realize that your new “baby” is a lot more work than you thought! Yes, dogs evolved or were domesticated by humans to live side by side with us, but they are still another species. Within the dog world, different breeds were bred for specific jobs and traits that can be awesome if optimized (think guarding or herding sheep), but problematic if your dog is meant to hang out on an apartment sofa all day while you’re at work.
Here’s a look at some of the most common issues you may encounter with your new buddy and how you can reframe it for more human-canine harmony in your life. You can research different approaches to training if you want to get serious and learn more about dog behavior and behavioral modification techniques.
Your Dog is a Bandit
Is your pup hoarding and guarding objects in their den or safe space? You don’t want to get bitten trying to take something out of their mouth, so call their name and lure them out with treats. Use a command like “drop it” while offering a treat or another toy in exchange. Teaching your dog “drop it” is a good command to have in their repertoire. Provide some chew toys and treats that are just for them. A dog that has retreated under a sofa or into their kennel may not take kindly to a hand reaching into their space so you want to lure them out with the treats and the teach them the command. You can teach “leave it” in a similar manner to train your dog to ignore other people, dogs, or skateboards when you’re out of the house.
I didn’t like those shoes anyway
This goes hand in hand with the previous note. Your dog, especially if it’s still a puppy, will want to chew. It could be shoes, handbags, furniture, underwear, trash, pillows, or more. Chewing is very satisfying to dogs: it alleviates anxiety and just feels good. If they’re chewing on the right materials, it can even clean their teeth! But what you want to do is make sure your pup has dedicated chew toys and treats, and not your personal effects! Make sure you buy safe materials that are meant for dogs. Some rawhides or bones can splinter and cause gastrointestinal injury so ask your local pet supply store what they recommend. You can make or buy some sprays that taste bad to spray on furniture or other objects your dog wants to chew, but shouldn’t.
Who’s At The Door? Who? WHO?
A dog barks to warn, to greet, to show solidarity, out of pain or boredom. It’s not always welcome, especially by your neighbors! Learn to tell the difference between the kinds of barks your dog makes and if you want to train your pup to speak only when spoken to, there are some techniques at your disposal.
- “Speak” vs. “Quiet” – You can teach your dog these two commands to try to reinforce the different behaviors. When your dog is barking, use the command “Speak” and some treats to positively reward them for that behavior. Do the same thing with “Quiet” when your dog is quiet. Be consistent and work on this every day to train the behaviors using positive reinforcement.
- When your dog is barking at a person or disturbance, call your dog to you and provide positive reinforcement (petting, praise, treats) to show that it’s not a threat and they should ignore it. Pair this with the Quiet training for best results.
Accidents in the Home
If a dog is new to you, either as a puppy or as an adult, you may experience some incontinence issues, especially if your new best friend has just spent time in a shelter.
- Stick to a schedule and create a routine: Firstly, make sure you give your pup lots of opportunities to relieve themselves outside in the morning when you come home from work or school, and before bedtime. Stick to a schedule to help the dog adapt. Regular walks and exercise will help a lot, as does feeding the dog on a regular schedule. When you’re starting out, limit the dog to a smaller, controlled zone of your home so they can’t get into trouble. Don’t feed your dog unusual human foods or your poor pup may have a hard time afterward and you may come home to a mess you didn’t anticipate.
- Elimination commands: when your dog is correctly (i.e. in the great outdoors) relieving themselves, use a command and reinforce with treats to teach them to go on command. It could be something like “go potty” or “go pee!”.
None of us want to live with a dog that bears its teeth or bites other dogs or humans. Biting is rare, but dogs may express aggression at specific dogs or people. This is not uncommon if you’ve adopted an older dog from the shelter. We can’t know what sort of life experiences our dogs had before they joined our households, so there may be some trauma behind the behavior (such as violence by a person who looked a certain way or they lived in a crowded household with other dogs, fighting for resources).
If your dog is baring its teeth or guarding objects, you need to establish yourself as in control and set firm limits. Say “NO” to the undesirable behavior and reward them when they stop. Don’t permit the bad behavior.
When it comes to dog-on-dog aggression, it can be more nuanced and complex. Ask other dog owners to approach cautiously. Don’t let kids run up to your dog without your permission. Approach the dog from low, not from high up. Some dogs need time to calm down and to learn to be comfortable around different types of dogs, kids, noises, and people.
If you know your dog is triggered by things such as bicycles, skateboards, joggers, etc. then give them a wide berth when you’re walking. Step to the side and let them pass. Have your dog sit and reward and praise them for letting them go by calmly. Keep the dog on a short, but tight leash that you fully control. Do not use a Flexi-leash (retractable), because you cannot control a dog on these. Do not transmit any tension to the dog via the leash but make sure they can’t jump out and nip anyone.
When people enter your home, keep your dog on a short leash and train them to sit nicely and wait to be approached. Show your visitors on how to approach the dog and don’t let the dog jump on guests.
If your aggression issues are more severe and hard to stamp out, contact a respected dog trainer in your area or join a dog training class at your local recreation center, park, or pet supply store.