Pet Owner Behavioral Advice & Classes

Our Behavior Team is available to provide you with free advice and guidance at any time through our Behavior Helpline. Call 505.938.7900 or email behaviorhelpline@animalhumanenm.org.

Information and Tips

Our Behavior team has compiled helpful information and tips for overcoming the most common behavioral problems faced by pet parents. Peruse our educational articles below to learn techniques for addressing housetraining, crate training, jumping up, scratching, digging and more.

Dog

How Do I Prevent or Solve Behavior Problems With My Dog?

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Unless we provide our dogs with acceptable ways of expressing their doggie nature they will resort to activities which we consider behavior problems. Chewing, barking or urinating are only inappropriate when done at the wrong time or in the wrong place. It is not fair to be angry with your dog if you have not first taught them what you want them to do, and prevented them from doing the wrong behaviors. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

  1. Spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible. Male dogs that are not neutered will frequently urine mark in the house and can develop aggressive tendencies towards other dogs. Females that are not spayed have a tendency to wander and also urine mark in your home.
  2. Exercise your dog until they are pleasantly tired. Provide them with mental as well as physical exercise. Make them use their brain by practicing obedience exercises. Go to a park and practice sit, down, stay and heel. Then reward them with a good romp or game of catch.
  3. Have your dog spend as much time as possible indoors. Have them sleep indoors at night, preferably in a crate in your bedroom.
  4. Practice “learn to earn” as much as possible. Teach your dog as least one exercise, such as “sit,” then cue them to do this behavior to “earn” their meals, petting, a walk, entry to the house, or a play session with you. In the same way that small children learn to say, “please and thank you,” they will learn that sitting is acceptable polite behavior.
  5. Set your dog up for success. Instead of “catching them in the act” and punishing them, prevent them from getting in trouble in the first place and reward your dog when they behave properly. For example, if they jump up at the table while you are eating, rather than yelling at them after they have already done the unacceptable behavior keep them tethered or crated with a high value chew toy like a stuffed Kong during meal time.
  6. Provide your dog with their own places to sleep. Avoid letting them on your furniture or bed.
  7. Prevent or ignore undesirable behaviors such as jumping up, mouthing, mounting, pawing or barking for attention because attempting to stop unwanted behaviors can result in inadvertently reinforcing that behavior. Reward your dog for acceptable behaviors such as sitting and lying down.
  8. Use a “time buffer.” Ignore your dog for 15 minutes or so before you leave home. Leave without fanfare. When you come home ignore your dog until she is calm. Have guests also ignore your dog until they are relaxed. Reward good behavior with attention.
  9. Be sure that everyone in the family is treating your dog consistently and following the same routine. Use one word to mean one thing. Avoid using conflicting cues like “sit down,” “stay down” or “quiet down.” Instead say “sit,” “down” or “quiet” for each different exercise.

Guidelines For Crate Training Your Dog

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Why should I use a crate?

A crate is a way to comfortably confine your dog or puppy. The crate is a tool you can use to housetrain your dog and prevent many undesirable behaviors from developing. Crating indoors will have a calming effect on your dog and will help prevent her from developing inappropriate digging, barking or house soiling habits.

All too often pet owners will leave their dog out in the yard because they do not trust the dog in the house. This can lead to many other problems because, like us, dogs are very social animals. When they are left alone outside they will develop stress related behavior problems. This stress can result in excessive digging and barking. Instead, crate train your dog and you will be protecting your home and possessions while meeting your dog’s social needs.

I wouldn’t want to be put in a box, why would my dog?

Most people desire large houses and therefore may not be able to appreciate the comfort and security a crate can provide for their dog. Do you ever notice that your dog will crawl under the coffee table or behind the couch to nap? This is because dogs feel more secure in enclosed spaces. So while a crate may seem strange or uncomfortable to you, your dog will love it. Always keep the crate in an area near yourself or family members to avoid isolating your dog and making crating feel like punishment. At night you can put the crate near your bed.

Choosing the right crate.

When choosing a crate it is important that it is the right size for your dog. As an adult your dog should be able to stand up and turn around in the crate. If you are starting out with a young puppy you can block off the excess space with a box. If your pup has too much room when they are small they may eliminate in the crate. It is very important that your dog’s area always accommodates their size.

How do I introduce the crate to my dog?

When you first introduce the crate to your puppy or older dog remove or tie the door open so they won’t get trapped inside. Throw some treats or her favorite toy inside for her. Feed all their meals and give them high value food distribution toys like the Kong Wobbler when they are in the crate. Do not lock them in until they willingly go in by themselves. Your dog must love the crate before you lock the door. The amount of time it will take for your dog to freely enter the crate will vary.

How long can I leave my dog in a crate?

Once your dog willingly enters their crate, the maximum time they should stay boarded is about four hours. If you have long days at work you will need to give your dog an opportunity to eliminate during the day. Either come home at lunch time or have someone else stop by if needed. If you can’t come home leave your dog in a small room like a kitchen or a laundry room. Leave the crate door open so your dog may walk away from their bed to eliminate. It is best not to let your dog eliminate in the house unless it is absolutely necessary.

Will my dog always need the crate?

You can use a crate for your dog’s entire life. They will always enjoy the safety, familiarity and security of their crate. If you absolutely do not want it in your home I always recommend that dog owners keep their dogs crated until they are at least 18 months of age. By this time most dogs have developed into well mannered adults. However, you will find that your dog really likes the crate and will probably miss it if it was gone. Dogs vary tremendously in their activity level, potential for destruction, trainability, self-control, and reactions to stress. As your dog matures and becomes trained, you may experiment with leaving her loose indoors in your absence, preferably for short periods of time at first. Most dogs bond to their crates, and voluntarily use them as beds. You may wish to continue to provide this security at home and when traveling.

Housetraining

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If you are having housetraining problems your first step should always be to contact your veterinarian. Often a house soiling problem is caused by a urinary tract infection. The big secret to successful house training is confinement. Confinement is not a punishment but a preventative measure. Instinctively, dogs do not like to soil their living spaces. However, our houses are usually so large that our dogs can easily find a corner or spare room to use as a toilet. If you keep your dog confined in every part of your home, over time they will realize the entire house is their home. There are several ways to keep them restricted.

  • When you are not home keep your dog in a crate or in a small room that they are familiar with and comfortable in.
  • Install baby gates to limit your dog’s access in your home.
  • When you are home and you can watch your dog, keep them on a leash. You can hold onto the leash or use it to tether them in many different places throughout your home. By moving them around they will be confined in all parts of your home and will learn not to eliminate there. While they are tethered make sure they have plenty of toys to keep them occupied. Always supervise your dog when they are tethered. Do not leave them alone.

Periodically take your dog outside to eliminate. Keep the trip short. If they have not eliminated after five minutes take them back inside and restrict them. Wait a half hour and take them outside. When your dog has eliminated, praise them and then play with them. Dogs are very smart. If they know their owner will immediately take them inside when they eliminate, some dogs will hold it to stay outside longer. Reward your dog for eliminating outside with a short play session and they will be in a hurry to go potty outside.

Additional Housetraining Tips

  • Avoid punishing your dog. Punishment will make house soiling problems worse. When punished for eliminating inside, many dogs learn that they should not eliminate in a person’s presence, but that it is fine to “go” if no one is watching.
  • If you see your dog soiling in the house, get them outside immediately. Do not punish them. Praise your dog if they are able to finish eliminating outside. If they is have soiled in the house this means that you gave them too much freedom and you need to provide proper restriction.
  • Do not punish or correct submissive or excitement urination. Instead ignore it. Avoid exciting your dog in any situation where this urination is likely. Avoid towering over them.
  • Instead of waiting for your puppy or dog to ask to go outside take them out on a schedule. Your dog cannot ask to go out until they know they do not want to eliminate in the house.
  • Have realistic expectations. Your dog doesn’t instinctively know to eliminate outside. They need to be clearly shown where to eliminate. Remember your dog is not being bad when they have  accidents. They are still in the process of learning.
  • Teaching your dog these simple steps will help to make a better behaved pet and provide you with a lifetime of stress-free and loving companionship.

Leash Aggressive Dogs

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Are you struggling to enjoy your walks with your dog because they lunge, growl and bark at passing dogs? This is common problem that can be improved upon when you understand why it happens and you have the proper tools you need to manage it.
Dogs who display aggressive behavior when on leash may do so for a variety of reasons:

  • They need more socialization with friendly dogs.
  • They were attacked by a dog while on leash
  • They want to play with other dogs and are frustrated by being restricted by the leash
  • Being constrained by the leash can complicate a normal dog greeting pattern

There are a series of steps you can work on to help your dog to relax more on his walks. Leash reactivity is a behavior problem that will take time, patience, management and training.

Do:

  • Teach your dog basic exercises like “watch” so you can reinforce him for watching you and not the other dog
  • Learn how to walk your dog on a loose leash. A tight leash increases the stress level of your dog. (Attend a training class or workshop at AH/NM)
  • Walk your dog on a Gentle Leader Head Collar or SENSE-ation No Pull Dog Harness
  • Carry lots of high value treats like cheese or hot dogs
  • Walk your dog in a large park where he will only see dogs at a distance
  • Keep your dog at a distance from other dogs so that he does not react
  • Reward your dog with treats for NOT reacting to other dogs
  • Avoid dog parks
  • Walk where you can quickly move away from other dogs

Do Not:

  • Walk your dog on a choke or prong collar
  • Walk your dog past dogs behind fences
  • Punish. No yelling or jerking on leash
  • Walk on narrow walkways or ditch paths where you cannot create distance
  • Don’t tense up on the leash

Working on basic obedience will teach your dog that watching you while walking on a loose leash will earn him lots of yummy treats. He will learn that when he sees another dog looking at you while walking away from the other dog will keep those treats coming. Set your dog up for success by feeding him treats while he is calm.

Resources:

  • Feisty Fido, Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London
  • Help for Your Fearful Dog, Nicole Wilde
  • Reactive Rover, Kim Moeller

Say Please

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Many dogs display rude or pushy behaviors that are frustrating to owners: jumping up for attention, bouncing around when it’s time to put the leash on, nudging your hand or pawing at you to get petting and attention. The “Say Please” method is a non-confrontational way of teaching your dog polite ways to get the great things he or she wants from you without the pushy behavior. It also makes you the source of all good things for your dog, making your bond stronger.

How to Teach
Before giving your dog anything he or she likes (food, throwing a toy, putting the leash on, petting), ask the dog to perform a previously trained behavior such as “sit” or “down.” As your dog learns more behaviors, you can ask for those, too!

If your dog does not offer the requested behavior and they do something pushy instead, ignore the incorrect behavior and do not give them the good thing. If they offer the correct behavior, immediately give them the good thing and praise them!

Example: Feeding Time

  • At meal time stand a little back from your dog and, before you put your dog’s food down on the ground, ask him to “sit”.
  • If he sits, immediately say “yes” in a happy voice and lower the food bowl. If he jumps up and moves toward the bowl, lift it back up.
  • Ask for him to “sit” again. If he does not, repeat the cue once more and wait. If he sits, lower the food bowl. If he does not, place the food bowl on the counter or in another spot out of his reach and walk away from your dog for about 30 seconds.
  • After 30 seconds, come back and try again. Repeat the above sequence until your dog remains sitting while you place the bowl down.
  • It is important to be patient when you first ask this. It might take several attempts before your dog begins to get the concept and it will take several meal times doing this before he really understands and is offering the behavior consistently.

Recommended Reading

If you are interested in understanding more about the behavior of your dog or cat, we recommend these materials and books:

Basic Training for Dogs and Puppies:

The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
Pat Miller is a prolific writer for many dog magazines and this book is a must for every pet owner's library.

Culture Clash (2nd Edition) by Jean Donaldson
This popular book challenges our ideas about how dogs think and how we think about them.

Don't Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor
Ms. Pryor uses operant conditioning not only to train your dog, but to change the behavior of your child, your spouse, your boss, or others. Really!

Clicking with Your Dog Step-by-Step in Pictures by Peggy Tillman
This is an illustrated guide on teaching your dog manners and tricks by using a clicker.

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
Ms. McConnell illustrates how our behavior influences the behavior of our dogs.

For The Love of a Dog by Patricia McConnell
Here is a look at canine emotion and their body language. Do dogs share an emotional life with us?

Dr. Dunbar's Good Little Dog Book by Ian Dunbar
Dr. Dunbar is a psychologist and a veterinarian who has been instrumental in promoting kinder, gentler dog training all around the world. In 1993, Dr. Dunbar founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the largest professional dog trainers' association in the world.

Labrador Retrievers for Dummies by Joel Walton and Eve Adamson
This is not just for labs, and certainly not really for dummies! This is a great book for anyone with a new dog or puppy of any breed.

The Gentle Leader® Booklet and DVD
Comes with the Gentle Leader® system or may be obtained by contacting the Animal Humane Society Training School. 

Way To Go! How To Housetrain A Dog Of Any Age by Karen B. London, Ph.D. and Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D
This is a step-by-step plan to get your dog eliminating outside.

Positive Puppy Training Works by Joel Walton, Certified Professional Dog Trainer
Dr. Dunbar says, "If you have a puppy, or are thinking about getting a puppy, buying this book is the smartest thing you can do."

Before And After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar
It is sold as a single book or as 2 books. Before You Get Your Puppy is available as a free download. Invaluable advice on what Dr. Dunbar calls the six developmental deadlines for puppies.

The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
Here is the perfect book for puppy owners and would-be puppy owners who want to know how to bring their puppy up to be a happy, well-behaved, friendly adult dog.

How to be Leader of the Pack by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D
Learn how to love your dogs without spoiling them and provide boundaries without intimidation. This dog training booklet clarifies how to be a benevolent leader and avoid aggression related to fear or dominance.

How Dogs Learn by Mary Burch, Ph.D. & Jon Bailey, Ph.D
This explains the basic principles of behavior and how they can be used to teach your dog new skills, diagnose problems and eliminate unwanted behaviors. It's for anyone who wants to better understand the learning process in dogs.

Basic Training for Cats and Kittens:


Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett
Think it's impossible to train a cat? Think again! Yes, you can learn to understand your cat.

The Cat's Mind by Dr. Bruce Fogle
Dr. Fogle helps cat owners understand why their pets act the way they do by explaining a cat's senses, learning patterns and ways of communicating with each other and humans.

Is Your Cat Crazy by John Wright
This book suggests on how to cope with the most common behavior problems, it shows cat owners how and when to pick out a new kitten, what determines a cat's personality, how to deal with multiple cats, and what works and doesn't work when it comes to kitty "discipline."

The Cat Who Cried for Help by Dr. Nicholas Dodman
As any cat owner knows, changing a cat's behavior can seem impossible. But contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained and cured of undesirable habits.

Pet Selection and Breed Information:

Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson
This book divides dogs by breed types and describes how the original function of the breed impacts life in your home. Our favorite breed book!

Dogs and Children:

Living With Kids And Dogs...Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar
It has chapters devoted to each stage of a child's life with parental pointers for setting their family up for success while raising kids and dogs together.

Raising Puppies and Kids Together A Guide for Parents by Pia Silvani and Lynn Eckhardt
For all parents who want to see their children grow up to have a healthy bond with the family dog.

These books are a must for any home with children and dogs. They are filled with advice on how to live successfully with your dog and a child of any age. If you are planning a family or are expecting a baby, these “must-read” books would be a welcome addition to your home library.
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Many of these books can be found in your local bookstore. Others are more easily found at Dogwise, specializing in quality dog books. You can find Dogwise on the Internet at www.Dogwise.com or call 800-776-2665.

If you're considering purchasing one of these great recommended books, go to our donate page and make your purchase through Amazon.com. If you use the link on our donate page, Animal Humane will receive a portion of the proceeds!

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