If you reward your dog every time they sit, they’re going to keep doing it.Source:Getty Images
“I JUST don’t understand why my dog does X, Y or Z.” As a Vet helping animals with their behaviour problems in Sydney, this is a phrase I hear over and over again.
So if your dog could talk, here are a few things they might tell you:
1. WHATEVER YOU REWARD ME FOR I WILL DO AGAIN
This is rule 101 of dog (and people!) training, but something we often forget. If an unwanted behaviour is occurring over and over again, try and find out what is reinforcing it as we need to remove the reinforcer to prevent the behaviour occurring again.
For example, when a puppy jumping up at you is being gently pushed off and told “no” each time, this may actually be reinforcing the behaviour as any attention is good attention for most puppies.
Remember, a reward doesn’t have to be food. Play, attention (even as little as eye contact) and your reactions can all be rewarding for a dog.
2. IF I DESTROY THINGS WHEN YOU ARE GONE, I AM NOT EXACTING MY REVENGE ON YOU FOR LEAVING
Separation related distress (separation anxiety), is an all too common canine anxiety disorder. Through years of selective breeding, we have selected dogs that are great with people, but often find it hard to cope when left alone.
Signs of separation anxiety include vocalising (howling, whining and barking), destruction, attempting to escape, not eating food / treats they have been left and pacing behaviours.
3. NOT ALL DOGS WANT TO GO TO DOG PARKS
Dog parks are not for all dogs. I can’t emphasise this enough. They can be very stressful for many, who spend their time actively avoiding dog contact or even showing aggression.
Only dogs who enjoy the company of other dogs should be taken to parks — and even then human supervision at all times is needed (it is never OK to leave them while you get a coffee).
Dr Julie Ashton and her dog Loulou.Source:Supplied
4. PLEASE DON’T PUNISH ME
In the past, dominance based dog training was very popular — and many people believed that we needed to be the strong pack leader and put dogs in their place for them to listen to us.
Extensive research shows that this is not the case. We now know wolves often work together and live in social groups but don’t perform aggressive dominant behaviours regularly as we used to think.
At best, punishment is an ineffective training method. At worst it increases aggression, decreases the dog’s trust in us, increases anxiety and can cause physical harm.
5. DOGS CAN GET DEMENTIA TOO
As our dogs get older, their brains undergo the same ageing processes that ours do. In fact, dogs are often used as models for human brain ageing.
Signs your dog could be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia) include: Disorientation, changes to their sleeping patterns, becoming withdrawn or very clingy, an increase in anxiety, becoming confused, toileting in the house and a change in activity level.
If your older dog is showing any of these signs, please bring them to your veterinarian for a full check up, as some other medical conditions can present with similar signs. There are also lots of things we can do to support them as they age.
Dr Julie Ashton is a practising Veterinarian in Sydney and runs Life on Four Legs. She will be speaking at the inaugural Delta Institute Dog Behaviour Conference this weekend 7-9 April. Tickets are still available here.