23 July 2011

How do I stop my dog from ...

Training a dog to stop an undesirable behaviour can be hard work and time-consuming, particularly so for behaviours that are enjoyable, are well-established habits, or are stress reactions.  I uphold the view that a dog’s home, including the garden, yard and car, should be the ultimate haven – a safe environment that holds no nasty surprises or areas of tension between dog and owner – and as such, the use of aversive training tools and techniques to stop undesirable behaviours in the home is not something that I subscribe to.  However, many unacceptable or potentially dangerous behaviours can be easily resolved via a bit of management on our part – not with training tools or techniques, but simply by preventing the dog from doing the behaviour in the first place.  Preventing unacceptable, habitual behaviours also plays a vital part in the training of alternative behaviours, if indeed an alternative behaviour needs to be trained.  But sometimes, there is no need to train an alternative behaviour.  Sometimes, all that is required is to go with the obvious solution and leave it at that, provided of course that the dog is clearly having its needs met in other areas.  The obvious solution is not a cop out, and more often than not comes with a 100% guarantee of immediate success!

The following are my top 10, genuine questions from clients that I get asked on a regular basis, along with my answers ...

Q. How do I stop my dog from drinking out of the toilet?
A. Close the toilet lid.

Q. How do I stop my dog from getting on my bed when I’m not at home?
A. Shut the bedroom door.

Q. How do I stop my dog from raiding the kitchen garbage bin when I’m not at home?
A. Move the bin into another room or a cupboard that the dog cannot get into, or outside.

Q. How do I stop my dog from chewing up my stuff?
A. Don't leave your stuff within reach of your dog's teeth.

Q. How do I stop my dog from barking at dogs/people/traffic when travelling in the car?
A. Restrict its view by using black-out blinds at the windows, or cover its crate with a blanket.

Q. How do I stop my dog from pilfering food from the kitchen counter?
A. Don’t leave food unattended there.

Q. How do I stop my dog from shredding the mail?
A. Fit a letterbox mail basket.

Q. How do I stop my dog from stealing my dirty underwear?
A. Don’t leave dirty underwear lying around – pick it up and put it in the laundry basket or washing machine.

Q. How do I stop my dog from attacking the vacuum cleaner?
A. Shut the dog out of the room that you are vacuuming.

Q. How do I stop my dog from jumping the fence?
A. Move or prevent access to anything near the fence on which the dog is gaining a leg-up.  If the fence is low, raise the height.  If the fence is already high (6ft) fit a roller bar to the top.  The picture (above right) shows a US made fence-top roller bar, but for wooden fences, a simple roller bar could be made using straight lengths of plumbing pipe and wardrobe hanging-rail and wall fittings.  However, if your dog is jumping over a 6ft fence you have a very determined escape artist on your hands, and in which case, another obvious solution is to not leave the dog unattended outside, or to use a suitable tether.  

All of these solutions fall under the banner of ‘environmental modification’ – making alterations to the dog’s everyday environment in order to change behaviour.  Some clients say to me “But how will he learn not to do it?”  The answer is as obvious as the solution – he doesn’t need to learn not to do it if ‘it’ isn’t there to tempt him.  Of course, the dog can still be taught the ‘LEAVE’ command for use around food or objects that aren’t his, or the ‘QUIET’ command to bring his barking under control, or be desensitised to the vacuum cleaner – or at least be provided with some degree of positive association with vacuuming, e.g. a stuffed Kong to chew on in another room – but there’s just no need to expend a ton of negatively charged energy trying to stop him from drinking out of the toilet bowl when there is such a simple and obvious solution.  And leaving you with that thought, I close the lid on this post.

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