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Discouraging Nuisance Behaviors

By Robin Tierney

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The following principles and tips will help you discourage nuisance behaviors. Some of the tips come from the article, "Oh, Behave!" by September Morn in the August 2000 issue of Dog Fancy magazine.

Be consistent. Are you sending mixed signals? If you'd like to discourage a dog from jumping on the couch -- or jumping on people -- make sure he is not receiving any reinforcement for such behaviors, be it a pat on the head, a shoulder rub, and/or a smiling no-no-no.

Be aware of your actions and the actions of other people; your dog should receive praise and reinforcement only for good behaviors.

Establish boundaries.

Don't issue commands until the dog has been taught what the command word means and how he is expected to respond.

Don't issue commands unless you are in a position to help make sure the dog carries them out.

How-to tips:

Discourage Food-Stealing:

Don't let the dog snag food off of kitchen counters or tables. No matter how much you scold the dog afterwards, he still received instant, strong positive reinforcement for his food-stealing when he nabbed the tasty treat. So, prevent food-stealing in the first place. Keep counters and tables clear of food.

If the dog has gotten away with counter-surfing before, some trainers recommend doing a set-up: place an appealing bit of food on the surface, but douse it with hot sauce. This set-up can teach the dog that stolen items taste bad.

Off the Furniture:

Trainers typically advise to keep dogs off people-furniture, or to at least not let dogs up on the furniture until invited. (This is especially important when the dog is new to the household.) Instead, give dogs their own beds, placed on the floor.

Some ways to discourage dogs from getting on people-furniture:

* Tip cushions on end.

* Spread sheets of aluminum foil on seats.

* Lay boards of chairs or folding chairs across couches and beds.

* Put clear plastic carpet runners upside down on furniture.

* Sometimes, dogs get on furniture to see out windows, so try to clear a window area for doggie-viewing without use of the family couch.

Greeting Visitors:

Discourage airborne greetings. Some techniques:

* Teach and then tell the dog to "get your toy" when you or a guest arrive. This gives the dog something constructive to do.

* Teach the dog to sit for attention and petting.

* Teach the dog "stay" while you open and shut doors; reward with treats and praise.

* When visitors arrive, clip the leash on the dog and ask visitors to ignore your dog until he settles down.

* Set up practice sessions involving willing guests. Hand each guest a handful of treats. Explain to guests when exactly they are to reward the dog. Each guest will ask the approaching dog to sit, then praise and treat. If the dog jumps up, the guest should turn and walk away. Reward sitting and ignore undesired behavior, which teaches that well-mannered dogs get the goodies.

Limit Wandering:

* If you want to keep a dog out of particular rooms or from journeying to the basement, use physical barriers such as doors or baby gates. Baby gates can be stacked 2-high if the dog is a jumper.

* Place a string across a doorway and say ah-ah-ah if the dog tries to cross into the off-limits room.

* Place a mat outside the doorway of the off-limits area, and reward the dog for going to and staying in his "place." For example, a mat can be placed across from the family dining area, and the dog can be taught to rest quietly in his place as the family eats. That way, he can watch and be near the pack without begging for food or attention.

Car Travel:

It's safest to have dogs travel in the back seat or cargo area. Use a crate or doggie seatbelt to secure the dog. You can give the dog a chewy or snack-stuffed Kong toy to distract him during the drive. Praise the dog for good, calm behavior. It helps to have a passenger who can help reward and train the dog as you drive.

Doggie Manners when on Walks:

To encourage calm behavior and discourage fearful or fear aggressive behaviors while on walks, carry tasty treats to use to get the dog to watch you as well as reward calm behavior when you notice a person or dog approaching from a distance. You want the dog to regard the approach of others as a non-threatening and positive experience. That way, the dog's fear responses can be replaced by anticipation that he will get a goodie.

* Reward all friendly interactions.

* Watch for possible stressors and stressful signs.

* Learn to distinguish between friendly and fearful body language.

* Learn to distinguish between rough play and actual fighting between dogs.

* If the dog appears to be getting overstimulated or anxious, lead him to a quiet spot and reward calm behavior with treats.

Pulling On Leash:

* Each time your dog pulls, stop in your tracks. Dogs tend to do what works, so you want to help the dog learn that pulling will not work in getting him closer to his target. When he stops pulling, you can resume walking. Try to get the dog to look at you. Remember, the person is supposed to be the leader.

* It's good to start practicing walking with the dog in a controlled environment, one without other distractions such as interesting strangers or other dogs. When the dog is walking calmly in the controlled situations, then introduce the distraction of an approaching person. After the dog learns to be calm in that situation, introduce an oncoming person with a dog. As you pass the person and other dog, give treats and quiet praise to your dog.

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