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The behavioral problems:

[Being Alpha] [Excessive Barking] [Pulling]

[Separation Anxiety] [Eating Inedibles]

[Protectiveness and Aggression]

The theory underlying these presentations was gleaned from the book "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence" by Carol Lea Benjamin. I got this book shortly after Beren came to live with us, and it has been a lifesaver. Terriers tend to be quintessential adolescents all of their lives, and I highly recommend the book. All quotes in my presentation posts come from this book.
Lisa Hughes beren@primenet.com

 

On the importance of being Alpha...
Most behavioral problems are alpha problems at their root. Either the person has not established himself or herself as alpha, or the problem can be rectified by an "alpha means."
The concept:
Dogs are pack animals, responding best to life within a hierarchical structure. They need a leader, alpha, and when one is not provided in terms they can understand, they will assume that they are alpha. In order to become alpha, you must learn to speak "wolf."

Speaking "wolf" involves communicating with your dog in a way he can understand, the way his mother did when he was a pup. When his mother asserted control, she would stand tall, well up on her toes, and her barks or growls will be low-pitched, deep. Therefore when you give commands or scold, you should also stand tall and your voice should be pitched deeper than normal (lower not louder).

"Winning your dog's respect, a feat that can be accomplished in a quiet, gentle, even graceful manner, gives him the most important resource of his life -- someone to look up to. You may not feel you need a model of behavior in your life, a mentor, a problem solver, a nourisher. But you are a human adult. You're dog, because he is a dog and because he has been domesticated and lives with another species, will always be like a child. He cannot be an autonomous creature, living on his own and making important decisions for and by himself. He needs protection and guidance."

So, you're already having problems with your dog. "His housebreaking is iffy. He goes outside if he feels like it. He goes inside if he feels like it. His recall isn't reliable. Sometimes he comes when you call him, but sometimes he doesn't. His stays are short, his attention span shorter. Worse than that, he sits and stares at you, preferably from a place where he can look down at you. He campaigns for attention when you're reading or on the phone, and he usually gets what he wants. When you give a command, he may bark back, or worse, snap at you. He acts as if he's more important than you are. Sometimes you think about placing him elsewhere. You think you have a lot of problems. Relax, you only have one. Your dog is alpha. You're not."

How to becoming alpha...
Learn to communicate with your dog on his level, standing tall to command, bending toward him with arms thrown wide (called a "play bow") as an invitation to play. Use your eyes assertively, being sure to make him look away first in a test of wills.

Alpha has to do with being in charge. Everything in your house, including your dog, his toys, his food, his bed, everything belongs to you. You say what does and does not happen in your house. Start with his food. Make him sit and wait while you prepare their food. After you put it down; make him wait a little longer until you say "okay" before he is allowed to eat it. You should also be able to stop him and take the food away at any time without him showing you any kind of resistance or aggression. If you can't, then you need to grab the food and the dog, put the food up and wait a while. Then you can give it back to him, making him wait again. Remember that everything belongs to you, and you are in charge.

If you have multiple dogs, you can decide whether or not to determine pack order between them. Some people decide to do this, some don't.

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Excessive Barking:
There are two ways to deal with excessive barking that I know of, one is the way my husband and I chose, I'll call it the alpha-way, and another which is equally effective, which I'll call the speak-way.
The alpha-way:
The first thing we had to address was the role we wanted our dog's barking to play in our home. One of our dog's duties was as a watchdog, in that we *wanted* the dog to warn us of suspicious noises, people, dogs... whatever. So we obviously didn't want to stop his barking entirely.

The way we addressed his barking was to let him bark to alert us of whatever problem he saw, and then we would go and look for ourselves. Once we made our determination that whatever it was no threat, then we say, "it's all right, that's enough." It doesn't matter what you say, as long as you remember to say the exact same thing every time. Then, when he stopped barking, even for a second, we rewarded him. If he started back up again we would tell him no firmly and insist that that was the end of it. For us it was really an alpha issue. Our dog's job is to warn us of danger, our job is to determine whether it is a danger, and deal with it. Therefore, once he has warned us, his job is finished and he must defer to our judgment. Generally, dogs pick this up very quickly; especially when a treat is involved <g>.

The speak-way:
This is taken from Carol Lea Benjamin's book "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence."
The other way to deal with excessive barking is to turn barking into a trick. First you teach your dog to bark on command, and then you teach it to stop barking on command. "First choose a word for the command (speak, etc.) And then stick to it. Observe your noisy dog and see what makes him bark. Make a list and then use it. You can actually teach barking on command with a set up. For example, if your dog barks when the doorbell rings, ask a friend to ring your bell on as you stay at your dog's side and enthusiastically tell him, "Speak, good dog, speak!"

Most dogs will learn to bark on command within a week. Many will do it in a day or two if you start them by barking yourself."

"Once your dog will bark on your signal, he is no longer simply responding to outdoor noises or his desire to manipulate you into a game. Now he is responding to a command. He is aware of you. He is obeying you. He is just where you want him. Now, after a bark or two, tell him, "Enough." If your tone won't silence him, slip your hand into his collar, give a gentle tug sideways and repeat your command, "enough." Praise warmly for compliance."

"What shall you do when your dog barks at the door? Praise him for alerting you, tell him "enough," ask him to sit and praise him again.

When you open your door, he should be sitting at your side, alert, but no longer barking."

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Pulling:
Your best defense against pulling is training your dog to heel. However, there will be times (a lot of them) when you won't want to keep your dog on a heel command; he needs to relieve himself, and checking out the local scent scene is the fun part of the walk for your dog. If he pulls when he's not on command, you can do a number of different things to correct. Tug and release on the leash, reminding him not to pull. You can suddenly change direction and give him a taste of his own medicine. You can distract him by stopping, calling his name, or offering attention-getting enticements (read: food). Or, you can look at the situation philosophically, and realize that after exercise, and when time passes and he becomes more used to what you're after, the problem will probably clear up by itself. Sorry, this just isn't one of those problems with an easy solution.

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Separation Anxiety:
Most of the dogs that suffer separation anxiety do not get enough security from their relationship with their owner. There is also the possibility that the dog is a wreck when their owner leaves home because their owner has not established himself as alpha. As alpha, all the owner's decisions are to be trusted, including leaving the house without the dog. So, the first thing to do is to go back and establish that respect and see if that solves the problem.

If your dog still "falls apart when you leave him alone, work slowly and carefully, leaving him for very short periods of time at first and keeping your comings and goings as low key as you can. Do not over-praise him on your return. In fact, it is wise to all but ignore the dog when you first come home and then, a moment later, appear to notice him and say, "Hi." After you check your answering machine, hang up your coat and look through the mail, then greet the dog more warmly, feed him, walk him, play a game when you return."

Another reason for the anxiety could be your own attitude when you leave him alone. If you worry and fret, perhaps he is picking this up and getting worried himself. In this case, you need to make a determined effort not to upset yourself and him before you leave the house.

"If your dog is having a bad problem with being left, try exercise and a training tune-up, even ten minutes of each, right before you leave. Leave a sterilized bone for him to chew. Leave the radio on to soft music. If your dog really gets hysterical, you may need to crate him to prevent him from hurting himself or trashing your home. In this case, unless he is already crate trained, begin using the crate, minutes at a time, when you are home. Do not leave the dog in the crate and leave the house until he accepts the crate with ease."

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Eating Inedibles:
Dogs eating things they shouldn't is a problem with a complex answer. First thing is to use a "leave it" command. You use something he likes a toy, etc., when he goes for it; you use the warning "leave it" and make sure he doesn't get it. If he tries again, give a loud "no" and correct him. He'll get the idea relatively quickly.

Second, you expand his training to use setups. You can drop a nice smelly sock on the floor, warn him to leave it, and see if he'll take it. If he does, correct him. "Almost any failure to resist temptation can be corrected by creating a setup when you are prepared to work with your dog."

Finally, you have to realize that he will not always be able to resist temptation, and you shouldn't expect him to. "If your dog steals, do not leave him alone with the roast while you run back to the kitchen for the baked potatoes. That is only courting trouble. If he chews, you'll have to put your things too high for him reach or in the closet with door closed. If he marks or soils your house, crate him when you cannot watch him." And when you're out walking, try to spot the things you know your dog will try to put in his mouth before he does. "Whatever you do, do not leave the cat to mind the canary and then complain about it later."

A combination of training, setups, and prevention will probably reduce the problem to manageable levels.

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Inappropriate Protectiveness and Aggression:
If your dog is protective of you, your family, and your property in any way, this behavior needs to be controlled lest your dog become unmanageable and aggressive. It is your responsibility, as an owner to insure that doesn't happen. The way to do this is just like the way we dealt with barking. Part of your dog's job is to warn you of intruders, but your job is to determine whether or not that intruder is a threat.

And if you have properly established your role as alpha, your dog should defer to your judgment. When your dog alerts you to an intruder, praise him, and then tell him "Enough" and that should be the end of it. If your dog does not quit, then you need to correct him and reinforce the idea that it is *your* decision. A hearty "no!" should suffice, and if not, an alpha rollover (as described by Jerrie, I think) would be appropriate here.

One common mistake people make when their dog is over-protective is to try to soothe him. They hold his collar and say "no," and stroke the dog to calm him. This is sending mixed messages to your dog, because he will interpret the stroking as praise. It is important to be clear in your intentions.

Aggression: if your dog is truly aggressive and does not respond to your attempts to establish yourself as alpha, if you find yourself in a situation where you are afraid to let your dog be around other people, you need to seek the advice of a professional trainer.

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Lisa Hughes beren@primenet.com

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This page was last on March 30, 2002

 

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