Humans who live with dogs tend to spend a lot of time trying to stop behavior their dog is doing. Stop chasing squirrels. Don’t chew on the table leg. Don’t shred that paper. Don’t steal the food. Stop jumping on people. Don’t be mouthy. Stop tugging on my pajama pants.
And while we certainly can train dogs to be polite and fit in with our human lives a bit more, I encourage people to look a little deeper. What might your dog be trying to tell you? Are we truly meeting all their needs to be a happy dog, not just food and water? Do you understand how to read your dog’s body language? (Download my free body language guide here.)
Often during a consult when a client complains about the dog biting their pant legs, chasing critters or inappropriately chewing, this is a clue to me that the dog has unmet needs and the dog is striving to find a way to fulfill their normal, instinctual need for chase, tug and chewing. (These are some examples but other unmet needs can pop out in other behaviors.) Chase and tug (dissection/pulling) is part of the normal predation sequence from when dogs needed to hunt their food. Now they don’t – we give them free food usually, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have that desire. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about enrichment and channeling mealtime into enrichment time. If you missed it, you can read my Top 5 Enrichment Toys here.
Dogs who routinely escape enclosures may be trying to tell us they need more exercise (like running) or more opportunities to sniff and investigate. We need to focus on meeting those needs, and keeping the dog safe so they can’t escape, but the underlying issue is almost always an enrichment, we’re not meeting the dog’s needs issue.
Instead of expecting your dog to not do normal doggy things, let’s instead make sure we’re meeting the species specific needs our dogs have. Dogs need off leash play and interactions with their own species. Always meeting other dogs on leash or behind a fence is a recipe for frustration for social dogs. Dogs need outlets for chewing, running, chasing, catching prey, tugging, dissecting, sniffing/nosework, hunting, digging, barking, rolling, humping and licking, just to name a few. When was the last time you provided your dog an opportunity to check off lots of these items without being upset at them for doing normal dog things?
From a training perspective we can say, “I’d prefer you not do that and do this more appropriate behavior instead” and reward that. For instance, maybe you don’t want your dog digging in your flower garden. OK, that’s reasonable. But expecting your dog not to dig, especially if it’s a breed that has been specifically bred to dig like lagattos, not giving your dog an appropriate outlet for that skill, not only isn’t reasonable but I’d argue inhumane. Instead of no digging, instead train the dog to dig in a designated dig pit or get the dog an iDig.
Finding alternate, appropriate, legal outlets for these normal dog behaviors are a better approach. And when your dog is have doggy witching hour at night or pulling on leash when he sees dogs or doing other unwanted behaviors, step back and really ask yourself, “what does my dog want or need right now?” And then see if you can find a way to help fulfill that need. I think if you do, you’ll both be happier.
If you need help with any behavior issue, you can schedule your session here!