by: Blake Kritzberg
Your dog seems to be driving you up the wall lately, exhibiting serious behavior problems -- and no amount of verbal correction seems to work. She chews the furniture, gnaws on shoes, turns over the trash cans, howls and barks when you're not around, or even seems really depressed when you come home.
There could be many reasons for behavior problems such as these, but chances are that your dog just misses you too much, and is showing she's bored and lonely. This is especially true if you only have one dog in the house and she's home alone while you work.
One solution to the problem is to try to keep your dog entertained while you are gone. Get a bone or a Kong chew toy, so she'll have a challenge for when you're not around. Another tactic is to turn on the radio so she'll hear human voices. Puppies respond especially well to this; it seems to reassure them much like an actual human presence. Also, if you can lend her a worn shirt, try leaving this in your dog's bed so that your smell remains even when you aren't there.
Discourage Destructive Behavior
In cases of destructive behavior problems, it pays to correct your dog immediately when you catch her chewing your furniture or taking out her frustrations on your belongings. Be vigilant at first -- instant feedback is much easier for your dog to understand than corrections a minute or two later. When you catch her, rush to your dog's side, grab her by the back of her neck and give her a firm "No!"
This should let her know she's done wrong, but if you catch your dog doing it again, some owners may want to roll up 10 to 20 sheets of newspaper and give her a mild whack on the thigh. This won't hurt her, but the sound will seem threatening and loud.
I used to come home to the remains of a stack of mail, ripped to shreds by my dog. I knew that she'd probably done it hours ago, so to reinforce the memory of the negative behavior, I grabbed some of the mail, put it near her mouth and uttered a firm "No!" She shredded the mail a few more times, but each time I reinforced with "No!" and she soon got the message, to our mutual happiness.
Help Your Pup Feel "Up"
Are you playing with and talking to your dog when you come home? Doing so can make a great difference to her feelings. Just like us, dogs want to be acknowledged and fussed over when we're around. Dogs being such social animals, it doesn't work if we merely feed and walk them and ignore them the rest of the time. If we can't spend some quality time with our pets, we might as well not have them at all.
If you can afford it and your dog is alone, give serious thought to getting another. This worked well for me -- after my second dog came into the picture, my first turned into an angel, and has stayed that way ever since -- which is to say, I have a happier dog!
If a second dog just isn't an option for you, you could also spend a little more time bonding with your dog by enrolling both of you in an obedience class. This way, you'll learn more control and teamwork involving your four-footed friend. You may even find your dog more relaxed and better behaved, as the training puts you in a dominant light and takes the pressure off her to lead the household "pack." Plus, your dog gets a chance to meet other dogs. You'll soon notice how eager she is for the next class!
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