Is your puppy out of control? Are you having trouble getting your dog to listen? Here are some common dog behavior problems for my clients. See if any sound familiar.
Example #1: Your six-month-old pup is mouthing and nipping your clothes and skin, jumping up on your kids, and stealing the family’s stuff whenever she sees her opportunity. You have tried every way you can think to tell her no: Yelling “No” or “ouch,” shaking her collar, and rolling her onto her back, but none of it helps.
Example #2: Your newly adopted dog is pulling on leash, especially when you walk on the street. He is okay on the quiet woods path, but as soon as you get near people, dogs, or cars, he stops listening. You are walking on a retractable lead so he has as much room as he needs to explore, but he’s still not satisfied. You tell him no, you jerk the leash, but it makes no difference.
Example #3: Your dog goes wild whenever someone comes to the door. He barks and jumps. You keep telling him to be good, but he doesn’t listen.
The problem behavior is different in each situation, but a similar approach will work for each dog. In every case, the dog needs a PET plan!
What is P.E.T.?
- Enrichment &
For fast, effective training, set up a plan that combines P.E.T. — Prevention, Enrichment, and Training.
Like people, dogs have habits. The more a dog practices doing something, the better she gets at it. This is just as true for bad behavior as for good behavior. Practicing bad behavior makes it an entrenched habit. The first step in behavior modification is to PREVENT the bad behavior.
Think of your dog’s mind as a hill covered with snow. Each time the dog does something, the neural pathways in the dog’s brain fire along a certain path for that behavior. That is like sledding down a hill in the snow. The more you sled down the same trail, the smoother, faster, and deeper the snow becomes on that path. It gets easier and easier to slide down the same trail and harder to forge a new trail where the snow is fresh and deep.
Stopping the dog from using that mental pathway is the first step. When that trail is not being used over and over, the path gets slower, bumpier, and harder to use. Now your dog has the mental space to learn a good behavior — creating a fast new mental path — instead.
Examples of Prevention (Management solutions)
- Put your dog behind a gate or another room
- Crate your dog
- Tether your dog to a heavy piece of furniture
- Tether your dog to your belt
- Attach a “house line” (aka “drag leash”) you can step on
- Cover the windows with wax paper
- Put a fence around the flower garden
- Bring the dog indoors
Enrichment (Keeping your dog positively & constructively engaged)
Bad behavior often arises from too much “free time.” Dogs, like kids, have a lot of energy. If we don’t direct it towards constructive outlets, it will find destructive outlets. A tired dog is a good dog! Exercise is an important form of enrichment, but mental exercise is as tiring for some dogs as a run.
Examples of Enrichment (Canine occupational therapy)
- Foraging for food or toys (“Find it!”) uses scenting, seeking, eating, moving
- Meals from feeder toys (problem solving, licking, nosing, pawing, eating, moving, chewing)
- Chew toys (lying down and licking is relaxing, exercises jaw muscles, problem solving)
- Tug of War or Fetch with training/rules (running, problem solving, thinking, cooperating, chewing, seeking, communicating and building your bond)
TIP: Combine Enrichment with Management
If your dog jumps on visitors, give her a bully stick or peanut-butter stuffed Kong in her crate right before guests arrive. If she’s too hyper to train polite leash walking, play a tiring game of tug before you take a walk. Want her to ignore the kids in the kitchen? Scatter her dinner all over the back yard so she has to hunt for every kibble. Give her something positive to do while you prevent naughtiness.
Training (Teaching your dog the right things to do)
Training is making predictable changes in a dog’s behavior over time. It is TEACHING. Use management for behavior you need today. Use training for behavior you need tomorrow. Training requires time and repetition. Training may not affect current behavior, but done properly, it will affect future behavior. After a few days of training, your dog should offer desirable behaviors more often and undesirable behaviors less often. If that’s not happening, get in touch. You need a better plan. We can help.
Putting PET Plans into Practice
Let’s look at the three scenarios we started with. How can we apply the PET plan to each?
1. The mouthing, nipping, jumping, toy-stealing puppy: This puppy needs more supervision and confinement.
Prevention and management will make this situation much easier and safer for everyone.
This puppy is like a kindergartener in people terms who cannot be expected to know the rules yet. Just as you would child proof your home with a child who is too young to know what is safe and what is dangerous, with a puppy you can use crates, exercise pens (“x-pens”), or baby gates that prevent her from getting to the kids or door to jump, mouth, or run out.
If your home set-up makes this difficult, you can use tethers and “house lines.” Tethering is when you leash your dog and attach the other end to the wall, a heavy piece of furniture, or yourself! Tethering your puppy to you is a great help for puppy training and service dog training, especially. A “house line” (or “drag line”) is leaving a leash on your dog all the time that just drags behind her. It is MUCH easier to step on a leash — to prevent bolting out the door or to stop her from leaping on the kids as they walk in — than to try to catch a fast little puppy by hand!
Combine management with enrichment by having the puppy chew on a bully stick or lick food out of a Kong when you need to keep her occupied during high-excitement times, such as when the kids come home from school or first thing in the morning when everyone is busy and rushing around getting ready for their days.
Train the puppy how to behave by teaching her to sit for greetings, teaching a “drop it” for things she has in her mouth, and by offering her toys and chews to occupy her mouth instead of mouthing or nipping.
2. The newly adopted leash puller: This situation primarily requires training, but management and enrichment can help a lot.
Prevention: Until this dog has the training to learn how to behave around distractions such as cars, people, and dogs, you can prevent him practicing this behavior by walking him in quieter areas. You can also get more control by using a fixed-length leash — retractable leashes strongly encourage pulling — and the proper body harness or head halter that discourage pulling.
Enrichment: Pulling is often a result of a dog who is too wound up and excited by a walk. If your dog works off some extra energy with mental or physical exercise before his walk, he may be less likely to lunge and pull when you go out. Having him work for all his food with food-dispensing toys or clicker training are cheap, easy, and enriching methods for most dog. Playing tug of war (with rules), hide-and-seek, fetch, or scenting games (inside the house or outside) are also very enriching and can take the edge off a hyper dog.
Training: Start training the dog to walk calmly on a loose leash INSIDE your home first! Give treats for walking nicely by your side and paying attention to you. This will take time for your dog to learn and for you to transfer to outdoors, with all its distractions. While your dog is learning good leash manners, when you go on a real walk, use a no-pull harness or a head halter to prevent pulling in the meanwhile. (See our post on harnesses and halters for the pros and cons of each.)
3. The badly behaved greeter: As with the puppy in #1, your first step here must be management/prevention.
Prevention: Dogs must be prevented from rushing guests at the door. Whether they’re motivated by joy, fear, or anger, it’s unpleasant for everyone and not something you want the dog to practice. If his behavior is fearful or aggressive, putting him in a crate far away from the doorway or a bedroom with the door closed will help your guests enter with a lot less chaos and distress for dog and humans. If he’s overexcited and loves people, tethering or using a baby gate to keep him away until both dog and guests have settled will help prevent the free-for-all.
Enrichment is a key part of this plan. Most dogs, if they are just prevented from seeing or approaching people with nothing else to do, will bark, whine, or work themselves up. However, most dogs, if given a very high-value chew to work on (cheese-stuffed Kong, bully stick, dried trachea stuffed with broth-soaked kibble and frozen) would rather work on their delicious occupational therapy than fling themselves at the end of their tether or the gate or door. A lot of exercise or intensive play or training before guests arrive can also help take the edge off a frenzied dog.
Training is important here, too. What you choose to train the dog to do will depend in part on whether your dog’s behavior arises from attraction or aversion to guests. One skill that works well for both types of dogs is to train the dog to relax on a mat when people arrive.
What about you?
Do you have a favorite PET plan for your dog? Share it in the comments!