How to be a pet detective.

In my line of work I often have to deal with not just the fun side of dog training, but more often than not my clients are confused and frustrated about the behavior their dog is exhibiting – meaning that I get called for a consult because the dog needs to “stop doing…XYZ”.
Before you give me a call, there are a couple of things you might want to consider:
First of all, you will usually not be very successful if you just tell your dog to stop doing something, but give him no direction about what you want him to do instead. (Like sit instead of jumping up or settling on his bed instead of charging at the door). Dogs do not operate well in a vacuum, so if you leave it up to him to come up with a better idea, you might not like his second option any more than his first
But today I want to mainly focus on becoming a pet detective – meaning, to challenge you to find the dog’s motivation behind what he does and then outsmarting him by changing the scenario to come up with a better solution.
For example let’s take barking. To simply say “my dog barks all the time” is not good detective work. Since I am sure he has to eat, sleep and go potty, hence, he does not bark ALL the time. So this is where the detective work comes in: When exactly does he bark? Does he bark only when you are gone, and if so, for how long? Does he bark only at the window when he sees someone walk by? Does he bark and carry on when people like the mailman come to the door? Does he bark only outside when he sees things (and what kind of things make him bark?) How about noises? Is that the main culprit? Or is it a combination of the some of the above?
After months or years of frustration, people often resort to punishment, which might or might not work and can also have some very unpleasant side effect (if not for the people, then definitely for the dog).
What if your dog only barks when you leave? How long does he bark? Record him if you need to. If he only barks for a few minutes, then giving him a tasty chewy that takes a few minutes to eat like a frozen peanut butter stuffed Kong or a dog puzzle to play with might be enough to get him over the hump of you leaving. (My dogs love it when I leave, because the good stuff comes out when I go out.)
If on the other hand your dog barks and whines the whole time you are gone, he might very well suffer from separation anxiety, which, depending on severity you might have to get professional help for. You certainly would never want to punish that kind of barking by resorting to something like a bark collar, since the animal is already frightened and getting zapped is not going to alleviate his fear.
While I cannot go into every scenario, the gist of the message is: have a closer look at what your dog is doing. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as putting one way screening on the front window to block the view or having the radio or TV on during the prime noisy times outside.
Not everything needs to be trained – some things can just be managed by doing some simple adjustments, like putting up baby gates to give the cat an escape route when the dog gets too pesky, or using a Manners Minder remote trainer for the UPS guy.
Simply telling your dog “No”, with no other directions, or throwing things, yelling or punishment works just about as good with dogs as it does with children.
So put on your detective hat and delve into some animal research. Ask yourself the good detective questions Who, What, When, Where, Why and How the behavior is occurring.

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