Canine Companion: Behavior Based On Many Factors

Hey, guys. This week I have had multiple questions coming in about taking your dog out to public places. Some dogs you see are perfectly content and polite in a public area regardless of where it is. Others have a more difficult time with other people, dogs, and situations.

Most of the time, the comments flow in as people would like their dogs to be like the ones they see off-leash at the park with their family, staying by their family’s side during a public event, or sitting politely next to their family as they wait some place.

Then, there’s the other dogs who will sit down politely then bam. They see a squirrel. And they’re off. Or, the dogs who will politely go for a walk. You’re calmly strolling along and suddenly Max sees another dog. That’s it for the calm walk. Don’t worry, there are many dogs like this.

Have you ever seen “Marley & Me”? If you can compare your dog to Marley, laugh. Then, read the rest of this article. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a must-watch. But, get your tissues ready.

Generally, a dog’s behavior is based on a combination of factors including genetics, socialization received at a young age, continued socialization, and a positive learning environment. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Now that I have told you you’re not alone in this situation, take a deep breath, and get ready for a few ‘homework steps.’

You know the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Not true. Dogs can always be taught but some may require more time than others. With that said, there is no guarantee her behavior will change to exactly how you want it. Remember, your dog has her own unique personality regardless of breed, age, or size.

You can never 100 percent guarantee the results you’re looking for. But you can work toward them and modify for better experiences.

The first mistake that’s usually made is the creation of a giant goal. Just as with us, you don’t go from being a high school student to a CEO immediately. There are many steps to take in between.

This is the same with a dog’s behavior. Begin with easy tasks to encourage your dog (and yourself) where you know the success rate of good behavior is high. This will reinforce that positive behavior you’re looking for.

Generally, when people ask this question, their long-term goal is for their dog to be able to go to public places without causing trouble. Without chasing that squirrel. Without being upset there’s another dog around. Without being horribly anxious.

Whether you know it or not, you’re essentially building a behavior modification plan for your dog. Don’t forget, this will take time.

Once you take your dog to the areas you know she will behave, you can move on to another place but don’t overwhelm her by taking her all over immediately.

Research suggests that taking your dog to places like Petsmart and Petco are excellent places to bring your dog if she is at puppy-level.

The critical socialization period is generally from 8-16 weeks of age. At the same time, you do have to be careful about where you take your puppy at this age because they don’t yet have all their vaccinations.

If your dog is older than four months, do some trial runs at home first. Allow your friends to come visit and reward your dog when she is well-behaved.

As you begin your journey to better behavior and more socialization, remember not to force any type of interaction. If your dog is not comfortable with a person or another dog, don’t try to force him to be ‘okay with it.’

As your dog is experiencing new situations, also don’t forget to watch for signs of anxiety or irritability including excessive panting, yawning, and negative body language.

Take a bite at a time. Don’t try to take the huge leap from start to finish without any steps in between.

P.S. — If your dog does not yet understand or know basic obedience, that should be your very first step. Your dog will begin learning with you the moment you pick him or her up. That exact moment. Whether she’s a puppy or an adult. You are showing her how to act, react, and learn.

Learning Games

Now, I told you we would talk about positive learning experiences in this article, too. I don’t have much more space in this column, but I will share one of the best games.

The first fun learning game is the treasure hunt. My dog loves this game. Grab your dog’s favorite snack. If you have never played this game, teach your dog by having him ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ then hide the treat somewhere completely obvious (let him watch you hide it). Reward your dog via praise for finding the treat.

Once your dog understands how to play the game, you can start hiding treats in other rooms. This game gives your dog a little bit of exercise, but greatly stimulates her brain and reduces the likelihood for negative behaviors.

If you want more ideas, search “Dog Behavior Group” on Facebook and write the group. We have an excellent group of people on this page who are always looking to learn from one another.

Until next time.


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