That Darned Dog: Understanding Our Dog's Behaviors
January 8, 2014

That Darn Dog: Understanding Our Dog’s Behaviors

My boyfriend and I recently adopted a 21-week old puppy, a German Shepard puppy. We named her Leeli, and she is simply precious. Already she has bonded to us and we to her. We took her with us on our travels over the winter break. She cuddles with us and plays and just wants to be near us. She also jumps, still struggles with house training, and chews and bites. All of these behaviors are improving as we work with her; however, it has taken much perseverance, patience, research, and love.

Many families throughout time have struggled with pet behavior training. We seek out help in all avenues of the world. To that end, USA Today released information about a book called “Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones” edited by Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi, two vets who specialize in pet behavior. This book is written by 21 contributing writers, all of whom are veterinary behaviorists who typically write for scientific journals. Here, though, they write for the benefit of the public.

As USA Today explains, “when a dog has a serious behavior problem — say the dog is barking non-stop and chewing on the baseboard when the family departs, with the landlord and neighbors complaining — the human/animal bond may fracture. When that happens, the pet may land in a shelter.” The article continues on to explain that behavior just might be the common reason that people give up their pets especially when doing so with young animals like puppies and kittens.

Obviously, this means that having the right tools to train and help our pets will help them and us. USA Today gave some examples of what readers will find in this book:

Q: Do dogs bite their owners or other familiar people because they are competing for “alpha status”?

A: This is untrue. Most often dogs bite for defensive reasons that are not related to a social hierarchy.

Q: Do dogs get on sofas, rush ahead on walks or jump on people to be dominant?

A: Again, no. Dogs favor couches for napping like we do, because they are soft, and because they smell like their favorite people. Dogs rush ahead on walks because they’re eager to explore the world, those smells are exciting, and people are too darn slow. Dogs are happy to greet people and like to jump because it’s the only way to greet them face to face, and because they are beyond exuberant.

Q: Do dogs purposely urinate in the house or otherwise behave badly because of separation anxiety?

A: Like all behavioral problems, dogs with separation anxiety aren’t being spiteful. They’re not intentionally punishing you for your departure; they are just attempting to cope with your separation. Like many behavior problems, an appropriate diagnosis is most important. Without veterinary input, people may assume the problem is separation anxiety, when the dog might be under-exercised and/or bored. Perhaps the dog is piddling in the house when you are away primarily due to an undiagnosed medical condition. Some dogs were never reliably taught to be home alone (despite what their owners believe). If this is a senior dog, has the dog “forgotten” house-training? Or does the dog actually suffer from separation anxiety? And suffer is the right word — these dogs are suffering. Often pharmacological intervention, combined with behavioral therapy, is most helpful and most humane.

Q: If dogs are anxious or fearful, do they need better training?

A: Fears and anxieties have nothing whatsoever to do with how well a dog is trained or intelligence. In fact, if you have a dog who is pacing (perhaps a dog is fearful of an oncoming thunderstorm), and you tell her “lie down,” and she does, while she may no longer be pacing she may still be very anxious. Anxiety doesn’t go away just because you’re not seeing it. One of the most potentially damaging myths is the idea that a dog should be punished for anxious or fearful behavior. The idea stems from the beliefs that the dog is “being bad” or “trying to be dominant” by not listening when you try to tell the dog to stop a certain behavior (pacing, whining, etc.). Using punishment will only make the animal more anxious and fearful in the long run.

The article included several other examples, each of which provided some interesting answers. These look like they will inspire pet owners to help train their pets but also understand their pets. Sometimes pet behavior is not about training; sometimes it is deeper, just like with humans.

As I wrote earlier, having a pet, specifically a young pet, requires much perseverance, patience, research, and love. The most important of these, of course, is love. We love Leeli. She is a part of our family, so her behaviors just require training and love. I will most definitely look into this book to help me help her and help us.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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