EXCITABLE AND DISOBEDIENT DOGS
(AND ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDERS)
How can I determine if my dog is just acting like a "puppy" or is too excitable
Many excitable and rowdy behaviours that we see in puppies will diminish with
time and with appropriate early training. The unruly dog is one that continues
to be difficult for the owner to manage past puppyhood and does not respond
well to basic training. Examples include those dogs who do not respond to commands,
will not walk on a lead, jump on people, continually bark for attention, steal
things or generally wreak havoc on the household. The problem is compounded
in large dogs because of their size.
Do dogs get "attention deficit disorder" or can they be "hyperactive"?
While hyperactivity disorder does exist in dogs, it is very rare. Dogs
that are hyperactive, a condition also known as hyperkinesis or attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can be diagnosed by veterinary examination and
testing. Dogs with hyperactivity disorder are difficult to train, respond poorly
to tranquilization, may exhibit repetitive behaviours such as incessant barking
or circling, may have gastrointestinal disorders, and can be extremely resistant
to restraint. In addition to dogs with true hyperkinesis there are individuals
who exhibit uncontrolled responses due to emotional disorders and it is important
to look for other manifestations of abnormal emotions. Most cases however, are
simply overly energetic dogs that may not be getting sufficient exercise, or
who are being accidentally rewarded when they act excitably.
Can I identify this type of dog as a puppy?
Excitable and disobedient dogs can often be identified in early puppyhood.
These puppies continually mouth owner's hands and resist attempts to control
them for even the most minor procedures. Many people do not realize why puppies
chew on them and so give the incorrect feedback to control the behavior.
How can I prevent my puppy from becoming a disobedient dog?
Frequent and well-controlled exercise sessions and an early start to training
are necessary to prevent puppies from becoming too rowdy. Waiting to train your
puppy until it is 6 months of age means leaving it too late and such delay can
often let these disobedient behaviours take hold. If this is the case you will
then have to undo behaviours you don't like in order to get the ones you want
and this can be a very time consuming and frustrating process. Puppies have
very short attention spans and therefore training at an early age should take
place in short but frequent session. You must motivate the puppy to perform
behaviours using positive reinforcement and should avoid punishment based techniques.
With early training, excitable puppies can often have their behavior channeled
in the correct direction.
I have tried training my dog without success. What went wrong?
Many owners may have tried traditional obedience training without success.
The dog still jumps on people, barks incessantly and defies commands. Often
owners are inadvertently making training and reinforcement errors. Perhaps you
have tried shouting at your dog, pulling on collars and even resorted to isolation
to avoid the problem, all without success. Let's address these training and
correction techniques to see what works, what is ineffective, and why.
When dogs misbehave, isolation or confinement is often used. However, this
can make the problem worse. Dogs are social and want to be with people. The
more that they are isolated, the more unruly they will be when they are let
out. Pawing, barking, licking, and jumping-up are attention-getting, greeting
and play-soliciting behaviours in dogs. Confinement may be necessary when you
are not available to supervise your dog, but he or she must first be provided
with sufficient exercise, play and attention, and the opportunity to eliminate.
When you arrive home and release the dog from confinement, it must be taught
to greet you properly. Quiet, calm, and non-demanding behaviours should be rewarded
with play, affection and attention, while demanding, jumping-up, or excitable
behaviours should be met with lack of attention.
Another common training error involves actually reinforcing the behaviours
that you do not want. For example, when a dog is outside barking to come in
and you ignore the dog for 10 minutes, but finally let the dog in, what have
you accomplished? The dog has just learned that 10 minutes of incessant barking
gains access to the house. If your dog is extremely rowdy, jumps up or is constantly
demanding attention, these are also behaviours that you may be inadvertently
rewarding. Instead of patting, giving attention, or perhaps even a treat to
try and stop the behavior, it is essential that these behaviours are ignored.
Another common problem is giving your dog a command, and if there is no response,
repeating the command. This sends the message that 2 - 3 repetitions of the
command are needed to get the desired behavior. When you ask your dog to do
something, be sure that you can get the dog to perform the behavior. Do not
ask for a behavior unless you know that the dog can perform it on command. To
this end behaviours need to be established before commands are paired with the
Reprimands and punishment are often unsuccessful. Punishment may reward behavior
by providing attention, albeit negative. In addition punishment that is too
harsh may lead to anxiety, fear of the owner and problems such as aggression
or submissive urination. Inaccurate timing of punishment also runs the risk
of being associated with some behavior other than the one you are trying to
control or with the presence of innocuous stimuli such as children. In general,
punishment is seldom effective at correcting undesirable behavior, and should
be discontinued if it is not immediately successful.
In summary, let's look at the excitable and unruly dog. Many owners shout
at or physically discipline these dogs, but, as discussed, this may further
reward the unruly behavior. Then when these dogs are relaxed or tired out, owners
(perhaps thankful for the peace and quiet) ignore them. Demanding behavior is
rewarded while quiet behavior is ignored. If this is what is happening in your
home, deal with it by treating all demanding behavior with removal of attention
and interaction and rewarding calm, non-demanding behavior with play and attention.
How should I start to regain control?
Retraining begins with good control, and a good understanding of the proper
use, timing and selection of rewards. An obedience training class that uses
rewards and non-disciplinary techniques for control is a good start. Unless
you provide rewards within 1 second of the desired behavior, or punish the pet
as the behavior is actually occurring, dogs may know that you are happy or angry,
but they do not know why!! Punishment after the act does no good, it confuses
the dog, and can even lead to the kinds of disobedient behaviours that owners
find objectionable. In the worst case it can also induce aggressive behavior.
Remember, if punishment is to have any role it must be used to punish the behavior,
not the pet.
What do I do if disobedience and unruliness persists?
Most traditional training techniques and devices use punishment to interrupt
and deter misbehavior. Punishment may teach a dog what not to do (provided that
it is delivered accurately) but it does not teach the dog to perform the desired
response. Many of the devices that have been designed to control and train dogs
are attached around the dog's neck to "choke" or correct.
The head collar has been designed to gain control over the dog's head and
muzzle so that the handler is able to train the dog to perform the desired response.
The aim of training is to encourage and reward correct responses rather than
punish incorrect responses. A head collar uses a dog's natural instinct to follow
a leader using pressure sites that cause the dog to respond in a behaviorally
appropriate way. The neck strap simulates the pressure control that a mother
dog uses on her puppies. A second strap encircles the dog's nose and simulates
how the leader dog would put his mouth over the muzzle of a subordinate dog.
The head collar also communicates leadership in a number of other ways. Since
dogs have a natural instinct to pull against pressure, a gentle forward and
upward pull on the lead, will close the mouth and the dog will pull backwards
and down into a sit. Therefore, whenever the sit command is given and the dog
does not immediately respond, the owner can pull the lead gently up and forward
and get the desired response. As soon as the dog is sitting or even begins to
sit, the restraint is released and the dog praised. It is important to remember
this fact; the natural response of a mother or leader dog is to release the
restraint or grasp as soon as the dog submits. Therefore, the release not only
serves to reinforce the desired response, but is also consistent with natural
canine communication. The command, pull, and release should be immediately repeated
if the "problem behavior" is repeated, and positive reinforcement (treat, patting,
play) should be provided if the dog continues to "behave". Once the
dog is behaving appropriately, shouting, jerking or pulling violently on the
lead is illogical as is the delivery of physical punishment. These techniques
will lead to increased resistance, fear and even aggression. Using a lead and
head collar, a gentle upward and forward pull can be used to immediately and
effectively control jumping up and lunging. Lastly, and equally important, the
head collar does not encircle and tighten around the lower neck, so that the
dog is not choking while the owner is trying to train.
Some brands of head collars are designed so that they can be left on the dog,
just like neck collars, all the time when owners are home. A long indoor lead
can be left attached for control from a distance. As soon as the dog begins
to engage in unacceptable behavior, it can be interrupted and directed into
performing the desirable behavior ('sit', 'down', 'quiet'). By the same token,
if you give the dog a command and he does not obey, you can always get the compliance
that you require if the head collar and indoor lead is attached.
Now that I have more control, what else do I need to do?
Often the key to turning an unruly dog into an acceptable pet is continuous
control until you can reliably get the behaviours that you want. This is most
easily accomplished by having the dog on the lead (attached to a body harness,
non-choke neck collar or head collar). This allows you to immediately interrupt
undesirable behavior and teach your dog the correct lesson. Only after the dog
no longer engages in the undesirable behavior, and responds to verbal commands,
should the lead be removed. An integral component of controlling an unruly dog
entails restructuring the situations so that the unruly behavior is not able
to take place, or that interruption is immediate. This can take various forms
such as: keeping the dog on lead so that it cannot run through the house, closing
doors to other rooms and limiting the access of the dog to areas where he is
unsupervised, only interacting with the dog in a positive manner and setting
up situations so that the dog will do as the owner asks.
This brings up another vital issue in controlling excitable and disobedient
dogs. Many owners are so frustrated by their pet's behavior that the only interaction
that they have with the dog is negative. They have lost the joy of pet ownership.
Worse than that, they do not reward the behaviours that they do want.
It is just as important, if not more important, to tell the dog when it is doing
the correct behavior as to discipline the bad. It is also important to practice
the training that you may ultimately need. An example of this is training the
dog to sit and stay in the hall. How will the dog know to sit and not run out
of the door when people come to visit, (a highly excitable event), if the dog
never practiced doing so when things were calm?
TEACH THE DOG WHAT YOU WANT IT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU NEED IT.
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