Dog barking in yard

I love animals; that’s why I became a dog trainer. But a large part of my job involves working with people, and while I tend to be a peaceful, diplomatic person, I am sometimes rubbed the wrong way by pet owners, particularly when their actions directly influence their dogs for the worse.

One of my biggest frustrations is pet owners who won’t take the time to train their dogs, but I have some other hot buttons as well — specifically, people who assume that their pet’s behavior is just the dog being a dog. While unwanted behavior is sometimes related to genetic factors, more often, a dog misbehaves either because he’s never been taught any differently or because the rewards for the bad behavior are greater than the rewards for the alternative.

Fortunately, there’s always time to change your dog’s behavior — and yours. Here are five of my biggest pet-owner peeves and why they make me so crazy.

Don’t Blame the Dog

“My dog is the alpha. He acts that way, because he’s dominant.”
This is a lousy excuse — dominance is not a personality trait in animals but a dynamic, fluid relationship between individuals in response to different resources. Forcing a dog into submission through methods like alpha rolls can hinder trust and increase aggression. In my experience, dogs who are said to be dominant are typically anxious and insecure. These dogs fare better with training that focuses on building their confidence and rewarding alternative choices.

“He’s spiteful/stubborn/just doesn’t want to listen.”
I highly doubt that your dog doesn’t come when called just to spite you. Instead, he probably enjoys the freedom he has when he’s off the leash over what happens when he’s clipped to the end of the leash. A dog who potties on the rug while you’re away isn’t getting back at you for leaving — more likely, he is anxious or was left alone for too long. Seemingly spiteful or stubborn behavior can be eliminated by teaching your dog the acceptable behavior — to come when called, for example — and making that behavior desirable to him by rewarding it with treats and praise.
“He gets plenty of exercise in the backyard.”
Most dogs do not get even a fraction of the amount of exercise their owners assume they get — or that they need — in the yard. Instead of running and playing, your dog is more likely to saunter around a little before lying down in the grass or waiting patiently by the door. Your backyard also does not provide the essential environmental stimuli needed to keep your dog’s social and investigatory needs satisfied. In other words, there aren’t enough things to see and hear and smell. Take your dog on a real walk, visit the dog park or participate in other activities, like agility or fly ball, to provide both the physical activity and mental challenge he requires.

“He’s fine in the yard by himself.”
Leaving your dog in the yard, possibly barking his heart out for hours on end, doesn’t accomplish anything other than annoying the neighbors. In fact, it can put your dog in a potentially dangerous situation. He probably isn’t entertaining himself; he can be upset and bored, and may take his frustrations out on anyone who gets too close — including the neighbors or their kids. That invisible fence you’re relying on to keep your dog in the yard doesn’t keep animals and neighbor kids out, which can lead to disaster. And if your dog wants out badly enough, he can escape. Chaining your dog is an even worse option; your dog may be even more frustrated and upset, and may be more primed to attack anyone who approaches him. If your dog shows concerning behavior when out in a fenced area, supervise him while he’s outside and then take him back inside where he can spend time with your human family rather than leaving him alone in the yard.

“The dog doesn’t mind when the baby plays with him — and it’s cute!”
Your aren’t doing your dog or your child any favors by allowing this. Hugs and kisses might be cute to people, but to a dog, they can be threatening. Your dog shouldn’t have to tolerate being pinched, grabbed, poked, stood on, climbed over and cornered by your child, nor should he be blamed if this behavior ends in a bite. It’s important that you allow only positive, non-stressful interactions between your child and the dog, and that you always supervise any time the two spend together. It is also crucial that you teach your child the right way to interact with your dog, because she will treat other dogs the same way — and if she is allowed to poke and pull at your pet, she may do the same to someone else’s dog and wind up getting bitten.

Phew, I’m done. My load is lightened — I’ve said what I’ve needed to say. I hope you feel inspired to make a change and do better for your dog. Can I get an amen?

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