Doggie-Proof Your Home
Gerri admits that her chocolate Labrador Dakota is quite a problem child. When he's not stealing her purses, slippers and even wine bottles, he's sneaking food right from the kitchen table. And outside, Dakota continues his habit of eating things he's not supposed to with a diet of deer, fox and bunny droppings. Gerri's struggles continue into the night, when despite her attempts to keep him in his doggie bed, Dakota jumps back into bed with her. "He knows right from wrong," she cries, "but he just does what he wants to do."
Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward says that in these kinds of cases, the dogs' issues usually stem from one place. "Most of the behavioral problems that I see in my clinic," he explains, "it's about 90% the person, and only 10% truly a pathological issue with the dog. What I do is train people to listen and interpret what the dog is saying to them. It's not me whispering to the dog, it's me listening to the dog." Dr. Ernie offers Gerri several tips to help her take control of Dakota:
Keeping him off the counter
"We've got to make sure that we respect that their world is governed by smell and remove as much smell as possible," Dr. Ernie says. This includes not leaving food sitting out on the counter, instead, store it in air-tight containers.
Reclaiming your furniture
Dr. Ernie explains that Dakota has claimed a spot on the couch as his own, and as a strong, dominant dog he thinks this is where he should sit. To change that habit, the doc uses his body to nudge the dog from its spot. "I'm trying to herd him off and get him to know that what I've done is claimed this for me -- he has no business being up here."
When you're not there to herd your dog off the sofa, Dr. Ernie suggests placing a motion sensor on the couch that sprays air each time your dog jumps up. "After about three times," Dr. Ernie says, "he's going to be like, this thing's possessed, I'm not coming back!"
Controlling your dog outside
For owners who want better control of their dogs outside, Dr. Ernie says to keep their pooches close on the leash, never more than a foot away. "And more importantly," he advises, "I want him to be at your body or behind -- never in front. If he goes in front of you, you have to do some corrections." If you stop and your dog doesn't, Dr. Ernie suggests a quick tug on the leash to get his attention. "He should almost immediately stop and go into a sit."
Dr. Ernie adds that when you're training your dog on a leash, always look up instead of at your dog when you're walking.
Teaching good table manners
When your dog crowds you and lingers by your lap while you're eating, Dr. Ernie suggests its best to not say anything or even acknowledging the dog. Simply take him by the collar and lead him into another room, away from the situation. If he scratches on the kitchen door, correct him again by leading him back to a spot away from the kitchen, and giving him a chew toy with a treat inside it. "This will keep him occupied because he's got to work at that toy to get the treat," says Dr. Ernie.
"Our whole goal is that that dog will learn that when it's dinner time, he has his space where he should be and how he should behave, and you have your space."
Also, Dr. Ernie says to never feed your dog before or at the same time you're eating. "Because you want them to learn, 'Guess what? I'm the boss, I'm the pack leader, this is when I eat and then you get to eat after.'"
After doling out the helpful tips, Dr. Ernie says that if Gerri follows his advice and is consistent every day, she should see changes in Dakota's behavior in about a month and in three months' time the issues with Dakota should not be a problem. "The hardest part of changing a dog's behavior is changing the person," he says. "She's got to learn to ignore, to do look-aways, and not agree with the bad behavior. She has to say, 'You know what? At some point I ignore anything you're doing that I don't agree with or what you to do, unless you're going to injure yourself or someone.'"
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