If my dog is having behavior problems are they capable of change?

Yes, of course. The earlier you notice a behavioral change and you modify it or if you teach puppies good manners when they're little, you'll be more successful. You can, however, train old dogs new tricks too.

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

When should you start obedience training with your dog?

Just as soon as you get your new puppy. The basic things to do is be very consistent with what you say in your body language. For instance, if you don't want your dog to do something, saying “no” might be a better example than “don't bark”, “get off”, and “and “stop it.” It's just too much vocabulary. So be extremely consistent. And they say that when dogs are puppies they learn something new every day. So what we want them to do is learn the right things every day and not bad behavior. So, start right away.

What are the most common behavior problems in dogs and how can they be addressed?

Probably when they're puppies they bite us too much. They're biting and biting and biting, and that's a behavior problem. Fortunately, it’s easy to address by finding appropriate things for them to chew on— take them away from you if they've gotten all bitey and get them busy doing something else. Sometimes they're sleepy too and they just really need to be put in a crate for a good nap.

When they get older, we sometimes see separation anxiety and that's when they really want to be with their owners, they don't understand why they're separated. They're very stressed and they have a lot of anxiety. And for those dogs, we can find behavioral changes and try to associate something positive with leaving. In other words, you give them the best little Kong toy with squeeze cheese in it out of the freezer that they only get when we put them in their crate. So, we're associating something very positive with something very negative.

Sometimes we need to actually get to the point where we do use some anti-anxiety medicines. Other types of behavioral issues are dog aggression with other dogs. And again, at that point, I would seek out some professional advice. Because sometimes we give them the wrong messages so we'll see another dog across the street and we'll get all anxious ourselves. As such, we'll pull on our dog and our voices change and we sound like there's a problem going on when really maybe all we needed to do was pretend we didn't see the dog, distract the dog with food, and act happy. And then they'll associate, "I saw a dog across the street with my owners being happy, I'm going to get food, we're going to go the other way." So there's a lot of things we can do. Just give us a call and ask us.

Can behavior issues in my dog ever indicate that they are sick?

Yes. For instance, I think the most common behavior change we see with sick animals is they're either reclusive like they stay asleep, they don’t come out with the rest of the family, they don’t greet you at the door, and perhaps they’re also not eating. When an animal eats parts of their food or none of it at all that's a gigantic behavior change that could indicate something's not right.

What are some behavior problems that may be associated with a medical condition?

Number one, I believe you would an animal that's not eating, is quieter than usual, lethargic, doesn't want to play, doesn't want to go up the steps, down the steps. You might also see accidents in the house. Those are probably the most common things we see.

How can a veterinarian address my dog's behavior problems?

First of all, we need to realize that they're a behavior change or problem. You can seek advice from us. As veterinarians, we'll examine your dog and make sure it's not a medical issue. And then we can talk about the problems that you're having to see if we can resolve them. If we can't resolve them, we have professional behavior experts in our neighborhood that we can refer you to.

What other dog behavior management options are available?

There are people and clubs in our neighborhood that actually do dog training with puppies to begin with. So we're going to try to get all the puppies started off with them on the right foot. If there are problems, there are certain ones we can refer you to that can really help with dogs that run off, those that are aggressive towards other people, and dogs that pull too much on the leash and you need some help so that you can take nice walks. And we actually have some information from certified behavior trainers that might be able to help us with more difficult problems, such as aggression towards people or children.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Behavior - FAQs

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

When should my dog start obedience training?

We think dogs should start obedience training immediately when you get them. If you get them as a puppy, you'll want to enroll them in a puppy class. Start your pup’s vaccines, and they will continue to be vaccinated and be current as the classes go on. They say puppies learn something new every day, so what we want them to do is learn the right things.

If it's not a puppy and it's an older dog that you've adopted or acquired, again, you want to start with a routine right off the bat—where their food is, where their water is, where they're expected to go potty, their leash, walk, etc. And dogs love repetition and schedules, so they should probably pick up your family’s habits pretty quickly.

What are the most important, basic commands my dog should know?

I think the most fundamental question ever is the knowledge to come. Because if at any time...there's a squirrel that ran across a yard, or a car coming by, or a child, or aggressive dog, or a rainstorm, then you need your dog to come back to you as quickly as possible. “Come” is the number one command they should know.

Sitting is so important for when you go to your front door to greet a guest; they might sit and behave. They might sit and behave before they get fed. You certainly don't want them jumping on you when you're eating your dinner. So “sit” is a very good command to know. I think another one might be “off”—off the bed, off the chair, off the wall, off the back seat of the car. Whatever it is so that they know that that wasn't where they were supposed to be.

And the last one I think is essential is teaching them to drop it. Dogs that pick up anything, they might pick up an acorn, a leaf, a grape that fell in your house, any type of plant, maybe a piece of gum on a walk. They need to understand that drop it means to drop that out of their mouth. And of course, we know it's for their safety; they don't know why we're asking them to do that. Those are the things I think are the four basic things for them to know.

How can I socialize with my new puppy?

First of all, be sure you take your dog into a veterinarian first, make sure that they're healthy. Get them started on their vaccines. The vaccines don't have to be completed to be able to meet new people and new animals. Make sure that the people whose animals you meet are also vaccinated and well taken care of. Make sure that they’re on flea control, and they're current on their vaccines.

Get them started right away. They used to recommend that you introduce your dog to 400 people when they’re between the ages of eight and 16 weeks. So it’s quite a lot to do, but you might want to go to a park and sit down and have different people and animals approach you or walk by you—so they can see airplanes, trains, the wind, the rain, all those kinds of things are all helping the socialization.

Should my dog be punished for bad behavior?

No, you don’t need to punish them. What you want to do is to avoid the bad behavior. If you have a dog that potties in the bedroom, close the bedroom door. If you know they may be aggressive because of their food or special toys on the floor, then pick that up so that they don't guard that toy. So try to avoid problems to begin with, always use positive behavior, distract them, and have them do the right behavior and reward them.

Is my dog too old to be trained?

I don't think dogs are ever too old to be trained. For many reasons, you may move to a new house; you may get new pets, you may have babies. Many things may change with your work schedule, and we're always evolving, and they need to be able to change along with us. And they want to please. And so find out what motivates them. Is it playing ball, is it food? And then be able to do something and reward them the way they like to be rewarded.

What should I look for in a dog trainer?

I think that maybe you should ask a veterinarian for recommendations, your neighbors for recommendations. Meet them or read reviews on their website, and then make sure that they have the same goals that you do, which is a good dog. Also, ensure that they believe in the same type of training principles that you do, which would be positive reinforcement. Trainers are usually very knowledgeable. They're very patient. They're very calm. They've seen almost everything before and likely have some excellent recommendations for you to be successful with your dog.

What vaccinations are needed for dog training classes?

All the dogs should have a distemper and parvo vaccine. Also, they need to have Bordetella, which we commonly call kennel cough. Grooming, boarding, daycare, and obedience facilities will recommend the canine influenza vaccine as well. And then certainly when they're old enough - at 12 to 16 weeks - they need to have their rabies vaccine.

What is environmental enrichment, and how can it help my dog's behavior?

Environmental enrichment is a lot of interactions that you can have with your dog. For instance, when you have puppies, if you take them for long walks and get them outside, and they've seen different things, they're going to come in and be tired. You can play inside games; dogs love to play hide and seek. You can hide and then call them, and they'll come running and looking for you. There are such things as puzzles where you have food, and they have to do a specific little activity to get the food, which exercises their brains a lot.

Tired animals are happy animals; they behave better. Some people take them to daycare so that they've had a whole fun day and experience, and they come in, and they sleep a little bit better that day and the next day. One of the most fun things a dog loves is to explore an environment. They just love to go for a walk; they love the smell things and see things. So all of that is part of their environmental enrichment.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.