Ain't Misbehaving!

A new way to look at your dog's behavior...

Your dog is chewing, digging, soiling, jumping, barking, nipping and pulling. What gives? Is he trying to drive you nuts? Is he being spiteful? Laughing behind your back?

No. He's just being a dog. All of these behaviors are responses. It's your dog responding to changes in his environment or reacting to boredom, isolation or stress. This week, I will show you how to look at canine behavior from your dog's point of view. It will help you discover his passions and coping skills and show you how to redirect these behaviors in positive ways. Your dog is talking…he ain't misbehaving.

Here's a page from a typical puppy owner's diary:

Monday 8PM: Found puppy sprawled out in the center of the  bed.

Wednesday AM: Washing dog cushions.  Puppy tears apart insert.

Thursday PM: Getting ready for Realtor Open House.  Puppy wallows in frog pong, lays in the dirt, races through house with children.  Mud on the white carpet, mess in the kitchen. 

Friday PM: Warmest night of the year.  We barbecue.  Puppy digs up flagstone.  Appears to be a passion.

Saturday Noonish:  A friend stops by, the puppy won’t stop jumping on her.

Sunday Lunch: Puppy steals a a ham sandwich straight out of toddler's hand.

I encourage all my clients to keep a puppy log like this one so they don’t forget their questions and concerns between appointments, but this log isn’t one of my students'. It's mine.

Regular readers may remember , my daughter’s fluffy little Christmas Southern Rescue puppy.  She’s growing up and at four and a half months, she's loosing her baby teeth, testing her boundaries and running everyone ragged -- our little adolescent.

When Hootenanny is out socializing in Katonah or sitting in on a reading program at Little Joe's Bookstore, people want to know the secret to raising such a composed and friendly puppy…fortunately, they don't read my diary! But seriously, Hootenanny's social skills and her at-home rambunctiousness have everything in common. Her trusting nature and openness to strangers is a direct result of how I handle the day-to-day mess and mayhem.

In this column, I'm kicking off a four-part series. As you read it and formulate your questions, add them to the comments below, and I will do my best to address them all.

Before we begin, take a minute to write down all your frustrations (only dog related, please!) on a piece of paper.  Now hold the paper in front of you and consider it a map. Yes, a map. Since your dog or puppy can’t speak, you can use many of his daily reactions as clues to his passions and learn what he's doing to cope with excitement or stress. I know, for example, that our puppy loves to dig and is more happy with her feet in the air. I would prefer a more measured response to newcomers and flower gazing, but no, digging and jumping are it.  

My choice? To embrace and redirect her passion: digging is okay in the sandbox, jumping over sticks is alright, but a sit or rollover for greetings is a must. If I insisted on no no no digging at all, I'd spend half my day shouting, chasing and filling in holes.

Of course, Hootenanny is maturing and nearing the age (5 months) where she can retain and understand discouragements, and I while I’ll detail many of these techniques in the weeks to come, bear in mind that all young puppies and newly adopted dogs need time to learn how to live with humans before their humans start to discipline and intimate them. Dogs need to learn how (and why) to listen to directions, recognize the nuances of our body language (which differs greatly than a dogs’ postures), and  develop a firm foundation of trust before they can understand and tolerate mild discipline.  

Is Hootenanny a perfect puppy because she lives with a professional dog trainer? I think not.  At least not yet. But rather than condemning her interests, we are working to  accept and redirect them. No yelling, no frustration, no unnecessary crating or training efforts — but the result in worth a pound of gold.  A serenely content, trusting, and playful puppy. 

If you'd like to meet Hootenanny, Sarah or Whoopsie Daisy, stop by in Katonah at 4 p.m. Tuesday for story hour.

Michael Woyton March 26, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Best money I EVER spent was for an eight-week dog training course. We had quality bonding time AND I ended up with a pooch who could live in a Manhattan apartment building.
Sarah Hodgson March 26, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Dog's affect so much of our lives, understanding them and living serenely together affects every moment of the day! Thanks for your comments! PS- My training classes start up mid-April for puppies, beginner and advance dogs as well.
Sarah Hodgson March 26, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I love Cookie! Give her a pat from her teacher :)
C Gajowski June 18, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Hi, I am reading all of your columns today, working backwards from June, and thinking I need to be retrained! My Yoda and I joined your elementary ( Pre-K?) training when he was pretty new to me; he is much less fearful now ( in your language he was a "pond," not an "ocean" - so now he's maybe a very small lake) (altho' he has on occasion been frightened by large unexpected flowers, most kitchens and shiny floors) but fearfulness does not extend to humans. However since I got away from "leading," his greetings of people who give him a smiley look are toooooo rambunctious. I wanted to allow him more walking freedom - to sniff and the lot - we go for long walks on the trailway - but that descended into his leading -- so back to basics, maybe another class with you.
Sarah Hodgson June 19, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I remember Yoda! Never heard of flower-fear; fascinating. I'd love to see Yoda- I'm now teaching off Long Ridge Road, 1/4 mile past Bedford on the Stamford line. summer session start soon!


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