How to Curb Your Dog’s Compulsive Behavior
Many dogs do things that their pet parents find less than desirable, such as barking, licking, chewing, digging, jumping and roughhousing, to name a few. These behaviors can be distressing, but most of them fall within the boundaries of “normal.” Here are a few tips to help you curb some behaviors you don’t want your dog to engage in.
Training a dog to stop barking can be a challenge. There are several techniques you can try:
- Ignore the behavior. Your dog might be barking to get your attention, and if you ignore the barking and do not give your dog attention, your dog is likely to stop. Once the barking stops, reward your dog with a treat.
- Teach your dog the “quiet” command. But first, teach the “speak” command, so the dog knows the difference. Once you teach your dog to bark on command, say “quiet” while the barking is still going on and give a treat when the barking stops. Eventually your dog will understand what “quiet” means.
- Redirect. Dogs have a hard time focusing on two activities at once, so if you give your barking dog a command he already knows, such as “sit,” and follow up with a reward, your dog is likely to be distracted from barking.
The first step to eliminating this problem is to determine why your dog is digging. Dogs dig for a number of reasons, including entertainment, chasing prey, seeking comfort or trying to get your attention.
If your dog is digging for entertainment, chances are some other kind of stimulation will provide a distraction from the digging. Give your dog toys that encourage engagement, such as food puzzles or chew toys. Giving your dog personalized attention will also help; go for more walks together, play fetch or take a pet obedience class.
Your dog also might be digging to seek comfort; for instance, if the weather is hot and your dog has been outdoors for an extended period of time, your dog might dig a spot in the yard to lie down in since the soil under the grass will be cooler. Ensuring your dog has adequate shade during hot weather might help.
If your dog is chasing prey, see if you can find the animals and remove them humanely. Then try to make your yard unattractive to burrowing animals.
If your dog is chewing furniture, the easiest way to curb the behavior is to make the furniture unattractive to the dog. There are a number of commercially available chewing deterrents that you can spray on the surface of furniture; dogs find the flavors and smells in these unappealing, and are likely to stop the chewing.
All of these behaviors are very common in dogs. But where do you draw the line between normal canine behavior and behavior that could be indicative of a more serious problem?
If your dog’s behavior is interfering with his normal life (e.g., he can’t stop chewing his tail and the area is becoming red and infected) or if your dog does the behavior when there are seemingly no triggers that are causing it, it might be time to visit the vet. Your vet can help you find lifestyle changes you can make to alleviate your dog’s distress, or, if these don’t seem to be enough, can suggest medical solutions that will help your dog feel less like engaging in the compulsive behavior.