Fixing common issues with simple solutions
The information given here is to help with simple at-home training. We serve the Metro Denver area and are more than happy to get in contact with our readers.
Hello! I will be going over common issues and easy fixes that you can do at home. A lot of this will include the use of two tools and patience. The tools that will be used are Kongs and Squirrel Dude dog toys. These are both just used with kibble and apply a training method called autoshaping, which is training without you having to do anything but give your dog something to work on. A big downside of this is it is dependent on having your dog be food motivated and that is why we recommend using part of a meal to fill them. There will be explanations on how to properly set the dog up to train themselves with these in the following sections that include their use. We recommend 2 of each and potentially a snuffle mat.
Patience is important when working with dogs no matter what it is you are working on. Dogs are great at working with humans but it doesn't mean that they just understand the words we say without direction. If you are getting frustrated take breaks, it is also tough for the dog to learn so much new information sometimes, so make sure the sessions are short and fun.
Kong, Squirrel Dude, Snuffle Matt!
The Kong is simple to fill and can be prepped before you need it. In fact we typically recommend preparing and freezing it in advance to make the game last longer! When choosing the size it is better to err on the large side. For dogs that are 40 lb or above we use XL. The Kong has multiple uses such as fetch and also a chew toy so should consider getting the black (extreme) Kong if you have a dog that has a strong jaw such as a bully or rottie. After each use, give them a quick wash in a top rack of the dishwasher and if there are pieces stuck inside, clean it out with a baby bottle cleaner.
Meal (kibble)- Wet the dog food with a small amount of water and let the kibble absorb and expand for around a minute. After they are soft and expanded mix it and stuff the kong with the kibble. If you want to make it extra enticing you can add some peanut butter at the hole as a special treat. Put in the freezer overnight. Two large kongs hold about a cup of wet kibble.
As a treat - Our favorite way of making a special kong is to mix good quality wet food with small dog treats like Ziwi and yogurt. After they are well mixed you stuff them in the kong and place them in the freezer. This is great if you are having guests over but it's best to try to stick to a staple diet.
Squirrel Dude is part of the Busy Buddy Line of dog toys, they are all great toys but we especially love the squirrel dude because it is similar to the kong but is used with dry kibble. It can be harder to find it but we have found Chewy has it in stock and recommend getting it there.
Setup - For the squirrel dude you simply fill it with dry kibble and let the dogs have it. It has a few jutting pieces where the food is dispensed that can be shortened with scissors to make the treats fall faster but you want to cut those a little at a time since there is no going back once they are cut.
The snuffle mat is the easiest tool to set up. For most of them you will simply fill it with dog food and rustle the fabric to make it spread out better. Most snuffle mats can also be cleaned in the laundry machine which makes them easy to take care of. A wash every few weeks is typically all that is needed but it is also recommended that you don't leave destructive dogs alone with them since they are fragile.
Nipping and Biting
First and foremost PUPPY BITING
Our hope is that our dog never bites a person, there are lawsuits, trauma and of course the risk of the dog being put down. The reason I bring this up is because one of these is influenced by professional opinion and what we look at when we have to make a suggestion on if the dog should get court mandated training or be put down is Bite Inhibition. This is the dog’s understanding for how much pressure to exert when biting. The reason puppies have sharp needle teeth is to be able to cause pain when their jaws are weak and it is safe for them to learn how hard to bite.
For this reason it is important to know that you should not stop puppy biting. We recommend waiting until 5-6 months to start working on reducing mouthing and before that try to make it clear that even a little pressure “hurts”.
A muzzle can help facilitate the training and is a great precaution in case you need to go to the vet or have surprise visitors. You don't just buy one and put it on though, there are multiple types but the best kind for working on biting and nipping is a basket muzzle because they allow the dog to take treats with the muzzle on. The dog should be lured into the muzzle with a treat or their food and not put on until the dog willingly puts their muzzle in. Once the muzzle can be put on it is important to make it small bursts and a positive experience, give praise and treats with the muzzle on. You can also put the muzzle on and let the dog eat out of a food bowl with it on. If the dog tries to take it off don’t scold it, instead take a step back and reward him for putting the muzzle on. If the dog breaks skin or bruises when it bites always start training with a muzzle. It is best to be safe.
Herding and Playful Nipping
If the dog bites and nips are playful mouthings or herding nips you can try autoshaping a calmer behavior. When you have guests over give the dog a kong or squirrel dude, the dog will lay down and “work” on the toy. They will be shaping themselves to behave in a calmer maner when guests are over and to mouth at the chew toy instead of the guests.
Anxious/ Defensive Biting
Use a muzzle in these cases and it is also a good idea to have kennel trained the dog(making sure to make the kennel a positive safe place not used for punishment). When you are going to have people over, put the muzzle on the dog and put him in the kennel a few minutes before the people are over. Keep the dog in the kennel until they have calmed down and praise them for being quiet and calm even if it is for 2-3 seconds of being calm at first. Once the dog is calmed you can release him and have your guest give treats to the dog to help build a positive association with having people over. Doing this will help but it is still recommended to use a muzzle even after they are accepting since anxiety can be genetic and fluctuate. It is also important to consider talking to a vet and trainer about the option to use medication to aid in the training.
It is advisable to get professional help for biting and nipping since it can be dangerous but this info should help get you on the right path. The key to making a lasting impact to the behavior is changing it at the root. These methods will encourage the dog to cope with situations in a different way, overall changing the biting behavior. It is hard to get the timing necessary to punish in a way that reduces biting and does not create a more negative association with the thing or people that are nearby. Punishing can hinder the change to the behavior that you are trying to accomplish.
It is also important to stop playing with the dog in a way that encourages biting. So no rough housing without interactive toys, no teeth on skin contact during play.
Isolation Distress / Separation Anxiety
Many cases of separation anxiety and isolation distress are mild. Isolation distress is the most common of these two and the prevention is the same for mild cases. To prevent episodes of isolation distress you need to distract the dog for the first few minutes after you leave. This can be as simple as throwing some treats or kibble on the ground right as you leave.
A Kong or squirrel dude will work best because it will teach the dog to enjoy his time alone as well as distract them during the crucial moments right before and right after you leave. You can use part of their daily food. The toy is to be given one to two minutes before leaving.
We have found that this is enough to solve most cases of separation anxiety but if this is not enough to prevent episodes of isolation distress or separation anxiety then it is recommended that you talk to a vet and work with a trainer or behaviorist. Medication can help ease training coupling that with medication can set the dog up for success. It is important to remember that the episodes are not unlike panic attacks in people so it is a mental disorder and should be treated with care if it is severe.
Attacking Boredom - from barking to fence fighting
Many times a dog that is bored will be more prone to pay attention to things it finds stimulating like squirrels, footsteps outside and behaviors like destroying furniture and barking. Stimulating your dog more at home is a good first step to helping get a more responsive and happy dog.
1- If your dog suffers from these symptoms consider talking to a vet about how much you should feed your dog, it is very common for dogs to over eat and that leads to too much energy and a need for the extra stimulation.
2- After seeing if you should lower the amount of food you are currently feeding the next step you should take to help with providing stimulation your dog needs is getting rid of their food bowl. Feed them through toys exclusively. Use kongs or squirrel dudes if you want to encourage calmer behavior or healthy chewing on toys as well. If you just want to provide stimulation, a quicker way of making sure they get their food in a stimulating way is the use of a snuffle mat. Snuffle mats can be filled just like a bowl and are a decent stimulating experience for a dog but you may need more than one design to keep it interesting in the long run.
3- The third and last step for this section is exercise, dogs need to be physically engaged and mentally to get the best results so making sure to give at least a half hour walk (preferably more) a day should also be towards the top of the list when dealing with these issues.
Often many destructive or annoying behaviors are a dog's way of stimulating and letting out energy and are therefore just a symptom. Some dogs will need professional help especially when a habit has been formed or if there are multiple underlying reasons for the behavior.
Fixing greetings and Attention Seeking Behaviors
For many dogs jumping, punching and barking at people as they come in can be a sign of excitement and happiness. Lucky for us this makes it easy to train dogs to greet us better. You will be breaking a habit so the biggest obstacle in this section will be patience on your part.For Attention seeking with barking and other behaviors similar to the greeting behaviors you can tackle it in a similar way.
First you need to ask yourself what you do want. Do you simply want all 4 paws on the ground, a sit or maybe even for the dog to wait on a dog bed when greeting. The key thing here is that you will want to teach your dog to do that instead of the behavior it has been doing. The criteria that we have found to be easiest is a sit.
To make it easier to learn this behavior I recommend using praise as well as affection and having the dog know how to sit already. If the dog jumps you simply don't speak to or pet the dog, when the dog sits immediately start praising and stop if the dog starts jumping again. Do this until the dog can sit for a few seconds with just praise then move on to pet the dog. The praise is a small reward because the dog wants your full attention and this will help the dog know it is doing what you want. Keep these sessions short, preferably under 5 minutes and be ready to wait a long time for the dog to sit at first. You won't be telling the dog what to do just praising it for doing good.
If your dog barks, mouths or does other behaviors to get attention that you would like to change you will tackle it in a similar way to the greeting behaviors. You will ask yourself what do you want your dog to do for your attention? Do you want it to sit, gently paw or simply quietly stand nearby? Sit is also our favorite in this situation.
You will use praise as well as affection, it is also recommended that the dog already knows sit well. If the dog barks or does any other behavior you don't want you simply don't speak to or pet the dog, when the dog sits immediately start praising and stop if the dog starts barking again. Do this until the dog sits for a few seconds and you can move on to different forms of affection and attention like petting. The praise lets your dog know it is doing what you want. Be persistent, every time the dog asks for attention wait for the dog to sit before giving it what it wants. You won't be telling the dog what to do just praising and giving attention for doing what you do want.
We focus on science based dog training methods that focus on positive reinforcement. Punishing your dog can reduce behavior but just as easily lead to unwanted and even dangerous behavior so we encourage our readers to refrain from active punishment especially while working on the nipping and biting problems. Tools we also discourage are E-Collars, shock collars, shakers and correction sprays/horns. Dogs learn best in short bursts so try to keep active training sessions on the shorter side, this includes things like the jumping and teaching tricks.
We hope the information was helpful and puts you on the right path towards your end goal with your pup!
Good resources to look at
If your dog Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Sophia Yin
After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar
Don't Shoot The Dog by Karen Pryor
The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
Kikopup - https://www.youtube.com/user/kikopup
Training Positive - https://www.youtube.com/user/tab289
Susan Garrett - https://www.youtube.com/user/ClickerDogs