Learning to read your dog's body language can help you nip problems in the bud. Dogs are very expressive but sometimes their signs can be subtle. If you are able to pinpoint these subtle signs, you can take your dog out of the situation that stresses him, give him some space, or you can help him cope with the situation by creating a positive experience.
Subtle signs of stress include:
What is the dog below telling you?
This dog is not comfortable and looks unsure. His mouth is closed, ears are back, and he is keeping his body closed.
It is also good to know when your dog is in a happier, more content state.
Signs of a relaxed dog:
The dog on the right looks like he is smiling!
Dogs are social animals, that's a huge part of why we have them in our lives. However, we live in a world where we cannot take them everywhere so pups must learn to be on their own from time to time. By teaching them it is okay to be alone, we can prevent your puppy from developing Separation Anxiety.
Separation anxiety is when a dog displays distress behavioral issues when left alone. Stress signs associated with separation anxiety include: drooling, panting, howling, barking, urinating & defecating (in an otherwise house-trained dog), whining, scratching or biting at doors or windows, and other destructive behaviors.
To help your puppy learn to be alone, the Austin Dog Trainer recommends the following tips:
1. Exercise. Before you are going to leave your pup, get some off his energy out with a game of fetch or a walk around the block.
2. Make comings and goings nonchalant. This will prevent your puppy from getting riled up when you leave and when you return.
3. Provide a puppy safe area for your pup to hang out like a crate or baby gated area. Keep this area somewhere you spend time so your pup does not see it as an isolated, lonely place.
4. Provide them something fun to do while you are gone. This is where Kong toys, bully sticks, and other food dispensing toys come into play. These will keep your pup busy and focused on something positive rather than your absence.
5. Practice leaving them for short times while you are at home. Put your puppy in his puppy safe zone with some toys or chews and leave for a few minutes, come back and toss a few pieces of kibble in his zone and leave for a few more minutes.
6. Don't reinforce whining or barking. Ignore your dog by turning your back and wait until your puppy is quiet until you let him out.
Check back next week for Puppy Problem Prevention: Part 3 – Learning Your Dog's Body Language
Bringing home a new puppy can bring joy, excitement, and stress. It is important to start your puppy off on the right paw and develop a proactive plan of action. In our series, Puppy Problem Prevention, we will discuss how to reduce the chances of developing behavior problems like separation anxiety, reactivity, resource guarding, and socialization issues. By intervening early on, you can help your pup grows into a well-mannered dog.
Part 1 – Resource Guarding
Resource guarding occurs when a dog is protective of a resource it values like food, rawhide, a person, or a location. For wild or feral dogs, guarding is a highly adaptive survival trait. Guarding is a normal behavior. However, now that dogs are sharing our home it is not desirable for them to guard their resources.
If you have just brought a new puppy into your home, you can help your pup learn to share at an early age and prevent any issues around their resources. The general rule of thumb with pups is to always be giving and never taking. You want to start off by trading instead. If your pup is chewing on your shoe and you go over and take it away, he learns that when you approach, you take things away. The more effective method is finding something he really likes (i.e. squeak toy, kong, bully stick, etc) and make that more enticing than the shoe.
Another activity you can do with your puppy is a fun food bowl exercise. At your puppy’s regular meal time, grab his empty food bowl and set it down. Your puppy will check out the bowl and look at you like “Hey, where’s the food?” Place a few pieces of your puppy’s food in the bowl and when he gobbles that up and looks at you; place a few more pieces of food in the bowl, and repeat. Try to do this with your puppy 2-3 times a week.
Lastly, teach your puppy a reliable “Drop It” and “Leave It” cue. The "Drop It" cue is used when your pup has already gotten a hold of something already and you want him to release it. "Leave It" means your pup is near or on his way to something he wants and you want him to ignore it and come to you.
If you see any of signs of guarding, it is important not to provoke or punish the dog and to seek professional help. The more pronounced the signs are, the better your dog is trying to communicate with you. For example, a dog that stiffens up, blocks the resource with his body, and growls is painting a clear picture that he does not want you to come any closer. If you were to correct the dog using force, it is highly likely that you would only get rid of the overt signs of guarding but not the actual guarding. This can lead to a dog doesn’t growl but just bites.
Check back next week for Puppy Problem Prevention: Part 2 – Separation Anxiety
CPDT-KA and Animal Behavior Consultant