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Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog's behaviour

Obsessions (tv, tail chasing, face rubbing, eating odd things, rolling etc):

Question: My 1-year old black Labrador is obsessed with stones and bricks. I have tried everything, from praise and treats to a muzzle, with no avail. She takes bricks from our builders and eats the gravel around the sides of our house. Is this a behavioural problem or could there be something wrong with her?

Answer: It could be a dietary deficiency and I suggest you take her to your veterinary surgeon so that he can check her over and give your advice on any supplements/special diet that she may need if necessary. If there is nothing physically wrong, it could be a bad habit that she has developed to amuse herself and use up her energy.

Try encouraging her to play games with you frequently throughout the day to use up her mental and physical energy. They don’t need to be very long, 3 minutes sessions will do, but they need to be frequent.

Teach her things, hide toys for her to find, and try to make life more interesting for her. When you cannot play with her, give her chews and deep-fried marrow bones, or sterilized bones to keep her occupied. You could also buy a strong rubber toy, such as a Kong, and smear cream cheese or peanut butter inside for her to lick and chew out.

You may need to deny her access to stones for a while until she develops new habits, but, if this is a behavioural problem, she should soon desist once she finds something more interesting to do.

Question: Bramble frequently rolls in other animal or bird droppings particularly her neck. She is a rescue dog so training is to an adult dog. Why does she do this and how can it be 'corrected'?

Answer: Rolling in strong smelling substances is thought to be a behaviour handed down from their ancestors who would do this to camouflage their own smell when out hunting. Smelling more like their environment would enable them to get closer to their prey before being detected. Although our pet dogs no longer need to hunt, some have retained the desire to do this, particularly after a bath or then they don’t smell ‘like themselves’. It’s a bit like us putting on perfume or aftershave to make ourselves smell more acceptable!

Stopping them is difficult. One of the best ways is to develop a really good recall, be vigilant, and call her back whenever she has been sniffing in the same spot for too long.

Reward her well with a game with a toy or a tasty titbit to ensure she comes quickly next time. If she does it close to you, you could try throwing something that lands next to her with a clatter, such as a drinks can with pebbles sealed into it, to interrupt the behaviour, and then call her back.

Alternatively, you could try wiping her over with a cloth carrying the scent of the pack before she goes out. Keep this in the dirty washing bin where it will pick up all sorts of strong scents associated with the pack!

Question: Within the last couple of days my Labrador has been whipping her head round towards the base of her tail, I was wondering if I should get her to the vets, what could be wrong with her?

Answer: You should take her to your veterinary surgeon.

It could be a range of conditions from fleas to anal gland problems or even a back condition. It is unlikely to be a behaviour problem unless she is actually chasing her tail.

Tail chasing is often a way of self-exercising, but I am sure you would have described this differently. I would make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Question: My dog is eight months old and still continues to eat her own faeces be it outside or indoors. She has been wormed about two weks ago and before that as a pup. What can I do to stop her?

Answer: This is a horrible habit that you will need to work hard to stop. It begins when hungry puppies have access to faeces that are left lying around instead of being cleared away.

Firstly, I would suggest you change her diet (gradually) to on of the dry diets if she is being fed tinned food. Flavour enhancers in tinned food tend to go through the body relatively unchanged so that they cause the faeces to smell quite appetising!

Go round the garden and make sure it is cleared of faeces. Go out with her when she goes to the toilet and make sure any faeces are picked up and disposed of immediately.

At eight months old, your puppy should be fully housetrained and should no longer be going to the toilet indoor.

Get your vet to check that she is physically healthy and embark on a proper housetraining programme to get her clean in the house (see Chapter 7 of The Perfect Puppy).

It may be that the problem lies in you putting her outside to go to the toilet rather than going out with her to supervise and praise her when she goes. Also, give your puppy another interest in life other than constantly searching for food by playing with her and training her regularly.

Question: Jess, my Border Collie bitch has, this last 4 to 5 months taken an interest in television. She constantly watches television and will even sometimes ignore what you are saying to hear. If an action scene or loud noise comes on tv she jumps over and runs right over to stand in front of the tv. Do other dogs do this, if not what could be the cause?

Answer: Yes, other dogs do this, particularly those from herding breeds or terriers, both of which are easily stimulated by moving objects. Border collies, particularly, have been selectively bred for generations to be interested in chasing.

Pet collies, with relatively sedentary lives compared with their working counterparts, often find an outlet for their natural abilities and inbred energy by watching and sometime chasing fast moving objects on TV.

Since this has only been happening for the last 4-5 months, I suspect you may have reduced her exercise or mental stimulation for some reason.

Try taking her out and about more to give her more to think about and play with toys little and often to give her a more fulfilling life and a more natural outlet for her energy.

Also see Gwen Bailey's article on Skye TV - a canine telly addict

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: Why does my 10 month-old Border Collie rub his nose back and forth on the carpet when given a bone? And why does he seem to like some bones, but be wary of others?

Answer: Border Collies are known for their sensitivity and I suspect that the bone is causing his nose, face or gums to itch or ache for some reason. Perhaps his teeth are very sensitive or he may find the activity of chewing a bit painful when jagged bits press against his gum.

Dogs that are have very sensitive mouths sometimes pick up hard, heavy bones as puppies and, because they haven’t picked them up just right, the bone moves and traps a bit of lip which causes them pain.

Since collies learn very fast, they stay away learn not to trust those bones that nip them back!

Take a look at his teeth by lifting his lips and then opening his mouth and looking inside. If all is clean and the teeth are shiny and white as they should be, then don’t worry too much. If there is already a build up of tartar or he has blood on his gums after chewing, it may be best to take him to your veterinary surgeon for a check-up.

It may be better to give him rawhide chews instead which are softer. Soak the ends in water for 20 minutes before giving them to him so that he find them easy to chew.

Question: My pet poodle, who is now almost 14 weeks aold, is constantly eating anything and everything in the garden. She eats dirt, soil, stones, grass, flowers, twigs, wood,and would you believe she even found an old piece of meat, maybe dropped by a bird, which was full of maggots and she was eating that! Please help. I am pondering a muzzle in the garden although I know this is rather drastic.

Answer: Firstly, visit your veterinary surgeon to make sure her diet is suitable for a young puppy and that she doesn’t have anything wrong with her which may be causing this behaviour.

Healthy puppies have a natural curiosity about things in their new world and it is not unusual for them to pick things up in their mouths in a similar way to toddlers explore objects with their hands.

Dogs are natural scavengers and have strong stomach acids to digest any food found, particularly nice pieces of decaying meat full of maggots! However, it is not a good idea for her to eat stones and too much scavenged food.

To avoid this, supervise her visits to the garden, provide more ‘acceptable’ things to chew, such as rawhide chews and deep fried bones, and make sure you play many short games with her every day to take her interest away from things you would rather she did not do.

Question: Our dog, Alfie, whines to go out, but when we let him out he carries on whining. If we ignore him he starts to bark. If we stroke him he is okay for a while until we stop. As soon as someone opens the front door, he tries to run away. What can we do?

Answer: It sounds as though he wants something more than your attention. Check that he is getting enough social contact, exercise and mental activity (e.g. in the form of playing with toys).

Usually when dogs behave like this, they are not getting enough stimulation at home and want to get out to find more fun. Make sure he is getting at least two walks off lead each day and a chance to play with toys on both of these occasions (teach him to come back when called or play with and retrieve toys if he doesn’t know how.

Take him to training classes for this if necessary). Spend some time playing with him and grooming him at home and including him in whatever you are doing. If all the family is very busy with their own lives, make sure someone sets aside a few minutes every hour to devote to him – but not when he whines or he will do this more and more.

Give him chews and other things to interest him at home. You do not say whether or not he is neutered. If he is not, he could be whining to go out to get to females in season. If this is the case, he may need to be neutered.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have recently bought, and house trained, our 20 week-old puppy. But she will now only use the back garden to go to the toilet even after going for long walks. How can I get her to go to the toilet when she goes for walks?

Answer: It is not unusual for young puppies to prefer to go to the toilet in a place where they feel safe and where they do not have to leave their scent in another dog’s ‘territory’.

Young females often feel particularly vulnerable, particularly if they live in an area where many other dogs walk. As she gets older and grows in confidence, this will begin to diminish and she will begin to go to the toilet on walks. Until then, keep the garden clean by picking up any mess so that she continues to be able to go there for as long as she needs.

Since, if you live where other people walk, you will need to pick up any faeces she leaves - not the best of jobs at any time - going to the toilet in the garden would be seen by many owners as a bonus and a great training achievement!

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding & working on her house-training.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: my dog is a female and she is going on for 11yrs she is overweight but we are trying to get her weight down but the question I want to asked is we have another dog as well and sometime Tara will eat his faeces (poo) as well as other dogs sometimes. We have pass this on for attention but is it Hankyu MrsJ Lowe

Answer: When overweight dogs (or people for that matter!) are on a diet, their appetite exceeds the amount it is good for them to eat.

My advice would be to get the weight loss over as quickly as possible with an increase in exercise and a good diet plan from your vet. Once she is slimmer, she it will be easier take her mind off foraging for food by giving her something else to think about such as games with toys.

Until then, keep a close eye on her when she is out in the park and interrupt any eating with a loud noise such as a can full of pebbles thrown down beside her. Then call her to you and give her a titbit for coming back.

It may also help to feed your other dog a diet that does not include canned food. Such foods contain flavour enhancers that are not degraded as they pass through the body, so they smell the same when they come out as when they went in. Feeding pineapple chunks in the food is also said to make the faeces smell unpleasant so that it is not as palatable.

Question: My Dalmatian, Dolly, has recently started stealing food and washing and hiding it and jumping on my rescue terrier. She has never done anything like this before in the year I have had her and I cannot put her behaviour down to jealousy as I love all of my dogs equally. Do you have any idea what could be causing this?

Answer: It is difficult to say without more detail. If she is just one year old, the behaviours you describe could be due to her maturing and becoming more confident. However, sudden changes in behaviour in older dogs that cannot be put down to changes in the environment, often have a medical origin.

I would advise you to have her thoroughly checked out by a vet to ensure that nothing is wrong. If there is nothing physically wrong, try to think of anything that may have triggered these changes.

Hiding washing, stealing food and jumping on your other dog all point to excess energy. Is she getting enough exercise? Has there been a sudden decrease in the amount of play or free-running she is getting? If not, try to think of what she finds rewarding in these behaviours and that may help you to understand why she is doing them and, hence, how to stop her.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Question: My 18 month-old westie, Charlie, has recently developed a habit of running round the room, sniffing the skirting board and under the chairs. He then begins to scratch and bark at the wall, as if he can hear something behind it. This usually happens at tea time. Do you have any suggestions for this behaviour?

Answer: It sounds like an attention-seeking behaviour which he does in the hope that you will respond. You don’t say whether it’s his tea time or yours. If it is his, he could be acting in this way to try to speed up the process of getting food. If it is yours, it may be a time when you ignore him and he could, therefore, be letting you know that he doesn’t like this.

What do you do to stop him. If you pay him attention, I would suggest you completely ignore him instead.

You may get a temporary increase in the behaviour, but it should stop quite quickly after that. You also may need to review the other things you do with him to see if he feels very high up in the family hierarchy.

If you usually feed him when he behaves in this way, wait until he stops before you do so, putting his dish aside until he is calm.

Alternatively, he could really be hearing mice or something moving in the wall – but it unlikely that this only happens at tea time – unless the mice are hoping for some food too!

Question: We have two golden retrievers; a 5 year old male, Sam and a 3 month old female, Lucy. The puppy, Lucy, is constantly hanging onto Sam's tail and biting really hard, causing Sam to move into a different room from her. He doesn't growl or react in any way as he is too timid. Despite us telling Lucy off, removing her and giving her toys to play with, she keeps going back to his tail. Any help would be gratefully received before Sam is totally bald - he has already lost a lot of fur from his tail.

Answer: Its not a good idea to allow this to continue, not only for Sam’s sake, but because you don’t want her to learn that this is the way you treat adult dogs.

Sooner or later, she will meet an adult dog in later life who will put a stop to this with a display of force that could leave her very frightened or injured. To stop it, it is necessary to be vigilant and get to her before she begins to play this game, or if not, to stop it immediately it has begun.

If you can’t stop her by calling her away, tie a 6 ft piece of washing line to her collar and use it to enforce your command to leave. When she does so, praise her or play with her.

Ensure she had toys and chews to occupy her when you are not paying attention to her so that she is not tempted to go back to Sam’s tail. Be very consistent and persistent, and eventually, she will learn not to do this. If she doesn’t play with Sam again, it doesn’t matter – it is much more important that she learns to play with you.

When you leave them alone, separate them by putting a stair gate between them, or by closing the door between them so that they are in separate rooms.

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding & working on this behaviour.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: I have a five year old Shih Tzu bitch Humbug who is obsessed with digging - let her out into the garden and she immediately starts digging. It is difficult to take her to other peoples houses in case she starts on their gardens!

Should I be worried by this obsession, or just let her get on with it. Once she has dug a hole she spends ages staring into it as if she is looking for insects - her other habit is to search for small creepy crawlies on the kitchen floor, that come in from the garden. That isnt a problem, but I hope it doesnt mean she is unhappy. She spends all day with me as she comes to work, and she is rarely left alone. SHould I see an animal behaviourist?

Answer: I wouldn’t worry too much about this unless it is detrimental to either your health and well-being or hers! It sounds as though she has learned to enjoy this ‘game’ just as other dogs learn to enjoy chasing a ball, or trying to catch birds in the garden. She seems to have quite a contented life in other ways so I doubt if there is too much to worry about.

However, if you are still concerned, you could try to get her interested in playing games with toys with you, which may be more fulfilling than playing by herself. Begin with games that you know she enjoys, make them as exciting as possible and play for just a few minutes at a time several times a day.

Eventually, you may find she prefers to play with you, but goes back to her old habits when you don’t have time to devote to her.

Question: Why does Billie jump at the hedge and run round demented when one of my neighbours dogs barks and jumps at her fence??? She doesnt do it when the other neighbours dogs bark. Shes going to hurt herself if she doesnt stop it, but if I go out she runs around more.

If I try reverse psychology and ignore her she eventually will calm down and come in, but im worried she's going to get hurt in the meantime, she has had scratches on her tummy. Her and Pippa dont get on if they meet when we are out, Pippa really goes for Billie, this is probably the reason, but how do I stop Billie reacting like she does? I'm getting desperate now.

Although its not important but she is also making a mess of the lawn. She the important one and I dont like to see her so agitated all the time, and in the occasional hot days we've been having! shes panting like mad by the time she calms down. I would really appreciate your advice on this matter.Thanks in anticipation.

Answer: If your neighbour is willing to co-operate, a time-share plan would be a good idea where only one dog is let out into its garden at a time while the other is kept indoors. At set times of the day, this situation is reversed.

Persevere with planned meetings with both dogs off territory for up to one month until they have got to know each other and have made friends. Once they are fully accepting of each other, planned meetings through the fence should take place with both dogs on leads so that owners can ensure good behaviour.

If your neighbour is not interested in co-operating, you may have to resort to going out with your dog each time so that you can supervise. Alternatively, you could put up a running line to attach your dog to on the opposite fence to keep her away from the problem area.

Question: Jambo is a 4 month old Weimaraner. He is always picking things up in his mouth when we are out for a walk or even in the garden. He continually brings stones from the back garden into the living room. Is this normal and can we prevent him from doing this?

Answer: Yes, this is normal. His ancestors were bred to be gundogs and to be interested in picking things up so that they could be trained to retrieve game easily, and he will have inherited this tendency. In addition, puppies explore their world using their mouths in a similar way to toddlers use their hands, so it is natural for them to do this while they are puppies.

To prevent him from picking up anything unsuitable or harmful, make sure he has plenty of toys and chews available at home. Keep changing these so that they stay new and interesting – like us, they get bored with the same old things all the time.

On walks, teach him to hold a ball – use the kind that is on a short rope so that you can hold the other end to prevent it doesn’t get lost all the time. Teach him to retrieve so that he brings things back to you and gives them up.

Then, if he picks something up that isn’t nice, you can exchange it for a treat or a toy, and let him be interested in that while you throw the other item away.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: Why does my dog insist on rolling in any sort of animal excrement? Is fox poo a nice smell to the doggie nose? Any hints on how to stop her doing this. It seems that the day after a session at the groomers she‘s just itching to get filthy. Help!

Answer: Many reasons have been suggested for this unpleasant pastime, but the most likely is that this behaviour has been handed down from their ancestors who used it as a way of camoflaging their own smell to prevent them alarming prey while out hunting.

Although our pet dogs no longer need to smell of their environment to ensure they get fed, they do still seem to like to do it, particularly if they find something incredibly smelly! Rotting carcases and fox faeces seem to be special favourites. Anyone who owns a dog that does this will know how hard it is to get rid of the smell. Even after a good bath, it still seems to linger. Perhaps this is why they find these particular substances so rewarding.

Stopping her doing this is difficult. The best way is to develop a really strong recall using toys and food as rewards. Then be vigialent when you are out on a walk and call her to you whenever she has been investigating the same spot for a suspiciously long time. Reward her well for coming so that she will continue to answer your calls in future.

A doggie coat may help to protect her pristine fur after a trip to the groomer but obviously this is not practical in warm weather. Since the groomer will use smelly products to get her clean, she will feel a strong need at these times to put on a different smell.

Wiping her over before you go out with a cloth that smells strongly of either you or her before she went to the groomer, may make her feel more comfortable with the way she smells and may reduce her motivation to do roll in something unpleasant.



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