Dog on the couch

2015-07-30 06:00

DEAR Susan, I have an eight-month-old Boxer which is creating problems by jumping up on my elderly and frail mother-in-law. Obviously this is dangerous. He also dirties our clothes when we leave the house and again when we return home. How can I stop him from doing this?

A.B.

Thank you for your question. This is a common problem experienced by dog lovers. The solution, although very simple, is hardly ever practised consistently enough by owners to modify this annoying and potentially harmful behaviour.

This behaviour arises from the canid greeting, which is face-licking. That is why, in attempting to reach the most important part of the human for a greeting, a puppy or dog jumps up. This troublesome behaviour is usually encouraged by the owner who leans forward and pets the puppy, thereby reinforcing the action. In other words, our well-intentioned response is unfortunately conditioning the dog to a habit that is unacceptable to some, and potentially dangerous.

It is clearly unreasonable of us to expect the dog to know what the matter is that a once agreeable habit is only sometimes acceptable or no longer so at all.

There are many cruel, archaic techniques that do not work well and should not be used by a competent and humane dog lover. These bad methods include squeezing the paw, butting the dog in the chest with the knee (thuggish, and liable only to cause the dog to resort to jumping from the side instead of front-on), and shouting, which usually just encourages the behaviour because it is a form of attention. I recently found that a dog’s fear of the sight of nail clippers had been exacerbated by the owner flashing this instrument of terror at the animal in an ill-advised attempt to discourage jumping up.

A humane and effective solution to this problem is to train an alternative behaviour such as a ‘sit” or “down’, and then reward the dog’s compliance with lavish praise. Turning away and avoiding eye contact is a cut-off signal dogs themselves use. Accompanied by a feigned yawn (another canine-calming signal), this usually works wonders.

It is essential that all members of the household and visitors be made aware of the requirement to discourage the jumping-up greeting and, of course, that they respond uniformly to any persistence or recurrence of the habit and on no account reward it.

We all know how easily habits are acquired and inculcated, as well as how difficult they are to break. Therefore we should understand equally well that consistency, perseverance and sympathetic patience are required to help change a habit.

Hope this helps you.

- Susan Henderson (accredited animal behaviourist).

Send questions to info @dogboxtrainingschool.co.za

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