Dog on the Couch

2017-04-27 06:00

Dear Susan, I have a Toy Pom X called Tinkerbell which I rescued at three weeks and hand-raised. She barks, whines and leaps from the couch at the front window almost 24/7. If I try to stop her, even with a rolled-up newspaper, she becomes vicious and bites. Is there anything I can do about this?

T INKERBELL’S MOM

Ingrained behavioural problems require comprehensive hands-on evaluation. I cannot diagnose or prescribe a treatment plan without much more background and personal observation. In a column such as this I can only give general advice. You would be best advised to book a behaviour evaluation. Dogs are complex beings, and behaviour problems such as you describe can be just as difficult to remedy as certain human psychological issues.

The formative weeks and months plant seeds that will germinate at a certain stage, whether good or bad. If the subsequent behaviours are not dealt with sensitively and consistently without resorting to aggressive, retaliatory displays (rolled up newspaper), your dog is liable to resort to negative, undesirable responses, including aggression, over time becoming become deeply rooted. Trust will be broken and the relationship chiselled away. Unfortunately there is nothing that can educate a puppy like its own species mother and litter mates. Reprimands are inhibited yet firm in this natural learning process, and afterwards no grudges are harboured by either side. Losing out on these valuable lessons by being so early orphaned might account for behavioural consequences such as described.

I don’t have the full history of your dog, but often a cute puppy gets over-indulged in certain areas, as happens to some children. Spoiling in the early stage can lead to a lack of clarity in boundaries and socially acceptable behaviour, with obvious future repercussions. A dog or child who has every whim met while cute and novel will expect this to continue in later years regardless of changes in circumstances. Just as we teach children that temper tantrums or sulks do not get them a packet of sweets, or that constant demands for attention are not going to be tolerated, so we do with our family dogs. If one fails here, rewarded behaviours are liable to be repeated, and unrewarded behaviours extinguished.

If we give in to demands for attention such as whining, even just once, the inclination will be to repeat the behaviour because it has been rewarded. I recommend force-free training which seeks and trains alternative desirable behaviours which supplant the unacceptable ones. Good timing and much patience is required but good results are the reward of perseverance with proper training.

The whining and barking of dogs is a complex means of communication. There is frustration barking, stress vocalisation, boredom barking and many more which would require interpretation by observation

In selecting and breeding for tameness we have created puppy-like behaviours that continue into adulthood. Dogs are reliant on humans for their basic needs which we should be prepared to meet when we take in a pet. However, boundaries obviously need to be set. Sympathetic understanding and effort are necessary to develop and maintain sound relationships. If a dog demands to be fed a treat or lifted up and petted by barking, whining or jumping up, the person who obliges the dog will be teaching a conditioned behaviour that is liable to become a nuisance. If this were to become an imbedded habit, a behaviour modification programme would need to be implemented to try to resolve such behaviour. All of this points to the importance of proper and sympathetic early training.

Susan Henderson©

(accredited animal behaviourist) info@dogboxtrainingschool. co.za or 082 386 5805

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