Q: What do you do when your dog suddenly starts misbehaving — snapping at people or other dogs, peeing or ripping things up — after years of behaving nicely?
Thanks to the exploits of my precocious pooch, Lulu, I have the phone number for quite a few pet trainers locked and loaded in my mobile phone. It gives me easy access to expert advice for those not-so-rare occasions when I need backup.
Andrew Zbeeb, owner of Frogs to Dogs training and pet sitting company in Atlanta, is one of my favorite pet advisers. He has helped me to understand that dogs are pretty unpredictable creatures, and any number of issues can lead to unexpected behavior changes. He offers a few suggestions to help a dog that “suddenly” starts misbehaving.
Evaluate the situation: Evaluate what may have triggered the bad behavior. “If the dog is chewing things up in the home or having accidents, we need to factor the age of the dog, the diet, how often it's going outside for potty breaks,” he says. “Once we determine that the dog is getting what it needs from the pet owner, then we can begin to implement a routine, and a solution to prevent the dog from chewing things and having accidents.”
Remove the temptation: Until your dog can be trusted to be around books, shoes or clothes without destroying them, it’s time for a crate. Do not leave the dog unattended until it has earned that freedom.
Maintain a routine: Structure, consistency and supervision help promote good behavior. “You can't leave a puppy without supervision and expect it to know not to pee, poop and chew things in the home,” he says. “You also must teach the dog what toys are appropriate, and be present to redirect the dog as needed.”
Be mindful of lifestyle changes: When Lulu started misbehaving recently, I couldn’t figure out what triggered the bad behavior this time around. But Zbeeb noted that my recent job change had led to a major shift in our schedule. Whether it’s a new baby or a different brand of dog food, changes in the home can lead to changes in your pet’s actions.
Maintain reasonable goals: Potty training should not be a stressful task, but Zbeeb gets quite a few calls from frustrated owners. “Remember that a puppy is going to act like a puppy.”
Focus on your end of the leash: If the dog snaps at other dogs or people, Zbeeb suggests that the dog and the handler practice addressing the situation away from distractions. “Reward positive responses, and punish for negative responses by ignoring the dog,” he says. “The idea is to redirect and retrain the dog's association to the particular thing that it dislikes.” Once your dog learns to behave appropriately, slowly reintroduce it to whatever triggered the bad behavior and reinforce positive responses. With training, the dog becomes desensitized and develops a positive association.
Watch others around your dog: Even though your dog has done well around adults, kids may pose a different set of challenges. Check out a previous column on how to help kids and pets peacefully coexist. Little ones don’t always realize that tails are not pull toys or that dogs should be approached with care.
Consult with your veterinarian: Sometimes bad behavior results from health issues. A dog with a toothache may nip at anyone who tries to get too close. Unexpected accidents in the house could be a sign of hidden health problems. If problems continue after you evaluate and modify your pet’s routine, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
All the best.
— Morieka Johnson