You may have inadvertently taught your dog to be fearful, which would actually be the good news, because if you can pinpoint what you did, then you can begin to undo it. Unlike the owner who has food allergies and owns a dog with them, too, or the man who has high blood pressure and so does his dog, what you have is, I believe, a conditioned pattern of behavior, which can usually be fixed. Of course, since most dog issues fall squarely on the shoulders, now is the human’s time for you to do whatever you need to do in order to alleviate your own fears to avoid telegraphing “fear” to your dog. One very common mistake is for owners to tighten up on the leash when they’re afraid. This sends a red alert signal to your dog, who immediately responds by becoming worried or tense. To make matters worse, if your dog had become fearful, and your response was “oh my gosh – my dog is so stressed!”, you’d unintentionally be creating even more stress for the poor creature! Instead, notice the times when your dog *is* relaxed on a walk and praise and treat him for that. If he becomes fearful, speak to him in an upbeat voice, give him a treat when he looks more relaxed, and then retreat from whatever he was worried about. Don’t overstress him by keeping him near something he’s afraid of too long, and take him places where he can have as many positive experiences as possible. In addition, I highly recommend walking with a self-assured friend and her like-minded dog in order to give both of you the confidence you need to walk tall on your own!
Q: Our house renovations included adding a stairway, and my dog is terrified of it. She refuses to walk up or down them, so we have to carry her. Should we just put her on a leash and force her to do it?
A: You could, but then you’ll have to fix the emotional trauma you’d create by forcing a fearful dog to do the very thing she’s afraid of! First, get her to the vet for a check-up to rule out any physical reason for her resistance to climbing the stairs. If she gets a clean bill of health, then the best way of treating her fear is through desensitization. Using food or her favorite toy as motivation, start by asking her to sit five feet away from the staircase, and when she does, praise and reward her. After a while, you’ll notice she can sit near the steps and not show any signs of stress. In some cases, a dog will (on their own) choose to sit at that spot and wait for a reward. Great! That’s the time to ask her to sit closer to the stairs, using the same praise and reward pattern. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the stairs, and at that point, the reward can be placed on the bottom step, and then the second, and so on until you’re at the top of the staircase! Then you need to start the process over again, this time from top to bottom. Desensitization requires a lot of patience (and really great rewards!), but it’s very effective in treating established fears. Be careful you don’t push her too far, too fast, or you’ll be in the proverbial (no pun intended) “one step forward, two steps back” situation. Whether it’s a fear of garbage cans, tile floors or a new sofa, slowly acclimating your dog to the idea of something is always better than forcing them through it.
A: I feel your pain, truly. And now let me add to it: dogs aren’t vengeful creatures. Your dog doesn’t have the capacity to understand your attachment to your couch; as a matter of fact, dogs think that particular bodily function is a pretty cool thing (hence their penchant for sniffing it out during walks), which blows the whole “canned food revenge” theory. However, there are a few realistic reasons that this happened: first, your dog may prefer high ground as a place to eliminate (some like tall grass, some like to be behind a shrub) and when he jumped on the couch he became excited, which can lead to elimination. Physical relief is a pretty strong reinforcement which is why this problem can take a bit of time and lots of supervision to do away with. There could also be separation anxiety issues, but without further details, I can’t be sure. My initial guess is that your dog has never been 100% perfect in the housebreaking department and that you’ve had other “surprises/shocks” before. No matter which one it is, they both carry the same plan: close supervision – no unsupervised field trips to the living room, confinement when you’re not home (his crate should make a come-back) and lots of rewarding when your dog uses the outdoor facilities. Follow those rules perfectly, and the problem will be, forgive me, eliminated forever.
How do I keep my dog from self-serving ice cubes and water from my refrigerator? For months I thought the appliance was faulty because there were always pieces of ice and puddles of water in front of it. A few hundred dollars in service calls later, I finally caught my dog in the act. What now?
If your dog’s desire to obtain water is not because of a medical condition (and I urge you to have him checked immediately by your vet to rule this possibility out), then you’ve just learned what all good dog behaviorists already know – Dogs Learn Best What They Discover Themselves.
Whether it’s something you want them to learn (a “down” command), or not (using the toilet as a water bowl), if they gain the knowledge themselves, they’ll accomplish their goal more quickly than if you tried to teach them. Plus, as an added bonus, the behavior will most likely become hard-wired into their psyche (read: difficult to “re-train”). To fully understand this concept, think about how long it would take you to teach your dog to climb over the fence in your backyard vs. how long it would take him to climb over it if there was something he really wanted on the other side. Non-neutered dogs seeking the attention of females in heat would fall into the Warp 5 category of fence-vaulting.
In your case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Unplugging the water and ice capabilities of your refrigerator and letting your dog have a fruitless (or cube-less) month or so whenever he pushes the levers will eventually extinguish the behavior. However, if you take away his one-armed bandit game without substituting a few challenging dog toys, then you risk him quitting his ice cube habit and taking up another, equally entertaining (to him) game.