We’re onto H now, and onto the topic of habit forming behavior. If you haven’t been able to read recent posts, I’m doing the A to Z blog challenge in April, where I post using topics inspired by the alphabet almost every day. To stay up to date on the series, subscribe to my blog to have it delivered to your inbox or to your reader.
With people, we talk about our bad habits. Nail biting (guilty), caffeine (guilty), lying (just white ones), etc. By calling them bad habits, in a way we excuse our actions…it’s something we slipped into, an accident–one day we bite one nail, then two, then three…and all of the sudden it’s a habit.
With dogs, we talk about bad behavior. Your dog barks when someone walks by the door–bad dog. Your dog chews on your stuff–Bad dog. By calling it bad behavior, we imply that the issue is something to do with the dog. We give ourselves excuses, but somewhat blame the dog for their actions in the way we describe these things.
Dog behavior is just your dog developing a habit, bad or good.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, all because of a stupid move on the Internet. I made the mistake of wandering onto Craigslist for furniture, and being the sap that I am, checked the pets section. Being completely masochistic, I searched for “German Shepherd”. Sure enough, a list of dogs popped up. Most of these dogs ran along the 1 and a half year mark, the perfect age to stop being a puppy, and, if not raised properly, to start being a really big problem. People give reasons like “the dog is too hyper for us” or mention that this dog, at a year and a half old, “isn’t house trained and needs to be an outdoor dog”. In other words, their dog has formed bad habits, and they can’t deal with it anymore.
Dogs often develop bad habits when they are in search of fulfilling a need that they have. Dogs who are highly energetic breeds, like a Border Collie, German Shepherd, or Jack Russell can develop destructive habits if their energy needs are not met. Intelligent breeds, with several names from the same list I just gave (Shepherds are number 3!), also fall into this category. Dogs are smart. When you don’t play games or don’t give them toys, they’ll make their own. Take this little guy–he taught himself to play fetch!
Arie, when she was about a year old, taught herself one such form of entertainment as a tantrum. Any time you went to the bathroom, Arie would follow you into the room and smack her big face in your lap while you were occupied. After growing up in a family with four people (6 after my sister had kids) and one bathroom, my bathroom time is precious to me. While I love my dog, my time in that room is a private affair, and even she is not invited. We began shutting Arie out of the bathroom and leaving her on the other side of the door, much to her dismay.
At first she whined. Then she barked. And then the crazy girl figured out how to OPEN THE DOOR. This wasn’t a jump-and-hit-it-with-your-paw by chance venture either. Arie knew how the handle worked. She used her muzzle to push the lever down while pushing on the bottom of the door with her paw to pop it open.
My dog taught herself a habit as a way to “stick it to the man” for trying to bar her from bathroom time. When we moved to our new apartment, the handles were, thank goodness, round door knobs, so she can no longer practice this feat.
To help Arie avoid learning any other bad habits, I try to do what is required of all pet parents: train, entertain, and occupy.
Train your dog by teaching them good habits. Sit, stay, speak, roll over, lay down, down, crate, etc. By giving your dog a positive task, you create a stronger bond between you and your dog, give them a sense of purpose, and keep their brains busy with good things.
Entertain your dog by giving them the exercise and play time they need. In my last post, I mentioned that I’m upping Arie’s walk time to get her energy out. We play catch with her favorite tennis balls and stuffing-less toys, and we always play “tag”, another game of Arie’s device—Arie will get into her play bow, then bounce toward me, then run away. If I run, she’ll chase me and tap me with her nose, then run away, waiting for me to come touch her on the back, then so forth and so forth. I’ve taught that, even while playing tag, if I call her the game is over to avoid letting this behavior become problematic and instead keeping it fun.
Occupy your dog when you can’t be there to train or entertain. For Arie, right now I use puzzle toys and treat hiding toys, like her Kong, while I’m at work. You can also try boarding your dog or taking them to a day camp for dogs, where they can interact with other people and other dogs to have a great time.
What funny or odd habits have your dogs formed? I know that many of you are amazing trainers and great at working with your dogs, so share your secrets to training, entertaining, and occupying your pooch with the rest of us in the comment section. I’d love to hear them for help with Arie! I don’t usually post on training or my thoughts on it either, so tell me what you think—Do you agree with the post? Disagree? Love it? Hate it? Weigh in with your thoughts.