Urine marking is a natural, instinctive behavior in dogs, but it becomes inappropriate when dogs urinate in the house to identify their territory.
Urine marking is most common with sexually intact male dogs, but intact female dogs and neutered dogs may also mark.
Underlying medical reasons for inappropriate urination, such as urinary tract infections, should be ruled out before a diagnosis of marking behavior is made.
Neutering can often resolve the problem.
Behavior modification, environmental treatment, and elimination of anxiety triggers can help to eliminate the behavior.
What Is Canine Urine Marking?
Canine urine marking is a natural, instinctive behavior in dogs, but it is not appropriate inside the house. Dogs, especially sexually intact male dogs, urinate on objects to mark their territory or to leave a message for other dogs. Urine marking behavior usually begins when the dog reaches sexual maturity.
What Causes Canine Urine Marking?
An intact male dog is most likely to mark when there is a female dog in heat nearby. Intact female dogs are also prone to marking when they are in heat. However, any dog may mark if another dog has urinated anywhere in the house. By urinating on the previous site of urination, the dog essentially “remarks” that location as its own territory. Unless the scent of the urine is completely removed, the dog is likely to keep urinating there.
In multi-dog households, dogs, especially of the same sex, may compete for dominance, which can result in urine marking. This same behavior can occur in a confident dog that feels dominant to the owner.
Any anxiety-producing situation can trigger urine marking as well. Workmen in the house, the arrival of a new baby, or visiting relatives can all produce anxiety in a dog. Even the addition of a new TV or a new computer may threaten a dog so that it feels compelled to mark the packing boxes. Rest assured, your dog is not trying to get back at you. It’s just doing what comes naturally.
How Is Canine Urine Marking Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will start by discussing when, where, and how often the behavior occurs. A workup should be conducted to rule out medical disorders that may be causing the problem. If there are no medical causes, your veterinarian will need to determine if incomplete housetraining or other behavioral conditions are causing the problem.
How Can It Be Treated?
In most cases, overcoming urine marking requires multiple steps:
Neutering. If the dog is sexually intact, neutering is the first step. In many cases, male dogs that are neutered stop urine marking within weeks to months of the procedure. Female dogs that are spayed almost always stop the behavior. However, behavior modification is often needed as well.
Scent elimination. It is important to remove the scent of previous urine marks with a good enzymatic cleaner. Camouflaging the odor with another scent is not effective. An enzymatic cleaner can help neutralize the scent to prevent recurrences of the behavior. Many dogs won’t urinate where they eat, so you can also try feeding your dog in the location it used to mark.
Positive reinforcement. Never punish a dog for urine marking. Punishment can create more anxiety, which may only exacerbate the problem. Instead, you need to supervise your pet closely. If you see the dog starting to eliminate inside, interrupt him or her with a firm “No,” and bring the pet outside. When the dog urinates outside, reward him or her with praise and treats. Make sure to bring your dog outside frequently, always providing rewards for appropriate urination outdoors.
Confinement. During retraining, it helps to limit your dog’s access to frequently marked areas. You may need to confine your dog to a room or small area by shutting doors or by using baby gates or a crate. As your dog’s behavior improves, you can gradually increase his or her freedom in the house. Be careful to frequently exercise your dog outside, so your dog does not become agitated with long periods of confinement.
Minimize anxieties. If you can identify the factors that are causing your dog anxiety, remove them or minimize their importance. With a new baby, for example, you can desensitize your dog by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog is exposed to the new baby. At the same time, use counterconditioning tactics, such as praising, petting, and rewarding your pet for calm behaviors around the baby, so it has positive associations with the child.
You may also consult your veterinarian about a D.A.P. Dog Appeasing Pheromone diffuser. By mimicking the pheromones produced by a mother dog to give her puppies a sense of calm and well-being, this product can help ease anxieties in dogs.
Establish dominance. Some dogs need to be gently reminded that you are the boss and that they need to work for rewards. Ask your dog to sit or lay down, then provide a reward such as a treat or a walk and TLC!
Medications. As a last resort, you can consult your veterinarian for medications. In most cases, dogs are given a type of antidepressant. These drugs often take 4 to 6 weeks to make a difference. However, behavior modification is always the first choice and should continue, even with medications.
Crate training is a method of housebreaking puppies in which a crate (an indoor kennel) is used.
The crate must be large enough to allow the puppy to lie down and turn around without allowing room to soil outside the bed.
The crate should never be used as a form of punishment.
Dogs that associate their crate with positive experiences, such as feeding, may continue to use it by choice for the rest of their lives.
What Is Crate Training?
Many veterinarians recommend crate training as a good way to housebreak puppies, and in some cases, adult dogs. This training method is based on the principle that dogs prefer not to soil where they sleep. A comfortable crate not only provides a puppy with a secure, den-like atmosphere but also prevents destructive behaviors (such as chewing inappropriate items) and protects against household dangers (such as electrical wires) when a puppy isn’t being supervised.
What Kind of Crate Is Appropriate?
A wide variety of crates can be purchased from your local pet store. The key is to find a crate that is large enough to allow your puppy to lie down and turn around without allowing room to soil outside the bed.
If your puppy is a large breed, consider purchasing a crate that will have enough room for your dog when he or she is full grown. However, to housebreak your puppy in a large crate, you must decrease the size of the crate’s interior with either adjustable panels (which are available for some crates) or materials or objects that cannot be chewed and swallowed by a teething puppy.
How Do I Crate Train My Puppy?
Associate the crate with positive things. Create a soft bed by placing a towel or blanket on the floor of the crate. For the first few days, leave off the top of the crate or keep the door open. Place the crate in a common area where your puppy can be with you while getting accustomed to the crate. Place treats, kibble, and/or toys inside the crate to entice your puppy to explore it. Whenever your puppy enters the crate, shower him or her with praise. For the first few days, allow your puppy to enter and exit the crate as he or she pleases.
Use the crate to help housebreak your puppy. Feed your puppy in the crate and, when the food is consumed, immediately take your puppy outdoors to urinate and defecate. Eating will stimulate your puppy to urinate and defecate, and your puppy will quickly learn the routine.
The rules of the crate. Puppies should be taken outdoors to eliminate (and duly praised) before being placed in the crate and as soon as they are removed from the crate. To prevent the puppy from associating the crate with negative experiences, the crate should never be used as punishment. If toys are left in the crate, ensure that they are large enough that your puppy can’t swallow, or choke on, them and that they can’t be chewed into smaller pieces.
Begin with small increments of time in the crate. Young puppies have very little bladder and bowel control, so they can’t spend much time in a crate. Young puppies should be taken outdoors frequently (such as every 2 hours during the day) and given lots of praise. If you crate your puppy at night, place the crate near your bed so that you can hear your puppy cry, which will usually mean that your puppy has to urinate or defecate. Young puppies usually need to go outdoors at least once or twice in the night for at least a few weeks. Your puppy will gradually extend the time between bathroom breaks until he or she can sleep through the night and can wait until early morning to urinate or defecate.
Start your puppy with short increments of time, such as 30 minutes to an hour, in the crate. Over the course of a few weeks, gradually increase the amount of time. Puppies younger than 4 months should spend no more than 4 hours at a time in the crate, except for when sleeping at night. If you need to crate your puppy during a full workday, have someone let your puppy outdoors periodically. Ensure that clean water is always available in the crate.
If your puppy soils the bed, remove the bedding until he or she can be in the crate without soiling. If your puppy continues to soil where he or she sleeps, your puppy may have been raised in poor breeding conditions in which he or she had to sleep in urine or feces. Consult your veterinarian for advice or to see if an underlying medical condition is causing the problem.
Remember to take your puppy outdoors to eliminate as soon as you remove him or her from the crate. Then you can begin to allow your puppy short periods of supervised activity in the house. Start by limiting your puppy to one room where you can observe him or her and interrupt inappropriate elimination with a trip outdoors. If your puppy does well, you can gradually increase your puppy’s freedom in the house.
What Are the Benefits of Crate Training?
When done properly, crate training can help a puppy learn to wait to urinate or defecate until he or she is outdoors. A crate helps keep curious puppies from getting into trouble (for example, household dangers and destructive behaviors). When a puppy associates a crate with positive experiences, the puppy will often choose to continue using the crate as a haven as he or she grows into adulthood and throughout life.
Nipping and mouthing should be discouraged starting in puppyhood.
If you suspect that your dog is nipping, mouthing, or biting because of aggressive behavior, please consult a veterinarian or qualified professional.
Do not use physical punishment on your dog. Hitting your dog could cause him or her to become afraid or aggressive.
Nipping and mouthing are natural, usually nonaggressive behaviors that dogs use to communicate during play and normal interaction with other pets and people. However, most people don’t appreciate nipping and mouthing by dogs, and adult dogs can inadvertently cause injury while nipping and mouthing. Therefore, these behaviors should be discouraged starting in puppyhood.
Play Versus Aggression
It can be difficult to tell the difference between nonaggressive and aggressive nipping and mouthing by dogs. Some dogs use their mouths out of fear or frustration, which can indicate a problem with aggression. In most cases, playful dogs have a relaxed body and face. During play, your dog’s muzzle might look wrinkled, but the facial muscles shouldn’t look tense. Playful dogs have a playful body posture, and their tail may be held low and wagging. Playful nipping or mouthing is usually not painful. However, an aggressive dog often has a stiff body, a wrinkled muzzle, and exposed teeth. Its tail may be held up high and waving in the air. Aggressive bites are usually quicker and more painful than playful nipping or mouthing.
If you suspect that your dog is nipping, mouthing, or biting because of aggressive behavior, please consult a qualified professional, such as your veterinarian, a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (DACVB).
What to Do
Puppies often chew on people’s hands and feet. This behavior may seem cute when your dog is small, but it’s not welcome when your dog is bigger and stronger. Therefore, it’s important to teach your dog not to nip or mouth. The goal is to teach your dog that people have very sensitive skin, so he or she must be very gentle.
Bite inhibition is a dog’s ability to control the force of nipping and mouthing. A dog that hasn’t learned bite inhibition doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, so the dog nips and mouths too hard, even when playing. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that dogs that have learned bite inhibition are less likely to bite hard and break the skin if they bite someone due to fear or pain.
Young dogs usually learn bite inhibition while playing with other dogs. When dogs play, they nip and mouth each other. Occasionally, a dog nips his or her playmate too hard, causing the victim to yelp and, usually, stop playing. The offender is often surprised by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. Usually, the dogs soon begin playing again. Through this kind of interaction, dogs learn to control the force of their nipping and mouthing so that they don’t hurt each other and the play can continue uninterrupted.
Dogs can also learn bite inhibition from people. First, play with your dog, letting him or her nip and mouth your hands. When it becomes too hard, immediately make a high-pitched yelp sound as if you’re hurt, and let your hands go limp. This should startle your dog, causing him or her to momentarily stop nipping and mouthing. If yelping has no effect, say “No!” Praise your dog for stopping or for licking you, and then resume play. If your dog nips or mouths you hard again, yelp and stop play again. Repeat this process no more than three times within 15 minutes.
If yelping alone doesn’t work, try adding a time-out. Time-outs are often effective for reducing nipping and mouthing in adolescent and adult dogs. When your dog nips or mouths too hard, yelp loudly and ignore your dog for 10 to 20 seconds; if he or she starts nipping or mouthing during this period, walk away for 10 to 20 seconds. If necessary, leave the room. After the time-out, encourage your dog to play with you again. It’s important to teach your dog that gentle play continues, but painful play stops. As you continue to play, require your dog to become gentler: Yelp and stop play in response to increasingly softer nipping and mouthing until your dog uses little or no pressure with his or her mouth.
The next step is to teach your dog to stop nipping and mouthing altogether. Try one or more of the following:
Continue using the time-out procedure described above.
Give your dog a chewing toy when he or she tries to nip or mouth you.
If your dog nips or mouths while being petted or scratched, feed your dog small treats from your free hand to accustom him or her to being touched without being able to nip or mouth.
Engage in noncontact forms of play, such as fetch, with your dog. Ideally, your dog will begin to look for a toy when he or she feels like mouthing.
Teach your dog impulse control by teaching commands such as “sit,” “wait,” and “leave it” or “off.” This can help you train your dog to resist nipping and mouthing.
Give your dog opportunities to play with other friendly, vaccinated dogs. This will reduce your dog’s need to play roughly with you.
Use a taste deterrent. Before you interact with your dog, spray the deterrent on areas of your body and clothing that your dog likes to mouth. If your dog mouths you, stop moving and wait for him or her to react to the bad taste of the deterrent. Praise your dog when he or she lets go of you. If you use the deterrent for about 2 weeks, your dog will likely learn not to mouth you.
Seek the help of a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT).
Don’t wave your fingers or toes in your dog’s face or slap the sides of your dog’s face to entice your dog to play.
Don’t discourage your dog from playing with you. Play can build a strong bond between you and your dog.
Avoid quickly pulling your hands or feet away from your dog when he or she mouths. Instead, let your hands or feet go limp.
Do not use physical punishment on your dog. Hitting your dog could cause him or her to become afraid or aggressive.
Pica And Coprophagy
Pica is the eating of nonfood substances such as rocks and clothing.
Coprophagy is the consumption of feces, and it is more common in dogs than in cats.
When eaten, some objects may block the digestive tract and require surgical removal or retrieval with an endoscope.
The cause of these behaviors in unknown, but, rarely, underlying diseases may lead to them.
Diagnosis of underlying diseases may require blood work and fecal tests.
Owners can prevent pets from eating objects by eliminating access to the objects, making the objects unpleasant to taste, enriching the pet’s environment to prevent boredom, or, for dogs, using muzzles or leash walks.
In some cases, owners may choose to work with a veterinary behaviorist to eliminate the behavior.
What Are Pica and Coprophagy?
Pets with pica or coprophagy eat substances that are not considered food. Pica involves the eating of objects. Dogs may be more likely to eat objects such as rocks and toys, while cats may eat clothing, strings, and kitty litter. Oriental breeds of cats are more likely to eat fabrics and wool.
Coprophagy is the consumption of feces. It is a natural behavior for nursing mothers to eat the feces of their puppies or kittens. Coprophagy is more common in dogs than in cats, and female dogs are more likely to display this behavior than males.
While coprophagy is generally more distasteful than it is harmful to the pet, eating of nonfood objects may result in vomiting, diarrhea, or a blockage in the digestive tract, which may require an emergency surgery or use of an endoscope to retrieve the object while the pet is under anesthesia.
What Causes These Behaviors?
The exact cause of pica and coprophagy is unknown. Some pets chew on objects out of stress or boredom. Dogs may eat feces because they are not being fed enough or if they go too long between meals, but it is usually not because they are lacking a nutrient in the diet. Dogs that have been punished for defecating in the house may eat their feces to avoid further punishment.
Rarely, an underlying condition such as anemia, intestinal parasites, gastrointestinal disorders, or liver disease may lead to an animal eating strange objects. Administration of some drugs, such as steroids, can increase hunger and lead to pica as well.
What Are the Signs of Pica and Coprophagy?
Usually, owners either see the pet eating the objects or find remnants of the objects around the house. Cats are especially likely to eat linear objects, such as strings, dental floss, rubber bands, and yarn, which can cause serious problems in the digestive tract. Signs that a pet may have ingested an object that is causing a blockage in the digestive tract include:
Diarrhea or constipation
Loss of appetite
If you suspect that your pet may have this problem, see your veterinarian immediately.
How Are These Conditions Diagnosed?
While most cases of pica and coprophagy are simply a behavior problem, it’s important for veterinarians to determine if there is a medical cause. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and ask about your pet’s diet, appetite, and environment. Additional tests may include blood work, fecal tests, and, possibly, an intestinal biopsy. Usually, treating the underlying disease will help eliminate the behavior.
If your veterinarian suspects a blockage in the digestive tract, he or she will probably recommend radiographs (x-rays) and other tests to evaluate the intestinal tract.
How Can I Prevent My Pet From Eating Objects?
If there isn’t an underlying medical problem leading to the behavior, the best thing to do is to eliminate access to objects the pet likes to eat. Make sure to store clothing, plastics, wool, and linear objects where your pet cannot find them. If your dog eats objects in the yard, consider a basket muzzle. However, never leave a dog with a muzzle unattended.
You can also try covering the objects with an unpleasant-tasting substance, such as cayenne pepper or bitter apple products, which are available at most pet stores.
If you find your pet chewing on something inappropriate, say “no” firmly, and give him or her a more appropriate chew toy. Avoid punishment, which can cause stress and further exacerbate the problem.
If you suspect that your pet is eating objects out of boredom, increase the amount of attention and exercise your pet receives every day, and enrich his or her environment with appropriate toys that can’t be swallowed.
For dogs with coprophagy, remove and dispose of feces from the yard immediately. Better yet, increase the number of daily leash walks and reward your dog with a treat after he or she defecates to distract him or her from the feces. Then pick up and dispose of feces appropriately.
Some owners may try sprinkling feces with cayenne pepper or bitter apple so the dog experiences an unpleasant taste, but it’s generally a better idea to just remove the feces.
Your veterinarian can supply you with a product that can be sprinkled on the dog’s food to give the feces an unpleasant taste, but once the product is no longer added to the food, the dog may go back to eating feces.
In some cases, a change of diet may help eliminate the problem. Consult your veterinarian before changing diets.
Because eating foreign objects may cause serious gastrointestinal problems, you may want to work with a veterinary behaviorist to eliminate the behavior.
Socialization is the learning process through which puppies become accustomed to being near various people, animals, and environments.
Proper socialization can help eliminate behavior problems in the future and create a better bond between the pet and the family.
When introducing puppies to new people, pets, or environments, provide praise or treats so the puppy associates a positive experience with each new stimulus.
Do not introduce your puppy to other dogs until he or she has been properly vaccinated; consult your veterinarian to determine when your puppy is ready to be around other dogs.
What Is Puppy Socialization?
Socialization is the learning process through which a puppy becomes accustomed to being near various people, animals, and environments. By exposing puppies to different stimuli in a positive or neutral way, before they can develop a fear of these things, owners can reduce the likelihood of behavior problems in the future and help build a stronger bond between pets and the rest of the family. The critical time to socialize a puppy is during the first 3 to 4 months of its life.
Why Is Puppy Socialization Important?
Unfortunately, behavior problems remain the top reason that pets are relinquished to animal shelters. Proper socialization will help make puppies more tolerant of changes in their environment and help prevent common behavior problems in the future.
Why Should I Consider Puppy Kindergarten?
Attending a puppy training class led by a training specialist gives your puppy an opportunity for socialization with other puppies and with children and adults. Puppy kindergarten classes are offered by some veterinary clinics, dog training facilities, and pet supply stores.
Reputable training facilities will require that your puppy is vaccinated and dewormed before attending the course to ensure that puppies aren’t exposed to diseases or parasites when their immune system is still developing. Vaccinations should be given at least 10 to 14 days before the class. Check with the training facility about its specific requirements. Also, consult your veterinarian to determine when your puppy is ready for class.
How Else Can I Socialize My Puppy?
The goal of socialization is to expose your puppy to different people, animals, environments, and stimuli in a safe manner, without overwhelming your pet.
Start by familiarizing your puppy with your touch. Whenever possible, you should handle your puppy’s paws, ears, mouth, and body. Once your puppy is comfortable with being handled, it will be easier for you to trim nails, brush teeth, clean ears, and give medications.
Next, introduce your puppy to people of different ages, sexes, heights, and races. If your puppy tolerates it, allow other people to touch his or her paws, ears, mouth, and body. This will help your puppy be more comfortable with being handled by others at the veterinary clinic or grooming facility.
It’s also important for your puppy to learn to be comfortable around other animals. Puppy kindergarten is a safe place to expose your pet to other puppies because vaccination is usually required for all participants. In general, you should avoid taking your puppy to a dog park or other public area until he or she has been properly vaccinated. Exposing your puppy to an infectious disease, such as parvovirus, when his or her immune system is still developing can have devastating results.
Puppyhood is also a great time to familiarize your puppy with all the sights and sounds of his or her world, from riding in a car to being around a vacuum cleaner. Once your puppy has been properly vaccinated, you can take your puppy to places such as the park and the grooming or boarding facility to expose him or her to different sights, sounds, and smells. Each time you introduce your pet to a new stimulus, make sure to provide positive reinforcement in the form of praise, petting, or treats, so that your pet associates a positive experience with new people, pets, or environments.
Puppy training is an important step toward a lifetime of good behavior.
Puppies respond better to positive reinforcement than punishment.
Puppies should always be supervised or should be kenneled when you are away.
Training should be consistent and involve everyone in the family.
It’s important for puppies to be socialized around other people and other pets, but consult your veterinarian before exposing your puppy to other dogs.
Puppy kindergarten is a good way to socialize your puppy while having access to a training expert for guidance.
Why Is Puppy Training Important?
Like children, puppies need to learn the appropriate behavior for living in a household and interacting with others. Puppies also seek positive reinforcement and are willing and able to learn.
Unfortunately, many puppies grow into dogs that are eventually surrendered to shelters because of behavior problems. In most cases, it’s not the dog’s fault. It’s simply because he or she did not receive proper training.
Proper puppy training early on will help you avoid bumps in the road and lead to a better relationship with your dog in the years ahead.
What Should I Know About Puppy Training?
There are several basic rules of puppy training that will lead to a more rewarding experience for everyone involved:
Avoid punishment. You should never spank or yell at a puppy, yank at a puppy’s collar, or rub a puppy’s nose in urine or feces. Punishment may not only weaken a puppy’s trust in people, but also lead to aggression, fear biting, and submissive urination. If the puppy has an accident, simply say, “no” in a firm voice, and take him or her outside. Consult your veterinarian if you are having problems housebreaking your puppy.
Reward good behavior. Puppies respond best to positive reinforcement. Reward good behavior with a piece of kibble, a pat on the head, or praise.
Be consistent. When you are training the puppy, make sure a consistent command or hand signal is used by everyone in the family. If, for example, one family member says “here” and another says “come,” the inconsistency will confuse the puppy. Consistency will make it easier for the puppy to understand what you are asking for.
Puppies should always be supervised. Until your puppy is trained, he or she should be supervised at all times or placed in a kennel or crate when you are away. This will reduce accidents in the house and keep your puppy from chewing on or swallowing items that could be dangerous.
Nothing is free. Make your puppy work for what he or she wants. Before feeding, or giving a toy, ask your puppy to respond to a command, such as “sit.” Once you receive an appropriate response, praise the puppy and give him or her the food or toy.
Keep training sessions short. Like children, puppies have short attention spans. Training sessions at home should only last for about 10 or 15 minutes. A short daily training session is more effective than a long weekly one.
Make sure your puppy is comfortable being handled. Whenever possible, you should handle your puppy’s paws, ears, mouth, and body. When your puppy is tolerant of being handled, it will be easier for you to trim nails, brush teeth, clean ears, and give medications. It will also make for less stressful trips to the groomer and veterinary clinic.
Expose your puppy to other people and pets. The earlier your puppy is introduced to other people, the more comfortable he or she will feel around them, and the less likely he or she will be to exhibit shy behavior. Exposure to other pets is important, too, but be careful not to take your puppy to a dog park or to visit neighborhood dogs until he or she has been vaccinated. Consult your veterinarian to find out when your puppy is ready to be around other dogs.
Provide your puppy with appropriate chew toys. When your puppy starts teething, he or she may want to chew on furniture, clothing, hands, and other inappropriate items. Simply say “no,” without yelling or shouting, and give the puppy something more appropriate to chew on. Avoid giving your puppy a sock or other article of clothing to chew. These items may be inadvertently swallowed, and may also give the puppy the message that it’s okay to chew on clothing. Consult your veterinarian about which chew toys are safest.
Why Should I Consider Attending Puppy Kindergarten?
Attending a puppy training class led by a training specialist has a number of advantages. First, you will have an expert to provide guidance and answer questions or concerns that you may have. Second, it will give your puppy an opportunity for socialization, both with other puppies and with other children and adults.
Puppy kindergarten classes are offered by many veterinary clinics, dog training facilities, and pet supply stores. It’s important to find a course that emphasizes positive reinforcement rather than punishment. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on the best training courses in your area. Among other things, these classes should cover:
Basic commands such as sit, down, stay, and come
Crate training and housebreaking tips
Reputable training facilities will require your puppy to be vaccinated before attending the course to ensure that puppies aren’t exposed to diseases while their immune systems are still developing. Some vaccinations need to be given at least 10 to 14 days before the class begins in order to protect your puppy. Consult your veterinarian about when your puppy will be ready to attend class.
Separation anxiety is a behavior problem in which a dog panics after (and sometimes before) being left alone.
The signs of separation anxiety can be associated with other behavioral and medical problems, so your veterinarian will need to examine your dog to make a diagnosis.
There are many effective treatments for separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a behavior problem in which a dog panics after (and sometimes before) being left alone. Dogs with this problem may vocalize, pace, urinate, defecate, and/or engage in destructive behavior before and/or after their owner leaves. Escape attempts by affected dogs can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around windows and doors.
It isn’t exactly clear why dogs develop separation anxiety. However, many more dogs that have been adopted from shelters are affected compared with dogs that have the same owner since puppyhood. Therefore, it is thought that loss of an important person(s) in a dog’s life can cause separation anxiety. The development of separation anxiety has also been associated with changes in the owner’s schedule or residence.
Signs and Diagnosis
The following signs of separation anxiety are usually most severe within the first 15 to 20 minutes after a dog is left alone, but they can also occur before the owner leaves.
Indoor destructiveness (e.g., digging, chewing)
Barking, whining, and/or howling
Urinating and/or defecating
Constantly following the owner around the house
Drooling or panting
Chewing or licking the paws or tail
Refusing to eat
These signs can also be associated with other behavioral and medical problems, so your veterinarian will need to examine your dog to make a diagnosis. Dogs that have separation anxiety may also have noise and thunderstorm phobias, so your dog may also be evaluated for these conditions.
If you suspect that your dog has separation anxiety, contact your veterinarian right away. The goal of treating separation anxiety is to teach your dog to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. To help ease your dog’s anxiety, your veterinarian may make several recommendations, such as the following. Before you begin any treatment plan, please thoroughly discuss it with your veterinarian.
Don’t punish your dog. These anxious behaviors aren’t due to disobedience or spite. They are distress responses. If you punish your dog, he or she may become even more upset, which could worsen the problem.
Counterconditioning is a treatment that associates the sight or presence of a feared or disliked person, animal, place, object, or situation with something your dog enjoys. For dogs with mild separation anxiety, counterconditioning focuses on developing an association between being alone and getting a reward, such as delicious food. To develop this association, an affected dog may be given a reward (e.g., a puzzle toy filled with a treat) every time his or her owner leaves the house.
Moderate or severe cases of separation anxiety may require a more complex program involving desensitization and counterconditioning. This program requires guidance from a trained veterinary professional, and anxiety must be avoided for it to work. This treatment might start by having you desensitize your dog to the normal cues that you are leaving. This can be accomplished by regularly acting like you’re about to leave without actually doing so. The next phase of treatment may involve leaving your dog briefly (1 or 2 minutes) without causing anxiety. The time you’re gone is gradually increased over a period of weeks. Once your dog can tolerate your absence for an hour or two, he or she should be ready to handle longer periods of time. During this process, all good-byes and greetings with your dog should be conducted calmly.
Physical and mental activity can help reduce your dog’s stress level. Keep him or her busy with regular exercise, obedience or agility training, or food puzzle toys.
Confine your dog to a portion of the house when you leave. This makes some dogs feel more secure and can reduce damage to your house. Don’t crate your dog if he or she is not used to being crated. To determine whether you should try using a crate, place your dog in a crate while you’re home and monitor his or her behavior. Signs of distress (e.g., heavy panting, excessive salivation, escape attempts, persistent howling or barking) may indicate that crate confinement is not an immediate option; however, it may still be a good option in the future. If you confine your dog to a room or crate, be sure to provide fresh water and a comfortable place to sleep. Please discuss proper crate training methods with your veterinarian.
Use background noise to help your dog feel safe. Play a recording of your voice, or leave a television or radio on while you’re gone.
If your dog doesn’t respond to the suggestions above, your veterinarian may recommend antianxiety medications. When used with behavioral training, these medications have helped many dogs overcome separation anxiety. Always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any type of medication for a behavior problem.
To help prevent separation anxiety, accustom your new puppy to being alone for brief periods and then gradually longer ones. In addition, reward only the behavior that you want to reinforce in your dog.
Submissive Urination in Dogs
Submissive urination occurs when dogs perceive some kind of threat.
Submissive urination is most common in puppies but can happen at any age.
Dogs may interpret a harsh tone of voice or some human body language (such as direct eye contact, standing over the dog, petting the dog on the head) as dominant and threatening.
Events that trigger the submissive behavior must be identified and changed.
To resolve this problem, positive reinforcement can be used to build your dog’s confidence, and punishment should be avoided.
What Is Submissive Urination?
Dogs may urinate inappropriately in response to a perceived threat, which may be intentional (for example, when an owner scolds the dog) or unintentional (for example, when an owner displays a dominant behavior, such as looking directly into the dog’s eyes). Submissive urination is the dog’s way of communicating that he or she is not a threat and is submitting to the person’s dominance.
While submissive urination occurs most commonly in puppies, it can happen with any dog at any age. A dog that displays this behavior will typically show other submissive signs, such as tucking the tail, looking away, licking the lips, and rolling over on the back.
Excitement urination is somewhat different, occurring when a dog is overly excited, usually when the owner or visitors greet the dog. Affected dogs wag their tails and do not display submissive postures.
Why Is My Dog Exhibiting This Behavior?
Dogs communicate with each other through body language and vocalization, so it’s natural for them to react to human facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice in the same way. Human behaviors that may be threatening to dogs include:
Scolding or physical punishment
Direct eye contact
Standing over them
Loud, harsh, or excited tones
Patting them on the head
Making loud noises
How Can I Stop the Behavior?
Dogs can outgrow submission urination with a little patience from their owners. The key is to build a dog’s confidence with positive reinforcement and avoid all punishment. Scolding or punishing a submissive dog only worsens the problem by eliciting more submissive behavior. Here are a few steps you can take to change the behavior:
Consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will ensure that there’s not a medical reason for the behavior and suggest ways to address the problem.
Identify the triggers to this behavior. Find the actions that elicit submissive urination in your dog, and alter the circumstances. If your dog urinates when you greet him or her at the end of a workday, ignore your dog for a few minutes as soon as you get home. This will help your dog stay calm when you arrive, and you can greet your dog calmly when he or she approaches you.
Avoid punishment. When your dog urinates submissively, do not punish him or her or express frustration. Either ignore the behavior and walk away or calmly take your dog outside and reward him or her for urinating outdoors.
Avoid aggressive or dominant gestures. Speak calmly to your dog, avoid direct eye contact, kneel at your dog’s level rather than leaning over from the waist, and pet your dog under the chin rather than on top of the head. It can also help to approach your dog from the side rather than head on.
Reward confident behavior. Provide your dog with alternatives to submissive behavior, and reward his or her efforts. For example, if your dog normally cowers when you arrive, ask your dog to sit, and then reward him or her with a treat. Keep rewarding good behavior throughout the day to build your dog’s confidence.
Training Your Dog
Even if you’re just looking for a pet to be a companion, training is still important to the relationship you hope to share with your dog.
You may choose only “basic” training, like learning sit, stay, and come, or you may want more advanced training options.
Ask your veterinarian for recommendations, and check out the out credentials of any school or class you're considering before enrolling.
I Just Want a Companion. Why Is Training Important?
Obviously, if a dog will be working as a search and rescue dog or service assistance dog, proper training is extremely important. But what if you’re just looking for a dog to share your life and be a couch potato with you? In truth, even companion dogs, large and small breeds alike, need training to learn proper behavior among people and other dogs.
One philosophy says that dogs in the wild live in packs with a strong social structure and that domesticated dogs naturally seek to be a part of a similar family group. According to this philosophy, it's important for your dog to regard you as the leader, or "alpha," of his or her "pack." Dogs feel comfortable when they know their place in the pack, so if you have not established the leader position, some dogs may try to assume it for themselves, which can lead to obnoxious, destructive, or even aggressive or dangerous behavior.
However, that philosophy is not embraced by all dog trainers and behaviorists. Dogs have been domesticated for centuries, and, just like humans are somewhat different from wild primates, dogs have evolved to be different from their wild ancestors. Therefore, the “pack” mentality may not have as much bearing on their relationships with us as once thought.
Regardless, your dog needs to know what is expected of him or her, what the regular routine will be, and what he or she can get away with. Training is an important way to establish these boundaries. It also establishes a bond of trust and understanding between you and your dog—your dog will be happier when he or she understands your expectations. Training sessions also help prevent boredom and help challenge your dog’s mind, which is important for overall well-being.
What Types of Training Are Recommended?
All dogs can benefit from basic obedience training. This generally includes sitting, staying, and lying down on command; coming when called; and walking on a leash without pulling. Other useful lessons are learning to stay off chairs and sofas unless invited and to not jump up on people. These lessons are valuable even for small breeds, which can become unruly and aggressive despite their size.
Even if you want your dog to exercise his or her own intellect and be a free spirit, you will still need him or her to come to you or stop at the curb on command. Sometimes, such training can mean the difference between a nice afternoon in the park and a night at the emergency room.
What if I Need Professional Help?
If you have a puppy, many veterinarians and pet stores offer puppy kindergarten classes. These classes offer basic training for pet owners and can be a good start for a puppy. Because the classes are group sessions, they also offer an opportunity to socialize your new dog. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up-to-date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper, and parvovirus) have been completed.
If you’re interested in more of a one-on-one experience or more advanced training, ask your veterinarian about obedience schools and trainers in your area. Schools vary in the type and philosophy of instruction, as well as in their trainers' qualifications, so do some background checking before enrolling: interview other dog owners, and check out the credentials of the school or class you're considering. Whether you choose group or individual training, look for a program that emphasizes positive reinforcement techniques, rather than punishment, for training dogs.