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Avoiding bad-dog syndrome.


Several years ago,when I was a relief veterinarian in New Orleans, a Mrs. Durosso brought in her two-year-old cocker spaniel, Goldfinger, to be defanged and declawed. "It's either the surgery or putting him to sleep,' Mrs. Durosso moaned. "He is just plain mean!'

I had never had such a requestbefore. I was at a loss to know what to do. Finally, I persuaded Mrs. Durosso to let me hospitalize Goldfinger and look for possible physical causes for his unreasonable behavior. It turned out Goldfinger was suffering from a problem rare in dogs: hyperkinesis, or hyperactivity, similar to the syndrome in human children. Goldfinger's disposition improved after medication and obedience training, though he was never likely to win any "Model Dog' awards. He did, however, live to lose his teeth to old age rather than to surgery.

Most dogs' behavior problems arenot so severe or so difficult to diagnose as a Goldfinger's. They usually originate from instinctual and quite natural canine behaviors, often sustained by naive owners. It's easier to nip such inappropriate behaviors in the bud with proper puppy training than to treat them after they've been reinforced through years of habit.

The most frequent complaints I receivefrom readers involve such destructive animal behavior as chewing and digging.


Puppies like to chew, especiallywhen they are teething, but owners should not reinforce the chewing behavior by playing tug of war with a puppy or by allowing it to chew personal belongings, items easily destroyed, or items that resemble leather or fabric. Instead, give the puppy a meat-scented nylon bone, available at most pet stores. If the puppy continues to chew on the wrong objects, distract its attention and reintroduce the nylon bone.

Older dogs that chew because ofboredom or separation anxiety should be treated with punishments and rewards. If your dog has selected one or two places to chew, try using remote punishment. Plant engaged mousetraps around the "chew' area to provide negative reinforcement. Or try one of the new punishment mats, powered by a nine-volt battery that generates intense, high-frequency sound waves when stepped upon by a pet. The sound emitted is inaudible to humans, but dogs find it extremely irritating.

If you prefer positive reinforcement,try instituting a daily exercise routine to keep your dog occupied. Schedule exercise at the same time daily, and try not to miss a day. When you leave, praise your pet and toss it a nylon chew bone. Heap additional praise upon your dog if it refrains from destructive chewing while you are away.


Many pet owners aredogged by another problem related to chewing: digging. Dogs dig for various reasons. Some dig from example, trying to mimic their owners, whom they have seen digging in the yard or garden. The treatment is simple: Don't let the dog watch you dig. Where I live in western Texas, dogs like to dig for prairie dogs. The best treatment--the only I know of--is to eliminate the prairie dogs.

Northern breeds of dogsoften dig cool holes in which to escape the summer heat. The solution, short of airconditioning the doghouse, is to provide a cool shelter. Boredom, again, may be the cause of most digging activities, and exercise, such as a game of ball in the area the dog likes to dig, may decrease digging. Teach your dog simple voice commands, such as "Come,' "Sit,' and "Lie Down,' and use them when it is found digging. If all else fails, clip the dog's nails close and use remote punishment.


Perhaps nothing is more disturbingto dog owners and their neighbors than incessant barking. If you encourage your puppy to bark in the hope it will become a good watchdog, don't expect the dog to be quiet when guests arrive for dinner.

Dogs bark out of boredom or loneliness,for vocal communication, and to protect their territories. Most become problem barkers if their behavior is rewarded--for example, by letting them in the house after they have barked at the door for five minutes.

The night barker that sleeps all dayand bays all night should be run hard before bedtime to induce sleepiness. If barking has already become habitual, a spray with a water hose may help get the "stop barking' message across. Once you've started punishment, try to use it in every barking episode. Truly frustrated owners of barking dogs may resort to numerous ingenious devices, from muzzles to collars that produce electric shocks or shrill sounds when the dog begins vocalizing.

The best treatment is to correctbarking in puppies before the behavior becomes a habit. An urban dog should be taught early to remain quiet upon voice command. You, the owner, should be the dominant figure, not the dog.


Personally, I know of nothing morefrustrating than supposedly "house-trained' dogs that have "accidents.' The problem may arise from ill health and then continue as a habit after the dog has recovered. In such cases, you'll have to retrain the dog; it should be taken outdoors frequently and praised when it defecates or urinates in the proper place.

When your pet has an "accident,'clean the soiled area immediately, preferably with the dog out of sight so it won't become addicted to the attention caused by the incident. Most materials can be cleaned with a solution of liquid detergent, warm water, and white vinegar (1/4 cup per quart), followed by a cool-water rinse. Do not use ammonia--it has a urine smell. Because dogs do not usually like to defecate where they eat and sleep, you might move the dog's bed and dishes to the area where the accidents occur.

Another kind of soiling is submissiveurination, an unconscious act that occurs in response to dominant treatment. Punishing or scolding only makes submissive urination worse. Training to build the animal's confidence may be the best treatment. Teach the simple commands "Come,' "Sit,' and "Stay.' Use a gentle voice and no physical force. Give praise even for small achievements. Crouch down when confronting the animal, and don't lean or stand over the dog; your behavior may be perceived as dominant by your dog.


For the begging dog, an ounce ofprevention is worth a pound of cure. Give absolutely no attention to a begging pup. Do not reward it with tidbits from the table. No dog needs the highly spiced table foods some owners like to offer as treats.

When dealing with a recalcitrantpet, keep in mind that, while you communicate verbally with your dog, it may be responding more to your movements, bearing, and tone of voice. Don't be too hasty to punish; many of our pets' bad behaviors are shaped by us.

Questions for the Vet

Dear Dr. Whiteley:

We hope you can help a frustratedgardener!

We have a small, well-cared-forgarden that attracts a neighborhood cat every evening. He scratches the soil and leaves his deposits for a regular morning cleanup. We can't plant any edibles such as lettuce, beans, etc.

What can we use or do to keep thisnuisance from our garden which he claims is his?

The owners have the law for protection;we have none. We have purchased every repellent we know of, but nothing has helped.

What advice can you give? Thankyou for any help.

R. OmarkSaint Paul, Minnesota

Dear R.,

We have frustrations enough withour own animals without the added stress of someone else'. Your case may be the true test of remote punishment: Is there a way to install a sprinkler that activates at the approximate time of the cat's visits? Another suggestion is to create a new potty area for the cat in a more appropriate place.

Photo: Inappropriate pet behavior is better nipped in the bud through proper puppy training than treated after years of habit.
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Title Annotation:remedies for bad behavior
Author:Whiteley, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Nov 1, 1986
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