The most common behavioural problems reported by owners to their veterinarians at Sydney Animal Hospitals include digging, jumping, barking, chewing and destructiveness.
These are all normal activities in a dog’s life and it would be impossible to eliminate them entirely. However, they can be modified to be socially acceptable.
Most nuisance behaviours are exacerbated by boredom, anxiety and lack of activity. Dogs are intelligent, social and active animals that need company, activity and stimulation. If put in situations where these needs are not met, then they will find other ways to stimulate themselves. For example, if you leave a young, energetic dog alone in a backyard devoid of entertainment, then it will find its own. This might include ripping up your prize tulip garden.
Choose the right dog
The first line in preventing behaviour problems is the selection of the right pet. You have to be realistic in the level of time and exercise you can provide for your pet. Also, look at the size of your yard. Is there enough area for the dog to exercise when you're not there? If you work long hours and your pet might be home alone for long periods, consider getting two dogs. They will not only keep each other company but will exercise more.
Some dogs seem to have more anxiety-related problems when left alone. Some dogs are working dogs and need higher than normal levels of stimulation or they can become destructive to their environment. It is worth talking to your veterinarian at Sydney Animal Hospitals and other dog owners if you are considering buying a particular breed.
Puppies usually need to go to the toilet just after waking up or eating. Often they will start to circle or sniff around. This is when they should be taken outside. Wait until they have finished then reward them verbally or with a treat. Avoid punishing them when they make a mistake – they may become more nervous. Alternatively they may associate punishment with your presence and avoid going to the toilet when you are around, even if it is outside. Always take your puppy to the same place to toilet when at home.
Digging is a normal part of canine behaviour. It is only the place they choose to dig that makes it a problem. What might seem like hours of fun to Fido can leave you with a dirt mound and crators in the backyard. Instead of trying to stop the digging, consider providing an area where your dog is allowed to dig. A small sand pit is ideal. Place some of your dog's toys and treats in the sand to act as a reward for digging there. If a sand pit is out of the question, then try aversion therapy. Place blown up balloons or small mouse traps just below the surface or the soil. These will snap or pop as digging commences and the sound should act as a deterrent for your pet. Some people use chilli powder or pepper in the soil. There are also commercial deterrents available that you can mix in the soil. We would be happy to recommend one for you.
Chewing can be a sign of distress, separation anxiety or boredom. By chewing, dogs are not only entertaining themselves, but it causes the release of certain hormones that make them feel better. Rather than try to stop the chewing, get your dog to chew things that are acceptable to both of you. There are dozens of rawhide or porky treats on the market that your dog would love. There is also a range of toys that can be stuffed with food and make your dog work hard to extract every crumb. Not only do these satisfy the chewing urge, they also provide stimulus and activity. Kongs, Treat Balls and Buster Cubes are excellent examples of these. We would be happy to recommend the best one for your pet.
Boredom – a major cause of dog behaviour problems
You can’t expect your dog to sit in the yard without stimulus. A dog needs to be walked, exercised and socialised. Sydney has loads of dog parks where your dog can be let off lead to play with you and other dogs. Socialisation with other dogs is important.
When you go to work, leave interactive toys for your dog to play with. A Frisbee is only fun if you’re on the end of it. Leave toys that roll, make noise or bounce. Also, consider making an arrangment with another dog owner and taking turns at having the dogs at your house one day and at theirs the next. That way they have a playmate all day. Or even better, get another dog for yours to play with.
If you have any questions regarding animal behaviour, feel free to speak to one of our knowledgeable vets at Sydney Animal Hospitals.