- MJ Stoltz
Is Your Dog Driving You Insane? If So, You Need To Read This!
Have you ever stopped to think about how wonderful our dogs are?
They bring us joy, make us laugh, give us someone to vent to and a purpose outside of ourselves. They force us to get some sunshine and take a break from work to ground ourselves.
Yet, despite all the great things about them, sometimes, they can drive us absolutely insane.
Barking at every little noise they hear.
Dragging us down the street like a sled.
Stealing food off of counters.
Jumping all over us, the kids, grandma, the neighbors and the mailman.
Getting into the trash.
Eating throw pillows.
Using the carpet as a restroom.
Getting under our feet and tripping us.
..the list goes on and on.
As a dog trainer, it’s rare that people call me just to tell me how wonderful their life with their dog is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s plenty of those people out there. But for most of us, communicating with our dogs isn’t always the easiest thing. After all, our dogs are an entirely different species from us. They think differently, communicate differently, and have different priorities than we do.
With our world becoming increasingly more modern, it’s no surprise that we struggle to live as harmoniously with our dogs as we did in the past. The relationship between dogs and humans goes back thousands of years, and within just the last hundred years the way we live with our dogs has changed drastically.
If your dog has been driving you nuts, keep reading. We’re going to go over some common reasons there may be some frustration between you and your dog… some of which you may never have considered.
Let’s dive in.
Is Your Dog Getting Enough Physical Exercise?
Ok, ok…. This is probably the most common issue that is assumed when a dog is being naughty. Whenever we’re having an issue with our dogs we always want to run to the age-old saying “a tired dog is a happy dog”. The thing is, sometimes this is true… and sometimes it’s not.
If your dog is having some behavior issues it’s very possible that they may not be getting enough exercise. Think about it like this.
Let’s say you have a dog who is built to be an athlete, but instead they spend most of their day inside, staring out the window, waiting for you to come home from work. When you finally get home, they can hardly contain their excitement. You happily greet them, and then take them outside to stretch their legs and relieve themselves. Maybe you take them on a quick walk around the neighborhood, or throw the ball around the yard. But all too soon, it’s time to get back to your own stuff. Your dog follows you around the house and lays around for the rest of the night. On your day’s off you try your best to take your dog out hiking or to the park, but sometimes that isn’t always possible.
We’re only human. And we live in a world where most of our time is spent on work, chores, and taking care of our families. We don’t always have the time we wish we did to give our dog’s the exercise they need.
The truth is, some dogs are okay with a short walk everyday. But, some need more than that. Think of the distance huskies run when pulling a sled. How many acres herding dogs run up and down everyday. Our dogs are incredible athletes. They’re bred to be. It’s in their DNA. Some of them don’t just want to run, they need to run.
Now, if day after day your dog isn’t getting the amount of exercise they need they’re bound to become frustrated. And that frustration can come out in some pretty obvious ways. They may literally be bursting with energy when you walk through the door, so they can’t help but want to jump and run circles around you. They may bark all day, or become destructive, because they’re so pent up and need an outlet while you’re gone for long hours. Then, when you’re finally home and trying to relax they may constantly be shoving a toy in your lap, nudging your hand for attention, or whining because they just can’t relax themselves. Sound familiar?
Or, if your dog isn’t getting enough exercise and it’s resulted in them being overweight… they may not feel good. Sure, they don’t look like an athlete anymore. But those drives to run are still there, and so is the frustration. But, if they can’t run for very long because of their weight it’s impossible for them to get all the pent up energy and drive to run out of their system. Excess weight can also cause joint pain and a plethora of other health issues… and let’s be honest, none of us are super pleasant to live with when we don’t feel our best.
If your dog isn’t getting enough physical exercise it might be contributing to some of those nuisance behaviors. But, if we’re having some behavior issues you can’t always just exercise them away. So, what else do we need to consider?
Is your dog getting enough mental exercise?
Have you ever been bored out of your mind? Can you imagine what it would be like if your significant other left you home, alone, with absolutely nothing to do, for hours, every single day?
Our dogs are outstandingly intelligent. Some breeds are known to be a little more intelligent than others, but regardless of your dog’s breed they’re still incredibly smart. If they weren’t we wouldn’t have been able to domesticate them to do things like herd sheep, guide the blind, find people who are stuck under an avalanche and alert to seizures before they happen. Do you have any other words to describe that than absolutely incredible?
Just like some dogs need more physical activity than others, some dogs need more mental exercise as well. Dogs who get bored tend to find ways to entertain themselves. Odds are if you’ve landed on this post, that phrase sent shivers down your spine.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to give our dog’s something to do 24/7. What it means is we need to find ways to challenge our dogs. To get their brains working. To give them an outlet that channels all that pent up mental energy into something appropriate.
How do we do this? Well, this may depend on your dog. Some dogs do well just by getting their meals out of puzzle feeders. But, if your dog needs something a little more challenging there are plenty of things you can teach them to do to get their brains working everyday.
My German Shepherd loves playing a search game with me. I have him hang out on his place while I go hide a toy. Once I’ve chosen my hiding space I walk back and release him, and he gets to use his nose to find it.
While he could chase a frisbee for 20 minutes without skipping a beat, after just a few rounds of this game with a difficult hiding spot, he’s much calmer than he would be after playing frisbee. His mind is calm. He got to use his brain and his natural drive to sniff to accomplish a task. And he always shows off just how proud he is after finding that toy.
For some dogs you can spend 10 minutes a day teaching a new trick, working on a structured walk, or even just practicing impulse control. Anything that requires them to think hard about what they’re doing.
If those aren’t quite cutting it for your dog, figure out what their drives are. For example, hounds like to use their noses, terriers like to dig and chase, and herding dogs like to herd. And, even if you aren’t sure what breed your dog is, pay attention to what they like to do… especially if what they like to do is something you consider annoying. Whatever it is, find a way to give them an appropriate activity with that drive that challenges their brain.
Could Your Dog’s Diet Play A Role in Behavior Issues?
The short answer? Absolutely.
Imagine you’re sitting in chemistry class. You’re super dehydrated, which is causing a dull headache. And you haven’t been eating well lately…. As a matter of fact, you don’t even remember the last time you ate a fruit or a vegetable. You’ve basically been living off of fast food and cereal. Your stomach doesn’t feel great, you’re sluggish, and you’re having trouble concentrating. You just want to go lay down. Odds are, you’re not going to remember most of what your teacher is explaining in class today… and you feel so crappy that you don’t really even care.
Now, imagine your sitting in chemistry class. You slept great last night, you’re hydrated, you’ve been eating nutritious food all week. Your head is clear and focused, you have energy and are excited to learn and work with your teacher to move forward in your education.
It’s easy for us to think of our dogs as robots. While we love them, and we know they need food and water to survive, we don’t often stop to think that they can have bad days just like us. As long as our dogs aren’t exhibiting a clear and obvious physical symptom, we always just assume they’re healthy.
Did you ever stop to wonder if your dog had a headache? If, even though their stomach isn’t necessarily upset, it just kind of aches? If their brain feels foggy, or if they just don’t have the mental energy to focus?
Unfortunately our dogs can’t speak to us and tell us how they’re feeling. As humans, we hardly understand our own nutrition. I mean, one year coconut oil is great ,the next it’s not. And even if we did have an accurate understanding of our own nutrition, what my body needs and what your body needs could be completely different. The same goes for our dogs.
While dehydrated, freeze-dried, and raw diets are starting to become more popular, most of us still feed kibble. Why wouldn’t we? It’s convenient, affordable… and we’ve sort of been brainwashed into thinking it’s the only “healthy” option for our pets. The pet food industry is a multi-billion dollar market which is designed to convince us to continue buying their products.
I could go on a whole tangent about diet, but I’ll refrain. However, setting aside what you’ve been told about kibble, I want you to consider this:
Would you ever consider eating a cereal that claimed to have all the nutrients you needed to survive, and then continue to buy the exact same brand, and flavor, every single day for the rest of your life while eating nothing else?
...You probably would never do this for yourself or your kids. So, why on earth are we doing this to our dogs?
Commercial dog food has only existed for about 100 years now. In fact, “kibble” only really became a popular option after World War II… That’s less than 100 years ago.
In the last 100 years our pet’s health has taken a nosedive. Cancer and chronic diseases are at epidemic proportions. It’s estimated that one in every two dogs today will get cancer at some point in their lifetime. Can we really believe that we as humans don’t have a direct hand in this?
Now, before I lose you, I’m not saying any of us are bad dog owners for feeding kibble. What I’m saying is that it’s important to educate ourselves on the foods we’re feeding. The pet food industry is not well regulated, and manufacturers can get away with selling very deceiving pet food labels.
We can’t expect our dogs to be on their best behavior if we don’t set them up for success by making sure we feed them a healthy diet that supplies their body with the nutrients it needs to truly be healthy and allow them to be the best version of themselves.
Lastly, Is It Possible That Our Dogs Need More Clarity?
Something that I see time and time again is a situation where we are absolutely positive our dog is being stubborn and flat out disobeying us…. When in reality our dogs genuinely don’t understand what we’re asking them to do.
Let’s dissect this a little further.
In order for a dog to be disobedient he must first completely and clearly understand what is being asked of him and choose to not comply.
To us, what can appear to be disobedience is often just confusion.
As humans we’re very good at applying something that we learn to a broad array of situations. Our dog’s aren’t able to generalize as well as we can. It’s also important to remember that they communicate very differently than we do.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you spent a lot of time teaching your dog how to sit, lay down, and come back to you. You made sure you practiced this at home quite a bit when you first got them. Your dog got plenty of practice throughout the house and in the backyard. Your dog listens to you at home every time you give these commands.
But, when you take your dog on a walk and you run into other dogs, every command seems to go in one ear and out the other. Your dog is lunging at the end of the leash with excitement, barking and embarrassing you. You start getting frustrated and telling your dog to sit, or to come with you in the other direction, and your dog ignores you.
This must be disobedience, right? Not necessarily.
Just because your dog understands what “sit” means in the quiet comfort of your home, or around mild distractions, doesn’t mean they understand what “sit” means when the environment is full of difficult distractions such as unruly dogs, squirrels, or loud and unfamiliar noises. They aren’t able to generalize the command in the same way we can. We need to show them what “sit” means in all the different “pictures”.
Usually when we’re teaching our dog’s these commands we’re calm and having fun during a training session. In a stressful or embarrassing situation we’re likely to be frustrated and change our tone of voice entirely.
Our dog’s don’t actually understand what the definition of “sit” is, they just associate a certain sound we make with a certain behavior they should do. If your tone of voice is different they may not understand the command when your shouting, tense, or panicked.
Clarity can also be a factor for behavior problems that happen within the quiet comfort of your home.
Our dog’s aren’t mind readers, and a lot of the behaviors we consider a nuisance aren’t actually “bad behaviors”. They’re normal dog behavior. The things we like them to do are often unnatural and need to be taught. If we spend too much time telling them what not to do, and not enough time teaching them what to do, they’re bound to be confused and get frustrated.
If your dog has a bad habit, next time they do whatever it is I want you to try to pay attention to the words you say. If you’re telling them what not to do with phrases like “no”, “Stop”, “quit it” or “off”, instead try telling them exactly what you do want them to do (like sit, come, or go lay on their bed). If your dog is too overstimulated to understand your words, use their leash to guide them. Odds are, adding a little clarity to the situation can go a long way.
While our dogs are valued members of our families, it can be difficult to remind ourselves that we’re doing them no favors by ignoring the fact that they are a different species with their own fundamental needs. Even I need to remind myself sometimes to step back and look at the bigger picture. Obedience is important, but if a dog isn’t getting what they need on a fundamental level reaching your obedience goals will be a whole heck of a lot harder.