Why Dogs Chase Their Tails
Tail chasing can be completely natural and harmless in some dogs, but signal a serious behavior problem in others. Knowing the difference may come down to why she chases her tail. Here are some reasons dogs chase their tails:
Entertainment: Puppies and young dogs may chase their tails as a part of normal play. Very young puppies might not even realize at first that their tails are attached! Since dogs are technically predators (genetically speaking) they are hardwired for motion. This is why some dogs chase moving objects and small animals. The tail is just an attached toy to some dogs. Many dogs will start chasing their tails when they get bored.
Health Problems: Your dog may not just be chasing her tail for fun. There could be something wrong in that area and she’s trying to bite at it. Most often, the issue is related to fleas, anal glands or some other skin problem.
If tail chasing is frequent, your vet should do a check-up.
Behavior Problem: Some dogs develop the unhealthy habit of near-constant spinning, tail chasing and nipping at their own tails and other body parts. Dogs can actually suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, often brought on by prolonged stress and anxiety.
Behavior modification and/or medication may be available to help these dogs.
Why Dogs Sniff Butts
Many people think of butt-sniffing among dogs as a type of greeting, but it’s so much more than that. Through sniffing, dogs are able to learn things about each other. Every animal has his or her own unique scent. This includes humans, dogs, cats, and all other animals. While you or I can only vaguely detect a personal scent, our dogs pick up a number of clues through their noses. These scents are especially potent around the genitals and anus (the location of the anal sacs, which collect odorous fluid).
Scents in this area can tell another dog about gender, reproductive status, diet, health status, temperament, and much more. A dog can also remember scents and therefore determine whether or not he has met this particular dog before.
So, when a dog meets another dog, they each have stories to tell. People make small talk at dinner parties.
Dogs sniff one another’s butts. It’s normal behavior.
Many dogs also try to find out more about humans through, ahem, crotch-sniffing. This is often much to our embarrassment. Don’t worry, it’s not a problem with you. It’s just canine nature. However, dog owners should discourage this behavior. If your dog is crotch-sniffing someone, please redirect him somewhere else! Otherwise, you may find that people really dislike your dog.
Normal Dog Head Tilt
Puppies are especially known for tilting their heads when they hear a new and interesting word or sound.
They may also do this when they see something they find strange and fascinating. When a dog tilts his head at a sound or sight, it almost seems as if he is saying “huh?” or “what is that?” He will cock his head to one side momentarily, then return his head to normal position. He might alternate the tilt to either side. Though the behavior is most common in puppies, it is considered normal in dogs of all ages.
Head tilting behavior in dogs is not fully understood. We know that we sometimes encourage it with our favorable responses. Our dogs learn that we like it, we find it cute, we give them attention, etc. They repeat the behavior, we reinforce it, and so on. In fact, you can even train your dog to tilt his head on cue!
There are theories that, by tilting his head, the dog is trying to get his head at a better angle to hear and/or see something. He might be trying to hear where a sound is coming from or look at something from a slightly different angle.
One brief study indicates that dogs may tilt their heads in an effort to better see our facial expressions past the visual obstructions of their muzzles. These theories make a lot of sense, but we may never know for certain why dogs tilt their heads. We do know that this type of behavior is relatively common, basically normal and seriously adorable!
Causes of Depression in Dogs
As a pet owner, how do you fight an invisible, inner enemy? The first step is recognizing the problem. Here are some of the causes of depression in dogs:
Physical Illness: Many health problems will cause dogs to act depressed. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice signs of depression in your dog. It is important to first rule out a physical cause for your dog’s abnormal behavior before things get worse. If your vet does find a health problem, follow the treatment recommendations.
Hopefully, your dog’s depression will improve once he recovers from the illness. If not, or if your vet has ruled out all the possible physical causes of depression, it is time to start looking at mental/emotional reasons.
Grief: Dogs mourn the loss of human and animal companions just as you do. Perhaps a housemate or neighborhood dog he played with is gone (vacation, moved away, died).
Or, maybe a child in your home has grown up and moved out. There is no way to explain this to your dog. Losing a playmate, especially an in-home playmate is often a reason for canine depression. We may not notice it very often, but pets definitely do grieve.
Fear: Your dog may have a fear or phobia that makes him seem depressed. Dogs sometimes show fear in different ways than you would expect. Your dog may be trying not to appear scared since that might make him more vulnerable. Instead, he just retreats from normal activities to protect himself.
Environmental Changes: Moving to a new home, a general change of scenery (like a renovation), or even the weather can adversely affect a normally happy dog. You can’t explain the reasons for such a dramatic change. It usually takes time for you dog to adjust to major environmental changes.
You (the owner): Are you depressed or sick? Your dog will be able to pick up on your energy and may begin to feel similar to how you feel. Or, your dog might be depressed if you are gone a lot. This may be similar to separation anxiety (but instead of “acting out” your dog gets depressed).
Unknown: In some cases, there is no known reason for the depression.
This can be very frustrating for you as an owner.
Any dog lover knows that panting is a typical doggie behavior. But you may wonder why it occurs, or whether your pet’s panting is excessive or unusual. Researchers have looked at dog panting to determine its causes; what they discovered may surprise you.
What Is Panting?
Moderate to rapid open-mouthed respiration is a normal dog behavior that lowers body temperature and also gets oxygen into the puppy’s bloodstream.
The panting dog breathes with his mouth open and tongue somewhat protruding.
Panting should not be confused with labored breathing. Labored breathing is characterized by strained respiration and may be accompanied by sounds of distress like crying or whining, or whistles from the nostrils or windpipe due to blockage.
What Does Panting Do for Dogs?
Most of us pant from time to time as we run, climb stairs, or otherwise exert ourselves. While dogs may pant while they exercise, though, they do it for different reasons. What’s more, no matter how fast they may pant, dogs won’t experience the dizziness of hyperventilation.
Panting as a cooling mechanism is necessary because dogs do not have an effective system of sweat glands like people do. Instead, dogs cool their bodies using the evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, and by exchanging the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air.
When the outside air temperature is the same or higher than the puppy’s normal body temperature of 102 degrees, panting won’t effectively cool off the puppy and can lead to heat stroke. Hot puppies may also resort to digging to scoop out cool places to rest.
Why Dogs Bark
It is important to understand that dogs may bark for a variety of reasons.
They do not bark just to annoy you and your neighbors, nor do they bark for spite or revenge. Dogs don’t bark just because they can (though it might seem that way at times).
Certain dog breeds bark more than others. In fact, some types of dogs were actually bred to be barkers. This may be so they could alert people about dangers, protect homes, or even scare prey out of hiding for hunters. On the flip side, the Basenji does not bark at all (though the breed can vocalize in other ways).
If you listen closely, you will eventually learn the sounds of your dog’s different barks. You may then be able to figure out what each bark means. Understanding the reason why your dog barks is the first step towards controlling the behavior.
In general, dogs will most commonly bark for the following reasons:
- Warning/Alert: It is natural for a dog to bark when someone is a the door or when strangers pass the house or car. Many will bark if they sense some type of threat, proclaiming “I’m here protecting this place so don’t mess with me.” The sound of this bark is usually sharp, loud and authoritative. Honing this instinct with training can help protect your home and family.
- Anxiety: Anxious barking often seems to be an act of self-soothing for many dogs. It is often high-pitched and sometimes accompanied by whining. This type of barking is common for dogs with separation anxiety.
- Playfulness/Excitement: This type of barking is especially common in puppies and young dogs. Many dogs will bark while playing with people or other dogs. Even the sound of the bark tends to sound upbeat and possibly musical. Some dogs will bark excitedly when they know they are about to go for a walk or car ride.
- Attention-seeking: When you hear this bark, you will usually know just what it means. This bark says “Hey! Hey! Look! Here I am!” Other dogs may whine and bark together to get attention, almost like the tone of a whining child.
- Boredom: The bark of a bored dog sounds like a dog that barks just to hear her own voice. Though it tends to be annoying, it is also kind of sad. Bored dogs often bark to release excess energy, and sometimes bark out of loneliness. They usually need an activity and perhaps even a companion.
- Responding to Other Dogs: This is probably a familiar scenario. One dog down the street starts barking, and one by one the rest of your block joins in. It’s like a cacophonous rendition of Row Your Boat.
Why Dogs Lean on People
The answer is as simple as it seems: dogs lean on people because they want to be close to them.
By nature, dogs are social animals. Most dogs enjoy physical contact with their humans. While smaller dogs can be picked up and cuddled (which might be part of the reason they jump) bigger dogs do what they can to get close. Some dogs are so affectionate that it seems they are trying to somehow get inside of us! They lean in with all their weight. Some sit on our feet, sleep with their paws on us, and snuggle up on the couch or bed.
Some sources claim that leaning is a sign of dominance in dogs. However, dog behavior experts have proven that the old canine dominance theories are incorrect. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dogs do not lean on us to assert any kind of dominance.
Some also say that leaning a way for dogs to take advantage of their humans. And while dogs can figure out how to elicit a certain response in us, it’s not because they are manipulative. It’s because we have shown them (perhaps inadvertently) that specific behaviors result in certain responses from us.
So, if you give your dog any kind of attention (good or bad) when she leans, then she will lean on you whenever she wants attention.
In some cases, leaning may be a sign of fear or insecurity. It’s true that dogs may cower or hide behind us when they are in fear, but that dog usually exhibits other signs of fear in addition to leaning.
Dogs in need of confidence may be fearful or insecure. If you think this is the case with your dog, then it’s best to ignore the leaning (don’t encourage or discourage it). Use training to boost your dog’s confidence.
The “leave it” command is used to prevent your dog from picking things up. It allows you to tell your dog not to touch the things that you don’t want him to have, like a child’s toy or a dirty tissue or any one of the hundreds of things he may try to pick up and chew. This command can also keep your dog from eating something that might be harmful to him.
“Leave it” is fairly easy to teach. Here’s how to do it:
What You Need
Keep Training Sessions Short
Training sessions should be kept short and upbeat. About 5 minutes for each training session is enough. If your training sessions go on too long, your dog may become frustrated and start making mistakes.
Show Your Dog a Treat and Give the Command
To start, take one of the treats in your hand, and allow your dog to see it. As soon as he is interested in the treat, give him the command “leave it,” and close your hand so that he cannot get the treat.
At first, most dogs will stick their nose in your hand and possibly nibble on your fingers or paw at your hand in an attempt to get to the treat. As soon as your dog stops trying and pulls away a little, praise him (or click your clicker) and give him a treat.
The treat you give him should be a different one then the one you told him to leave.
It’s very important that you keep the treat covered at all times when you are in the beginning stages of training this command. If you accidentally allow your dog to get a treat before you give the click or praise, he will try even harder to get the treat next time.
One or two mistakes will not make much of a difference, but if your dog is getting the treat a few times each training session, it is going to take him much longer to understand what “leave it” means.
Increase the Time and Distance
Once your dog is consistently backing away from your hand, you can make things more difficult by increasing the time you make him wait for the treat. In the beginning, you should give the dog a treat the second he pulls back from your hand. You can slowly add a few seconds until you are able to go several minutes while your dog waits patiently for his treat.
Next, you can begin to move the treat. Put it on the floor a foot or two away from your dog, but keep your hand close enough to cover it should your dog try to take it. Once your dog is consistently leaving the treat there, you can move it a little closer to him.
After several training sessions, you can begin to step away from the treat yourself. A good way to begin this is to drop a treat on the floor while you’re standing, and give the “leave it” command. Have a foot ready to cover the treat in case your dog makes a lunge towards it. Slowly increase your distance from the treat over several training sessions.
Soon you’ll be able to tell your dog to leave a treat on the floor when you are standing on the other side of the room.
The “wait” command tells your dog to wait to move forward until you release him. It’s helpful to prevent him from bolting out the door or out of his crate. It’s easy to teach your dog to wait.
Here’s how to do it:
What You Need
You don’t need any special equipment to teach your dog to wait. In this instance, instead of giving your dog a food reward, he’ll be getting a life reward. In other words, being allowed to go outside or get out of his crate is all the reward he’ll need.
When to Use the Wait Command
The “wait” command can be used in several situations. Use it before allowing your dog to go out into your yard, and before you walk him outside on a leash. You can also use “wait” when you are letting your dog out of his crate.
Teach Your Dog to Wait
You don’t have to have a separate training session to train your dog to wait. You should work on the “wait” command every time you let him outside or release him from his crate. Once you begin working on “wait,” your dog should never be allowed to bolt outside or lunge out of his crate.
When your dog is ready to go outside or get out of his crate, start by giving him the command “wait.” Open the door a little bit, and if lunges forward to get out, close the door quickly. Give him the command again. Each time you give the command, open the door slightly and close it quickly if your dog lunges forward to get out.
In the early stages of training, reward any hesitation.
If you give your dog the “wait” command, and he hesitates, praise him and open the door. As you open the door, use a command that lets him know it’s okay to move forward, such as “free” or “go ahead.”
Once your dog begins to “wait” when you give the command, make him wait a few more seconds before you release him.
Once he’s holding the “wait” command for several seconds or longer, you can begin to open the door a little wider. Be ready to close the door quickly any time your dog starts to bolt or lunge outside or out of his crate.
After practicing “wait” for a few days, your dog should be able to stand still with the door wide open until you give him the command “free” or “go ahead” to release him. Be sure to practice this from time to time and remember to frequently reward your dog for complying.
Does your dog know how to lie down on cue? All dogs should know how to lie down when asked. Teaching the “down” cue to your dog is almost as simple as training your dog to sit. This is an important basic command. Down can be very useful to help your dog relax in a hectic situation or to keep him in a stay for a long period of time. It’s also the first step in certain dog tricks, such as roll over.
When your dog is in the proper down position, his chest, elbows, and hocks are in contact with the ground. Ideally, your dog will remain down until you release him (many people use the word “okay” for the release cue). With practice, you can get your dog to perfect his down. This is an easy command to teach.
Training Your Dog to Lie Down
Before you begin, make sure you have plenty of tasty training treats to offer your dog. Ideally, the treats should be small, soft, and delicious to your dog. Set aside 5-10 minutes in a quiet area free of distractions. If you use clicker training with your dog, be sure to have your clicker handy.
- Get your dog’s attention and show him that you have a treat in your hand.
- Hold the treat in front your dog’s nose.
- Slowly move the treat towards the ground.
- As soon as your dog’s elbows and hocks are on the ground, give your dog the treat followed by petting and praising.
- Once your dog is consistently doing the down motion with the treat, add in the verbal cue. Say the word “down” clearly and firmly while moving the treat to the ground.
- Repeat step 5 until your dog lies down with only the verbal cue and no treat-guiding. However, it’s best to still give the treat at the end to reward the behavior.
- Hold short training sessions throughout the day in various locations, both indoor and outdoors. You want to train for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per day. Try to end the sessions positively. If needed, find another cue that your dog knows (like sit) and end with that, followed by a treat.
- If your dog does not lie down on his own after a few tries, avoid pushing him down into position. Dogs generally do not learn this way. In addition, do not yell at him or punish him. Instead, consider trying more valuable treats, like fresh meat. Try to be patient.
- If you are still having trouble getting your dog to lie down with treats, you can try marking the behavior. Next time he naturally lies down, say “down,” then praise and reward him. Try this every time you catch him lying down. You’ll probably need to carry treats with you if this is going to work. It’s fairly easy to capture behaviors with a clicker.
- When your dog responds quickly to the down cue, try gradually adding in distractions. You should also proof the behavior by training in multiple locations and scenarios.
- Once your dog becomes an expert at lying down, you no longer need to give a treat every time. It’s a good idea to give treats occasionally to reinforce the behavior. In addition, rewarding with praise is always a good idea.
Positive reinforcement can be used on a wide variety of behaviors.
Using training methods such as leash corrections or other forms of punishment is not effective for every dog. In fact, in some cases, punishment can serve to make a behavior problem worse.
Aggressive dogs are one example of this. Very often aggressive dogs become even more aggressive in the face of punishment. Fearful dogs also may not respond well to even the smallest punishment. A dog who is scared of certain people or situations may become even more fearful when punishment is used as a training method. However, clicker trainers have reported some great success with using positive reinforcement to train aggressive and fearful dogs.
The mental workout can burn off some of your dog’s excess energy.
Boredom is a major factor in many of our dogs’ common behavior problems, such as digging and excessive chewing. Training is a great way to help keep boredom at bay. You may be surprised at how much energy your dog will burn off simply by adding a few short, positive training sessions to his day.
Positive Reinforcement is Fun!
If you keep training sessions short and upbeat, positive reinforcement training can be fun for you and your dog. Once dogs recognize that training leads to lots of good things for them, many dogs begin to view training sessions as playtime. Your dog will soon be offering you good behaviors in the hopes of getting his rewards, and you’re sure to get a smile out of his eagerness to learn.
It strengthens the bond between you and your dog.
For most of us, our dogs are our friends and companions. They become a part of our family. Positive reinforcement methods of training can help reinforce the bondwe have with our dogs. While other training methods may teach your dog how to behave, positive reinforcement will help you lead your dog while maintaining his trust and strengthening your relationship.
Put yourself in your dog’s place. Think about how you feel at work. If your boss asks you to do something and follows it up by physically pushing you to get you to do what he asks and never gives you a thank you afterward, how are you going to feel about him? Now, what if instead, your boss asks you to do something, and as soon as you’ve completed your task, he rushes in to say thank you and tells you what a good job you’re doing? Chances are you’ll feel much more favorably towards the boss who rewards you than the one who punishes you. And you’ll probably be willing to work harder for the boss who praises you, too.
The same is true for your dog. Your dog is much more likely to enjoy your company if he’s looking forward to being rewarded rather than fearing punishment. So spending time on positive reinforcement methods of training is sure to strengthen your bond with your dog.
Operant conditioning is a scientific term that describes the way animals learn from the consequences of certain behaviors. Positive reinforcement is a type of operant conditioning often used in dog training.
Clicker training, a common form of positive reinforcement, is a simple and effective training method. The clicker is a metal strip inside a small plastic box that makes a distinct clicking sound when pressed.
The click is much faster and more distinct than saying “good dog” and much more effective than using treats alone. To teach a dog the meaning of the click, a treat is given immediately after clicking. Once the dog learns the positive effects of the clicking sound, the clicker itself acts as a conditioned reinforcer.
According to Alyssa Walker of Walker Dog Training, clicker training is not meant to completely replace the use of treats. The sound of the click instantly tells the dog that what he has done will earn him a reward. To emphasize this, clicks should frequently be followed by treats. Otherwise, the clicker will lose its effectiveness. “While some clicker trainers may not give a reward every time they click, pretty much all clicker trainers continue to follow the click with a reward,” says Walker. “It’s very important to use strong rewards a lot during initial training stages, and treats are often the strongest reward for a dog.”
Here’s how to you can easily train your dog to respond to the clicker before moving on to basic and advanced training. The following steps are often referred to as “loading” the clicker.
- Begin with your dog in a quiet area.
- Have a handful of your dog’s favorite treats ready. Ideally, this should be done when your dog is hungry.
- Press the clicker and immediately give your dog a treat. Repeat 5-10 times.
- You can test your success by clicking when your dog is not paying attention to
- you. If your dog responds to the click by suddenly looking at you, then looking for a treat, you are ready to move on.
- Next, begin teaching your dog basic commands. At the exact moment your dog performs the desired action, press the clicker. Follow with a treat and praise.
One of the best things about the clicker is the accuracy. “It’s like taking a photo of the exact behavior you’re rewarding,” Walker explains. The dog associates his action with the click and, subsequently, the reward. Not only does he better understand what he is doing, this also makes him more likely to repeat the action when asked in the future.
Clicker training can also be very effective for advanced training. “You simply click for small steps toward the behavior and work the dog toward the final, completed behavior,” says Walker. “This allows you to be totally hands-off (except for delivering the reward, of course). You don’t need to manipulate the dog into position, which can often slow the process.”
Overall, the clicker is a very valuable tool in the training process.
Can your dog play dead? Playing dead is a great dog trick. It looks impressive when you’re showing off to your friends, but it is actually rather easy to train a dog to do. Teach your dog to play dead, and he can be the life of the party!
What You Need to Train Your Dog to Play Dead
Grab your dog and a handful of his favorite treats, and you are ready to start training your dog to play dead. This is a great trick to train with a clicker.
If you decide to go the clicker training route, be sure to have your clicker handy.
How to Teach Your Dog to Play Dead
- Start by putting your dog in a down. If your dog doesn’t lie down on command yet, go back and work on that before you begin training him to play dead.
- Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose, and slowly pull it over to his side so he’ll have to roll over onto his side to get it. It helps if your dog already knows how to roll over, as he’ll already be familiar with the action of rolling onto his side.
- As soon as your dog is lying on his side, tell him “yes” or “good.” Or, click your clicker. Then, give him a treat.
- Repeat step two and three several times.
- After your dog has been able to complete the action a few times, add a cue word and a hand signal. Most people choose to use the verbal command “bang” along with a hand signal command, holding the fingers to look like a gun pointing at the dog. Others prefer to simply use “dead.” Of course, you can choose any word and hand signal you like.
- Give the chosen cue word and hand signal, then repeat step two and three.
- Practice this trick several times a day for a few minutes each time.
It won’t be long before your dog falls to his side in response to you “shooting” him with your pointing finger and saying “bang!” Some people like to say a fun phrase, like this: “Would you rather be a cat, or would you rather be dead?” It’s hilarious to see a dog play dead after that one!
- If your dog already knows how to roll over, his natural inclination might be to go all the way over when you start to lure him onto his side. This is a great time to get your clicker out to capture the exact behavior you want. Lure your dog onto his side with a treat, and click your clicker immediately and give him a treat. If he tries to keep rolling over, step away for a minute. When your dog realizes that the treat disappears when he rolls completely over, he will most likely stop doing that, and only offer the behavior that gets him the treat.
- If you are having trouble getting your dog to follow the treat so that he ends up lying on his side, you can show him what you want him to do instead. Use the treat as a lure, and at the same time, you can very gently push him onto his side. As soon as he is in the correct position, click your clicker (or tell him “yes” or “good”) and give him a treat.
- If your dog jumps up from playing dead more quickly than you want him to, you can train him to lie there longer. Instead of giving him a treat the minute he lies over on his side, wait a few seconds, and then give him the treat. Practice this a few times, and then add a few seconds. In this way, you can slowly add more time until your dog will lie down and play dead for several minutes or more.
- If at any point in the training, your dog makes more than two or three mistakes in a row, chances are you’ve moved ahead too quickly. Go back a step or two and practice, and only when he’s successful at that step, begin moving slowly ahead again.
Remember to be patient and consistent. All dogs learn at a different pace. Keep training sessions upbeat and end the session if your dog seems frustrated, tired, or bored. Always try to end sessions on a positive note, even if that means switching to a simpler action like “sit” or down” as the last thing you do.