Dog owner asks vet about pet’s behavior

Q. A reader asks what to do about a seven-year-old dog who has been urinating in the living room when he is allowed to roam the house. If he is put in the mud room, he doesn’t urinate, but when he has access to the living room, he always does.

A. There are many dogs that were once trained but over time develop behaviors that become problematic. When the bad behavior begins, it usually only occurs occasionally and then slowly it becomes more frequent in nature. Sometimes owners don’t even realize the behavior is progressing until it is too late and it is part of the dog’s daily routine.

Once a pattern of bad behaviors is recognized, the first step owners should take is making sure the pet doesn’t have a medical condition. A veterinarian should look for any illness that could be the underlying cause of the behavior. Once it is established that the pet is healthy, the type of behavior needs to be determined and practices to retrain the pet implemented.

Urinating in the house is one of the most common problems that owners face. The more space and freedom a pet has, the more opportunities it has to form bad behaviors over time. Dogs that have developed separation anxiety while owners are gone frequently urinate in the house. They will also defecate in the house, chew things in the house, get into the garbage, and bark incessantly. They are so stressed when their owners are gone that they resort to destructive or hurtful behaviors.

Dogs have to earn the right to have freedom in the home. Many owners believe that restrictions placed on a dog in the house is somehow a punishment or cruel to the dog. Most dogs feel more comfortable with order and rules. The more an owner can instill good behaviors while they are home as well as a consistent routine when they are gone, the better the chance of having a dog that will be on its best behavior every day. In certain situations, these restrictions even keep the dog safe because destructive behaviors can be dangerous to a dog’s health.

Some owners have also labeled confinement as a form of punishment, but many dogs feel that this area is their safe place. These dogs even view their crate/kennel as the place where they feel the most comfortable when their owners are gone; it becomes the dog’s den, a natural place dogs instinctively seek out. If a dog is behaving well in a certain place in the house, no matter how small, it means that the dog is happy in that place. Therefore, the owner shouldn’t view it as a bad place. This can be one of the hardest things for owners to realize about their pets.

If a dog begins to break in training, retraining him for several months or more is necessary so the behavior doesn’t progress and can be resolved. It is best to go back to what was working when the dog was behaving well. This could mean returning to training techniques used when the dog was a puppy. This could even include going back to crate training that was used initially. If behaviors get so bad, input from a trainer or a veterinarian may be needed to reestablish control of the behavior.

It takes hard work to retrain a dog but it also can be hard for the owners to realize that rules and restrictions are good for the dog and should not be viewed as a form of punishment.

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