I recently got a suggestion to do a Friday’s Facts post on dogs & their nervous habits (shout out, thanks Tina!). This got me thinking about my own dogs. Oscar doesn’t seem to have any nervous habits…he just wants to conquer the world, and find food! Lucy however does have some nervous habits. She licks and chews her paws, so much in fact that I don’t have to clip the nails on her left front paw. (For some reason, that is the only paw that she chews on.) She also is a big licker in general, and actually so is Oscar. It drives me crazy! I have started to enforce a “No Lick!” policy, and they seem to get it…sometimes. So anyway, I did some research on nervous habits & what we can do to help our doggies chill!
Popular Nervous habits: chewing, licking, digging, excessive barking, jumping, and piddling (small dribbles of pee). Some breeds are actually prone to some of these habits, so do your research before ADOPTING your new pet. (did you get my subliminal message there?!)
The problem with nervous habits in dogs is it’s mostly a mental issue. So the trick is finding out what is causing it, if it can be “fixed”, and if so, how. Here is a little breakdown of the common habits, and what you can try to curtail it. Now, let’s assume that none of these habits are due to medical conditions…
Chewing/licking: Excessive chewing/licking can be caused by stress. Common stressors are separation anxiety, a new family pet, or a change in diet. Major changes should always be done with patience, extra love, and time. If you are adding a new family pet, be sure to do introductions before committing, and give lots of love and attention to the residing pet. If you are changing food, always do it gradually, mixing new with the old. And if separation anxiety is an issue, there are a few things you can try. You can leave the dog alone for very short amounts of time, gradually increasing the time. A crate will and should be your pup’s bff! Let your dog learn that the crate is their safe place, and that you will soon be back to let them out. You can also try a thunder shirt, and/or rescue remedy. I have used, and recommend, both products. Frozen Kongs are also great to distract your dog while you slip out of the house. Here is a great website with lots of yummy, dog friendly receipes: http://www.labmed.org/catalog/kong2.html.
Don’t put your dog in a bad situation. If you know they have separation anxiety, don’t leave them out loose! They WILL destroy something, and it could be dangerous, depending on what they get into. Practice & consistency are key! Also, if they are escape artists, try a plastic crate. These can actually be better for anxious dogs, and they’re very hard to get out of! Another reason for this habit is pent up nervous energy. Be sure your dog is getting ample exercise, and has other things to play with and chew on. When I notice Lucy chewing on her paw, I say “No chewing!” and then I give her a toy. 9 times out of 10, it works. She is distracted by the toy, and completely stops the chewing. On the rare occasion that it doesn’t help, then I investigate. I look to see if she has a wound, or extra dirt on her paw. Sometimes just rinsing her paw with water helps. And if all else fails, I spray her paw with an all-natural spray that is designed to deter chewing.
Digging: Many times this habit is from too much energy and boredom, or it is attention seeking. It is important to remember not to punish the dog after the fact. If you catch them in the act, firmly say “No dig!” (or whatever phrase you choose to use.) Be sure to leave outside toys for the dog. Again, Kongs are great, durable toys. I have also heard that you can sprinkle cayenne pepper in soil, and that will deter your dog from digging. Make sure there is adequate shelter to avoid heat, cold, or rain, too. If your dog is digging to escape, you can try putting chicken wire at the bottom of the fence (point sharp edges away from the yard). Also, exercise and socialize your pup! If the dog gets plenty of exercise, and gets to meet lots of friends on a regular basis, chances are they won’t be bored when in their own backyard, they won’t have too much pent up energy, and they won’t be trying to escape to see the world!
Excessive Barking: I think this is one of the hardest ones to correct, because your instinct is to
shout “Shut up!” politely ask your dog to hush. The best thing to do is completely ignore the behavior. If you reward the dog with any attention, even if it is negative, the habit will continue. The hard thing about this habit is that sometimes, barking is good. So, how do you teach your dog to know when enough is enough? You can train the “quiet” command. This includes making the dog sit, and not make a peep. You can also train the dog to go to their crate. For example, someone knocks at the door, and your dog barks. Before opening the door, or shouting at the top of your lungs, calmly get your dog to go into their crate & reward them with a treat. This will teach your dog that it is ok to bark, but then they need to go settle down. If your dog barks at other dogs while out, use treats to reinforce the good behaviors. The second your dog starts to bark, turn the other direction, and make them sit quietly. Once they have accomplished this, reward with a treat or a pat. You will need to practice this multiple times, but with repetition and consistency, you should be able to stop this habit.
Jumping: I wish Cesar Millan would come to my house for this habit! Lucy is a major jumper. She becomes a kangaroo at the sight of any human, and just wants to give them French kisses all day long! It doesn’t matter if she knows you, if you are big or small, if you are a dog lover or not, she wants to make contact with your mouth! Now, I don’t have a problem with Lucy jumping on me. Only once in a blue moon does that happen. Everyone else though is fair game, in her eyes! I have even taken her to obedience training, and at the end the trainer actually said “well you know, some dogs just have that one bad habit that you can’t get rid of, and I think this is her’s.” This was the ONE thing I had her in training for, so you can imagine my disappointment, but anyway…I went online to see what the official dog whisperer has to say about this topic. See his full article here. Some tips that might be helpful: when guests arrive, ask your dog to sit patiently; do not reward the negative behavior by giving attention; be firm, calm, and consistent with instruction; use a leash to assist you with training, placing your foot on the leash to leave only enough lead for the dog to sit comfortably, this will keep the dog from being able to jump during an interaction. I think I am going to start trying this leash method, and practicing on a regular basis. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Peeing/Piddling/Submissive Urination: This habit usually happens when the dog is being greeted. Sometimes it is a way of communicating that they are not a threat. Other times it is just out of pure nervousness or excitement. Many times the dog will grow out of this habit as they mature. The best thing to do for a pup with this habit is take them outside immediately. Do not greet them or give any attention until they are outside, and have gone potty. Then reward them with excited praise, lots of pats, and treats. The pup will catch on quickly! Also, a very interesting tip, when you initially greet your dog, pet them under the chin or on their chest. This is a less threatening way to say hello, and your dog won’t feel the need to show that they are submissive. Also make sure to bend down to the dog’s level, instead of looming over them.
Does your dog display a nervous behavior? How do you react to it: fix or ignore? If you have any specific behaviors you’d like me to research, please feel free to let me know!
*All of the dogs pictured in this post are available for adoption. They are all sweet, cuddly, and have nothing to do with the mentioned behaviors! 🙂 If you are interested, give me a shout!
Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!
PS-Tails of a Foster Mom is now on Facebook! If you are on Facebook, please check me out & “like” my page: Tails of a Foster Mom Facebook Page