When a client’s normally well-behaved dog starts misbehaving or acting in an uncharacteristic manner for more than a few days, one of the things a dog trainer asks is if anything has changed in the dog’s environment. Any significant difference in the living situation or the dog’s routine can trigger behavior changes. We try to identify the apparent cause of the problem and work on ways to help the client remedy the situation.
I had the opportunity to observe this first hand after having knee replacement surgery a couple of months ago. My brother and sister-in-law were staying with me to help out while I recuperated and while they were looking for a new home. During the recovery period I had difficulty doing much requiring physical effort, so when my dogs’ manners started to slip I was unable to deal with the situation effectively.
I noticed that my two Shih Tzus started pooping in the house rather than letting me know they had to go outside. I was unable to get up quickly and send them into the yard when they started to look “iffy,” and they took advantage of the situation. These boys tend to be on the lazy side, and sneaking off to the hallway to relieve themselves was more attractive to them then letting us know they had to go out.
Barking became a problem. In a house with four dogs there is going to be noise, but they were carrying it to extremes. I wasn’t able to provide them with enough exercise, so the house became a doggy racetrack. Kiri, my Lab mix, “forgot” how to walk nicely on a loose leash and even began jumping on everybody, myself included. When the dogs were sent out into my fenced yard for exercise or potty duties, they occasionally developed a case of temporary deafness when called to come back in. In short, they acted as if they had never learned any manners.
I like to think that my pets are reasonably well-trained and well-behaved in most situations, so you can understand how I, a dog trainer by profession, was embarrassed to see the deterioration in their behavior. Lots of factors combined to help my dogs sink into this sorry state. There was a definite change in the household when my brother and his wife moved in. The population tripled, giving the dogs much more attention and stimulation than they were accustomed to. They were confused by unfamiliar command words from the new household members. My inability to move with ease meant that I couldn’t respond quickly and effectively when any correction of bad behavior was required, which pretty well meant that they were going to be able to get away with a lot more misbehavior than usual.
One of my Shih Tzus became very protective of me and would growl or snap at my poor sister-in-law when she was trying to help me with tasks I couldn’t accomplish by myself. Kiri had a tough time understanding that she was suddenly too big to jump into my lap even though she had been welcome to hop up previously. My somewhat anti-social Chihuahua didn’t deal well with people who came to visit and had to be isolated from company more than usual. My wheelchair, walker and cane were both tempting and scary to them.
The situation is beginning to resolve itself now. Sadly, my brother and his wife have moved to California now and it’s back to just me and my animals. I am not in need of as much help as previously and I can drive and get around on my own, so the number of visitors has decreased.
The wheelchair and walker have been packed away. And the dogs have discovered that I can get to them much more quickly now when I need to. It is once again possible for me to keep a close eye on the boys and get them outdoors when they start sneaking around looking for a place inside to potty. We ran through a brief refresher course on coming when called, and that’s no longer a problem. Kiri got a refresher session on not jumping up on me. I’m able to take her out for a bit of a run now and that has helped with the over-exuberance and barking in the house and even with pulling on the leash. With a little refresher training, they are back to being reasonably good citizens once again.
Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor and judge of canine events. She is a published author and contributes regular columns to several dog publications. She is currently a trainer at That Place for Pets and teaches weekly classes for the Allen Correctional Institution’s PETS Program