Dogs don’t always cater to human etiquette. They don’t understand that the leftover cheeseburger in the trash can isn’t a snack, and will often rely on their natural instincts (such as barking and even biting) when faced with a situation they perceive to be threatening. Thankfully, there are things you can do to ensure that you live happily and harmoniously with your canine companion and reduce the possibility – and impact – of his behavior.
1. Train early and often. Dogs can be trained to do a number of things that make them a better roommate. For instance, they can be taught to limit barking, go to the bathroom in a specific location, and to cohabitate with other species. The secret to successfully training your dog is to start early, be consistent, and stop rewarding undesirable behavior. Anthrozoologist Dr. John Bradshaw explains to NPR that reprimanding your dog through physical contact isn’t effective, and that your dog will learn acceptable behaviors and reactions through frequent exposure to them.
2. Make his health a priority. Your dog, like every other member of your family, requires regular health care and preventative maintenance. If you happen to notice sudden mood changes, such as aggression, have your puppy checked out by his veterinarian. Your dog’s health and behavior are directly related. An animal that doesn’t feel well is more likely to be short tempered and display his disdain by growling or biting.
3. Teach children how to interact with your dog. Even the most even-tempered dog can only take so much. As soon as you bring your dog home, you should begin talking to your children about how they are to interact with him. Teach your kids never to reach their hand into his food bowl or to startle him while he sleeps. Children should always be gentle with dogs, no matter how much larger or smaller they are than the child. If you want to avoid a disaster, make sure your children know how to recognize their dog’s body language.
4. Lessen messes. Messes are an inherent part of pet ownership. Many aren’t even your dog’s fault. Shedding hair and dander can’t always be eliminated, even with proper bathing and grooming. Make sure you have the right kind of vacuum with multiple attachments to remove hair from even the hardest-to-reach places, and don’t forget to change your home’s air filters regularly. About a quarter of adults in the US don’t change out their filters as often as they should – a big mistake for pet owners, since the same study found that 40 percent of people surveyed found pet hair and dander on their filter the last time they replaced it. Staying ahead of pet-related build-up will protect the health of everyone in your family, including your pooch.
Other issues that can be blamed on your dog, such as trash can contents being scattered on the floor, can be prevented by restricting the dog’s access to unintended food sources. Dogs who show signs of separation anxiety may also display destructive tendencies; the ASPCA notes this could be anything from chewing everything in sight to eliminating his bowels and bladder in inopportune places. HuffPost recently ran a two-part series on how to cure separation anxiety; it’s an interesting read with great advice on how to mitigate behavioral issues associated with being left alone.
5. Keep him safe. One of the best ways to prevent an unfortunate situation is to keep Fido protected with a collar that includes current identification. You’ll also need to maintain a close eye on your companion while outdoors, and seek shelter and shade regularly when you’re outside in the heat. Install a secure fence around your property, which will keep other dogs out while ensuring that yours stays safe at home. Ask your veterinarian about flea, tick, heartworm, and parasite prevention to reduce the chances that your dog will contract a fatal disease.
As much as you want to believe your dog has human traits, the fact of the matter is that he’s an animal. Hundreds of thousands of years of domestication can’t erase his natural instincts. Don’t let a miscommunication between you and your pet end in disaster. Teach your entire family to speak his language and help him understand and acclimate to your home. With patience, planning and preventative actions, your dog can truly be your best friend.