Sherry Davis

Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 12:45 PM

SHERRY DAVIS: Dog's behavior problems may be about its place in the pack

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Columnist Sherry Davis.

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By Sherry Davis

When dogs act out or behave poorly it is only a symptom of the real problem. I have found that the majority of problems exist among dogs who are confused about their place in the "pack" dynamic and given fluctuating boundaries for their behavior.

In essence, they are reacting to unbalanced and/or inconsistent feedback from their owners.

Erma writes that her Yorkie Lexie "is 5 lbs of love," but whenever they take her for a walk or travel she whines in excitement and the mere sight of people causes her to "yelp loudly" until she can get to them. Erma goes on to say, "She loves to go places and loves everyone so much, but she is out of control. We cannot calm her down so it spoils the fun of taking her out. What do we need to do to help our baby?"

Pertinent information that allows me to discover the origin of a problem includes:

* Breed

* Sex

* Age

* Socialization skills. How comfortable is the dog, not just in its interactions with other dogs, but also around strangers, sights or situations that it is unfamiliar with?

* Environmental differences. Is the dog as at ease in public situations as it is at home? Or is it confident and territorial at home, but fearful or suspicious when out of its environment?

* The owner-dog relationship. Does the owner punish/spoil the dog? Has there been consistency in establishing and/or enforcing boundaries?

Lexie is a Yorkshire Terrier. Yorkies are high-energy, feisty little dogs. It's their birthright, and in Victorian England where they were renowned for taking down rats several times their size they were prized for their tenaciousness and determination.

Being a female is not a huge factor here. I have found neither males nor females in this breed to be more passive or aggressive, although dogs from some bloodlines appear to be a bit higher-strung and more reactive than others.

She is 4 years old, which is young in this long-lived breed, but this behavior that was imprinted during puppyhood was unintentionally encouraged and allowed to continue into adulthood. Lexie is well-socialized, which is a good thing, but has been allowed to become obsessive in attention-seeking, which is not.

As for the owner-dog relationship between Erma and Lexie, my "crystal ball" reveals an owner that became so enchanted with this tiny creature from the day it entered her life that she was thrilled for any opportunity to have people coo and aah over this tiny dog in excitement.

But from a dog's perspective, this is behavior displayed by pack members in celebration and submission to their leaders. Lexie became well-socialized, but in the process was taught that it was "all about her" and was allowed to initiate all human contact instead of taking her cues from Erma.

And since attention from others was always associated with excitement, when it wasn't immediately forthcoming her own peaked and she began to bark in frustration. Since this usually provided results, it confirmed her behavior choice and eventually escalated to the point that just the sight of another person became the trigger for her barking.

And as I look deeper into past behavior, I believe I also see a frustrated (or is it embarrassed?) Erma picking Lexie up, stroking her and saying "It's OK Lexie" in an attempt to calm the dog during these outbursts, which unknowingly served to reinforce her behavior.

Lexie was in control and Erma, her fawning minion.

So how does Erma change this? First, she has to make a commitment to changing Lexie's behavior, as well as her own.

The next step is to work with Lexie on some basic commands and teach her behaviors to substitute for those that are objectionable. Training will teach Lexie that Erma is the leader in the relationship and makes the rules for engagement in social situations, and Erma will learn how to block Lexie's behavior before it goes into a high-excitement level, which includes controlling all meet-and-greets with other people.

It will get harder before it gets easier because there's too much terrier in a yorkie to give in without a fight.

But Lexie CAN learn that only calm behavior will get her the attention she craves.

And Erma must accept that inside her little "baby" beats the heart of a lion that needs taming.

Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@yahoo.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.

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