Ah, man’s best friend. Dogs become cherished family members and add so much to our lives.  But sometimes, our best friends can exhibit less-than-friendly behavior. This can not only cause friction in your home, but also in your community.  The good news is, however, that often the only difference between a good dog and a not-so-good dog is training.

“Giving your dog the tools to cope with today’s busy lifestyle by providing some basic training can make you and your dog ambassadors of cooperation, understanding and good will to everyone you meet,” says Stephanie Rodgers, Manager of Behavior and Training Services at the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida. “Spending the extra time to work on training with your dog strengthens your bond, and it also makes him a more enjoyable pet – for both you and your neighbors.” 

Any good property management company will tell you that many of the most common community complaints concern pets. So here’s a look at some effective ways to help make your dog a good community citizen and minimize issues with your neighbors.  

1. Take a basic training class.

Few dogs are “born” great. An exceptional pet is made, and taking your dog to a class that teaches basic sit/down/stay commands is a great way to start. As a bonus, spending this time together can strengthen your bond and make additional training easier later on. This can also help alleviate potential problems, like excessive barking or separation anxiety. 

2. Train in the right environment.

Make sure everyone in your household is following the same rules of training. If other adults or children – and that includes neighbors in your community – give your dog conflicting commands, it will only cause confusion.  Always create a calm, quiet environment for your dog when training (in fact, calm behavior should always be rewarded). Don’t get your dog over-excited, and never use physical punishment. 

3. Reduce (or eliminate) separation anxiety.

If your pet gets upset when you leave, practice very calm greetings and farewells when you’re coming and going. Practice leaving the home to get your dog used to being apart from you. And when you go, vary your routine – this will reduce the “triggers” of separation anxiety. In fact, you may want to go through the motions of leaving (putting on a jacket, grabbing your keys) and then just sitting with your dog. When you go, consider leaving the radio or TV on (just play something calm at a lower volume). Toys help, too. 

4. Stop the jumping. 

A dog that jumps up on you is after one thing: attention. So the last thing you want to do is reward this behavior by giving your dog what he or she wants – even if that’s a scolding (to a dog, even bad attention is better than none at all). When jumping occurs, ignore it completely. Cross your arms and turn your back. When your dog finally has “four on the floor,” calmly praise this calm behavior instead.  

5. Bust the barking. 

Incessant barking is a nuisance for everyone – especially your neighbors. To reduce it, start by eliminating distractions your dog might be seeing outside. Draw the curtains or close your blinds. Leave plenty of toys around to keep your dog busy. And when you’re outside, supervise your pet – just be sure not to reward barking with any kind of attention, even scolding. Instead, wait for a quiet moment and reward it, or redirect with a simple reward-worthy command like sit or stay. Exercise and play may help reduce unwanted barking, as can learning the “speak” command. Remember, certain breeds may always be barkers, so doggie day care may be the answer. 

6. Helping with fear.

Some dogs fear certain noises, like fireworks, thunder, sirens or vacuum cleaners. Help manage these fears in the moment with soothing touch, treats, or a distracting game. You can also plan ahead for potentially stress-inducing events or occasions (like the 4th of July) by spending the day exercising and playing with your dog so he or she is calm and relaxed before the fireworks begin. Provide a safe place with some favorite toys. And if you’d like to try some counter-conditioning, you can actually expose your dog to the fear-inducing noise by recording it and playing it at a very low volume while you provide food or play a favorite game. Repeat this process in short sessions, gradually raising the volume of your recording each time. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to force your dog to interact with something that’s causing fear – it’ll just make things worse. 

7. Seek help from professionals.

Many common nuisance behaviors are easily corrected with the right training and techniques.  Many shelters and rescue groups provide training tips or even access to animal behavioral experts. Be sure to tap into these resources for help when you need it.

Remember, no change in behavior will happen overnight. Training your dog takes time and patience, but it allows you to spend quality time with your best friend – and your neighbors will thank you. For more tips on how to keep your pet community-friendly, contact FirstService Residential.
Thursday February 26, 2015