Pet or penance? How to get that pooch to be good

Kya deLongchamps explores some common and baffling problems when it comes to dogs’ behaviour around the house. Do owners need as much polite retraining as their hairy companions? And is there really such a thing as ‘the outdoor dog’.

Many of us have had the experience of returning to the chaos of a house taken apart by a single vandalising dog.

Some dear pets content themselves with disembowelling the sofa or violently murdering shoes, but larger, more determined darlings can target walls, skirting and doors with nails and teeth leaving considerable structural damage.

Why do they do they betray us in a warm, protected territory they clearly know well? 

Based in Louth, Dr Maureen Byrne CCAB is a certificated clinical animal behaviourist with B.Sc. (Hons) in Zooology and Masters in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare from Newcastle University. 

She explains that destructive behaviour can signal deep anxiety problems that can go otherwise undetected even by a loving owner.

“Dogs have been bred for generations to rely heavily on social interactions with humans, and whilst having another dog for company sometimes helps, many anxious dogs will remain distressed to some degree until they are reunited with their owner.

Pet or penance? How to get that pooch to be good

“Anxiety results in problem behaviours that the dog uses to relieve the stress, such as self-comforting chewing and barking, and so these behaviours can become established as coping mechanisms for dogs that are left alone for too long, or too often.”

I must admit that when faced with a sofa throw liberated into six pieces, my positive reinforcement takes the form of leaping around loudly questioning the parentage of my own three dogs.

Maureen points out that this is the time to be pack leader not a baying wolf.

“Distraught owners often make the problem worse by punishing the dog upon their return, but this only serves to increase the dog’s anxiety levels.

“Anxious dogs need to be helped using a sympathetic, systematic behaviour modification program.”

I would add that the very nature of some dogs such as the JRTs (Jack Russell terriers) who own me, is to tear. Tearing and pulling is fun, and loose fabric signals a hilarious skid-around-the house free-for-all — they will pick out their prey behind your back, ‘gutting’ whatever takes their fancy. 

Pet or penance? How to get that pooch to be good

I hesitate to say JRTs are ‘un-trainable’ but depending on the breed, the deeply rooted instincts of some dogs are more pliable than others.

What some would term the ‘furry-bunny’ division (of which Ms deLongchamps is an undoubted member), have started to espouse the passionately-held belief on social media, that there’s no such thing as an ‘outside dog’. 

The ISPCA’s re-homing criteria is as follows — “it is preferred that a dog is homed as a house-pet, however if homed as an outside dog it must have access to a kennel during the day and either a garage or shed at night. Puppies will not be homed to sleep outdoors”. (Standards for rehoming, www.ispca.ie ).

Still, there’s a lot of difference between a well constructed, appropriately-sized, clean kennel without draughts from the prevailing wind, soft bedding and access to water and some of the horrendous conditions some owners see as fitting for their family pet 24/7, year-round.

Leaving a dog tied or chained is not advocated by the ISPCA for any length of time, and they also insist on larger gardens for larger dogs, and a good standard for any kennelling.

Maureen is measured in her attitude, advocating balance and reaffirming the importance of plenty of human company during some part of the day.

Pet or penance? How to get that pooch to be good

“Whilst I’ll always advocate that dogs, even working dogs, spend time indoors with their owners, the effect of separation tends not to be too bad for dogs who live outside but spend plenty of time with their owners in the outdoors, such as working collies or farm dogs.

“The biggest problem behaviourists see is dogs that are kept in a back garden for hour upon hour ever day with little to do, or dogs left alone by their owners who work long hours. 

These are the dogs that are most likely to develop behavioural problems associated with social isolation, such as destructiveness, barking, or house soiling.”

I was reviewing a lovely old house in Cobh last week, and during the visit was followed by a stunning, but highly eccentric collie. 

She signalled her delight at meeting me by beating me firmly with a full size watering can she carried around at all times. Described affectionately by her owner as a ‘nut’, I was only surprised this charming canine loolah didn’t belong to me. 

As we went to go upstairs, the owner of this otherwise exquisite, sophisticated adult space pulled a 2 metre square of plywood across the bottom of the stairs with a heavy sigh.

Is there any way to keep dogs out of some areas of the house without compromising their sense of inclusion and security?

“Dogs can be trained using gentle, ethical training techniques to stay in certain areas of the house. However, it is a good idea to also use barriers such as baby gates to curtail the dog’s movements around the house.

“Baby gates allow the owner to control access, but the dog can still see what’s going on, and does not feel as isolated as he might behind a closed door.

“That said, the emphasis should always be on maximising the one-to-one social contact your dog can have with humans.”

Choose the materials for the rooms to which any pets have access with care. Expect the odd fouling incident, and remember that furniture is simply one big useful towel to a wet dog, who will squirm its way across delicate fabric on couches and chairs without demur.

 The new family of dedicated animal vacuums and brush heads are a good weapon to fight dander and hair, which frankly, will always be lightly sprinkled over a dog owners’ home.

The cleaner you keep your dog and their bedding, the cleaner the house will be. Change and shake out all blankets and beds regularly. 

Some breeds and cross-breeds with tight, short or curly hair, shed less and there are even relatively hypo-allergenic varieties including, the Bedlington terrier, the Bichon Frise, the Irish Water Spaniel and the Kerry Blue. 

All these dogs do need regular grooming — best performed out of doors, if anyone in the home has a respiratory or allergy-based condition.

“Owning a dog is very rewarding and contributes greatly to our own wellbeing. However, to foster a harmonious relationship, dogs who live inside need to be gently and consistently taught how to behave nicely whilst inside, says Maureen.

“Positive, gentle training is vital to help to housetrain them, to teach our dogs not to jump on visitors, to cope with periods of being left alone at home without damaging furniture, and to shape their behaviour so that they become a pleasure to share our homes with. 

"The rewards of doing so will pay off many times over, as we get the most out of the unparalleled relationship between human and dogs.”

Dog-chipping becomes compulsory in March 2016. Get your dog to a vet now beforecharges go up.

Dr. Maureen Byrne, can be reached through her website, dogsbehavingbadly.ie. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Ireland deal in everything from puppy socialisation to re-training and can be reached at www.apdt.ie 


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