http://www.everydayhealth.com/pet-health/pet-health-articles.aspx By Jaimie Dalessio, Senior Editor
From eating off the table to scavenging inside drawers and under beds, dogs aren’t always making the smartest choices for their health. Chewing on a rock sounds normal — and downright pleasant — for a Golden Retriever left unattended in the backyard. In the kitchen, a pup might not think twice before pouncing for a meal left on the counter.
As pet owners, it’s our job to steer pets away from their bad habits to keep them healthy. But as humans we know breaking bad habits is easier said than done.
Correcting these habits will be easier on you both if your dog is trained properly. Dog behavior expert and trainer Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA, suggests training classes in puppyhood, but “they can be trained at any age,” she says. “They can still learn to listen.”
Read on for some of man’s best friend’s most common bad health habits — and what you can do about them.
The Dog That Eats Off the Table
Experts call it counter surfing. And it’s a bad habit for any hound. Not only is it rude, but eating “people food” can also be dangerous, depending on the item.
Beth Mullen, a certified dog trainer and owner of Dog Latin Dog Training in the Washington, D.C. area, points out a handful of foods you don’t want your dog to get its paws on, including chocolate, avocados, caffeine, grapes, raisins, garlic, and walnuts.
“A dog who counter surfs or takes things off the table gets reinforced every time he succeeds, even if it’s just a crumb,” says Mullen. The first step in getting your dog to stick to its own meals, she suggests, is clearing all counters and tables. You also shouldn’t leave any of these items sitting pretty at the top of the garbage can.
Once the temptation is gone, get your dog in the habit of sitting down or lying on a mat in the kitchen — as opposed to circling the table waiting for something to drop — by reinforcing such good behavior. If you need help getting your dog to sit on the mat in the first place, Mullen suggests giving it a long-lasting chew toy or frozen marrowbones to keep it occupied.
If you can’t be there all the time, Wells recommends battery-operated training mats that give your dog a harmless but startling static charge if its paws touch the counter; they’re sold under brand names like ScatMat and Pawz Away.
The Lazy Dog That Gets No Exercise
This particular bad habit may be less your pet’s fault and more your own. Sorry.
“Dogs need physical and mental stimulation to keep them healthy,” says Mullen. Physical activity will also keep pets from behaving badly. Some experts suggest dogs get twice daily exercise. How long depends on the breed.
“Different breeds have aptitudes that may dictate exercise,” Mullen says. “However, like people, dogs are individuals.” Some may need more than others, so talk to your veterinarian about how much exercise your dog needs whether it’s a feisty puppy or a senior with health issues.
The Dog That Eats Rocks
This bad health habit is more common among puppies, according to Mullen, but it’s bad for young and old hounds alike. Chomping on a stone can break or chip a tooth, but swallowing a rock can cause a series of health problems — from stomach issues to bowel obstruction. The latter could leave you in the vet emergency room with a stack of medical bills for X-rays and surgery.
Mullen recommends keeping a close eye on pups known to run for the rocks. To build up an aversion to rocks in general, Wells suggests spraying taste-deterrent on the rocks along their walking route or in your own backyard. “If the dog does get a rock in the mouth, they wouldn’t find it pleasant. If they do it consistently, that aversion will develop eventually,” she says.
If neither works, you might have to outfit Fido with a muzzle.
The Dog That Sleeps in Your Bed
Snuggling with your dog when you go to sleep sounds cozy, but it might not be the best thing for the pup — or you. A small dog plus a heavy sleeper could equal a worst case scenario in which you suffocate your furry friend, Mullen warns.
What’s more common, she says, is a dog who doesn’t like to be disturbed in the middle of the night. It might snap at you when startled in the dark. Wells brings up another common bad habit among dogs in people beds — area-guarding. If a dog considers your bed is its own territory, you could have a problem with snapping, too. To break this bad habit, Wells suggests keeping the dog off the bed during the nights. Give the dog its own territory — a crate or a dog bed on the floor. The crate will be its home, making it a guest whenever it’s invited to lounge on your bed.
“Area-guarding is often a symptom of a larger problem called non- compliance behavior,” she says. “Making a dog earn what they have and limiting access to areas unless they are invited up onto them, will help them understand the owner is the head of the household.”
The Dog That Bites Its Skin and Fur
Dogs might bite their skin and fur for a number of reasons, from skin allergies and infections to emotional issues. All that gnawing and licking its own skin and fur could actually be a sign it has an obsessive compulsive disorder, says Wells.
Mental and physical stimulation by way of toys and exercise could help, but you might also need to put your dog on medication to make it stop.
The Dog That Gets Nosy
Nosy dogs may find themselves chewing on not-so-healthy treasures. They could get a heavy dose of medication from biting into an asthma inhaler pulled from a purse left on the floor, for example, causing a potentially life-threatening reaction.
“Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in chewing gum, baked goods, and toothpastes, can cause liver failure in some dogs,” says Mullen.
The easiest way to avoid this is to keep areas within the dog’s reach clear of harmful objects.
The Dog That Can’t Play Nice
This habit turns unhealthy when a fight starts. Things can get rough and even dangerous. To prevent fights, match your dog with a good playmate, advises Wells. “I don’t think it’s a breed issue,” she says. “Find an appropriate playmate based on play style, energy level, and size.”
Age also plays a role. “Younger dogs are too enthusiastic for older dogs, and that’s what starts fights.”
COMMENTS FROM LOVINMYPUP.COM:
THESE ARE SIGNIFICANT PET PROBLEMS THAT CAN NEGATIVELY AFFECT YOUR PETS HEALTH. THE SUGGESTIONS FOR EACH PROBLEM CAN BE HEARD IN ANY BEHAVIOR CLASS. THEY ARE EASY, CONSISTENT, AND THEY WORK! A A PUP, BELLA SWALLOWED ANYTHING SHE COULD. SHE HAD EXPERIENCED 2 BOWEL OBSTRUCTIONS, THE FIRST WAS WHEN SHE ATE A PIECE OF MULCH. THE SECOND ONE WAS ALMOST EXACTLY A YEAR LATER WHEN SHE TORE AN ARM OFF OF A BEANY BABY AND SWALLOWED IT. THANK GOODNESS SHE NEVER DID IT AGAIN, MAINLY BECAUSE SHE WAS WATCHED WHILE SHE WAS OUT IN THE YARD.
THERE WERE ALSO WITH ISSUES OF HER STEALING FOOD. IN FACT, I TOOK HER OUT OF THERAPY DOG TRAINING BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID THAT WHILE SHE WAS ENTERTAINING RESIDENTS SHE WOULD EAT THEIR LUNCHES! BUT CLOSE TO THE END OF HER SERVICE DOG TRAINING , SHE WAS TAUGHT THE COMMAND TO “LEAVE IT” AS LONG AS SHE HEARD THAT COMMAND SHE WOULD NOT STEAL FOOD.
AN ELEMENTARY BEHAVIOR CLASS WILL TEACH BOTH THE PUP AND THE PET PARENT CONTROL OF THE NEGATIVE BEHAVIORS. EVEN OLDER DOGS WILL BENEFIT FROM THESE CLASSES. UNTIL THEN, FOLLOW THE SUGGESTIONS ABOVE CONSISTENTLY. YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED WITH THE RESULTS.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS OR OPINIONS BELOW. AND DON’T FORGET TO SHARE YOUR LOVE WITH YOUR FURRY FRIENDS EVERY DAY!