Bad dog? No, bad owner, expert says

Bad dog? No, bad owner, expert says »Play Video
Shadow, a fox terrier, reacts as her owners play air hockey.

PORTLAND, Ore. –  Shadow, an 8-year-old fox terrier, has a strange habit of attacking the oven. Every time her owner, Kay Slattery, opens the door, the dog goes crazy.

“She tries to jump into the oven and then she burns her little paws on the oven door when it is hot,” Slattery said.

And when she and her son, Spencer, play air hockey, the dog goes nuts as well, jumping up repeatedly and barking nonstop.

So what’s an owner to do? KATU teamed up with Bark Busters – a dog training program – to see if they could tame Shadow.

“Usually what happens is there is a miscommunication,” said Al Holzer of Bark Busters. “And so what we tend to work on most is training owners.”

That means training owners to communicate with the dog like a dog - through body language and tone of voice.

“Don't lose your height because height is leadership,” Holzer said. “And if she jumps on your guests, you correct her by growling.”

With less than 30 minutes of training, it appears to work. With a growl from Slattery, Shadow stops jumping and returns to her bed.

As for the oven, after Slattery creates a boundary, when she opens the oven door, the dog starts walking toward the kitchen and then stops and backs away.

There’s a still a lot of work to do but Shadow is progressing.

“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle about gaining leadership,” Holzer said. “It's not just correcting your dog. It's everything about how you stand, about how you don’t respond to her for attention seeking.”

So what are the top five mistakes humans make when owning a dog?

1. Giving puppies too much freedom

“A lot of times we tolerate bad behavior in puppies because we think it's cute,” Holzer said. “Do they really want those behaviors to manifest themselves when their dogs are older? And, of course not.”

2. Treat dogs like people

Dogs communicate by reading the owner's body language and tone of voice. And they're pack animals so they will instinctually seek a pack leader.

“When owners treat their dogs like little people, the dog misunderstands, gets confused and tries to take over the leadership role,” Holzer said.

3. Responding to your dog's requests

If you give in to their requests, dogs will learn that they are in charge. To change that, Holzer says the next time a dog nudges you for attention, ignore it for 10 to 20 seconds. 

“Then you can initiate," he said. "If you say, ‘Oh, you want a pet?’ and you start to initiate the process, then the dog is responding to you and you're not responding to the dog,” he said.

That’s a subtle difference that will send a strong message to the animal.

4. Being inconsistent in your leadership

This goes back to the dog's pack instincts.

“If there's a gap in leadership or a void from the canine perspective the dog needs to take over that leadership role to protect the pack,” Holzer said.

This means everyone in your family must stick to the same rules.

5. Never lose your temper and become physical

Aggression breeds aggression, which can be dangerous for both you and your best friend.

See if you and your dog need training: Take a behavioral quiz