Barking & Howling
Humans talk to communicate. Dogs bark and howl. Expecting a dog never to bark or howl would be like condemning a human to eternal silence.
Dogs also have an instinct to guard, protect and warn – this is one of the most common triggers for dogs barking. Dogs also have incredible hearing and smell, so it would not be uncommon for a dog to hear or smell something we cannot and to try and alert us to the fact that this noise or smell might be a threat or a problem.
Dogs also bark out of excitement, frustration or as a plea for attention. Whatever the reason for barking or howling at any one time is, the point is that the dog is trying to communicate something, not just to interrupt your favourite TV programme, cut you off during a teleconference, or give you a headache for the fun of it.
One of the most effective ways not to stop barking, but to reduce the incidence of barking is to acknowledge the situation and indicate to your dog that you are aware of it and have it under control. You could do this by using a hand signal as you go to the door or window to see what the source of the barking might be – it might be a passer-by or a squirrel getting just a little too close to your dog’s territory – and let them know calmly and clearly: “Thank you, I got it”.
Chewing. The bane of so many new dog owners’ lives. Think of all the shoes, electricals, toys, and pieces of furniture that have been lost to chewing.
During puppyhood chewing is largely caused by teething; milk teeth falling out and being replaced by permanent teeth is quite an uncomfortable experience for any mammal that goes through the process, and the discomfort triggers a need to chew in an effort to improve the situation faster. Just as we would buy teething toys for our human, teething, babies, we should ensure that we provide a wide variety (a variety of sizes, textures, materials, smells, surfaces) of chew toys for the puppies we bring into our lives. The more appropriate options for chewing you provide, the less damage your dog is likely to inflict on inappropriate objects (such as the shoes and furniture mentioned earlier).
Make no mistake though, the chewing instinct in dogs is not isolated to puppyhood – it is a lifelong instinct and need. Dogs’ ancestry goes back to wolves, and wolves hunt and eat wild animals; they tear at the fur and the flesh, and chew on the bones. Just because our pet dogs don’t have to hunt or work particularly hard at breaking down the kibble or the wet food most get fed into easily digestible chunks, doesn’t mean that they don’t still feel an innate need to chew. What’s more, chewing on raw bones has always been an excellent form of dental hygiene and maintenance for dogs. Certain types of chew toys have also been developed to help achieve this instead of always having to rely on raw bones…but we all know which the dog would prefer, don’t we?
Dogs young and old also use their mouths for investigation, exploration and understanding; they don’t know what a wooden chair leg is or how it might taste until they try it, and even if the taste isn’t all that great the simple act of chewing provides dogs with some sense of comfort and relaxation so they might keep going until told otherwise. Don’t scald or punish a dog for chewing; provide sufficient interesting and appropriate alternatives to take the interest away from the inappropriate targets, and should your dog choose an inappropriate target for chewing sometimes, get him/her interested in the other options – hide food in or smear some food on the chew toys, or play some games with those toys to make them the more desirable targets.
Digging & Scavenging
There can be many different reasons for dogs to dig, but all reasons lead back to their ancestry, their genes, their instincts.
Dogs might dig to get to prey or something delicious or interesting they can smell underground, they might dig in order to bury a precious toy or valuable piece of food that they want to keep safe from potential thieves, they might dig to create a nice little resting place for themselves or a den for their young. Whatever the reason, let’s remember once again that it is about them not you – they don’t have anything against the orchids you planted, nor would they rather have you grow cucumbers instead of courgettes, they are not landscape artists or fond of showers, they dig out of instinct, without much thought to how you might feel about the effects on your garden. If digging is ruining your plans for the garden of your dreams, then you might want to re-think those plans, provide more walks instead of time in the garden, or divide part of your garden into your dream garden and another part into the dog’s playground.
Scavenging, i.e. finding, picking up, and often eating rubbish, discarded food, dead, rotting animals, or other less pleasant items dogs come across. So gross…at least to us, the fortunate humans who have constant and plentiful access to fresh food and nutrition (often to excess). What would often be disgusting for us might be irresistable to our dogs, but more than that dogs are hard wired to scavenge whatever they might find that could be edible because scavenging is intrinsically linked to an instinct to survive – scavenging is a way to survive when pickings are slim. That’s not to say that whenever a dog eats something off the ground outside it means we’re not feeding them enough, pet dogs are generally well fed, sometimes even overfed, but it’s instinctual for a dog to eat when the opportunity arises.
Dogs are curious, opportunistic and experimental; if something smells like they might like the taste of it, and they can get close enough to get a taste, the chances are they will take the opportunity to try that hors d’oeuvre of rabbit poop, discarded sandwich, or gone off food from the garbage. Your role as the dog owner is not to stop scavenging altogether (my dogs love rabbit poop, so I let them have some rabbit poop snacks on our walks), but to ensure your dog’s safety – keep your eyes peeled for anything that your dog might try to eat which could be dangerous, teach your dog to drop things he might pick up so you can still intervene if you don’t spot the dangerous items first, and make sure your dog can’t get into anything at home where you don’t want him finding snacks.