“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” according to Dr. John Gray, author of a fabulous best seller about the behavior of men and women, and their inability to fully understand each other. Dogs, on the other hand, are probably from Earth, because no matter what they do, someone has an explanation for it, whether we like the explanation or not; and the dog will never validate or deny it. The good news is that even if we don’t understand why the dog is doing what it’s doing, we can usually modify the behavior to a more positive and acceptable one.
One of the most frustrating behavioral problems, families with dogs have to face is chewing. In it’s extreme form, “Pica”, defined as a medical disorder, is an appetite for largely non-nutritive substances (e.g., coal, soil,feces, chalk, paper, soap, ash, etc. The shocking part is that this definition pertains to humans. With that in mind imagine what a dog will consume. Because Pica is a medical disorder, it is something that should be either diagnosed or ruled out by your veterinarian. Once it’s determined that your dog’s non-discretionary chewing is not driven by the need for nutritional fulfillment, and is totally a release from boredom and loneliness, you can modify his behavior through exercise, playtime, alternative chewables and toys and increased time together.
Coprophagia is even more frustrating and upsetting to me than a dog eating my favorite pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. (Pun intended) The nicest way to define coprophagia is to say that it is the consumption of poop. There are many reasons for this obsession with ones own waste, including and not limited to medical problems, nutritional needs, poorly digestible diet, boredom, curiosity, attempt to clean up a soiled area to avoid punishment, a learned behavior from the dog’s mother or something as simple as hunger. My experience with dogs that show signs of coprophagia is that most of them had been confined to small kennels for extended periods of time, usually in pet shops or over crowded breeders, where they are forced to eat, drink, sleep, play, defecate and urinate in the same small enclosure. Some dogs will also eat cat poop out of the litter box. I know it’s one of those “easier said than done” situations but preventing your dog’s access to litter boxes and immediately cleaning up after your dog does his business, is a good start in the right direction. Dogs that exhibit any desire to eat their stool, should be leash walked. As well, there are taste deterrents that can be inserted into stool to help correct the unwanted behavior. Talk to your veterinarian first, to make sure your dog is tested for any medical issues that may be the cause, and discuss alternative diets.
Allelomimetic Behavior is a psychological means by which all animals learn and are taught. It is defined as a behavior in social animals in which each animal does the same thing as those nearby. Animals that pack, are more trainable than animals that do not. Animals like elephants, horses, and dogs, are prone to copying the actions found within the group hierarchy. It is believed that socialization plays an even bigger part in the development and training of a dog than the dog’s intelligence level. If you ever experienced adopting a second dog into your home, you probably noticed of how much easier it was to train the new dog, eventually realizing that he learned the ropes from the first dog. But allelomimetic behavior is not limited to the confines of the same species. When a dog becomes part of our family, we become the dog’s pack and in essence he will learn from and copy not only our actions but our emotions and attitudes!