Greg Kleva is a celebrity in the dog world. He’s a professional dog behavioral therapist and master trainer with Bark Busters Home Dog training. Greg hosts, “It’s a Dog’s Life” on Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius XM 110. He makes frequent guest appearances on TV shows and has had many articles written about him and his training methods. Lucky for us, he agreed to sit down for a Petside interview.
Q: Why do some dogs freak out when you go to pat them on the head?
A: Moving toward a dog quickly and reaching over the top of a dog’s head can feel threatening. Just like humans, some dogs are born less affectionate, not touchy-feely, and don’t like having their personal space invaded. We unfairly put pressure on our dogs to accept everything we throw at them. It’s important to know your dog’s individuality. If your pet doesn’t enjoy being picked up, snuggled, or hugged, respect those feelings. Some dogs will shun touch because of past unpleasant experiences. Dog owners who constantly pick the dog up, grab their collar, discipline their dog physically by hitting them or approach too quickly or in a threatening way are programming that dog to lose trust in hands. Dogs don’t understand our emotional reasons for doing things. Even well meaning owners who attempt to interact in a loving, affectionate way can cause a freak out. Some approaches feel overbearing from the dog’s perspective. Think about relatives who grab you too fast and hug too hard. It feels overwhelming and you hate it, right?
Q: Why do dogs look like they feel guilty when they misbehaved?
A: What we interpret as a guilty look can be a display of submission, a dog’s way of saying, “I understand that you’re not happy right now.” Signs of submission include tail down, ears down, head down, or body low to the ground or rolling onto their back to expose the belly. This type of dog body language does not mean the dog feels guilty. Many dog owners say, “My dog knows when he did something wrong.” The reality is, if you walk into a room and your favorite shoes are lying in the middle of the floor chewed to bits, and you shout, “FIDO, WHAT DID YOU DO?!” your dog may slink away and retreat to a safe place but not because he knows what you’re unhappy about. Only if you’ve caught your dog in the act of an unwanted behavior will your body language and stern tone be associated with the canine-misdemeanor taking place at that moment.
Q: Why is it so difficult to train dogs not to bark or pull on their leash?
A: Confusion is the biggest underlying factor where problem behavior is concerned. Don’t assume a dog should know how to walk on a leash. You have to teach the dog what you want. Dog owners complain, “My dog won’t come when I call him.” How much time has been spent teaching what the word “come” means? To raise a happy, well-behaved dog, owners need to commit time to teaching. Another issue that can get in the way is not providing leadership. Dogs who perceive themselves as the boss may pull on the leash or bark. Exercise is very important, too. If a dog is not physically and mentally stimulated they can suffer from boredom or anxiety and problem behavior will ensue.
Q: Does a dog have to be extremely intelligent to learn complicated tricks?
A: Some of the smartest dogs I’ve met were accused of being stupid, stubborn, or deaf. They weren’t. They were confused by their owners’ unclear communications.
Q: How can a dog be taught not to eat food off the street?
A: Take time to teach the command, “Leave It.” Begin instruction inside the house where’s there’s less distraction. That will make it easier for your dog to learn. Use less tempting items at first. Get your dog to understand that looking to you when he hears “Leave It” will get him a higher-value reward, like a piece of cheese or meat, and lots of praise. Incrementally move to more distracting environments and use more tempting items to test your dog. Don’t expect your dog to learn if you haven’t worked toward creating this habit. Also make sure your dog is getting the nutrition he needs daily. If your dog isn’t starving for nutrition he’s less likely to scavenge for food on the street.
Q: My dog swallowed pieces of toys a few times but never made a connection between that and the intestinal surgeries. Why?
A: Dog behavior is determined by immediate outcome. It makes sense to us that the dog shouldn’t want to re-live an unpleasant operation but the dog doesn’t make a connection between the two events. That’s human thinking. The dog thinks, “I like swallowing chewed pieces of toys because they smell good and make me feel full.”