Pestering takes many forms.
Some dogs poke and prod people with their noses, others will persistently lick, some will start barking.
Others will just keep taking things, cushions, shoes, coasters, anything they can pick up and carry.
I received an email recently from a reader with an eleven month old Lab that is ruining her evenings by nibbling at her fingers constantly and barking if she gets no attention.
Sometimes a dog will pester one individual whilst leaving others completely alone. As was the case here. Sometimes he will pester another dog and make them miserable too.
What we expect of dogs
When we first bring a dog into our lives, most of us have a clear picture of how this is going to work out for us.
However, the reality of life with a dog can be very different.
Especially when that dog is young.
Dogs have different social standards from people and your dog’s idea of relaxation may not be appropriate for life in the house.
He is a bit like one of those annoying guests that are always trying to organise everyone into some kind of game.
The fact is, your dog may not want to relax at all in the evenings. He might prefer you to play with him, or entertain him instead.
The good news is, you can have the dog you dreamed of. The dog who lies quietly on your hearth rug or in his basket whilst you watch TV. You will first need to make a few changes, and I will explain these below.
Shared living space
Many people now treat their dog as a full member of the family, with all the privileges that entails. Including free access to all the rooms in the house.
When problem behaviours develop, these privileges may need to be rescinded for a while.
Most dog owners inadvertently reward attention seeking behaviours so that pestering escalates over time. Sometimes it seems that this happens quite suddenly, but the seeds were being quietly sown over the last days or weeks.
People often don’t want to punish or frighten the dog and are at a loss to know how to stop this horrible pattern of behaviour.
Fortunately you can break this habit by retraining a new and nice behaviour in its place.
The key to success is a combination of
- restricting access
- training a down stay
In their efforts to love and care for their dogs, people sometimes forget they have rights too. You have a right to relax in your sitting room.
Your dog on the other hand, does not have a right to share your sitting room. His presence there is a privilege.
People need to rest at the end of a long day. Dogs need exercise, food, and company. If your dog has been exercised and fed, he needs to learn that sharing your company in the evenings comes with a proviso. He must behave appropriately in human company, and allow you to relax.
It is perfectly acceptable for you to restrict your dog’s access into your sitting room until he has learned how to behave there. The best and easiest way to do this is with a baby gate. You can buy these fairly cheaply from Amazon. This is the one I use for young dogs: Lindam Safety Gate
If your dog jumps over the baby gate you may need to crate him instead. But this is pretty unusual. Most Labradors do not attempt to get over this type of gate.
Entry into the sitting room should be on your terms. If your dog won’t leave you alone, then you need to teach him to lie down and stay there. This is not a suitable exercise for young puppies, but any dog over a year old should be able to lie down and relax for a good half hour or more.
Teaching the down stay
Training your dog to lie down and stay is not complicated. You can follow the instructions in how to teach down.
It helps to provide your Labrador with a bed or mat to begin with. If you don’t want a dog mat permanently in your sitting room you can make it smaller and smaller over time. Eventually the dog will simply lie down anywhere you point and say ‘down’.
The trick is to start with a very short stay, then reward the dog on his bed, then release him and reward again, then remove him from the room (use a collar and lead to avoid spoiling your recall) and reward generously when you have removed him from the room so that he does not feel punished for being separated from you.
Avoiding ‘spin off’ problems
You can bring the dog back into the room and repeat the ‘down’ exercise as often as you like, provided he is behaving appropriately.
Never let the dog into the sitting room when he is whining, scratching at the door or attempting to persuade you to let him in, in any way at all. Or you will have another and equally annoying problem on your hands.
Wait until your dog is relaxing in his crate or in your kitchen. And then bring him in to join you.
For the time being, only allow the dog in the sitting room to lie on his mat. Don’t be tempted to test him and let him loose in the room too quickly. I would wait until the dog can lie on his bed for at least half an hour before you attempt to allow him into the room freely as you did before. And if at any time he starts pestering you again, you can simply send him ‘on his bed’.
He will soon learn that pestering you results in more ‘bed time’ and that will be the end of your problem.
Locating the bed
You may like the idea of having the dog lie right next to you, so you can tickle his ears whilst you watch TV, but initially this is a bad idea. The dog will find it much easier to lie still if he cannot reach or touch you.
The beauty of this training is that everyone benefits.
You get to relax, and the dog does too. He will learn surprisingly quickly that there is no point in leaving his bed, and eventually he will just stretch out on his side and sleep the evening away. In time, he will come to associate your sitting room, as you do, with rest and relaxation.
Your only problem then will be to hear the TV over his snoring.
More help and information
If you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.