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Pet Advice
 Scratching and jumping.
What’s the answer?
Caroline Fardell with advice for dog owners
Why do dogs scratch the carpet as if they’re digging?
This is an interesting question. Coincidentally, my spaniel sometimes does this at work when I leave the room. She accompanies me to work each day and settles quickly on her bed, or under my feet for the whole day, only bothering to get up when it’s coffee time (and there might be a crumb in the offing), or when it’s time for a lunchtime walk.
I would say that, generally, she is relaxed and comfortable in the office environment. However, when I leave the room and head downstairs to see a colleague, I often hear her get up and scratch the carpet in my office above. So why does she do this?
It is thought that dogs will scratch the carpet (or floorboards) for evolutionary reasons. Essentially, they may be performing a digging ritual which is embedded deep in their DNA. The
reasons could involve feeling insecure or territorial and feeling the need to nest (particularly in the case of bitches). For our modern-day dogs, often left alone for hours on end, it can also be a sign of boredom or anxiety. As ever, it’s important to see the bigger picture with your own dog in order to put the behaviour in its true context.
As far as my spaniel is concerned, I believe that her carpet scratching routine when I leave the office is something called displacement behaviour. I imagine that, because she would like to be with me 100% of the day, when I leave the office – and in spite of the fact that this is
a regular occurrence – her deeply insecure nature and canine instinct drive her to exhibit another behaviour to replace the behaviour she would like to do. In a sense, it’s her way of relieving mild or low-grade anxiety.
How can I stop my dog jumping up at people? He is very friendly but I am embarrassed that he’s doing this!
Take heart – you are in good company! And there’s no need to be embarrassed because you are taking steps to improve the situation.
If you don’t want your dog to jump up at you or other people then, ideally, the pup should never have been encouraged to jump up in the first place! Humans encourage (or certainly don’t discourage) puppies from jumping up at them because there is minimal impact and the ‘cute’ puppy behaviour appeals to them. But, inevitably, as the dog grows it becomes clear that jumping up is not required behaviour after all, and usually not appreciated by visitors. Dogs will continue to jump up for as long as they are rewarded or given attention. Even telling the dog to get down is attention.
A solution for both puppies and older dogs is to completely ignore the behaviour. If necessary, turn your back and avoid eye contact. Stay unemotional and say nothing, appreciating that this is something that you (or a previous owner) have trained into the dog - perhaps inadvertently - in the past. It’s not his fault and he’s not being bad. Then you will need to encourage or (preferably) wait for a different, more acceptable, behaviour. Once the dog has four paws on the ground you can reward with attention or food. For this, you will need to stay calm, have lots of patience, good timing and plenty of consistency. And don’t be discouraged if his behaviour gets worse before it gets better; this is called an Extinction Burst. Not only will you need to be consistent yourself but you will have to ensure that other family members are doing exactly the same thing. Keep your dog on a long line on your walk if you sense he may jump on strangers and you have no recall. Likewise, keep a lead on the dog in the house when you are expecting guests and instruct your guest to avoid greeting the dog in any way until it is calm. Don’t set the dog up to fail.
 If you have a question for Caroline please contact
Caroline Fardell at Hound Solutions caroline.fardell1@btinternet.com 07530 504340
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