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6 Signs your dog desperately needs obedience training

The quickest way to annoy friends and alienate people is to bring an untrained dog around a crowd. Take it from someone who has two poorly trained Chihuahuas and has spent years paying for it.

My husband and I made a big mistake when we got our Chihuahuas over eight years ago. One came from a breeder and the other was adopted with a number of behavioral issues. Being young and naive dog owners at the time, we never socialized them. And besides watching a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer and trying out methods like clicker training, we never took them to a formal obedience class.

More: Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan’s top dog training tips

In the past decade, we’ve tried our hardest to modify their worst behaviors (like the barking and the biting) with some measure of success, but it’s clear that we missed our big opportunity to correctly train and socialize our deviant dogs when they were young. Now that our dogs are officially “elderly,” we’re biding our time in behavioral management purgatory, while doing our best to keep them away from company.

I’ve confessed that my dogs have been known to bite, contributing to the absolutely dismal dog bite statistics sweeping the nation. Roughly 1,000 people visit the emergency room for a dog bite injury each day in the U.S. Based on Canadian and U.S. statistics compiled from 1982 to 2014, pit bulls, rottweilers, mastiffs and boxers are among the breeds most responsible for disfigurement and death. But small dogs aren’t off the hook — the American Veterinary Medical Foundation lists Jack Russell terriers among the top breeds implicated in serious bite injuries. From 2012 to 2013, Chihuahuas (unsurprisingly) ranked among the top five biting breeds, right along with pit bulls, in the Denver area.

More: Top 10 tips from the world’s best dog trainers

If these statistics tell us anything, it’s that disobedient dogs are dangerous — regardless of their size. Enrolling your dog in an obedience class won’t guarantee perfection, but it can help to greatly reduce the risk of more dangerous behavior, like biting, as The Humane Society points out. Most of the time, you’ll know when you have an unruly dog on your hands. But if there’s any doubt in your mind, the experts are here to weigh in on the undeniable signs your dog could benefit from obedience training:

1. Aggression

This may be a no-brainer, but it also happens to be a big red flag that many pet owners don’t take seriously. Dr. Steve Chen, medical director at Brixton Pet Health, lists aggression as one of the top signs your dog may need obedience training. He explains the warning signs to watch for: “Your pet is showing aggression towards another pet or person (i.e., trying to attack another pet or person as they walk by, growling, etc.). [Or] your pet is showing food aggression, especially towards children.”

2. Barking

Barking is annoying, sure, but is it really the sign of an underlying behavioral issue? Absolutely, says David Wright of iWorkdogs. An obedience class may be just what the dog trainer ordered if “your dog barks and lunges at people, other dogs or other moving objects.”

3. Chasing its tail

As adorable as it sounds, a dog chasing its tail incessantly signifies a pent-up problem that needs to be addressed. Dianna M. Young, canine behavioral specialist and author of the award-winning book Think Like Your Dog and Enjoy the Rewards, explains, “Some pet owners think this is cute and even encourage the behavior for their entertainment. But when I see this behavior, I know it generally begins from a place of boredom and becomes habit in a dog that is under-stimulated.”

4. Jumping

File this under, “Things only a dog owner could love.” No matter how many times people tell you it’s OK, almost no one appreciates getting jumped on by a dog when he or she enters your home, large or small. According to Wright, your pooch may need professional intervention if “your dog can’t greet anyone without jumping and putting his paws on them.”

5. Ignoring

If you’re wondering how many dogs actually come when they’re called, the answer is: Any dog that has passed an obedience class. Wright says that a dog that does not come the first time it is called by name could benefit from formal training.

6. Leash pulling

Isn’t pulling a pup around the park on a leash (or letting it pull you) all part of the fun of being a pet owner? Not quite. Though it’s common to see an excited dog leading the way on a walk, Dr. Chen classifies this as classic “bad” behavior. Your dog may need professional obedience training if “your pet is pulling on your leash and running in all different directions on walks,” says Chen. Wright considers it a behavioral warning sign when you are unable to walk your dog without wrapping your leash around your hand.

What to do when your dog needs training

Trust me when I say that I know better than anyone how depressing it can be to realize that your dog has failed the obedience test. Seeking out professional obedience training is a must if your dog’s behavior has gotten out of control, though celebrity dog trainer Joel Silverman adds that training resources can vary based on specific behavioral problems. He tells SheKnows, “The type of training you use should be dependent upon your dog’s degree of disobedience. From DVDs and books that pet parents can use in the comfort of their own homes to trainers and organized obedience classes, there are endless sources of which you can take advantage!”

If the topic of training has your head spinning, consider Silverman’s top tips, based on his 20 years as an industry dog trainer, to find the right type of obedience training for you and your pup:

1. Decide your pet’s degree of disobedience. Does your dog simply not listen to your commands? Jumping on guests, barking aggressively, lunging, pulling at the leash or running away are all disobedient behaviors that can put your dog in an unsafe situation. It is important for responsible pet owners to realize that training their pet is as much about creating a happy environment as it is about creating a safe one.

2. Choose your training environment. Once you decide just how minimal or extensive your pet needs to be trained, it is time to decide how to train. In a controlled environment, you are able to train your dog to sit, lie down, stay, etc. However, in an uncontrolled environment, your dog is taking it upon itself to play out actions, such as lunging, barking, jumping up on people, etc. These are behaviors that you can handle on your own, but sometimes a professional trainer is often needed. Depending on the guidance of a professional trainer puts your dog in capable hands and can be more efficient.

3. Reinforce good patterns. Whether you are in the early stages of obedience training or you have a couple of bad habits to break, all pet owners should understand that dogs are constantly learning. When your dog is playing out these actions, it is simply because it wants to. Therefore, the mere act of allowing it to act on this impulsive behavior is to support it and encourage it in the future. Training happens in class as well as in the home. For instance, to train aggressive barking out of your dog, it’s not enough to rely on a trainer to do the heavy lifting. Remember to practice on your own good behavioral principles, based upon what the trainer has taught you.

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