My dog is a wire-haired dachshund mix, so this behavior is perplexing. Whenever we play the Wii, he goes after the person with the Wii remote. My vet says it sounds like herding behavior. He’s not aggressive; he just gets wound up and tends to jump and nip at whoever has the remote.
Just recently, he trotted quickly and with purpose after the ankles of my 8-year-old niece and landed a nip on one of them — not hard, but definitely surprising. When my husband and I dance around in the living room, he gets all excited as if he wants us to separate and stop, too.
Also, he’s an adopted dog with separation anxiety. What can we do about this, Poncho?
Dear Miss Kathleen,
Thank you for writing in and wanting to educate yourself on how best to work with your Wii-conflicted Dachshund. I’m sorry to hear he redirected his energy toward your niece’s ankle. Fortunately, he was able to show some restraint and avoid physical damage.
Speaking as a canine, I must say you humans have some weird behaviors, such as waving your arms around and playing video games in front of a box. However, as an inquisitive canine, I learned a long time ago that that’s normal human behavior. I’ve seen my own certified professional dog trainer mom dance around the house a time or two.
It seems that your own inquisitive canine might consider your human behavior somewhat perplexing. His behavior could be “herding,” or it could be some of his Dachshund hunting instincts being triggered by the family’s energetic movements. Regardless, I’m happy to offer some training tips that will help family fun night.
First, I’ll talk about training, and then I’ll provide useful management tips. That way, when you’re not training you’ll be able to help prevent your dog from practicing behaviors you don’t like.
» Reward behaviors you like. This is one of the easiest ways to get more of the behaviors you want. In your case, the simplest exercise would be to teach your dog to perform an alternate, more productive behavior. One of my favorites is performing a down-stay on my bed. If mom wants me to stay in one place for a longer period of time, then she will give me a chew bone or food toy I can play with. Once in awhile, if she really wants to make sure I stay put, she’ll attach my leash to a piece of furniture so I can’t wander off.
Make sure you reward your dog for being on his special mat or bed, chewing his bone or toy, and for being quiet. You can also reward your dog for staying on his bed with a rousing game of fetch. This will allow him to channel his energy toward a more dog-like productive activity. Check out the Inquisitive Canine site for additional tips for successful dog training.
» Regarding management, it’s all about setting your dog up for success. Management doesn’t necessarily change his behavior toward the Wii and dancing, but it does help prevent him from practicing behaviors you don’t like. Whenever you break out the Wii or decide to “cut a rug,” you can sequester your dog to another area of the house. However, you’ll want to make sure you provide him with his own form of entertainment, including food-stuffed toys so he can enjoy his meal and chew bones that he likes as an option to help redirect energy (a nice alternative to ankles).
It would also be helpful to exercise him enough to where he would prefer to take a nap. For other ideas about how to occupy your dog in a positive way, check out this blog post on our Inquisitive Canine Web site.
As for the “separation anxiety” issue, mom and I agree we’d be happy to address that topic, too, but we’d need more information. So please feel free to write in again.
And thank you for adopting from a shelter. Being a rescue pup myself, I know us dogs really appreciate finding our forever homes with folks who care as much as you all do.
— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt that knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail email@example.com.