Solving Dog Behavior Problems
Updated: Feb 15
What is a dog behavior problem?
It’s the difference between what you want and what you get — from your dog. He’s probably just doing normal doggie stuff at an inappropriate time or place. He’s not a diabolical demon planning to drive you insane. He’s just a dog doing what comes naturally. It’s basically miscommunication from human to canine. It erodes your relationship and makes you both unhappy. So how about teaching him what you want in a way that you both can live with.
Something to consider. Things change. For example, a woman has a dog that barks. She doesn’t mind its barking because she is single and lives alone in a house. Now she moves into an apartment and the dog is still barking! *Now* it’s a problem. Has the dog changed? No. Has the woman changed? No. Have the circumstances changed? Yes. So she needs to teach him appropriate new behavior. Is it going to be hard? Well, it’s certainly easier to teach a dog him when you’re working with a clean slate rather than to erase something and then teach, but it IS doable.
Keep in mind that every time your dog does what you don’t want him to do (such as jumping on people), he’s getting better at jumping on people because he is practicing jumping on people — because when he practices, he gets better! (Think about the tourist asking directions to Carnegie Hall of a New York musician. “Practice, practice, practice.”)
Instead of thinking what you don’t want, think of what you want him to do and guide him towards your goal — and start now rather than waiting to “see if it’s going to get any better” — it probably won’t.
Have a strategy.
When your dog does something you don’t like, you have five options when working with a behavior problem:
Ignore it. (For example, ignore his jumping on you when you come in the door.) Expect it will get worse before it gets better — that’s actually a normal part of learning. You can’t use this option if there is danger to you, your dog, or someone else.
Redirect it. (Give him a treat or toy when you come in.)
Manage it. Put him in a situation so he can only do what you want. (Have him on a leash so you have more control over him.)
Train something different. (Train an incompatible behavior such as Sit instead of jumping up when greeting visitors.)
Correct or Punish it. Punishment (aka correction) is the least desirable of the options. It only stops that particular behavior as it is occurring at that particular moment. It may not change — permanently change your dog’s future behavior.
There are definite rules for punishment that must be adhered to every time it is used — no exceptions, whether you are present when the behavior happens or not. It is much easier to train your dog to do what you want him to do than to punish him for his actions.
Other Things to Consider When Working With Behavior Issues With Dogs
Change the word. If your dog has not been responding to a command in the past (for example, the word “come”), start training that same behavior with a new word (for example, use the word “here” instead) so he doesn't have any association with that new word. Right now if you say "come," he starts sniffing the ground or plays Catch Me If You Can. He won't do that when you train him to "here" because you're making new associations.
Think about your behavior. Your dog’s refusal to respond to commands may not be “willful disobedience” on his part. Maybe you think you are punishing him when you are actually rewarding him. Maybe you think he is trained when he really isn’t. Whose job is it to determine whether the person at your front door is friend or foe — yours or your dog’s? Hmmm.
You are everything. You should be a better reward or should control a greater reward than anything else in his world. If he will now only work for treats, then learn how to be the leader who your dog looks to for guidance rather than just being a treat dispenser.
Dissect The Problem
When analyzing a behavior problem, here’s some questions to get you started:
Who is present (people and animals) when the behavior occurs?
Where does it happen? Does the behavior occur in all locations or only in specific locations?
When does it happen? Does the behavior occur all the time or just some of the time? Is there a specific time of day or specific circumstances during which the behavior occurs?
Are you doing something unintentionally that could contribute to the behavior? (Are you sure? Have someone else watch you interact with your dog - especially a knowledgeable trainer - and see if they can tell.)
Has your dog always acted this way, or did the behavior coincide with a change of some kind in your dog’s life?
Are you training your dog the same way that you’ve always trained all your other dogs and it’s not working now? (Hint: this is a different dog — all dogs do not learn the same way. Oh, and remember — you’re a different person now, too.)
Are you praising and rewarding enough for the correct behavior, or do you just ignore it after your dog does it correctly? (We’re all guilty of this one.)
If you do give a correction, the best time to “correct” a problem is when your dog is thinking about doing it, not when he has already begun to do it. Most dogs will telegraph their intentions by their body language. Learn to read your dog’s body language and then show you how to redirect him before he acts.
***Listen to your dog***
He will tell you if what you are doing is working or not. He will tell you if he is stressed. He will tell you if you are meeting his needs. He will give you all the information. Listen to him so you can both work together successfully and harmoniously.
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Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.
If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to caryl@DoggieManners.com . We look forward to working with you.