Dogs often behave badly
From beating up other dogs, to stealing food. From digging holes in the lawn, to rolling in unmentionable things found on walks.
But why do they do that?
Dogs do things for one of two reasons. Either they are instinctively driven to behave in a particular way.
Or, they have learned to behave in a particular way. Let’s take a look at dogs behaving badly and figure out what is going on
Dogs being dogs
Some of our dog’s behaviors are simply dogs doing what comes naturally.
Digging, chewing, biting and chasing are all instinctive activities that have evolved because they convey (or used to convey), a survival advantage to a dog living in the natural world.
Learning to live in our human world is quite challenging for dogs.
They have to learn that some of their favourite activities are simply not appropriate indoors, or in our gardens.
We can deal with unwanted instinctive behaviors in several ways, but restriction and redirection are often the key
Restricting your dog’s access
Puppies and untrained older dogs are often best contained in a designated part of your home.
Or in giving a large nervous rescue dog access to your silk cushions.
It is asking for trouble.
It isn’t unreasonable to keep the dog in the kitchen to begin with and gradually extend the area to which he has access as you get to know him, or as he matures.
Baby gates are an ideal way to prevent a dog having access to rooms where he can cause damage until he is more mature or better trained.
Access to forbidden areas should begin gradually and under supervision, until you are satisfied that your dog knows how to behave appropriately there.
Redirecting your dog’s behavior
It helps if you can give your dog opportunities to express his natural behavior.
Dogs learn to be bad
Some of the bad things our dogs do, are learned behaviors.
We are usually aware that a dog has to be taught obedience skills such as ‘sit’ and ‘down’.
But in addition to the behaviors we deliberately teach our dogs, many of us are unaware of the behaviors we inadvertently teach them to carry out.
In fact, most of our dogs’ behaviors, from leaping around when he sees his lead to spinning and yapping in the car, are learned.
We teach our dogs to be bad!
Many of the behaviors that people find troublesome in domestic dogs, have been taught to them, albeit inadvertently, by the people that they live with.
We are teaching our dogs all the time, even though we are oblivious to some of the problems we are causing until they become more serious.
A dog that gets driven every day to a car park and then taken for a walk is learning fast.
Because the end of every journey results in a massive reward, his behavior en route and as he arrives in the car park, is strongly reinforced.
If the dog starts to fidget or whine as he gets nearer to the car park, this will inevitably get worse. He is learning that whining is rewarded with a walk.
On the other hand, the dog that is taught to lie quietly whilst the car is in motion, has learned that laying down quietly results in a walk.
Rewards reinforce behavior. Big rewards reinforce strongly. You can read more about reinforcement here: The use of reinforcement in dog training
Taking control of your dog’s rewards
Unfortunately, we often forget that there are many rewards available to a dog other than the ones we deliberately provide for him.
Become aware of these rewards is a key part of gaining control over your dog.
Being let out of a crate is a reward, being let out into the garden is a reward. So is having a lead put on, or being given dinner, or eating a stolen item.
Whatever the dog was doing when he got the reward, be it whining, spinning, jumping, yapping, will be reinforced.
Why does my dog do that?
So the answer to ‘why does my dog do that?’ is either
- Because he is a dog (and that is instinctive to him)
- Because you have taught him to.
We can deal with unwanted behaviors in three principle ways
The first two options are often the best for instinctive behaviors, but they are also useful as a first line of defence for training issues. Especially with puppies or newly adopted rescue dogs
This is not ‘giving in’ or being soft.
It is about choosing your battles wisely in order to avoid an all out war.
Life with a dog is supposed to be fun and you cannot build a good training relationship with an animal that is constantly being told off or punished.
How do we stop dogs behaving badly?
Where natural behaviors like ‘chewing’ are concerned, you may also need to ensure that the dog is provided with opportunities to engage in this behavior in a more appropriate way.
Such as offering chew toys to a teething puppy or mouthy older dog.
Our final option is retraining. Training a dog involves creating permanent changes in his behaviour by consistently applying appropriate consequences.
But there are two very different approaches to training out undesirable behaviors
Punishing your dog
When we set about ‘improving’ our dogs we tend to focus firmly on the thing we want to change or alter.
This is natural, because the dog’s behavior is really annoying us! We want to know
- How do I stop my dog getting on the sofa?
- How do I stop my dog raiding the bin?
- How do I stop my dog howling in his crate?
- How do I stop him weeing on my favourite rug, barking at people that walk past the window, digging up my tulips? Etc.
However, this ‘focus’ on ‘stopping’ the dog, often results in dogs being constantly reprimanded or even physically punished for numerous misdemeanours.
This is because one naughty behavior, if we managed to extinguish it, is simply replaced by another.
We can escape from this spiral of corrective training by simply turning our approach on its head.
Training alternative behaviors
Instead of asking ‘How dog I stop my dog doing X Y or Z’ we can ask ourselves ‘What do I want my dog to do?’
The answers should form the basis of your dog training plan.
This may seem obvious, but for many of us, it is not.
Adopting this simple change in view point, can have a profound effect on the relationship between the dog and the owner.
Often resulting in a rapid improvement in the dog’s behaviour.
Now, instead of asking ‘How do I stop my dog jumping up?’ we ask ‘How do I want my dog to greet visitors?’
And instead of asking ‘How do I stop my dog climbing on the sofa?’ we ask, ‘Where do I want my dog to sleep when he is in the living room?’
Once you know what you want the dog to do in any given situation, it is a question of working through the stages in training for that particular skill.
Teach the dog to sleep on his own designated mat whilst you watch TV, for example, or to sit still to be petted by visitors.
This is often a better solution that trying to correct an undesirable behavior, which is often simply replaced with another undesirable behavior.
Teaching your dog to be good
In each given situation, instead of trying to correct a dozen different ways to be naughty, focus on what you want him to do instead.
Teach your dog one single way to be good. Make a very valuable use of your time dog training, to help him be a better house companion.
Learning to live in our human world is quite challenging for dogs. Behaving badly come naturally.
They have to learn that some of their favourite activities are simply not appropriate for life in polite society.
By focusing on alternative behaviors instead of on preventing undesirable ones, we can build better relationships with our four legged friends, whilst we guide them on their way to becoming good canine citizens.
Its about training the dog to behave appropriately.
Don’t beat yourself up though, if you realise that you taught your dog to be bad. We all do it. That’s human nature.
Now you know why he is being bad, apply those three Rs – Restriction, Redirection, and Retraining.
Focus on what you want your dog to do, rather than on what you want him to stop doing, and you’ll get there much faster!
How about you? Did you inadvertently teach your dog to do something that you now regret? Did you manage to solve the problem? Share in the comments box below