Sometimes, we find that pet parents mishandle dog behaviors (good and bad) when they fail to recognize the reason BEHIND the actions. Whether you’re a seasoned dog owner or a novice, given the right tools, you can resolve problematic canine behaviors and prevent future issues. You can teach old dogs (and old dog owners) new tricks! Decoding dog behavior is the first step.
Dog Behavior Meanings
Meanings behind common dog behaviors can remain elusive to dog owners unless they are really in tune with their pet. Take note of the circumstances under which your pet displays unwanted behavior, especially if the behavior seems to start out of the blue. Pay attention to what triggers your dog’s actions or reactions. Here are several reasons for bad behavior:
- Lack of physical/mental activity or boredom
- Lifestyle change
- Pain or sickness
- Dietary issues
- Dog’s age
- Reinforcement of bad behaviors
- Lack of training
Before addressing dogs’ behavior, we recommend speaking with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical condition that could affect your pet’s demeanor.
How to Stop Bad Dog Behavior
Understanding dog behavior is just the first step; now comes the hard work — stopping bad dog behavior and encouraging good canine conduct. How? Using positive reinforcement like our train, treat, repeat training method.
For those new to positive reinforcement, it is a training approach in which you reward your pet whenever they perform a desired behavior. Initially, you want to reward every time your pet follows a command to teach your dog the connection between behaving well and getting something good like a treat, praise, attention, etc. If providing treats as a reinforcement, once your pet routinely behaves, you can lessen the amount offered to prevent your pet from gaining too much weight.
Here’s how you can address each issue on our list of dog behaviors:
Some breeds like terriers are born diggers. However, that doesn’t mean your yard should resemble Swiss cheese. Other reasons for digging include anxiety/fear, boredom, comfort-seeking, hiding bones or toys, and attempting to access an area or escape. Depending on the reason behind the behavior, modifying it may require increasing the amount of daily exercise, spending more time with your pet, or setting aside an area, like a sandbox, where your dog can dig without tearing up your yard.
Puppy teething and curiosity aside, excessive chewing typically results from boredom and anxiety. In addition to adequate exercise, you have a few training options, like providing your pet with appropriate chew toys and keeping your personal belongings out of your pet’s reach. Crating or confining your pet to a safe area when you’re away can prevent this destructive behavior. If you witness your pet chewing an object they shouldn’t, distract your dog with noise, replace the item with a chew toy, and then offer praise when your pet chews on the appropriate object.
Biting and nipping in puppyhood is instinctual; however, the mother dog teaches her offspring bite inhibition (biting without exerting force). Once a dog is in your home, it’s up to you to continue training your pet that mouthing and biting are unacceptable. It’s important to note that any dog (even the most passive) may bite for several reasons, including property protection, defensiveness, fear, pain, and sickness. Some of the best training approaches for this type of behavior include lifelong socialization, obedience training with basic commands, and positive reinforcement.
Like biting, any dog can become aggressive. Signs include growling, showing teeth, and lunging. Aggressive behavior could result from various reasons, such as past abuse, inheritable aggressive traits, and health problems. We recommend you consult with your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist if your dog has aggressive tendencies.
Eating inedible objects
Some dogs have no problem eating feces, batteries, chocolate, plastic toys, socks, grass, and rocks. Ingestion of some of these items can be deadly. Medical conditions like pica, a nutritional deficiency, diabetes, hunger, and boredom can drive them to eat non-edible things. Ruling out health issues is the first step to correcting this behavior. Be sure to feed your pet an adequate amount of food for their size, age, and activity level. Eliminate your pet’s access to non-edible items in and around your home. When due to boredom, ensuring your dog gets plenty of physical exercise (walks, a game of fetch, tug-of-war) and mental stimulation (nose games, feeding puzzles, hide-and-seek) can further help reduce or eliminate this behavior.
Although barking is the primary mode of communication for dogs, nuisance barking (vocalizing for the heck of it) can become a real problem if not curtailed. To address this type of behavior, make sure your pet gets sufficient daily exercise, which can tire a dog enough to relax and help reduce barking due to boredom or separation anxiety. To further help reduce barking, remove or avoid whatever triggers that cause your dog to vocalize. Distraction can prove effective as well. When your pet begins nuisance barking, use a noise deterrent for dogs and give the “quiet” command, followed by praise and a treat.
The easiest way to prevent begging is by never giving your dog table food. Teaching your dog to go to their special spot (crate, bed, blanket, etc.) or removing them while you eat can help reduce the desire to join in.
Dogs often get excited and jump up on their humans coming home or when meeting new people, which can injure someone or your dog. Don’t give your dog any attention when they jump to curtail this dog behavior. Instead, turn away. Once their paws are down on the ground, you can greet and pet them, reinforcing their good behavior. Keeping your greeting subdued and using positive reinforcement to change behavior can quash your dog’s jumps.
Chasing cars, people, and other animals, while typically instinctual, can be dangerous. You have several ways to mitigate this behavior. First and foremost, always keep your dog leashed when outside. Avoid areas with known triggers, like kids riding bikes. Teach your pet the come command using the train, treat, repeat method. You will also need to learn your dog’s body language, so you know when he’s alert (stiff body, raised hair) and preparing to chase. When you see these signs, use a training device like the BarxBuddy to get your pet’s attention so you can redirect your dog’s focus to you. Be sure to praise or offer treats when your dog follows your command.
Positive Reinforcement Behavior Training Tips:
Reinforcing good dog behavior takes time, consistency, and patience. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind as you train your pet:
- Use high-value treats. If your dog doesn’t care for the reward, chances are they won’t follow through with the behavior you seek. The more your dog likes the treat, the more they will pay attention. Save those high-value treats for training, and don’t use them for “just because” snacks or treats between meals.
- Adopt a good-dog voice and reward. Reward your dog for being good whenever you can.
- Don’t delay rewards. Provide a reward for good behavior within seconds; any longer and your pet won’t be able to connect the behavior with the reward.
- Take a deep breath. Remain calm and positive; your dog can feed off your feelings.