Has your dog been a bad dog lately? Perhaps ruined your furniture, shredded blankets or pillows? Barks incessantly? Marked his territory on your favorite carpet? Often these behaviors are misunderstood and mishandled by dog owners and sometimes dog owners even unwittingly reinforce unwanted behaviors by the way they respond to things.
Understanding why your dog is doing these things is the one of the first step in correcting these behavior issues. Dogs are smart and will do whatever works to get them what they want. Note what happens right after the bad behavior. Did they get the attention they were looking for? Did they just figure out a great way to start a game of chase? The good news is that dogs truly want to please their owners so you can make that work to your advantage. When you understand what exactly your dog gets out of a certain behavior you can then reward the behaviors you like and take away the reward of the behaviors you don’t like.
Research in animal behavior science has shown that for correcting bad behavior, methods such as punishment, confrontation and aversive training techniques don’t work well at all. In fact, with these kinds of techniques the dogs often don’t understand what exactly they are being punished for and will learn to hide their behavior and may even become afraid of you and this can ruin your relationship with them.
On the flip side rewards based systems work very well with dog training. Rewards tell your dog you are pleased and happy with him and dogs truly want to make their owners happy so they will repeat the behavior that made you happy. When they get that they are rewarded for behaviors you like and that there is no reward for behaviors you don’t like their behavior will correct rather quickly. Rewards can be food treats, petting, praise and simply your happiness and delight can also be reward enough to your dog.
There can also be other factors involved with your dog exhibiting an undesired behavior. Some of the other common reasons can include that your dog simply doesn’t know what behavior your want from him. This is something you need to teach him. This is especially the case with a new dog. There’s a learning curve for both of you with regards to what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
Another possible reason could be your dog’s needs aren’t being met properly such as being walked and exercised enough to burn off their energy or they are hungry or uncomfortable and need to get your attention. If your dog has too much energy building up from not getting enough exercise or play this pent up energy might find another outlet through activities such as barking or chewing on various items around the house. If this is the case your dog needs to be provided with exercise and play first to exhaust this built up energy before the behavior can be resolved.
Still another possibility might simply be that the rewards for their unwanted behavior outweigh the rewards for the desired behavior. When this is the case find a way to change the balance.
Understanding How Your Dog Thinks and Learns
Timing is everything when it comes to communicating to your dog what is not acceptable. Dogs minds work in a vastly different way than a human mind. They only understand the present moment. If they did something wrong an hour ago and you discover it and yell at them they won’t make a connection between their behavior and the thing your are upset about. You have to pretty much catch them in the act and discipline them on the spot. This way they will understand their behavior at that exact moment is what displeases you.
This applies to good behavior as well. Remember to praise and reward them when they are in the midst of good behavior and they will understand this is what they should do to make you happy.
Dog are also very context specific. For example, if you tell him to stop barking in your living room he will understand not to bark in the living room but you will probably also have to teach him that barking at people on sidewalks while taking a walk or while in the car is also not ok.
You might have to go through this process in several locations before he gets that barking at people in any location is what you don’t approve of.
Helpful Dog Training Tips
▪ Be consistent! Your reaction to behaviors needs to be consistent or you will confuse your dog. For example, if your dog jumps on you to greet you and sometimes you pet him and other times you scold him he will be confused about when it is ok to do this and when it isn’t.
▪ Keep the training sessions short. Dogs, like children, have short attention spans. 10 to 15 minutes maximum at a time is ideal, however, you can do more than one session per day just not all at one time.
▪ Use one word commands. Animals don’t speak English. They can learn what you mean when say certain words but it gets confusing to them when you use a command word mixed with a lot of other words in a sentence. Keep your commands to one word like “no”, “sit”, “down” etc.
▪ Break complex commands into small, individual steps. A complex command for example that involves distance, duration and focus in the midst of distraction is too much for your dog to learn all at once. Teaching each of the steps individually so they can mastered on their own before combining them into one skill is easier for your dog to learn and easier for your to teach.
▪ Give your dog a reward worth working for. When your dog does the desired behavior reward him instantly with a treat he really loves. And make sure to give the treat and praise him immediately following the desired behavior so he understands what it is you’re trying to teach him.
▪ Be patient and don’t get angry and frustrated. Dog are very sensitive animals and getting angry at them can make them anxious, nervous and even scared of you and they might start to associate training with something they want to avoid. If you feel yourself getting angry and frustrated just end the session and try again later when you are in a calm and patient state of mind. With persistence, eventually your smart pup will get it.