What are unacceptable behaviors for dogs?
How to Break 7 Common Bad Dog Habits
How many times have you scolded your misbehaving canine with those words? Probably too many. But before you fly off the handle, one of the most important things to understand about correcting bad behavior is that punishment doesn’t work. Many times, dogs don’t understand what they’re being punished for, and will respond by learning to hide the behavior.
To help you get a handle on your dog’s conduct, we’ve listed common bad habits. We offer tips here and we also link to longer articles on each subject as well. But remember, it is always important to discuss behavior issues with your veterinarian who can determine if they are caused by a medical problem. If he gives you the all clear, consider enlisting the help of a trainer or behaviorist to teach your dog appropriate go-to behaviors.
1. Chewing Inappropriate Objects
Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, since they explore their environment with their mouth. It also relieves stress and boredom, and helps keep their teeth clean.
When you catch your dog chewing inappropriate objects (like shoes, as many dogs do), redirect the chewing to an appropriate item, like a chew toy or stuffed Kong. Then praise your pup for selecting an acceptable outlet for his chewing behavior. Talk with your veterinarian about which chews are safe for your dog.
2. Barking at the Doorbell
Dogs bark at the doorbell for any number of reasons. They could be excited or anxious about visitors, or they might bark as a watchdog tendency. Some dogs even equate their barking with you opening the door, so they think they’re training you to open the door when they bark. One of the best ways to stop barking at the doorbell is to teach and reward an alternative behavior, like sitting on a nearby mat and waiting for the door to be opened.
3. Digging in the Yard
Digging is an extremely rewarding activity for dogs, whether they’re digging to reach a scent or simply to release pent-up energy. Help your dog practice this behavior appropriately by giving him a sandbox or section of the yard where he’s allowed to dig.
Make sure this area has clearly marked visual boundaries, and use treats and toys to make this new digging place more exciting than the old one.
4. Barking in the Car
Those shrill yaps from the backseat can be your dog expressing many emotions, from fear and frustration to exuberant joy. The best way to address barking in the car is to employ restraint equipment, like a harness or a crate to help your pet feel more secure. Other options include using a pheromone spray to help relax your dog, or giving him a chew toy to focus on during the car ride.
5. Begging at the Table
No matter how cute or desperate for food your dog looks, consistency is the key to curbing dinner-table begging. Make sure no one in your family feeds the dog from the table.
Even if his begging only works once in a blue moon, he’ll repeat and escalate the behavior until all his barking and whining pays off with a rare food reward. Instead of giving in, provide your dog with an appropriate dinnertime activity, like enjoying his own toys or food puzzles.
6. Urine Marking Inside the House
This is one of the most «eww»-worthy bad behaviors. Dogs pee on things to mark territory or leave messages for canine friends, which is generally acceptable outdoors. If you catch your dog urine marking (or even preparing to mark) inside the house, quickly interrupt him with a «no» or an «oops» and take him outside. Then reward and praise him for choosing to urinate outdoors.
To prevent frequent urination in the same household spot, remove the scent of previous urine marks with a good enzymatic cleaner.
7. Stealing Food Off Counters
Trainers call this bad behavior «counter-surfing.» It’s one of the more difficult habits to break, since Fido experiences a huge reward for stealing the food: He gets to eat it! The easiest way to solve this problem is to eliminate the opportunity. Don’t leave food around, and use baby gates or fencing to restrict your dog’s access to the kitchen when you’re not there to supervise him. Teaching the «leave it» command is useful for when you catch him in the act of stealing snacks.
Breaking Bad Behavior in Dogs
No dog is born perfect, and they certainly do not arrive in our homes naturally knowing how to co-exist with us in a human world. Therefore, as pet parents, it is up to us to teach our dogs what is expected of them and to guide them into making good choices. Whether you have a brand-new puppy on your hands or have taken in a full-grown dog with bad behavior, the rules of dog training are the same. Read on to learn how to get the best out of your dog.
A dog without effective leadership is like a toddler who is lost in the mall. There are so many lights and sounds and strangers, and mom is nowhere to be found. They have no way of communicating with anyone around them or making sense of everything they see and hear, so they can do one of two things: They can either stand in the middle of the mall and scream and throw a temper tantrum, or they can go hide somewhere and cry. The same goes for your dog; without guidance and trust, your dog can either move towards the aggressive side of the spectrum or the fearful side. Now, imagine a police officer approaches the lost toddler and takes him by the hand and says “It’s okay, I’ve got you. Let’s go find your mom.” Now the world is less scary because there is someone here now who understands what is going on who can make sense of the world for them. You must step up and be your dog’s police officer, their leader, their mom or dad. There are many tools out there that can assist you in training and teaching your dog. Just as a child needs guidance to learn about the world they live in, so does your dog. When your dog can put their trust in you to protect them and show them what is expected of them, they will begin to let go of their anxiety and enjoy life.
Freedom is Earned
If you would not leave your toddler alone for the day in your home, then you shouldn’t leave your dog unsupervised either, at least not until they have learned the rules of the house and are following them reliably. If you are not supervising your dog when they are inside your house, then you lose out on the opportunity to correct them when they are getting into trouble, as well as the opportunity to reward them when they are doing something right. Set your dog up for success by limiting their freedom. Instead of leaving your dog alone with yummy (and dangerous!) power cords to chew on, an entire house to turn into their personal toilet, and furniture to destroy, eliminate free roaming around the house until your dog has earned your trust.
Once your dog has earned enough trust to be tested, try a product that allows you to spy check on your dog while you’re out. Products like Petcube allow you to check on your dog via an in-home camera and an app and even dole out treats when your dog does something reward-worthy!
Everyone in your home needs to be on board with your dog’s house rules. If the dog is not allowed on the couch, then no one should be sneaking her on the couch when you are not home. If the dog is not allowed to eat scraps from the dinner table, then the dog should be put away during dinnertime to eliminate the temptation. If your rules lack consistent reinforcement, then your dog will become confused and bad behavior will continue.
Know What Behaviors You are Rewarding
Often, owners reinforce bad behavior without realizing it. To a dog, any form of touching them, talking to them, giving them eye contact, or giving them praise, treats and attention are all considered rewards. Therefore, if your dog is barking and lunging at another dog or person and you pick them up and pet them to calm them down, you have just reinforced their bad behavior. If your dog is outside barking and you shout at them to knock it off, you have just joined in the conversation and praised them for barking! Pay close attention to what behaviors you are rewarding because to a dog any attention is better than no attention. If you are having trouble identifying your behaviors or refraining from the actions mentioned above when trying to correct and train your dog, you may want to try clicker training. You can learn more here.
Rewarding Good Behaviors
There is a saying in dog training: “Ignore the behaviors you don’t want, and reward the ones that you do.” If your dog is too high-energy and you want them to be calmer, give them praise, rewards and attention when they are laying calmly at your feet. If your dog jumps all over you when you walk through the door and you ignore it, praise your dog when all four paws are back on the ground. Dogs are very smart and they will not waste valuable energy continuing to do behaviors that earn them nothing, so use this knowledge to your advantage and reward the behaviors you want your dog to keep doing.
Correcting Bad Behavior
Dogs live in the moment, so bad behavior needs to be corrected within 1-2 seconds of the behavior in order to understand that what they did was bad. So in the event I catch my dog doing something bad, for example, getting into the trash can, I can firmly say “AH-AH!” to interrupt the behavior. Once the bad behavior has been interrupted, I can then praise them for stopping what they were doing.
Above all else, remember to be patient with your dog. They need love and understanding while they are learning how to be the dog you want them to be. Every dog needs a little work in the beginning, but I promise that if you take the time to work with your dog, you will reap the benefits of all of your hard work for the rest of your life, tenfold!