This is the first blog in a series of four that we will be posting each week in January for Train Your Dog Month. Read through to see what other behaviors Adopt & Shop trainer and pet safety coordinator Jessica J. will be covering!
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.
When I first adopted my dog Cindy, an Alaskan Malamute, she was already 6 years old and came with a laundry list of behavior problems; habits that she had picked up throughout her life and her time on the street. My dog’s behavior issues included problems like food aggression, aggression towards dogs, a high predatory chase drive, fear of men, fear of children, and she was severely under-socialized. It took me two years to correct all of her issues, and now she works with me doing outreach events to teach children how to properly greet dogs. She also visits patients in hospitals, assists me during training classes, and lives happily now with seven cats (!). If my dog can overcome her bad habits, then any dog can!
Here are my favorite tips for breaking YOUR dog’s bad habits:
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. 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. There is a saying at my house, and that is “freedom is earned, and it is earned through reliable behaviors.” This means that when I cannot physically be there to supervise my dog, then she should be moved to a location where she cannot get into any trouble, such as a crate, a playpen, or a puppy-proofed small room. When I return home, I keep my dog limited to only the room that I am in so I can supervise what she is doing. If I move to another room, I call my dog to come with me. I use baby gates and close doors to limit her freedom so she cannot wander into other rooms without me. After several weeks of giving my dog access to only one room, if there have not been any incidences then I slowly expand her territory to one additional room every few weeks. If any incidences do occur, I subtract one room until they earn it back again.
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 the training will not stick.
Know What Behaviors You Are Rewarding
Often, owners reinforce bad behaviors 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 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! So be sure to pay attention to what behaviors you are rewarding, because to a dog any attention is better than no attention, right?
Rewarding Good Behaviors
There is an old 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 Behaviors
Dogs live in the moment, so bad behaviors need 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 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, ten-fold! I never gave up on my dog Cindy, even when she was at her worst, and now I couldn’t possibly imagine my life without her!
So now that we have learned how to break bad behaviors in dogs, be sure to check back each week in January for tips on how to end some common bad habits such as Leash Pulling, Jumping and Excessive Barking! Let’s start the New Year off with your dog on the right paw!
What common “bad” dog behaviors would you like to know more about? Leave a comment below!