Understanding Normal Dog Behavior

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Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant, Colleen Pelar, clarifies some common misconceptions and shares some important information about your dog’s “bad” behavior.

dog stalking a ball

Most “bad” behavior is actually normal dog behavior.  Barking, digging, chewing, pulling on the leash – these are things that dogs do, and it’s our job as responsible pet owners to mitigate these “problems.”  Colleen’s four cures are exercise, mind games, management, and training. If your dog digs, exercise him more.  If he likes to chew, make sure he has plenty of chew toys.  If he pulls on the leash, try using a no-pull harness.  This seems like common sense, but we sometimes forget that just saying “no” is not enough.  We have to play an active part in our dog’s life, ensuring he is healthy, active (both mentally and physically), and happy.

Proactive management prevents problems.  Here’s an example: if your dog cannot stand the FedEx guy, put him in another room before you answer the door!  Sometimes good dog behavior is managing the situation and realizing it’s ok to simply avoid the problems.  Help your dog by keeping her out of situations that you know she doesn’t like. Happy, calm pets make happy, calm owners.

Dog training can affect behavior, but it will not affect temperament. Neither people nor dogs are born as empty vessels.  Each of us has a unique personality and temperament that is very much our own.  That’s what makes you, you, and Rufus, Rufus. When you’re choosing your dog, pick a dog with the right temperament for your family because that is something you can’t change. Your dog’s personality is what makes you love her and what makes her your dog.  So understand that she has a certain temperament and don’t expect her to change. She wouldn’t ask you to!

The goal of training is communication, not obedience. Training is a vital part of dog ownership.  We don’t train our dog to make her to do what we say – we train so that we improve our relationship with our dog. Training provides mental and physical stimulation for our dogs. It provides a chance for us to learn what our dog is having a hard time with and what areas we need to work on. Training increases our appreciation, empathy and helps us understand our dogs better, which helps us communicate better.  As we all know, communication is key to any relationship!

Dogs have emotions. People think that there are good dogs and bad dogs, but that is not the case. Dogs have varying degrees of emotions, and the behavior that shows us these emotions is broken into three categories- enjoyment, tolerance and enough already.  Learning to read your dog’s body language can help you keep your dog happy and prevent her from being in a situation where she goes from tolerant… to enough already. Before she barks, snaps, or bites.

Licking lips, yawning, turning away, shaking off, a closed mouth, half moon eyes, itching, these can all be signs that your dog is tolerating a situation, but not enjoying it. Whether it’s the energetic puppy that’s jumping on her or your neighbor’s toddler “petting” her, make sure you are aware of your dog’s body language.  Dogs are incredibly tolerant and we love them for that, but if your dog is showing you signs that she’s not enjoying herself, help her and remove her from the situation before she’s had enough.

If you are extremely lucky, your relationship with your dog will last for years and years.  Make them happy and fulfilling by taking the time to properly understand, and communicate with your best friend.