Ain't Misbehavin', etc.
Note: All articles are written and copyright protected by Martha Winters, CPDT, CNWI, unless otherwise credited.
As cute and adorable as they are, puppies and dogs are not little humans in fuzzy costumes. With patience and a little training, you can teach your pup what you want it to do.
Puppies are not born with good human manners. They do not know what we, as humans, consider acceptable behavior. And they do not understand English. Contrary to what many people believe... DOGS DO NOT MISBEHAVE ON PURPOSE! Never forget this! Dogs don't intentionally do things that are bad. PEOPLE do that! A dog merely behaves a certain way because it is beneficial to the dog to do so, PERIOD. It tastes good or it feels good or it's fun or it gets your attention or it makes him feel safe.
When your puppy derives a benefit from his behavior, he will want to repeat that behavior more often. He learns to associate good results with that activity. If an activity brings about unwanted consequences or nothing worthwhile, your puppy will be less likely to repeat that particular behavior. He wants pleasant things in his life and wants to avoid anything he doesn't like.
A beneficial outcome (known as a reward) can come in the form of anything the dog finds pleasing. Be careful not to project into the dog what types of rewards you think he should like. Don't try to force your pup to like something he doesn't. ("By golly, I bought these treats on sale, and he's gonna eat them whether he likes 'em or not!") It won't work. A fun project is to make a list of 30 things your puppy likes. These come in three categories: food, toys, activities. After you compile the list, rank the items in order of your dog's preference, you know, which one he likes best, then second best, etc.
Dogs do not enjoy everything equally. It will be helpful in your training to know which things your dog likes a little, and which ones will make him do back flips. When training your dog, you are competing with all the stimuli and distractions that are enticing him. Let's say you have a small, dry dog biscuit in one hand, and a live squirrel in your other hand. Which item do you think will grab your dog's attention? If you answered the squirrel, you will be right most of the time. Now, let's say your dog is chasing a squirrel in the backyard, and you call him to come, as you waggle a dry dog biscuit in your hand to lure him. Which activity do you think he will decide to do? Remember, dogs do not purposely misbehave. So, as he continues to chase the squirrel, keep in mind that he is not defying your orders. He is simply making a choice as to which activity will benefit him more at that time. He will always go for the best game in town when there is a choice.
Dogs will try different behaviors until they find the one that works. All too often, we pay attention to our dogs when they are behaving inappropriately, and we ignore them when they're good. For example, your dog wants your attention, so he sits quietly in front of you, looking at you. You ignore him. So he paws at your leg. You ignore him. So he barks at you, and you tell him to be quiet. Well, you have just rewarded the dog for barking by paying attention to him. So the next time he wants your attention, his first attempt will be to bark at you, because that's what works! When a dog wants attention, he will take it in any form. You can be nasty and yell at him, but you are still reinforcing the behavior you don't want.
Instead, a good way to teach your puppy acceptable behavior is to CATCH YOUR DOG IN THE ACT OF DOING SOMETHING RIGHT. When your pup is being an angel, let him know you like it. The moment you see him start to do something you like, reward him immediately. So when he sits near you and silently looks up at you in that adorable way, pay attention! Reward him. Don't wait for him to do the wrong thing and have to correct him. It's not necessary for you to tell your pup to do the behavior for him to receive a reward. The fact that the little doggie is doing something you like is reason enough.
But, Ma, I Need It!
Does your dog bark at at every little thing, pester you endlessly whenever you're around, or dig holes throughout your landscaped paradise? Has he chewed off the corners of your antique furniture and shredded Grandma's handmade quilt? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your dog may be suffering from unfulfilled needs.
A dog doesn't require much, but if a dog has a need that is not being met, he may act out on that need in order to cope with the frustration. These behaviors are often unacceptable and inappropriate to humans, although they are normal for dogs. It is our responsibility, as dog owners, to provide the things our dogs require, so that they are less likely to engage in unwanted and destructive behaviors.
Dog's don't suppress their emotions the way we do; they express their feelings through their actions. Keep in mind, that DOGS DO NOT PURPOSELY MISBEHAVE.
When you want to solve an ongoing behavior problem, first make sure the cause is NOT due to a physical ailment or injury. Next, determine what need the dog has that is not being met. Then alter the dog's environment so the need can be satisfied, and the unwanted behavior should disappear.
Four important needs that dogs have are:
1. To feel at ease in their home environment.
The dog may bark in the yard all day (or night) because he's nervous or anxious. He may feel unsafe or vulnerable to predators because he does not have adequate shelter (from the dog's perspective). If that's the case, provide areas for him that make him feel more protected, or bring him inside the house.
Dogs are social animals. They want to be with their family (that means YOU) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But most of us lead very busy lives. So the dog spends lots of time without you. And when you come home, he is beside himself with excitement and won't leave you alone. "Oh my gosh, you're home!! I've been waiting and waiting! I'm not letting you out of my sight!" If this scenario seems familiar, arrange for someone to spend more time with him. Come home for lunch, or ask a neighbor to look in on him at midday. Hire a dog walker. Give him plenty of things to do while you are away so he won't miss you so much.
3. Physical exercise.
If he's digging holes or chewing on the walls and rugs because it relieves pent-up energy, your dog may need physical exercise. Taking him for a long walk is better than nothing. But for most dogs, that's like going for a nice stroll. Playing fetch or Frisbee with the pup until he wants to stop is more effective because he can exert himself as much as needed.
4. Mental Exercise.
If he's tearing up things because he's bored, provide him with mentally stimulating activities and toys. Puzzle toys and hollow items with food inside are marvelous projects for the dog. They provide acceptable outlets for your dog's intellectual needs, and are also time-consuming.
Be wary of products for sale that claim a quick fix for problem behavior. Many of them treat only the symptom, not the cause of the problem. For instance, an electronic shock collar might stop a lonely dog from barking, but it won't cure his loneliness. The need is still there and may manifest itself in other ways. Chewing on the house or biting people are possibilities. Please remember, providing for your dog's basic needs is essential for the development of a well-adjusted pet.