Oh No You Didn’t!

The first thing most people think about when they bring a dog home is how to stop bad behaviors. Stopping them is important but even more important is preventing bad behaviors from occurring in the first place. Prevention not only keeps bad behaviors from becoming habits, it also stops the dog from finding out how much fun those bad behaviors can be! Behaviors that are fun for the dog will get repeated with greater frequency.

Imagine the dog who likes toilet paper. At his first opportunity, he enters the bathroom grabs a mouthful and runs! This gets the nearby human to immediately chase him in what he considers to be a great game of pursuit. Young dogs are explorers, so when you bring one into your home, look at the house from the dog’s perspective. Everything is chew toy fun. It doesn’t matter if it is a sofa cushion, your favorite book or a squeeky toy. All those items can get torn up in much the same way, so your dog sees them as the same.

By implementing mistake-free learning, you remove all items that could be considered a chew toy to your dog. After he has been with you awhile and adopted appropriate habits, you can begin to reintroduce the things that would have been problematic before. He will ignore them because he now has established appropriate behaviors.

Because it is nearly impossible to remove everything that your dog might get into trouble with, you also have to use supervision. This means that when your dog is not in his crate, you are carefully watching him. You will watch for signs of behaviors that you like, so you can quickly
reward them, and for signs of unwanted behavior so that you can discourage them.

Discouraging Unwanted Behavior

So, let’s say when you got home you forgot to put your leather gloves away. You also got very busy and forgot that you should have been supervising your dog. Now, you have just discovered that he is happily chewing on your gloves. What do you do now?

First and foremost, do not resort to any type of physical punishment (i.e., shaking cans of pennies, squirt bottles, rolled up newspapers or smacking). Confrontational tactics and strong discipline will create a fearful dog that distrusts you. You want your dog to see you as the person to whom he/she can go for comfort, friendship and kindness. If your hands dispense scary or painful things, your relationship with your dog will be one that is based on fear and avoidance.

If your dog does do something you don’t like, you can convey your displeasure by:

Ignoring the dog – Avoid making eye contact with your dog, turn your back or even leave the room. This method works best on attention seeking behaviors like barking at you or pestering.

Interrupting and redirecting – Calmly interrupt the inappropriate behavior with a short sharp noise like Eh-Eh, then direct her to what she should be doing. Provide her with a bone to chew instead. This works for potty accidents, destructive behaviors like chewing or even counter surfing.

Time-out – Put her in her crate for 30 seconds. Do this calmly and without emotion. This is the canine equivalent of being sent to your room. Using the crate as a means of removing the dog from a behavior you don’t like won’t ruin the crate as a safe place. At other times continue to use the crate for other good things, like eating and sleeping.

Lastly, Remove an expected reward – Take away something the dog wants as a direct result of inappropriate behavior. For example: barking for food makes me put the food away; being pushy around the door makes me close it; and jumping at the leash makes me put it down.

It is important to remember that after the fact reprimands don’t work. If you did not see the dog perform the behavior, just pick up the pieces and move on. It isn’t that dogs don’t have good memories, it is just difficult for them to understand what behavior caused the problem when dogs don’t understand human language.

So the keys to getting rid of bad behavior are: 1. prevention, 2. mistake free learning, 3. supervision, 4. rewarding good behavior, and 5. discouraging unwanted behaviors with ignoring, interrupting/redirecting, time-out and removing an expected reward.

Most common behavior problems can be solved with the tools listed above and a little preparation. If you are thinking that a great deal of getting good behavior from your dog is the responsibility of the human, you are right!