What to do when your dog misbehaves

When your dog or puppy misbehaves, it can be frustrating. There are many nuances to changing behaviors, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

If your dog is chewing the wrong things, jumping on guests, climbing on furniture, or engaging in other behaviors you’d prefer he not, here are a few changes you can make today to improve your communication with your dog when you notice behaviors you don’t like. 

Don’t punish.

This includes yelling at the dog, saying “no!”, making loud sounds such as “eh eh”, physically reprimanding the dog, using a loud voice, or using your body to intimidate the dog into stopping the unwanted behavior.

Among other things, punishment can cause confusion, frustration, fear, or aggression, and it simply isn’t necessary in order to stop the behavior. Punishment can lead to even more behavior trouble that is far more difficult to deal with than the initial unwanted behavior, so avoid it as much as possible.

The other major problem with punishment is that it doesn’t teach the dog what to do instead. Remember, dogs do what works for them. If the unwanted behavior stops working, they’ll stop offering it and move on to something that works better to get what they want.

Recognize the dog’s needs.

If dog makes a mistake, remember that this “mistake behavior” is usually fulfilling some kind of need the dog has, whether it’s a need to communicate, a request for attention, a need to alleviate boredom, or just a need to do the types of normal dog behaviors that aren’t always appropriate in human households (digging, chewing, etc.) You should focus on giving a dog another way to fulfill his needs that is more appropriate.

Redirect.

Guide the dog to another behavior or something else to do that moves them away from the unwanted behavior (preferably something the dog finds equally reinforcing) and puts their focus on something else.

Make a change to the environment so it doesn’t keep happening.

Consider the ways you might try some of the following for your situation:

  • Give the dog something to do that entertains him so he doesn’t choose the unwanted behavior.
  • Use barriers to block areas (or people or other pets) that are off limits at certain times.
  • Use playpens or baby gates to help the dog resist certain temptations.
  • Put things away and secure drawers, doors, and trash cans as-needed

This will help the dog avoid repeating the same behavior in the immediate situation, and it will also help him to avoid making a habit of the future.

Give plenty of physical exercise.

Sometimes, an increase or a change in type of physical exercise the dog gets can be very helpful. Keep notes regarding the activities your dog engages in, and see if you notice a correlation between increases or changes in those physical activities and a decrease in the unwanted behavior.

Add mental stimulation.

Look for ways you can get your dog’s brain working harder throughout the day. This might include using interactive or puzzle toys, playing simple clicker training games, hiding toys or treats around the house for the dog to find, or any other interactive exercise that gets him thinking.

Choose, teach, and reinforce an alternative behavior.

Choose a behavior (or set of behaviors, if necessary) that you prefer the dog do instead. The best type of alternative behavior is one that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior (for example, sitting is incompatible with jumping, since they can’t be done at the same time). This might be something you’ve already taught your dog in the past, or it might be a new behavior you need to train. Keep it simple, and start with a goal you think is reasonable based on your dog’s needs and current skill set.

Be sure your dog knows the replacement very well, and start to practice it with added challenges that you think he can handle. Give him time during your training sessions to learn the behavior thoroughly and practice with distractions before expecting him to be able to do it in real life.

Set the stage for your dog to be successful, and reinforce the new behavior whenever he makes a good choice.

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