How to stop unwanted behavior- the positive interrupter
How to Stop a Dog's Unwanted Behavior
Has your dog chewed up your favorite pair of penny loafers? Has he bit the mailman or the paper boy too many times? Has he refused to play poker with you no matter how many times you’ve sat him up in a comfortable chair, dressed him up in a smoking jacket, and put a full house in his paws? Each one of these scenarios — ranging from the predictable to the unrealistic — could be considered “unwanted”. Ultimately, you’ll need to train your dog to exhibit “proper” behavior — however, you define it. In order to accomplish any of these goals, you’ll need to understand your dog’s decision making process, assess why it makes the choices it does, and then train it to behave properly.
Assessing Causes of Behavioral Issues
Determine the cause of your dog's behavior.Remember that your dog makes all of his choices out of his own self-interest. What is your dog getting for this behavior? Is it your attention, good or bad? Is it turning into a fun game for your dog? After establishing what is causing your dog to act in such a way, you’ll better understand how to change his behavior for the better.
- Think broadly about your dog’s behavioral issues. Most likely, your dog is acting badly for a number of reasons. You should consider a number of factors including its diet and the amount of time it spends exercising or locked up in a kennel/cage/room.
Look at your behavior.Do you leap to the dog's beck and call by yelling at it or cajoling it to stop? Maybe this is exactly what your pooch wants from you. Even angry attention is attention — your dog craves to be noticed and be part of the pack. If you only notice or give attention when your dog is acting up, you are responsible for "training" him to be bad.
Look at your dog’s environment.Is there something almost “irresistible” in your dog’s space? This might take some detective work or it may be incredibly obvious! If your dog chews on slippers, remove them. If your dog can’t help but bark at people walking outside your house, obstruct its view. Set your dog up for success. When your dog behaves properly, you can reward it. Without triggers, your dog will behave better.
Consider his diet.Is there a pattern to the start of his bad behavior that coincides with a change of diet? A lot like some kids with food or additive intolerances, some dogs can be intolerant of a particular ingredient or preservative in a food and it shows it's as hyperactivity and bad behavior. If you suspect this to be the case, run a detox and either put him back on his original diet, or give him a bland (chicken and rice) diet for a couple of weeks and see if his behavior improves.
Fixing the Problem Behavior
Don’t physically punish your dog.If you have punished your dog more than three times for the same behavior, your punishment is not appropriate. Remember - the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results! Punishing your dog will damage your relationship with your dog and possibly make the problem worse. A punishment does not have to be physical. Find alternatives that don’t injure or scare your dog. Do not hit or hurt your dog in any way. This breeds vicious, scared dogs, not lovable, huggable pooches.
- Never hit your dog. Just say "No!" firmly instead.Your dog will make the connection between his behavior and what you did to stop him.
Remove physical stimulants.If there are certain objects, toys, and plants in your house or garden that appear to "set off" your dog, remove them. Give your dog a toy that it likes, that it will spend an hour playing with. Get a rawhide bone, a real bone, or a safe chew-toy. If there is some way to fill it with treats, your dog will spend even more time trying to get the treats out.
Consider clicker training to train your dog.Clicker training is a method of delivering immediate praise with the help of a clicker. You can click faster than you can give a treat or pet your dog's head. As such, clicker training reinforces good behavior fast enough for a dog's learning speed. It works by creating a positive association between the click sound and rewards. Eventually, your dog will consider the sound of the clicker itself reward enough for good behavior. You can apply the principle of clicker training to any dog command.
- Click the clicker device, then immediately give the dog a treat. This creates a positive association with the click sound. Later, that sound will “mark” a behavior as correct so the dog knows that he did something right.
- When the dog performs a desired behavior, make the click sound, then give him a treat. Once he's performing that behavior consistently, you can give the behavior a command name. Begin tying the command and the behavior together with the help of the clicker.
- For example, before you ever teach your dog the "sit" command, give the click sound, a treat, and praise when you find him sitting. When he begins sitting just to get the treats, start saying the word "sit" to get him into position. Pair it with the click sound to reward him. Eventually, he will learn that sitting in response to the "sit" command will earn him a click reward.
Reward the good behavior.When your dog does a behavior youdowant, such as laying down instead of barking,rewardhim or her. He will be much more likely to repeat the desired behavior and less likely to repeat the "bad" behavior. When incentives for bad behavior are withdrawn and incentives for good behavior are introduced consistently, the dog will soon learn the preferred response.
Tone down your behavior.Try to stop yelling, cajoling, or responding in any manner that gives the dog signals that you are excited, playful, dog-focused. Whilst you may feel very irritated, even angry, the dog may misinterpret this for playfulness or "joining in". Resist the temptation. Ignoring and silence is better than yelling — clean the mess up later after you send the dog elsewhere.
Build trust.If your dog is running away from you and hiding, you have a lot of work to do to redevelop your damaged relationship with your dog. Your dog's trust in you has been damaged and it will take a lot of consistency and positive reinforcement training on your part to mend the broken relationship and turn it into something fabulous.
Have patience.Dogs are slow learners. Your dog doesn't have the same contemplative powers that a human does. He can’t learn from one situation and extrapolate for others. To fundamentally change a dog’s behavior requires time and attention. If you have adopted your dog as an older dog with habits that seem to be set in stone, relax. The habits are not set. Remember, dogs are very context specific and that works to our favor. The dog now has a new pack and a new home and if you set the limits and expectations immediately when the dog arrives at his new home, he will learn. Sometimes when you are dealing with a hardwired behavior like a border collie that is herding the neighborhood kids instead of sheep, you cannot easily counter train that out. It is so much easier to manage the situation, rather than try to train him out of it.
- How quickly a bad behavior stops depends on how well established it is. If the problem is an ingrained habit, then it can be difficult to break the association between action and reward. In fact, in the short or medium term the bad behavior can get worse because the dog works even harder to try and get the reward.
Understanding Your Dog’s Psyche
Understand that your dog learns by trial and error.You dog acts in a specific way because of an expected reward - whether it be food, play, or attention. When a dog behaves badly, think about what it gets out of it in terms of a reward and then make sure the reward does not happen. Unfortunately, to the canine mind attention is a huge addictive reward — which means shouting at your dog or telling him off is only rewarding the bad behavior. Any action can have three possible outcomes: a pleasant one, an uncertain one, or an unpleasant one.
- What matters is the dog's response to those outcomes. Each outcome evokes a different response.
- The pleasant outcome, means the behavior is likely to be repeated
- An indifferent outcome, means the dog may or may not repeat the behavior
- An unpleasant outcome means the dog is less likely to repeat the behavior.
- Now when you realize that shouting or chastisement is a reward, it puts a whole different complexion on reacting to bad behavior — you are making the problem worse not better.
Understand that your dog makes direct connections.Dogs live in the moment. If your dog chews up your favorite shoe and you don’t punish him immediately, your dog won’t learn his lesson. If your mother comes home later, discovers the destroyed shoe, and slaps the dog, he will link the punishment to the owner who came home and for no reason slapped him. Thus he becomes wary of the owner. The dog learns nothing about the inherent evils of shoe chewing.
- Punishment isn’t clear for dogs oftentimes. If you catch the dog in the act of chewing a shoe, and tell him off immediately, once again he might simply link the punishment to the owner rather than to the inanimate object he’s destroyed.
Think about your dog's routine.Remember that your dog is a creature of habit. Determine if your dog is boredom or anxious. Boredom and a surplus of energy can turn a normally well-behaved dog into a delinquent. Make sure he has plenty of regular exercise and plenty of opportunity to express physical energy chasing and running. This leaves him happily content when he gets back home and less likely to get up to mischief.
- If your dog is destructive when you're out, consider that he might be anxious or bored in your absence. Try giving him a toy that will consume his attention for 20 to 30 minutes — such as a Kong stuffed with dog food. In hot weather, stuff the Kong and pop it in the freezer overnight, so that he gets a cooling dog-food ice pop to keep his mind occupied whilst your out. The chances are if he gets over the initial half an hour without noticing you're gone then he's more likely to settle down for a nap afterwards.
QuestionHow do I stop my dog from sniffing other dogs' butts?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerButt sniffing is entirely normal behavior. It is the dog equivalent of exchanging a business card to find out more about the other party. Think of the butt-sniffing as an information exchange, and accept that it's something your dog needs to do.Thanks!
QuestionWhat causes aggressive behavior in a puppy?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerIt is rare for a young puppy to be truly aggressive. However, lack of socialization can make a puppy wary of things around him, and he may growl or snap out of fear. He may also learn that if he nips, people back off so he uses this to keep some personal space. It is important to correct this trend at a young age. Seek the help of a reputable dog trainer or behaviorist, and in the meantime work on rewarding good behavior and distracting him with a toy from situations where he may threaten to bite.Thanks!
QuestionMy dog has day and night mixed up. We are out all day, so how should we correct this?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerIf the dog is alone for more than 4-6 hours, then consider employing a dog walker to exercise the dog. In addition, feed her using puzzle feeders, so she has to problem solve to get the food, which gives her some mental stimulation. Set up a rotation to spread the load. Have one family member take the dog for a long walk first thing in the morning and when you get home at night, and possibly a third walk just before bedtime.Thanks!
QuestionMy rescue German Shepherd for the first time ever was out with me in the driveway without a leash. A runner came by, and he took off after him in a very aggressive way. How should I handle this behavior?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerMany dogs instinctively chase rapidly moving objects (think frisbees, balls, and rabbits!) You need to replace his natural drive to chase with learning to listen and obey your commands. First, keep him on a leash in high risk surroundings so you can control him at all times. Then teach him basic commands such as "Sit," "Stay," and "Look." Use these to interrupt the chasing behavior, by getting him to sit, look at you, and stay. Only when he does this reliably can you let him off the leash.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I stop my dog from digging in the yard?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerMany dogs dig to relieve boredom. To combat this, make sure the dog gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation via training, using a puzzle feeder, and interactive play. Rather than stop him from digging altogether, set up a designated digging pit for the dog. Bury a dog toy there and encourage him to dig it up. Praise him for digging in the right place, and keep hiding treats or toys there so digging in the right spot is rewarded.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I control my puppy when visitors come? He goes crazy with excitement.
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerThere are several different ways to do this, but one way is to keep him on a leash so that he can't run and jump at visitors. Have them ignore him completely so that his crazy excitement doesn't earn the reward of their attention. Once he is quiet, tell him how clever his is and reward him. Then have the visitors offer a small treat in exchange for "Sit" (which you should teach ahead of time).Thanks!
QuestionMy dog snaps and bites all the time. How can I improve this situation?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerIt is important to seek urgent professional advice from a registered dog behavorist. Your dog's behavior may happen for anyone of a number of reasons, all of which need different management. Guessing the wrong reason and acting inappropriately could make matters much worse. In the meantime, keep yourself safe, and, if necessary, muzzle the dog or keep him on a long line in the house so you can move him from spot to spot without getting too close.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I teach my terrier to live with the pet mice in my bedroom?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerUnfortunately this is very difficult to do. Terriers were selectively bred over many generations to produce dogs with a strong instinct to hunt down vermin (even pet mice!). The instinct is so hard-wired that in some it is impossible to overcome. You can try by rewarding the dog's calm behavior when in the presence of the mice. Start with the cage at a sufficient enough distance away that the dog doesn't react, and praise him. Have a friend bring the cage a few inches closer, and again praise and reward when he remains calm.Thanks!
QuestionIs love and friendship with your dog important?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, both matter. Dogs are like children. It is very important for them to know their owners/parents love them. After all, if the pet owner doesn't love his or her pet, who will?Thanks!
QuestionWhy does my dog keep on pooping in the garage overnight?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on your situation. Make sure that you take your dog for a walk and let him eliminate outside before locking him in the garage for the night. Also, if your dog defecates in the garage, be sure to let him know that he cannot do that. It may also be a medical issue, so talking to your veterinarian might be a good idea.Thanks!
To stop a dog's unwanted behavior, speak and react to your dog calmly rather than yelling at it, since dogs don't respond well to verbal or physical punishment. You can say "No!" firmly and in a tone of voice reserved only for bad behavior. Be sure to remove any objects, toys, or plants that negatively stimulate your dog and reward good behavior with verbal praise and treats to positively reinforce that behavior!
Sources and Citations
- Don't Shoot the Dog. Karen Pryor. Publisher: Ringpress Books
- The Happy Puppy Handbook. Pippa Mattinson. Publisher: Ebury Digital
- Don't Shoot the Dog. Karen Pryor. Publisher: Ringpress Books
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