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Many of our dog training clients have dogs with behavior problems. The dogs are annoying the neighbors with their excessive barking, chewing up the family's shoes and socks, lunging on the leash or stealing food off the counters, to name just a few. All too often, it is the owner that is reinforcing the unwanted behavior, without realizing it.
Behavior problems often stem from the dog not getting enough exercise or mental stimulation. People often don't realize that their dogs are simply bored and are looking for something to do. When the animal is acting out with unwanted behavior, it is often times the owners that will reinforce the bad behavior by giving it attention. Dogs like attention, especially from their owners! Let me illustrate with a few examples.
If the family pet is stealing shoes and socks, and chewing on them, the owners will often times go after the dog, as she runs around with the shoe in her mouth. The dog loves the chase me game and will not understand the owner is chasing her because they don't want her to destroy the expensive footwear.
Next time, instead of chasing the dog and trying to pry the valuable item out of her mouth, try this approach:
Stand still and find an item that the dog should be chewing on. Without paying any attention to the dog, pick up the item, like the rawhide bone, or even a squeaky toy. Start paying a lot of attention to the item you are holding. You can squat down and squeak the toy, or waive the rawhide. The dog will lose interest in the shoe she is currently holding and will come over to investigate what you have. If she hasn't dropped the valuable item you are after, don't try to take it from her, that will only start the game of tug of war again. Offer the item you have to her. Since she cannot hold two items in her mouth, she will drop what she has and take the toy or treat you are offering. Praise her and remove the item you want.
Here is another example. If the dog is lunging on the leash, jumping and barking at cats, other dogs or other people, owners often try dragging the dog back, holding it very tight and frantically telling the dog to stop. The owners are either embarrassed or frustrated or even afraid. All this is actually increasing the behavior. So if your dog tends to act out while on the walk, next time try this approach instead:
Always make sure that you are calm and relaxed. Do not tense up and hold the leash tightly. You should always have your arms down and relaxed, holding the leash loosely. At the first sign of lunging or jumping, give the dog a correction and tell him “no”. If he is already escalated to were he is fixated on the cat, dog or person, change direction and get him to focus back on you. You can walk a few feet in the other direction, and then get better control of him. Give only short corrections with the leash, but do not let it be tight. As you walk past the distraction, make sure you are not fixated on it. If you pay no attention to the distraction, your dog will be less likely to as well.
This of course only works, if you have control of your dog on a normal walk, with a loose leash. If your dog always pulls you on the leash, you need to work first on having him walk on a loose leash. Being in control of your dog on leash is the most important thing to teach your dog. If this is something you and your dog still need to work on, you may find my upcoming blog on leash training of interest.
Whatever the behavior issue, be aware of your reaction or your actions. Are you giving attention to the very thing you wish the dog to stop doing? To correct behavior issues, you need show the dog what behavior you want. Dogs don't understand “don't do this” they need you to show them what to do.