How to fix a dog’s negative behaviour

How to fix a dog’s negative behaviour

Dogs are supposed to be the easy pet, right? Feed him, house him, groom him, walk him, train him and love him and he’ll return all your efforts by being a Good Boy. But how come, no matter how much you try, your dog still exhibits bad behaviour? Let’s take a look and see if we can make some changes.

What are bad dog behaviours?

While some people don’t mind their dog jumping up against them when they walk in through the door, and they have a sweet affinity for the way their dog begs at the table, and they think that throwing away yet another pair of chewed flip-flops is a small price to pay for their dog having something to do, the following are commonly held to be ‘naughty’ dog behaviours:

  • incessant barking
  • digging
  • chewing
  • begging or whining
  • jumping up against people
  • jumping on chairs to get to the table, or even jumping up on the kitchen counter
  • nipping (biting)
  • chasing other pets/animals
  • pulling on the leash
  • urinating indoors (marking)

If your dog exhibits any of these behaviours on occasion, they may be incidental. But if these behaviours are regular and excessive, they may indicate a problem. Dogs who exhibit this behaviour are not being bad for bad’s sake, but rather perform in this way because they are bored, don’t understand what’s expected of them, or are trying to communicate that something is out of sync.

What is influencing your ‘bad dog’?

Aside from a lack of understanding and basic training, there are many factors that may influence your dog’s behaviour:

Age

A puppy has more of a tendency to misbehave because he hasn’t yet had the benefit of training and is still learning what is appropriate… and what is not! Now is the time to teach him what you do and don’t want him to do.

An older dog might ‘misbehave’ by relieving himself indoors or by fighting with other pets. BUT consider that perhaps he is becoming incontinent (cannot control his bladder and bowels). Older dogs also experience mood changes when their kidneys are no longer able to process certain chemicals in the body, or they begin to experience cognitive decline. This can result in changed behaviour towards other pets.

Breed

Some dog breeds were bred over hundreds of years to herd, hunt, or catch vermin. These dogs have a high prey drive and will chase (and potentially kill) small animals, including cats and other small dogs. Some dogs were bred for strength and stamina and need a lot of daily exercise. The husky, for instance, needs to run a minimum of 10km a day. If he gets bored, he will dig, bark, escape and find other destructive ways to relieve his pent-up energy. Having a full understanding of your dog’s built-in behaviours will help to identify why – if at all – he’s being ‘naughty’.

Situation

Many behaviours are the result of dogs still being intact. Unneutered male dogs may be more aggressive, competitive or hyperactive as a result of their need to mate, especially when there’s a female in heat close by. A sterilised dog wouldn’t be as quick to escape the yard.

A yard that is too small, does not grant the dog a lookout point, or is in close proximity to other animals with whom the dog has not been socialised, may cause your dog to bark incessantly – out of frustration or a feeling of insecurity.

Socialisation and training

All dogs need early and consistent socialisation with other animals and a variety of people so they learn what is and is not appropriate interaction. Dogs trained in obedience and whose training is regularly positively reinforced, are more likely to be better behaved.

So how do we fix these negative behaviours?

Even though your dog may be the one performing the bad behaviour, you’re the one who will need to put in the work:

Understand breed behaviour

Do some research about your dog’s breed (or the breeds he may be mixed from) to understand his behaviour. Hunting or working dogs will generally have high energy and activity needs, so their ‘bad’ behaviours might stem from them being under-exercised, bored or mentally unstimulated. Changing his negative behaviour may simply mean increasing his daily activity and performing more focused tasks – giving him a job to do to make him feel fulfilled.

Understand your dog

Trauma, negative experiences or simply your dog’s individuality may mean that he doesn’t display behaviour typical of his breed. Learn what his triggers are and then do your best to avoid those triggers or to retrain his response to them. For instance: If your Labrador is shy of (and anxious towards) men with beards, but your best friend is a man with a beard, don’t break off your friendship or ask your friend to shave. Rather, invite your friend to patiently and consistently offer your dog some yummy treats until your dog learns that he is safe and that men with beards can actually offer a positive experience.

Ignore the behaviour

Dogs often engage in negative behaviours because it’s the only way they can get enough attention from their owners – even if it’s negative attention like shouting! While it may be difficult at first to ignore holes in the garden, chewed up shoes or remote controls, or begging, only give your dog attention when he performs a desired behaviour. Keep at it long enough and your dog will realise that negative, destructive behaviour will get them nothing, and positive, calm behaviour will get them attention like playtime or a treat.

Also re-evaluate the amount of time you spend (or should be spending) with your dog and the kinds of attention he is getting from you. His destructive behaviour could be your cue to be more attentive towards and responsible for your dog’s happiness.

Redirect negative behaviour

While positive reinforcement is the best way for your dog to learn what you want from them, sometimes their negative behaviour is instinctive. Ratting dogs like Jack Russell terriers or dachshunds are natural diggers, so the best way to try to teach them not to dig in your flowerbeds is to redirect their instinctive behaviour to a specially designated sandpit. How? Hide a treat or a favourite toy in the sand and instruct your dog to ‘dig’. When they find the reward, lavish praise on them. When they dig in the flowerbed, ignore them. Instead of your flip-flops or remote control falling victim to your chewing Labrador or beagle, rather give them a strong, durable chew toy as a substitute.

Positive reinforcement

The best way to teach your dog what you want from him is to positively reinforce his behaviour. When he does something you want, reward him with high praise, attention or a treat. When he does something undesirable, ignore him. Positive reinforcement training is a lifelong endeavour, so not only will you be teaching your dog what it is you expect from him, this training time also grows and strengthens your bond and is time well spent with your furry friend.

Get professional help

If understanding, socialisation, positive reinforcement, time and attention, as well as a consistent approach just aren’t working to help your dog’s negative behaviours, there are two more options:

  1. During lockdown, search YouTube for advice from dog behaviour experts like Cesar Milan, Zak George, Victoria Stilwell, Fred Hassen… there are many more!
  2. Find a dog behaviourist in your area to work closely with your dog and help you correct his ‘bad’ behaviours.

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