When your dog exhibits bad behavior, the possible causes are numerous and you should not hesitate to have your dog examined by a professional trainer and a veterinarian. However, it is important for you, the owner, to assess, understand, and act on your dog’s behavior before it escalates. We’ll examine a few different types and causes of bad behavior, as well as possible ways for you to correct bad behavior in your dog.
What is Bad Behavior?
Dogs are known for their strong personalities and wide range of behaviors. More than any other kind of pet, dogs give us a true sense of what they’re feeling from moment to moment. Unfortunately, there are times where dogs choose destructive actions to let us know that they’re not feeling so great. Actions such as digging, biting, growling, barking, jumping, and other forms of erratic behavior are all sure signs that your dog is feeling out of sorts.
Note: This article is not intended for dealing with excessive bad behavior, such as injurious biting and attacks, or bad behavior caused by earlier abuse. These issues should be handled by professionals.
Identifying Bad Behavior
The best way to understand your dog’s occasional bouts of bad behavior is to observe your dog’s routine and to assess your own way of handling your dog on a daily basis. Getting at the underlying causes for bad behavior is the first step toward correcting it.
Causes of Bad Behavior
Two of the main instigators of bad behavior in dogs is intimidation and dominance. Dogs are pack animals, and their powerful hierarchical instincts guide them through their dealings with you, your family, strangers, and other dogs.
As an owner, your dog should acknowledge you as the “leader of the pack.” If your dog is allowed to believe she is the pack leader, not only will she act out, but she will be confused by any correction or punishment you dish out.
Believe it or not, boredom has severely negative effects on a dog. Boredom can be classified as lack of attention, lack of stimulation, and lack of exercise. When dogs become listless and bored, they tend to act out in ways that may be destructive.
Dealing with Bad Behavior
Your dog responds primarily to your voice and your grip. In everyday interactions with your dog, using a firm, even tone with your dog in order to guide her behavior is one of the most effective ways to assert your dominance over the household. At the first sign of your dog acting out, use your grip as a pack leader dog would in the wild. A firm grip on your dog’s guide points, the neck and snout, simulate a dominant, parental form of control. Firm should be understood as relative to the size and strength of your dog – excessive squeezing or pinching will only make matters worse.
Other effective forms of asserting your dominance include setting boundaries within areas of your home where your dog is not welcome. If your dog is allowed to roam free throughout the home, she may take this as a sign of her equality or dominance of the home. Areas such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and kids’ playrooms should be established as “off limits.” Physically remove your dog from these areas when she strays into them, and she will respect your authority in the home.
Keep in mind that punishment and boundaries are not the only aspects of dominance. Your attention and praise are of great value to your dog, and by appropriately and evenly balancing stern, firm tones when your dog acts out with gentle, loving praise when your dog does a good job, your dog will come to understand a more complete spectrum of interaction. Just like Pavlov’s dog responded to the bell, so too will your dog respond to praise and happiness.
In many ways, asserting dominance goes hand in hand with fighting boredom. By taking an active role in regularly guiding your dog’s behavior, you provide the necessary mental stimulation she needs on a daily basis. Interact with your dog as another member of your household and acknowledge her presence often. Keeping your dog engaged in interactions – while asserting your dominance over the household – helps your dog to feel welcome and happy in the home. An interactive dog toy is a great way to stimulate your dog mentally while allowing you to control the game.
Exercise presents a great opportunity to battle boredom. Regular exercise is required by dogs to stay physically healthy and mentally sound. Use exercise as a way to expend your dog’s pent up physical and mental energy, and you’ll find that the phrase holds true: “a tired dog is a good dog.”
Prepare for Bad Behavior
Some incidents of bad behavior require your immediate attention and swift, decisive action. There’s no one way to treat these scenarios, but it is best to be prepared. By asserting your dominance and battling your dog’s boredom, you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to act should your dog act out in an aggressive or otherwise dangerous manner.
An example of aggressive behavior that would require your immediate attention may include lunging and attacking other dogs or people. If you’ve established your dominance over your dog and within the household, use a more dramatic display of dominance appropriate to the situation. In the example of aggressive “attack” behavior, step squarely in front of your dog and demand her full attention. Firmly grasp your dog by the nape of the neck and use a loud, firm, but even tone and tell your dog “No.” These are all actions that should be established within the scope of daily interactions with your dog, and as long as the scenario isn’t too severe, this should be enough to get your dog’s attention and make her realize her actions are wrong and need to stop.
Note that shouting or erratic behavior on your part does more harm than good. Always be deliberate and firm with your dog, in praise and in correcting bad behavior.
Professional Dog Training
The best way to deal with your dog’s bad or erratic behavior is to consult with a professional. We have covered the most common, basic causes and solutions for bad behavior, but professional dog training is the most effective way to help you to better understand your dog, and for your dog to better understand you. Bad behavior can have several causes not covered here, some of which may include health issues that only a veterinarian may be able to detect. When in doubt, always talk to a professional.
For those without the resources to seek professional help, there are many online tools that can help. Sessions with Cesar is a helpful online dog coaching course taught by world renowned trainer Cesar Milan. Besides videos, there is a forum of dog owners that are willing to help with just about any problem that may arise with you and your pet. Please feel free to post any other online resources you have found in the comments below