How To Correct Bad Behavior In Dogs

Many people ask how to correct bad behavior in dogs. It’s our job as pet parents to teach our dogs what’s expected of them and how to make good choices. Dogs need leadership and that leader is you. Without your leadership a dog doesn’t know what to do and therefore may move toward fear and aggression.

Before your dog is left alone, she needs to know the rules of the roost and how to follow them. Set up your pooch for success by eliminating possible temptations and showing consistency. And remember to reward for good behaviors!

Above all, be patient because correcting bad behavior in dogs is a challenge. Here is a list of some of the common problems and how you can train your dog.

AggressionAggressive dog showing teeth

Does your dog show signs of aggression? It’s pretty obvious when she does. She growls, shows teeth and jumps at animals or people. It’s natural and necessary in the wild to show aggression because animals need to protect their territory, offspring and themselves.

However, your dog is a pet and not in the wild. So, when you’re around people or other dogs you want to prevent aggressive behavior.

Here are some of the signs of aggression:

  • Becoming rigid and still
  • Guttural bark
  • Lunging forward
  • Mouthing
  • Muzzle punch
  • Growl
  • Teeth display
  • Snapping
  • Nipping
  • Biting

Here are some of the types of aggression:

  • Territorial. As mentioned, it’s natural for animals in the wild to guard their territory. Furthermore, some people like the idea of having an aggressive “guard dog.” The problem arises when your dog bites a welcome guest or another animal. Male and female dogs are equally prone to aggression. Puppies are rarely aggressive.
  • Protective aggression. Dogs are social animals. If dogs are feral they will naturally tend to form groups or “packs.” Dogs will defend other dogs in the pack when they are in danger. They will display the same kind of aggression when one of their animal or human friends are vulnerable. Even dogs who have never been aggressive can show these signs. For example, this can happen when a mother has a litter of puppies.
  • Possessive aggression: Dogs evolved from wild ancestors who had to compete for food and mates in order to survive. Even though our pets no longer have to do this, some still do. If a person or another animal approaches them while eating or chewing on their bones, they will snarl and snap. In other words, they’re guarding something that is important to them. This kind of aggression is even seen in puppies.
  • Fear aggression: When an animal is afraid the fight or flight response kicks in. Animals will generally try to get away from the scary thing. However, when that’s not an option, they have no choice but to defend themselves. There are dogs who will cower if they feel threatened but as soon as that threatening animal or person starts to walk away they may come up behind to nip or bite. This kind of aggression is seen in dogs of both sexes and puppies.
  • Social aggression: Dogs in the wild live in social groups with a hierarchy and rules to minimize conflict. Those animals with the highest status get first crack at food and mating opportunities. This might be transferred to the human/dog relationship and when it is, your dog will show aggression. If they feel someone in the pack (which includes humans) has overstepped their bounds they will show aggression. Overstepping can include actions like taking food away, disturbing her when she sleeps, trying to pick her up or touching her ears or feet. Social aggression is somewhat more common in males and purebreds. Puppies are rarely socially aggressive with humans.
  • Sex-related aggression: If your dog isn’t neutered or spayed, they will compete for the attention of the opposite sex. Male dogs might fight for access to females. We observe this fighting more in males and less in females. Even dogs who were neutered or spayed as adults can show this kind of aggression.
  • Predatory aggression: Dogs are related to wolves and coyotes, both who are large predators. These predators like to chase and dogs are no different. Some dogs will chase anything; people, cats, kids, cars, bicycles and other animals. This kind of aggression is different from the other types in that there is little warning. Fortunately, predatory aggression is rarely directed at humans and other dogs.

So, how do you stop aggressive behavior in dogs? The ASPCA recommends that you always work with a professional to address the aggression problem. This is a dangerous problem and it’s challenging to treat. Many behavior modification techniques can backfire. It’s necessary to find someone who is an expert in the field and who can devise a treatment plan that will work for both the dog and her family.

People often ask if aggression can be cured. Again, according to the ACPCA, some types of aggression can be reduced and even eliminated. However, there is no guarantee. If you are the parent of an aggressive dog, even one who has been through behavior modification, it’s your responsibility to assume she isn’t cured. Furthermore, you need heightened awareness in those situations where aggression is possible.

Also, the ASPCA states that no particular breed is inherently more aggressive. A better predictor of aggressive behavior is the dog’s temperament and her history interacting with humans.

Dog Barking with mouth openBarking

Sometimes we like our dog to bark. We have a sense of safety and security when we know she will bark if an unidentified person is on our property or approaching our door. Barking is a natural part of canine vocalizations and can even be quite enjoyable for your dog

However, there are times when this barking can be excessive. Barking serves many functions and you must identify the cause of her barking in order to treat it when it’s a problem.

According to the ASPCA, here are the main reasons why dogs bark:

  • Territorial barking in response to people, dogs or other animals on their territory.
  • Alarm barking happens in response to noises and sights.
  • Attention-getting barking is pretty obvious when your dog wants you to do something.
  • Compulsive barking is often accompanied by a repetitive movement such as pacing.
  • Socially facilitated barking occurs when your dog hears other dogs barking.
  • Frustration-induced barking is in response to a situation such as being confined or separated from dogs or people.

Here’s where the problem comes in. Your dog starts barking uncontrollably and you start to yell over the noise of the bark. However, instead of stopping, she may get the message that you’re barking back and that her barking should be louder. What this does is heightens her excitement and reinforces the bad behavior.

So, what’s a dog owner to do in these cases where barking gets out of hand? First of all, never reward your dog for barking because that just reinforces the pattern.

Let’s take each one of the main reasons above and explore some strategies to train your pooch and get her under control;

Territorial barking is addressed by managing the environment. For example, you can use privacy fencing to block the view of the neighbor’s yard. You can also make sure that you keep curtains and blinds closed so she can’t bark at outside movements.

Alarm barking is very similar to territorial barking. One method to control this is to teach your dog she can bark a couple times until you say “Quiet.” Say this command clearly and calmly. Go to your dog and gently hold her muzzle and repeat “quiet.” Release, step away and make her leave the area where she has been barking. Then, ask her to sit and give her a treat. If she stays beside you and remains quiet continue to administer the treats until whatever triggered the barking is gone. If she starts to bark again, repeat

You address attention-getting barking by ignoring the behavior, as hard as that might be. Do not make eye contact or scold because that will reinforce the bad behavior. Use crystal-clear body language that conveys you are indeed ignoring her. When she stops, ask her to sit, and then give her the attention she asks for.

If your dog is a compulsive barker who barks at just about anything and for long periods, you may need some extra help. In this case you may need to contact a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.

Dogs are social animals and so socially facilitated barking is common. If this becomes a problem, the best thing to do is keep your dog indoors when other dogs are barking outdoors. You can also turn up music loudly to drown out the sound of other dogs barking.

Frustration barking occurs when your dog feels thwarted. For example, she might bark by the fence because she wants to play with the dog next door. You can teach her to sit and wait. However, this may be one of those cases where a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer will be necessary.

Fortunately, we live in an age where we have access to devices. Thus, there are products designed specifically to address barking problems. Read here for reviews:

Shoe with part chewed offChewing

It’s very normal for dogs to chew. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing bones, sticks or just about anything available. It’s a very normal behavior.

Chewing accomplishes a number of things for a dog. A young dog might chew to combat the pain of incoming teeth. Puppies, much like human infants loose their baby teeth and experience pain as the adult teeth come in. An older dog might chew to keep her jaw strong and her teeth clean. Chewing also combats boredom and can relieve anxiety or frustration. And, chewing is fun.

A dog on a calorie restricted diet might also chew in an attempt to get additional sources of nutrition. This usually happens with objects that are related to food or smell like food.

But, what do you do when the chewing problem gets out of hand? She has just finished chewing your new $300 pair of shoes to shreds and you know this habit must stop. So, how do you correct destructive behavior in dogs?

Here are some tips that can alleviate the problem. First, dogs must learn that some things are okay to chew and others are not. They must be taught this in a gentle manner.

  • Put chewable objects away and out of reach. This can include anything of value but also things like sanitary napkins which can expand in her stomach and damage her.
  • If you are not at home, you may have to put your dog in a confined area.
  • Provide her with plenty of chew toys and bones (never give your dog cooked bones like t-bones or chicken bones. These can splinter).
  • Pay attention to the types of toys she likes to chew.
  • Introduce a new toy every couple days and rotate them.
  • Provide her with edible things to chew like bulky sticks, pig ears and rawhide bones. Be sure to supervise in this case so you can intervene if she starts to choke. This could happen when your dog gets excited or there are other dogs present.
  • Identify times during the day when your dog is likely to chew and give her a puzzle toy filled with a delicious treat.
  • You can spray inappropriate items with chewing deterrents. First, spray a tissue with the deterrent and place it in your dog’s mouth so she can be familiar with the taste. Needless to say, she isn’t going to like it. But, that’s good because when she goes to chew things covered with the deterrent, there will be an immediate association with the bad taste.
  • Even if the deterrent works, your dog still needs to learn why some things are inappropriate for chewing.
  • If you can supervise your dog while at home until you feel confident the habit is under control, this is ideal.
  • When you see your dog chewing on something inappropriate, take the item form her mouth and replace it with something else. Make sure to praise her at this point.

Furthermore, always make sure that your dog has plenty of attention, stimulation and exercise. A bored dog will look for ways to entertain herself and chewing is an option. Also, make sure to avoid situations that you know will heighten her frustration level. Frustration can lead to destructive behaviors such as chewing.

Also, DO NOT show your dog the destruction she has caused and then reprimand her. She will not be able to connect the punishment with the behavior she did a few minutes ago. This is very confusing. Never, use duct tape to keep her mouth closed as this is obviously inhumane. Never muzzle her to prevent chewing. And, don’t leave your dog in a crate for more than six hours.

Correcting destructive behavior in dogs is a challenge. Always remember that your patience will go a long way.

Big dog jumping on person to greet themJumping Up

Many dogs like to jump up on people to greet them. This is a friendly gesture that many people enjoy. Still, you want to control this, particularly because not everyone likes it. Often, a dog owner will try to discourage jumping by squeezing the front feet or stepping on the dog’s toes. However, this can lead to increasing anxiety in the dog and conflict behaviors such as peeing might result.

If you and your dog enjoy this kind of greeting, you need to control the situation. Your focus should be not how to stop this behavior but rather how to teach her to greet properly for rewards. Don’t let your dog choose the time and place to jump up. Teach her to settle and relax for a greeting and then teach the command “Hug” or something similar.

Practice this in several places around the home including the front door. When someone comes to the door, make her stay settled throughout the arrival and then reward with a treat. If she gets up, make her stay again. Remember to always praise her for her accomplishment. Furthermore, you can use these training commands in conjunction with a head halter, clicker or food rewards.

If you feel you have sufficient control, another way you can train this behavior is to schedule visitors to come to your home. For this exercise you might use a head collar and leash for extra control. When the first person comes in, instruct your dog to “sit” and “stay.” Then, let in your visitor. If all goes well, your dog will remain in the stay position and the visitor will administer treats.

However, if she doesn’t stay you can gently pull up and forward with the head halter and return her to the sit position. After she has settled and has been given a treat by both, you could have the visitor leave through the back door and return to the front door and enter. This should be easier because she has just seen the person. You can repeat this several times for each visitor.

So, now that you understand the motivation and have trained her, you must be sure that you have identified all the reinforcement behavior. You have to remove all bad behavior reinforcement which includes pushing away and reprimands.

Another method you can employ is disruption training. This is often done with a device that makes a loud noise. Shaker cans, ultrasonic trainers and air horns can do the trick here because they startle your dog. You administer the noise and simultaneously say “sit” and reward her action with praise and treats. Many dogs learn that in order to avoid the noise they have to comply with your command.

Getting back to the visitor scenario, have the person leave and come back to the front door. When the person enters use the noise device and the “sit” command. When she complies without hesitating, reward her with praise (“good sit”) and treats.

Other methods:

Leash Pulling

When your dog pulls on the leash it can be very frustrating and you feel like you’re loosing control. So, why does she pull? According to the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, a dog pulls when she is excited. She sees something like a squirrel, person or another dog and she wants to go where they are. But, what you want to do is have her pay attention to you and adjust to your pace.

So, what do many people do when their dog pulls. They pull back! Don’t do this! This is because of the principle of oppositional reflex which means that when something pulls, the tendency is to pull the other way to maintain balance.

Another mistake that people make is holding the dog too close to their side while walking. When you do this, your dog learns that the leash should always be tight while walking. Thus, the minute you give them some slack, off they go!

Instead, here are some strategies to use.

  • Adjust your attitude. You first need to ask yourself what you would like your dog to do instead of pulling. And the answer to that is obvious. You would like her to walk beside you.
  • Remember it’s all about the rewards. If you reward her with praise and treats for walking beside you she then associates it with something pleasant.
  • Backwards movement. Hold on to the leash and step backwards several steps away from your dog. As she approaches you say ‘yes” and reward her with praise and treats. Sarah Fraser, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer says this helps your dog focus and move with you. Repeat this pattern eight to twelve times.
  • Keep practicing. When your dog walks next to you and looks up at you say “yes” and immediately reward her with a treat.
  • Reward her often. When you reward your dog often, she will figure out more quickly what the behavior is you’re looking for and this makes training easier for her. To make this most effective, keep your rate of enforcement high in the beginning and then you can taper off as your dog becomes used to the routine.
  • Consider additional methods of control. This can include a front clip harness, face halter or a longer leash. The longer leash gives them room to move and get used to the looseness You can also consider working with a professional trainer.

Some writers on this subject have suggested not using the retractable leashes that are so popular these days. The leash must always be tight to retract. Thus, it is teaching your dog that they must pull forward against the tension

Remember to be patient with your pooch. Some dogs will take longer than others to train. And always, always remember to give praise and treats for a job well done!

Information sources for this post include: ASPCA, CesarsWay.com, Debra Horwitz DVM, DACVB and Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, and PetMD.com.

Conclusion

Small white dog running with tongue hanging outI hope this information has been helpful in teaching you how to correct bad behavior in dogs. Many dogs will have one or more of these and other behavior issues. It’s your job as a dog parent to address them. Remember, a trained dog who looks up to you is a happy dog. Dogs are truly our best friends and living with them is a pleasure and an honor.

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4 comments on “How To Correct Bad Behavior In Dogs

  1. Linda

    Hi Christopher,
    I enjoyed this article on how to correct bad behavior in dogs and found some useful tips to try. My dogs are not at all aggressive and don’t have any destructive behaviors. But, at times their barking can become excessive and annoying. More consistency on my part is probably the key, and I will try implementing your tips. Thanks for the info!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Mitchell

      Thanks for reading Linda.

      Yes, consistency and patience is the key. Also making sure everyone in the household is consistent.

      Reply
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