"My Bad Dog": Debunking Bad Behavior
Having a positive perspective on training can help you build a happy life with your dog. At Happy Dog's, we know that every dog is capable of being well-behaved and happy, but this is more than using rewards to reinforce good behaviors. How you think about your dog’s behavior matters too!
Your dog has motivations, emotions and thoughts that drive their behavior - for better or for worse. Understanding why your dog acts the way he or she does allows you to encourage the behaviors you’d like to see. When our dogs seem to misbehave, it’s likely not for the reasons we’d think! Dog’s do behaviors that are rewarding, and learn to avoid behaviors that aren’t rewarding. While your dog may appear “stubborn”, “naughty” or seem to “deliberately” disobey you, they’re likely responding the way they are for a good reason.
Here are 4 common misconceptions owners often have about their dog’s behavior before they work with our trainers at Happy Dogs.
“My dog is stubborn” – You think to yourself when your dog won’t come in from the yard when called, and at your first BBQ of the summer too! While it can be frustrating when your dog doesn’t listen, remember that your dog’s behavior is driven by rewards and influenced by outside factors. Your dog may ignore your call to do something that is more rewarding, like stealing a hotdog from Uncle Joe’s plate. How often your dog is rewarded for their recall is a factor too; if “Come” on cue has a strong reward history (AKA: rewarded all the time, every time) your dog will be more likely to come when called.
The environment matters too – if your dog is rewarded by the environment, like a good smell or a squirrel to chase – it will be harder for your dog to respond to your call. Other distractions, like another dog, lots of people or a new location, may make it hard for your dog to focus on your cues as well. Remembering how your dog thinks and what motivates them can help you reinforce good behaviors and set your dog up for success (like, crating them before the BBQ starts!)
“My dog knows they shouldn’t do that” – you say to your new trainer after your dog repeatedly jumps all over them at the front door. He never jumps on us anymore! The unfortunate truth is that even when you feel like you’ve trained a behavior consistently your dog may not be able to perform the behavior correctly in every scenario. Dog’s don’t generalize what they’ve learned - your dog has learned not to jump on you and your family members, but hasn’t learned to not jump on everyone.
Your dog’s ability to process your cues is impacted by their arousal level; a new person coming over, maybe for the first time in 14 months, can be ridiculously exciting for your dog. Impulses take over and your dog can’t help but express their excitement by jumping all over! With additional training, you can help your dog manage their arousal level and reinforce the behaviors you’d like to see at the front door - regardless of who’s knocking!
“My dog did that to spite me” – you say after discovering shredded pillows with stuffing strewn across the room. You had only been gone for a few hours for your first night out after months locked up at home. While it might seem like your dog is acting out to get back at you for leaving them, dog’s only act in the moment. Your dog wasn’t thinking about you when they decided to maul a pillow or two. Chances are your dog chewed up the pillows because they were bored, suffering from mild separation anxiety, or don’t yet have the training to be left unattended in the house.
Rather than think your dog is out to get you - consider what other factors may have led to their behavior. Next time, you can use this feedback to prevent another pillow massacre.
“My dog looks guilty” – You say after finding your dog with what was supposed to be your lunch. After leaving your sandwich unattended on the counter, your dog jumped up and helped themselves. You're upset and your dog looks awfully sorry for what they’ve done...but, your dog isn’t actually experiencing guilt. Dog’s aren’t capable of self-reflection; this means you can’t punish them for something they did hours or even minutes ago.
When you get upset, your dog can smell, see and hear your emotional reaction. If your dog looks guilty, they’re most likely afraid, confused or anxious about what’s going to happen because of your reaction. This means your dog look stressed or anxious in a scenario when you’ve had negative reactions in the past. Your dog looking “guilty” isn’t a product of them knowing they shouldn't steal food, because your dog is not able to associate the correction you give with the bad behavior. These types of negative interactions can damage your relationship with your dog by teaching your dog to expect bad things from you in the future!
A misunderstanding of your dog’s motivation or humanizing their behavior can often contribute to your dog’s behavior issues. By understanding that your dog’s behavior is feedback, you can learn how to prevent, manage or train through problem behaviors. Next time your dog rummages through the garbage or barks at the mailman, don’t assume your dog’s “naughtiness” is on purpose or a choice. Your dog’s behaviors are communicating their underlying needs and showing you where you can use more reinforcement to encourage good behavior.