As a dog parent, you may be at your wit’s end because of your puppy or adult dog’s behavior. You may catch them chewing on your shoes, or barking all the time. They might have accidents inside your home or have some other type of habit that can make you want to pull your hair out. It can sometimes seem like breaking bad habits in dogs is impossible.
The good news is that you can change your pet’s frustrating or plain old bad behavior. It will take a lot of patience and a lot of love, but there are a lot of things you can do.
Info For Dog Parents: Breaking Bad Habits In Dogs With Proper Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a method of dog training that emphasizes rewards over punishment. It’s a very effective form of obedience training that can help eliminate bad dog habits. Just as the name implies, positive reinforcement involves providing something positive, such as praise, a chewing toy, or a treat, after a dog exhibits the desired behavior, such as staying or sitting.1
The purpose of positive reinforcement is to reinforce positive behavior. The more the dog realizes there will be a reward for acting properly, the more the dog will perform the type of behavior you want. Food is usually the best way to reward your dog since you can provide it quickly. But fetch, tug or some other type of play can work well too.2
Examples Of Unwanted Or “Bad” Behaviors: Barking, Jumping On People, And More
As much as pet parents love their dogs, many of them find there’s a little bit of bad along with a lot of good that having a pet can bring. A dog can develop some bad habits, such as excessive barking, jumping on you or other people, snagging food off of your kitchen countertops, and more.
Here’s a quick look at some examples of this type of behavior, as well as some tips on how to deal with them. If your dog continues to exhibit the bad habit, talk to your vet or a veterinary behaviorist for further guidance.
Whenever someone rings your doorbell or even walks down the alley or in front of your home, your dog might all of a sudden go crazy, barking excessively. In order to determine the best way to deal with this behavior, it’s important to first understand why it’s happening.
If, for example, your dog constantly barks at the doorbell or other noises, you might want to consider noise sensitivity training. Record the ring of your doorbell, and then play it back – gradually increasing the volume. Provide praise or a treat every time your dog refrains from barking at the noise.3
Jumping On People
If your dog loves jumping on you or jumps on visitors to your home, you’re far from alone. Millions of pet parents around the world deal with the same issue. Even though it can be frustrating – and it might even make you angry – try to remember that this behavior is your dog’s way of expressing friendship. If you push them away or yell, that could actually make them want to jump even more.4
Staying calm is the best way to deal with this behavior. When you walk through the door, avoid eye contact, and don’t greet your dog until all of their feet are on the floor. When they jump, ignore them. Turn you back to the dog if you need to. Once the dog has stopped jumping, calmly and gently offer praise and affection.5
Has your dog ever put their paws on your kitchen countertop and tried to snag some food? Have you caught them chewing on that steak you were planning to put on the grill?
This type of behavior actually has a name – counter surfing. This can be a very hard habit to break, since the dog is getting a reward, and, as a result, thinks they’ll be able to get that reward every time they put their paws on the counter. As with just about every one of a dog’s bad habits, however, there are ways to deal with this.
First of all, try, if possible, to remove all food items from your kitchen counters. Clean them completely once you use them. Obviously, there will be times you’ll have to have food on the counter. You might, for example, need to leave out some cookies to cool after you bake them. In instances like these, set up baby gates to keep your dog from getting into the kitchen.6
You could also try training your dog to respond to a command to go immediately to a certain place, like their dog bed, if you catch them counter surfing. Put them on a leash and gently guide them to that spot if you need to. Once they comply on their own, reward the behavior with a treat. This is a perfect example of positive reinforcement. The dog will associate the command with something good and will do what you want as a result.7
No matter how well trained your dog may be, they’re probably going to have an accident in your home eventually. It can happen to a puppy or an older dog – or a dog of any age. But if this happens on a regular basis, you’re going to have to find a solution. First, talk to your vet to see if there’s some sort of medical issue, or if your dog may be suffering from a mental issue such as separation anxiety.
Maintaining a regular feeding schedule might help. You’ll have a better idea of when your dog will need to do their business. Also, you might want to consider taking your puppy or adult dog outside after they drink water or take a nap, or after bouts of vigorous indoor play.8
There are a lot of pet owners who, unfortunately, still believe punishment is the best way to stop this type of behavior. They’ll attach their dog to a leash and drag them to the spot where the accident occurred and rub their nose in it. Don’t be one of these people. This approach does nothing but scare the dog. The next time they have to go inside, they’ll probably just find another spot.9
Why Rewarding Good Behavior With Positive Reinforcement Is The Ideal Obedience Training Method
There’s a lot of evidence proving that positive reinforcement is far superior to punishment or other aversive methods of training. These negative methods typically lead to bad behavior and other bad outcomes. Training based on rewards, on the other hand, typically leads to better behavior and reduced aggression.10
The Guide Dogs for the Blind organization uses positive reinforcement because it motivates their dogs and builds confidence. Affection, both verbal and physical, not only helps keep these wonderful animals happy, it also helps them do a better job.11
Why Punishment Can Be Detrimental
It’s never a good idea to use punishment as a dog training tool. Some pet parents believe they can act as sort of a “dominant dog,” intimidating other dogs into doing what they say. This often leads to inhumane actions.12
Not only do these methods cause pain and, in many instances, serious injury, they lead to mental distress for your dog as well. A lot of behavior issues stem from anxiety and fear. Punishment often heightens those feelings, making the problems even worse.13
Don’t ever use punishment as a way to eliminate a habit you might find annoying or frustrating, whether it’s tugging on the leash when you walk or anything else. Positive reinforcement is more effective, and it’s also more fun.