Pet parents know, “there are no bad dogs.” However, at times, our dogs do exhibit undesirable behaviors–like barking uncontrollably, chewing on furniture, biting, etc. When dogs act out, we need to understand why—to better address and alleviate the stressors that may be causing their behaviors.
What can you do?
To address things your dog does that you want to curb, remember, dogs don’t respond to anger or punishment other than by fearing you. And some behaviors stem from a health or separation anxiety issue. If your dog is suddenly going to the bathroom in the house or in his crate, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out health issues. If health issues are ruled out, keep in mind that separation anxiety in dogs leads to a myriad of unacceptable behaviors including: continual barking, unwanted chewing (shoes, furniture, etc.), and scratching.
To alleviate these unwanted behaviors, you need to find ways to alleviate separation anxiety. Some solutions include hiring a pet sitter or dog walker, or find a doggy day care for prolonged separations during the workweek. Another alternative is television programming aimed at entertaining dogs, and it can keep them company and calm them down when you’re not home.
Six Common Unwanted Dog Behaviors
Barking uncontrollably.Your dog may bark at the doorbell, when you leave home, or when you come home. There are any number of reasons your dog barks and to address uncontrollable barking, you need to know the reason for it. For example, your dog may bark when the doorbell rings because he’s excited or scared about a visitor at the door. The barking could be because he is exhibiting his watch dog tendencies.
If your dog barks frantically when you come home and, in the past, you’ve petted and coddled him or hollered at him to “be quiet,” you may be reinforcing his behavior by giving him the attention (good or bad). To change the unwanted behavior, walk into the house and ignore him. Teach him to sit in a designated area by the door when you come in and wait for you to acknowledge him. Reward him every time he sits there and doesn’t bark.
Chewing inappropriate items.Chewing is a natural instinct for dogs. They explore the world around them with their mouths, much like a toddler does. Chewing is also a way for dogs to relieve stress and boredom. In some cases, it’s easier to pick up items you don’t want your dog to chew. If she has a penchant for your leather pumps or the newspaper left on the table, pick those items up. There is no reason to tempt her if it’s possible to move items out of her reach.
If she is chewing the couch or the carpet, you obviously cannot move those items, but you can offer appropriate chewing alternatives. Redirect her chewing by offering her an appropriate item, like her favorite dog toy or a treat filled Kong. When she is chewing on the toy or Kong, praise her. Each time you see her chewing something you don’t want her to, continue to offer the appropriate item and praise when she chews it.
Digging.Dogs love to dig. Digging is rewarding and releases scents that tantalize your pup’s olfactory senses, helping him to release pent-up energy. If you don’t want holes around your yard, consider giving him an area that is his for digging—a sandbox or one with dirt. You can also set up an area in the yard with clearly-marked boundaries in which he can dig to his heart’s content. Teach him where the proper digging area is located and reward him with toys and treats when he digs in the area you’ve designated. Give him new, fun toys in his designated digging area to make it more exciting than his previous spots.
Begging for food.Okay, let’s face it—pet parents are often the culprits. If your dog hadn’t been “rewarded” with table scraps while you’re eating, chances are he wouldn’t have bothered you at the table.
To break him of this habit—ignore his adorable face and his big puppy dog eyes when he begs at the table—and move him to a designated area. Have him sit or lie down and reward his behavior with a treat. Come up with a word or phrase to say, and then point to the designated area. Reward him when he goes to the space.
Peeing in the house.Even if your dog has been house trained for years, there are those moments in his life when he feels the need to “mark” the house by urinating in it. He may pee in the house if you introduce a new puppy, dog or other pet.
If there are other changes in the household that may be causing him stress, he will mark his territory by peeing indoors. Some dogs will even pee on the source of who or what they believe is causing stress; dogs will pee on clothing or bedding if they perceive that to be owned by the one who is encroaching on his territory.
When you catch your dog getting ready to squat or lift his leg, interrupt him by saying, “no” or “oops” followed by an excited-sounding, “let’s go out!” Take him out and when he goes to the bathroom outside, praise and reward him.
Clean the urine spots in the house with an enzymatic cleaner to remove smells.
If there have been no changes in your household, your dog may have an underlying health issue and perhaps can’t hold his or her urine and that’s why she’s making the mess.
Jumping.This is another behavior our dogs do because they are excited to see us. Quelling jumping should be done for both large and small dogs. Unwanted jumping from large dogs can cause injury (to us and them), but even small dogs are problematic when they jump on small children.
To curb unwanted jumping, begin with ignoring the behavior. Don’t say her name or don’t even say “down.” Dog trainers recommend turning your back to your dog when she’s getting ready to jump on you. You’re effectively ignoring her, and she won’t be getting the hugs or face-to-face connection with you. This will teach her to not jump.
If your dog jumps on you when you walk in the door from work, train her to sit in a designated area inside the door and wait for you to walk in. If she sits and stays, reward her with a treat and some loving hugs.
If you find yourself wanting to holler, “No! Bad dog!” remember, your dog doesn’t understand the words—only body language, tone and volume. It could counterintuitively lead him to fear you and hide unwanted behavior. If he’s hiding his messes because you’re angry, he isn’t stopping the behavior, he’s just looking for a way to mitigate your anger with him.
So it’s up to you to use positive reinforcement--working to distract from the unwanted behavior and redirecting to a behavior you find acceptable. Our dogs want to see us happy and they do want to please, we just need to make certain we are teaching them what we want them to do and not unintentionally reinforcing a behavior we will regret later!
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.