Doggy Discipline (p.28)
Breaking Your Pup's Bad Habits
By Angel Wasserman
When dogs develop bad habits, the resulting behaviors can frustrate even the most seasoned pet owner and may threaten the dog/owner relationship. Whether you are teaching your dog new behaviors or working to change a bad habit, the following tips will help you work successfully with your pet.
IDENTIFY THE ROOT CAUSE
To manage a behavioral problem, the root cause of the behavior must be correctly identified. The root cause is the reason why your dog is performing the behavior. For example, if your dog is barking excessively, barking is not the problem to fix. Barking is simply an expression of the real problem. It is this other problem, the root cause, which must be addressed; figuring out why he is barking is the key. Perhaps he is lonely, bored, anxious, under-exercised, guarding, or alerting you to noise. Dogs bark for a variety of different reasons, and unless the root cause is properly identified and addressed, the barking will not cease, no matter what you do to try to correct it. You may need a professional to help you correctly identify the root cause.
PREVENT BAD BEHAVIORS
It is critical to a dog’s rehabilitation that you control his environment to prevent him from practicing unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog routinely urinates on the bathroom rug, remove the rug until he is house trained. If he races around like a wild little wolf, jumping on guests when they walk into your home, prevent him from getting to the door when visitors arrive. Crate or tether him until you can teach him how to greet visitors. Is your dog begging at the table? Crate her or put her in another room with her own food or treat during meal times. Is your dog sitting at the window barking at everything that passes? Block his view or eliminate access to that room.
Keep in mind, however, that just controlling the environment will not fix a problem behavior. You still have to identify the root cause and teach your dog to perform an alternate behavior. Then, practice the new and positive alternate behavior to help it become your dog’s habitual behavior.
TEACH AN ALTERNATE BEHAVIOR
Your dog can only perform behaviors that he knows. In other words, your dog cannot offer a different behavior if you have not taught him one. For example, if your dog has developed a jumping habit, ask yourself what you would like him to do instead of jumping on you. Perhaps you would prefer it if he sat down politely in front of you instead. If this is true, teach your dog the new behavior – in this case, sitting to greet you. Practice with him regularly until an automatic sit replaces the jump. Once your dog has learned to do something different, he can then perform the behavior you like instead of the negative one.
INTERRUPT AND REDIRECT
To teach your dog behaviors that are acceptable, interrupt negative behavior with a loud, sharp sound such as “Ut-Ut!” or “Whoops!” These types of sounds go directly to the attention center of the dog’s brain and will cause her to momentarily cease the behavior. In the moment of cessation, immediately show your dog what you want her to do instead. If you catch your dog chewing on your shoes, make your loud, sharp noise and the moment she takes her mouth off your shoe, place an appropriate chew toy in her mouth. What your dog will learn with repetition is, “Don’t chew on my shoe; chew on this instead.” Tell your dog what you want her to do before she can make her own decision.
Assuming that you have taught your dog a specific behavior, proactively ask him to perform it before he makes his own decision and acts on that. This is an excellent way to prevent negative behaviors from presenting. For example, if your dog routinely jumps on you when you walk into a room, ask him to sit while he is racing toward you, telling him what you want him to do upon his arrival. If you do not tell him to do something specific, he will likely end that run in a jump. Want your dog to stay seated in the car while you open the door? Tell him to stay before you open the car door. If you wait until the car door is open, it is too late to direct his behavior. He will have already decided to act and will most likely be scrambling out the door. In all dog training, timing is critical. You have a very limited window of time to address your dog’s negative behavior in a way that he understands what you are talking about, so be sure to act quickly and pay close attention to that timing.
GIVE IT TIME TO WORK
When treating a behavioral problem, understand that your dog’s behavior will not change immediately. As an example, I frequently hear from frustrated pet parents, “I tried A and I tried B and they didn’t work. In desperation, I tried C and that didn’t work either!” Inevitably, when I ask how long the individual maintained each specific training protocol, the answer is always “for a day or two.” Your dog needs at least 10 days of consistency on one protocol before switching to another. Repeatedly switching from one training protocol to another is only going to frustrate you and confuse your pet.
Training a pet takes time and patience, but the rewards are vast. Teach your dog what you want him to do in a way that he understands and you will achieve the joyous relationship you want with your beloved four-legged family member.
Angel Wasserman is a professional dog trainer and the founder and head trainer at Paws in Training, a Raleigh-based group of dog behavior specialists. She is the author of "Woof It Up! A Guide To Happy Dogs And Happy Owners", available online at www.noboreddogs.com.