Written by: Chris Poupart
We all love our dogs, but many of our four-legged friends develop behavioural issues that can be annoying, destructive, or even dangerous to themselves and others.
Luckily, many of these behaviours can be minimized or eliminated with training or by managing your dog’s environment.
Here are four of the most common issues, with a few positive, proven ways to help your dog (and you!) overcome them.
Almost all dogs bark, and for any number of reasons — they’re excited or want to play, they’re bored, or they’re looking for attention. Some breeds (especially those traditionally used as shepherds or for livestock guarding) are prone to bark as a warning.
To minimize unwanted barking, consider teaching your dog two commands — ‘quiet’ and ‘bark.’ Here’s a great video showing how these two behaviours can be trained together.
Another note on barking: your dog will take the lead from your actions. If you play too hard with your dog and over-stimulate it, any barking that results is your fault.
Like barking, dogs chew for many reasons. For puppies, it’s part of the teething process. Older dogs may chew if they’re bored or anxious. And many dogs chew simply because they like it!
Two of the best strategies to deal with chewing are redirection and containment. Don’t want your dog eating your $200 shoes? Give it a safe chew-toy instead. A favorite is a Kong toy stuffed with treats — it’s a tough toy (no toy is indestructible) and can keep your pup busy for a long time.
Another positive redirect is to train your dog — taking the opportunity to work on behaviours you want to reinforce (like ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ or ‘lie on your mat’). Training will tire it out mentally, making it less apt to chew things after the training session is done.
If your dog is prone to chewing when left unsupervised, consider crating when you can’t keep an eye on it. If properly introduced to it, most dogs will find their crate a ‘safe space’ and will happily chill out in it if you’re tied up or distracted. Just remember that exercise and a potty break beforehand can make crate time go much better.
Need help in getting your dog to love the crate? Check out Crate Games.
Most dogs are food-motivated, and almost all are quick learners when it comes to scoring a snack. If your dog begs when you’re eating, ask yourself if you’ve ever (even once!) given it a treat, a scrap, or a lick of peanut butter when you’re eating. If so, you’ve created the problem yourself.
All isn’t lost, however. Give your dog a ‘place’ in the kitchen (a mat or bed works best) and reward it for staying in their spot (here’s a quick video that shows one way to do it). You may even give it a long-lasting treat in their spot during human meal times.
If that doesn’t work for you, you can put your dog in the crate when you’re cooking or eating. Ideally, however, you’ll be able to beat the begging habit with consistent training and positive reinforcement.
Having your puppy jump up on you as a greeting is a lot of fun. But when that pup grows into a 25-kilogram missile, the fun’s over — especially if your family includes small children or seniors.
It’s best to start training for this right away — whether you have a puppy or an older rescue. A bullet-proof ‘Sit’ command is the best redirection — practice and reward ‘sit’ constantly, and in all situations. Teach your dog to sit when meeting and greeting new people and have your dog ‘go to your place’ when someone comes to your front door. Both behaviours can easily be trained with treats and repetition — especially if you start
A Word of Caution
Most unwanted dog behaviours can be minimized or eliminated by training or containing your pet. Certain actions, however, such as food aggression, resource guarding, or aggression towards other dogs, can be serious — you may need to enlist the help of an experienced, positive-reinforcement dog trainer.
Finally, if your dog suddenly starts demonstrating new, unwanted behaviours, consider a phone call or visit with your vet. Often these new activities can indicate a change in your dog’s health.