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Solving Behavior Problems

By Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson

The following article is shared courtesy of GreatPets.com, who have several excellent newsletters for dog and cat lovers. See www.greatpets.com.

The first thing you must understand about so called "behavior problems" is that they are rarely a problem for the dog. Chances are he enjoys digging up your garden, tipping over the trash, jumping on you, chasing the cat or unstuffing the couch.

Problem correction, like command training, has a predictable sequence of steps you need to follow to be successful:

* Get Control Over The Behavior
* Teach A Desired Response
* Reward What You Like
* Ignore or Remove the Reward from What You Do Not Like
* Practice

Get Control Over The Behavior

Before you can attempt any changes, make sure that you are not creating the problem. If you don't give the dog what he needs -- a proper diet, plenty of exercise and daily interaction -- or if you give him more of something than he can handle -- crate him for long hours, constantly excite him or frighten him frequently -- he will not be able to give you his best.

(Note from Dog Tip editor: another common way that owners create and aggravate problems is by not acting as the dog's leader. Owners must act as benevolent, firm leaders so that their dogs learn to trust and listen to them. That's why canine behavior experts recommend not allowing dogs on beds and other people furniture. See other Dog Tips on the topic of Leadership.)

Prevent the mishaps until you and your dog are fully prepared. Crating, closing doors and keeping the dog on lead with you are just a few ways to minimize mischief. When you leave, confine him safely.

Teach A Desired Response

One of your training goals is to always give your dog a way to succeed -- a way to earn rewards. With problem behaviors, ask yourself is "What behavior would I prefer?"

Often, "sit" is an option. A dog who is sitting cannot be jumping up, stealing food from the toddler or cruising the counter tops. One of the best ways to address an unwanted behavior is to spend several days or weeks working on the desired alternative until your dog will do it quickly and reliably.

Most dogs don't have any idea what you want them to do, so it's up to you to be crystal clear. If you want the dog to greet you by sitting, you'd better tell him to sit. It's all too common for owners to complain about an unwanted behavior while never teaching the dog a positive alternative. By clearly directing him to the desired behavior, he quickly learns how to earn approval and rewards.

Reward What You Like

Does it seem obvious that he should be rewarded for doing the right thing? Maybe. But how often have you struggled through the door with the dog jumping up at you, you hip checking, shoving or yelling at him? When he finally gets off of you, you think "Phew, now I can get my coat off," and you ignore him.

What got him the most attention? Jumping. What made the attention stop? Being on all fours. With that one common and innocent choice you just taught your dog to jump longer next time.

Or, how often have you seen him walk by with something forbidden in his mouth? You scold him and tell him to drop it and when he does, you continue to scold him? It is easy to miss an opportunity to reward the good behavior, but if you want your dog to learn, you must catch him doing things right. If you tell him "Drop it!" and he does, PRAISE him. Even if he just dropped what's left of a favorite shoe, it's too late to correct the picking it up in the first place. All you can hope to do now is to teach him to drop things when you ask, so focus on that.

Ignore or Remove the Reward from What You Do Not Like

Some behaviors are best simply ignored as attention of any kind, even when you are upset, can reward some dogs. For example, your dog jumps up you are you carry his dinner bowl.

You say nothing but quietly turn away and put his dinner back on the counter and wait. When he stops jumping, you pick up the bowl. He jumps; you put the bowl back on the counter. Many dogs quickly learn that jumping causes the food to move away and that four on the floor causes it to appear. Staying earth bound is now a clear and easy choice for most dogs to make.


Behavior problems can't be willed away. It doesn't help to think about crating him or to contemplate setting up a training situation. Do it. We've seen people solve difficult canine problems for which we held out little hope of recovery. It was achieved through sheer persistence and commitment. Not every problem has a solution, but most do and that solution is 100% dependent on you. Take the time, create a minor miracle.

News Note:

From American Partnership for Pets, a coalition promoting spay and neuter of pets nationwide (www.americanpartnershipforpets.org): "Up to 38,000 post offices nationwide are starting to display the spay/neuter stamp posters in preparation for their issuance! The posters raise awareness of the plight of unwanted American pets and direct the public to www.pets911.com or 1-888-pets-911 to find veterinarians and spay/neuter programs in their neighborhoods."

For more Dog Tips on behavior and learning to be a leader for your dog, and other information about pet care, visit our website at:

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport