Does your dog have a behavior that annoys you? Maybe it’s barking, digging, or jumping. If you want to begin solving dog behavior problems for good, you’re going to want to think like a dog trainer.
I’m going to give you some professional insight into how we, as trainers, think about and work with behaviors like this.
Think about your dog’s problem behavior. Now ask yourself this question: “what’s in it for him/her?”
Behaviors like this always, always have a purpose. And if the behavior is happening over and over again, you can bet that it’s serving that purpose for your dog.
Behavior Issue 1: Barking
Excessive barking is one of the more complex behavior problems we see as trainers, as there are a multitude of reasons for it.
So think about what purpose your dog’s barking is serving. Let’s look at a few examples:
- If your dog barks at strangers coming into your home and doesn’t stop after the initial alert barking, your dog is likely barking out of fear or insecurity. The purpose? To keep the person away – your dog’s effort to keep himself safe in a situation he’s uncomfortable with. This issue is best addressed with a professional who can help your dog begin to feel better about being in the presence of new people.
- What about your dog barking at you for things she wants (food, going on a walk, your attention)? This is attention-seeking barking. Any attention you give your dog for barking (even looking their direction could be considered rewarding) will cause the behavior to continue. Instead, ensure your dog learns acceptable behaviors they can offer instead, and ignore all barking at you completely.
Behavior Issue 2: Digging
There are two primary reasons that dogs dig, and they have different solutions.
- It’s fun! If you have a terrier or a working line retriever, they are going to find digging especially reinforcing. Remember that our dogs were originally bred for specific purposes; look into your dog’s breed history. You might find that digging was part of their original job. In this case, provide your dog with an appropriate area to dig, and redirect them onto this digging pit when they go to the wrong spot.
- Attention seeking. This happens when your dog is bored or understimulated, and realizes that you run to them as soon as they begin digging, guess what they’re going to begin doing for attention! If this is your issue, you’ve got to ensure your dog has appropriate energy and mental stimulation outlets, and has plenty of appropriate toys both indoors and outdoors. If he begins digging outside, immediately go indoors. If your dog is doing it for attention, he will stop digging and follow you inside, realizing the digging isn’t working for attention.
Behavior Issue 3: Jumping
Jumping is a behavior that most commonly serves a single purpose for your dog: attention. It is not happening out of dominance or a desire to misbehave. Your dog wants to greet you (or a guest) with excitement and affection.
Is it annoying? Yes!
Can it be dangerous or unpleasant? Yes!
You’ve got to teach your dog two things.
- Jumping doesn’t work. If your dog tries to jump, back up and move out of the way so your dog doesn’t make contact with you. Do not simply ignore the behavior and allow your dog to continue pawing all over you. Move out of the way and do not engage.
- Ensure your dog knows an appropriate behavior to offer instead. This behavior has to work for them consistently! If your dog offers a “sit” or stands politely in front of you, reward that with petting and attention. If they revert back to jumping at that time, go back to step one. Let your dog figure out the pattern!