Is Your Dog Good at Being Bad?

Is Your Dog Good at Being Bad?

"Never let them practice it wrong - because they get really good at it."*

I stole that quote from trainer Becky Schultz's recent article in the Association of Pet Dog Trainers' Chronicle of the Dog because it is such a wonderful way to remind us of the importance of managing a dog's behavior so that bad behavior isn't learned in the first place or reinforced after it is in place.

What in the world am I talking about, you ask? Well, here's an example. Let's say your adorable little puppy, Fluffy, jumps on your guests when they come through your door. Each time a guest comes to the door, Fluffy gets to practice her jumping and the behavior is reinforced. This may be true even if your guest pushes Fluffy off or scolds her for jumping up because, much to our dismay, dogs often find even negative attention very rewarding. Thus, even if Fluffy's behavior is met with scolding or other negative attention, the end result is practice and reinforcement of the behavior.

As you can see, it's therefore important to prevent Fluffy from getting to practice her jumping at all. Prevent the jumping up behavior at the same time that you reinforce a more desirable alternative behavior. For Fluffy, this may mean using a baby gate by the front hall to prevent her from getting to the door at all. Or, train an alternative behavior so that Fluffy prevents herself from practicing the behavior. For example, teach Fluffy to automatically go to her bed or to find a special toy when the doorbell rings. To find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement based training to help you with this, go to the Assn. of Pet Dog Trainers.

Other times you may consider behavior management:
Housebreaking: use a baby gate or exercise pen to confine your dog while they learn to wait until they are outside to relieve themselves. You can find more in-depth guide to housebreaking at Our Companions Domesitic Animal Sanctuary.

A similar use of baby gates and exercise pens should apply to a dog with destructive behaviors such as chewing. It won't do you any good to punish your dog when you find that he's eaten your show while you were at work. It will help to prevent that behavior in the first place.

For a young puppy who might get into trouble around the house, keep the puppy with you when you are home as well. The puppy can be kept in the same room or area as you while he learns what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not.

Schultz advises owners to be aware that management is needed in the backyard as well as in the home. To prevent your dog from developing nasty behaviors like excessive barking or digging holes in your garden, monitor your puppy when she's outside in the yard just as you would when she's inside so that you can teach proper behavior before the bad habits are developed.

Schultz also encourages exercise as a behavior management tool and explains that exercise helps prevent behavior problems and builds the relationship between dog and owner. The key here, however, is understanding that exercise does not mean turning your dog out in the backyard by himself. You have to take your dog for walks or play ball with him in the yard to get your pup moving enough to have an effect.

Sounds like a lot? It can be, but the payoff in the end should be worth the effort.

* Becky Schultz, CPST, CDBC, Safe at Home: What Every Pet Owner Needs to Know, The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Mar./Apr. 2005, pages 28-31.


Written by Cara Shannon, the owner and one of the trainers at Buddy's Chance, LLC Austin Dog Training and Daycare. She teaches dog training classes for pet dog owners in Central Austin and consults on problem dog behaviors.