First off, let’s try and define what we call bad stuff? Barking? Pulling on a leash? Dogs do bad stuff because they are dogs. Your dog does bad stuff. My dog does bad stuff. There is no perfect dog. There is no 100% reliable dog.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, consider this for a moment. Dogs do not have a real moral compass. They do not know what is good and what is bad. Your small puppy doesn’t know he cannot pee at home. He doesn’t know it is something bad. How can you tell a dog something is bad if you haven’t taught him what is good?
And let’s not forget, different people have different rules. For example, for some people, dogs sleeping on their beds is something amazing and awesome. Others associate dogs sleeping on the bed with dog hair and hate it.
How are dogs supposed to know that?
Breaking the habit
Here is the dirty little secret nobody tells you. Your dog at one point got rewarded for bad behavior. And you have probably done it without knowing it. Here is a good comparison.
You see a kid in the grocery store. He is throwing a tantrum because he wants to get candy. He might not get the candy this time. But sometime in the past, his parents got him candy because he was throwing a tantrum.
Your dog is the same. He does bad stuff and is motivated to do it by you. Your dog is amazing at picking up patterns. And they understand what led to getting what they wanted. So, if your dog whines for a while and you give him a toy to stop whining, he thinks, “hey, whining worked”.
Your dog will try different behaviors to get his treat or a bone, or a toy, or anything he wants. But as a dog owner, you have to understand how your dog’s behavior works. Your puppy can easily recognize what is the thing he did immediately before he got what he wanted.
Let’s say your dog wants to get out of the crate. He starts whining and you let him go outside. Same as before with the toy. He knows that whining will get him outside of the crate.
Here is another example, you are walking your dog on a leash. And your dog sees a dog and starts pulling toward that dog. You comply, and you go and greet that dog. So, your dog learns hey, EVERY TIME I see a dog, I can PULL and I will go and meet that dog. Basically, you are reinforcing wrong behavior.
So, in order to break your dog’s habit, the trick is to understand what wrong behavior is and what good behavior is.
The dirty little secret to dog training is YOU DO NOT STOP A BEHAVIOR, YOU TEACH YOUR DOG WHAT TO DO INSTEAD. So, if your dog barks when he wants something, teach him good behavior he needs to perform instead and he will get his thing. The simplest thing is to teach him to SIT and your dog will sit instead of barking.
What are some bad behaviors?
So, here are is a quick list of bad behaviors and bad stuff your dog does to get his thing. In no particular order, they are:
- Pushing their shout into you
- Pulling on the lead
- Scratching things
- Stealing your stuff
- Not obeying your cue
We call these behaviors a BAD PRECEEDING ACTION. What you can do is get your dog to appropriate behavior, like sit, lie down, calm down, Shush (for barking), and similar commands.
Once your dog is in proper behavior, reward him.
How do we reinforce bad behavior?
We touched on a couple of examples before. But here is a general idea of things you do wrong that reinforce bad behavior.
- Letting your dog out of the crate
- Letting your dog say hi to someone
- Giving food, treats, water
- Petting your dog
- Letting your dog say hi to another dog
- Throwing a ball for your dog
- Giving his toy
- Letting dog go outside
- Praising your dog
What can you do?
As we mentioned before, the secret to a properly behaved dog is to reinforce good behavior and ignore wrong behavior. It is not just telling your dog NO. What are you doing with that? You tell a dog to stop something. But what should he do instead?
You have to be very careful with what you reinforce. And the second most important thing is NEVER GIVE YOUR DOG WHAT HE WANTS INSTANTLY AFTER DOING SOMETHING GOOD. What does that mean?
Well, in reality, let’s say your dog jumps on people. You want to stop that, and you want your dog to sit and calmly greet people. Once your dog starts jumping on people, tell him sit, sit, sit, and once he sits, count to three. One, two, three, and then give him praise and reward.
Why is that? Because your dog as we mentioned before, remembers what he did that resulted in him getting what he wants.
And third, even more important, do not give your dog something HE WANTS, after he does something YOU DO NOT WANT. That reinforces wrong behavior.
Remember, there is no such thing as a BAD DOG. There is only a dog that hasn’t been taught proper manners and behavior by its owner. Often bad behavior comes from bad information.
So, here is a simple trick. The next time your dog whines to get out of his crate. Just wait until he calms down, count to three, get him to sit if possible, and then let him out of the crate. When your dog pulls on the leash, get him to sit and look at you. Then reward his focus on you. With proper training and reinforcement, you can change plenty of bad behaviors into good ones.