Your guests are milling around the canapé table chatting and gobbling up goodies when suddenly, over the din of laughter and clinking glasses, from across the room you hear your dog speak a short burst of little yaps — you taught him long ago when he was a puppy. You sigh and know he's at it again. For years, you have encouraged him to show off for guests, now, like clockwork, whenever you have company, your old pal makes his rounds. Tail wagging, puppy-dog eyes pleading, and smiling from ear-to-ear, he strolls from one guest to another, performing his repertoire of tricks; from rolling over, shaking a paw and "speaking," to sitting up on his hind legs to beg. Mooching every juicy morsel he can wangle out of your guests, your dog's behavior is reinforced with oodles of attention and the pièce de résistance ... cheesy steak fondue!
But there are a lot more subtle, less direct ways we encourage our dog's bad behavior. According to Dr. Karen Becker, "Most animal behavior experts agree that undesirable canine conduct can almost always be linked to something a human in the dog's life did or didn't do, either intentionally or accidentally. In fact, many dog parents are shocked to learn the behavior that drives them craziest about their dog is actually a behavior they've inadvertently encouraged!"
Sadly, bad behaviors that people are unwittingly causing in their dogs every day across America, like begging — because they think it's adorable — jumping, and pulling on their leash — not so adorable — can have far-reaching consequences and ultimately lead to sad outcomes for many dogs. Shelters are full of dogs whose learned bad behavior proved too much for owners who wouldn't take responsibility for creating the problem or invest the time to work with their dog in solving it. It may be time to re-examine the ways in which you may be contributing to any of your dog's unwelcome behaviors and make a self-correction in the best interests of you both.
What do the experts have to say about bad behaviors people cause in their dogs?
It is possible to reverse any damage you have done in creating bad behaviors in your dog. It may take some time, but with expert guidance — either from research or hiring an expert — consistency, kindness, and a heaping measure of patience, you and your dog can learn to agree on what's acceptable dog behavior, and leave the unwelcome, bad behaviors behind. And whether you believe it or not, you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, so to speak. If you need a little help along the way, consider working with a canine behavior consultant; someone like Kim Brophey, Applied Ethologist, award-winning Certified Canine Consultant, and professional Family Dog Mediator™ of Dog Door Canine Services in Asheville, North Carolina.
Brophey, founder of trademarked Dog L.E.G.S.® (Learning, Environment, Genetics, Self) system of canine science and also the author of the groundbreaking book, "Meet Your Dog," the Game-Changing Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Behavior," says in an interview with Cuteness, "What seems like an impossible situation may have a simple solution — maybe changing a daily routine or adjusting how we respond to the behavior we don't like. What seems to be irreconcilable differences may, in fact, just be basic misunderstandings. Remember that you and your dog are, after all, different types of animals.
Millions of dogs live in millions of American homes as family members. Consequently, few subjects are as contentious and controversial as dog training and behavior, except for, perhaps, child-rearing. In an everchanging sea of advice that is often contradictory, it's hard to know who to listen to when it comes to living with our dogs in harmony. With widely varying opinions from dog behaviorists, dog trainers, and a slew of so-called "dog whisperers" including the original, Cesar Milan, we try to do what's best for our dogs while bemoaning their bad behavior.
if there is one thing reputable trainers or canine behavior experts have in common, it's the use of positive reinforcement. Never yell at your dog, never use force or physically punish your dog, ever, in your quest to change your dog's bad behaviors; just as you would not physically or verbally abuse a child; treasure your dog. And if you hire a dog trainer, fire him immediately if he suggests anything you feel uncomfortable about. Dog training is a broad, unregulated field with thousands of players, and not everyone has your dog's best interest at heart.
Bottom line, you can change bad behaviors by replacing them with good behaviors using positive reinforcement techniques where good behavior is reinforced and bad behaviors are ignored, being consistent, and setting clear-cut boundaries and limitations. Raising dogs is a little like raising children, says Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog" and a dog behavior consultant. Fisher says, "Puppies and adolescents are constantly learning. If the dog is awake and interacting with the environment, including people, every experience is a potential learning opportunity. Lack of consistency actually strengthens the undesirable behavior."
Quick tips on some bad behaviors you may have cultivated and how to turn things around.
Remember, as you work through a program to turn your dog's bad behavior into good behavior, don't forget the most important motivator — when your dog has achieved even the tiniest success: give him praise and affection! Never knee or kick a jumping dog! As Kim Brophey says in her exclusive interview with Cuteness, "everyone needs to know that it is not only possible but far more effective to respond to your dog's undesirable behavior with consequences that simply render the behavior ineffective/useless/a dead-end than it is to raise your voice, your hands, or any other object towards them. Fear and pain are never a necessary evil in teaching."
Why does my dog jump on me and my guests?
Jumping is one of the most disliked dog behaviors and reasons people call on the experts. Cesar Milan says dogs jump on people because they have established themselves as the pack leader. That's scary! Other dog behavior experts insist dogs jump on people because they're excited. While still others insist that dogs are genetically wired to jump up — momma wild dog comes back to the den and all her puppies jump up to nuzzle her and maybe partake of food she's brought back for them. So, is jumping a greeting, a means of taking control, or hard-wired genetic behavior?"
And then there are dog owners who encourage jumping. When you walk through your front door after being away for a bit, you may be as happy to see your dog as she is to see you and encourage her to jump up for a big hug. But then, when it's raining outside and your dog comes in with muddy paws, you don't let her jump up. This inconsistency is called "random reinforcement" and just like slot machines, it works like magic to keep dogs jumping up and people playing the slots. But whether you have intentionally or unknowingly encouraged the jumping behavior, if you have a large dog, it can be a problem when your dog jumps on others, especially an elderly person or a small child.
How to keep your dog's paws on the ground and curb his annoying jumping habit.
If you're looking for some ideas to keep your dog's paws on the ground and curb his annoying jumping habit, here is some common sense advice from Kim Brophey in her book Meet Your Dog for a new plan to stop the pattern of your dog jumping on your guests:
"Your dog goes crazy, jumping and shrieking, at the front door every time you have guests over. What do you do?
Keep your dog behind a baby gate when guests first enter your house and give your dog a long-lasting, exclusive "visitor bone". Eating scrumptious butcher bones can totally redefine the meaning of company and may finally break the cycle of craziness at the front door. After several times of experiencing this, your dog will begin to associate visitors with the anticipation of receiving a yummy goody.
Why does this work? Through your actions, you dam the old habitual mode of behavior with the baby gate and encourage a new mindset with the golden chewy, and voilà — you have a new behavioral path for your dog to take when a friend comes knocking. Eventually, he will run into the kitchen and wait for the super "visitor bone."
As for dogs who jump on their owners uninvited, a good starting point for breaking the habit is to teach your dog to come to you and sit. Start your practice sessions with treats, say, for example, a treat each time she's nailed it, then two-for-one or two sits for one treat, then three sits for one treat, and so on. With practice, your dog will soon run up to see you, immediately sit at your feet, and wait for her pat on the head, or treat. Don't worry if she needs an edible reward every time for a while, just pack some yummy treats in your pocket or purse for when you arrive back home. She will soon be running up to see you and instead of jumping on you, she will be sitting at your feet, waiting for you to make the next move.
Why does my dog pull on the leash?
Most likely, your dog is pulling on the leash because you have allowed it at some point, or even every day on your walks around the block. Maybe, you use a long, flexible-leash that allows your dog to walk at least 20-feet ahead of you.
How to teach your dog to walk beside you.
One trick you can use with the long leash is to regularly do fun drills where, suddenly, you pull the dog in close and set the leash to about six feet, then walk the perimeter of trees, bushes, whatever stationary object you can find, while changing up directions quickly — right, then left — all the while encouraging and praising your dog. It's a fun and easy exercise that not only gets your dog into the swing of things but is a great exercise for you, too.
Once your dog has perfected the heel in both directions, go back to your long length and let him have some freedom. No problem! Practice for 10 minutes every day and you'll have a dog who loves heeling, or walking on a six-foot leash, and doesn't pull you around. Practice, practice, practice. Always praise your dog for his best effort. Heeling, or walking beside you, will come once you stop jerking his head around, giving rough, painful corrections, and start paying attention to your dog's signals. Enjoy the process!
Why is my dog always begging for food or how to stop my dog from being a mooch?
If you have kids, you may know how much they like sharing their supper with your dog. Especially peas, or other veggies. And why not? The kids hate the veggies and your dog, after all, loves being part of the family, which means sharing meal time. Unfortunately, after only a couple of shared tidbits under the table, dogs, creatures of habit that they are, depend on regular handouts. Next thing you know, they are sitting in front of you, staring you down. Where's mine? Begging, either accompanied by the classic beggar stance, or by the" too dignified to look like a beggar but I am actually still begging," is never acceptable and that old begging trick is old hat and truly outdated. By teaching the trick in the first place, you have ingrained this annoying habit. But you can turn your dog into a respectable lady or gent once more. For those who respect dogs as sentient beings, it's sad to see a dog sitting up and begging.
How to stop your dog from being a mooch.
To turn your dog into one who needs not beg for anything, overtly or not, starts by refusing to look into those imploring eyes. Avert your head, your eyes, and every fiber of your body to avoid the temptation to hand your beggar even a crumb of food. If your dog persists in trying to stare you down, own, tell him to lay down. He'll get the hang of it soon enough. Dogs should never have to beg!