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How to Solve 3 Common Dog Behaviour Issues

Every dog is different just like you and I are different. We are all individuals whose behaviour is a product of our genetics and of our learning throughout our lifetime. 

Likes and dislikes may vary depending on the day and can affect the way we respond to the world around us. However, for all our individuality and our vastly differing life experiences, when we look at common behaviour problems in the companion dog there does seems to be a lot of similarities.

Firstly, we need to cover a very important point – when we are looking at ‘problem behaviours’ or our dogs' ‘misbehaviour’ we must be aware of how subjective the meaning of these words can be. ‘Misbehaviour’ is a label that may be interpreted differently depending on who you are speaking to. For example, I don’t consider it ‘misbehaviour’ when a dog gets up onto my lounge, whereas someone else may consider that unacceptable behaviour.

As soon as we start labelling dogs good or bad, we can start to view them that way: the label then defines the individual dog. It is best practice to describe what your dog is actually doing and then instead of deeming him or her to be good or bad, start to think about what you want them to do and train them!

Environmental Management

In any training plan you must prevent rehearsal of the behaviour you would like to change i.e. the ‘target behaviour’. We know that behaviours that are rewarded are then repeated. It is imperative that you control your dog’s environment effectively in order to prevent the target behaviour from occurring at all and especially to ensure that it is not rewarded. This is often what your dog trainer means when they say “set your dog up for success”.

My clients will often question me about this and I totally get it – if you could prevent the target behaviour from occurring then it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place now would it?
It does sound silly when I say it like that doesn’t it? I said the same thing to the first dog trainer I ever asked for help when I was new to dogs and behaviour.

While the replacement behaviour is being introduced, you may need to do more than you would normally feel comfortable doing to prevent the target behaviour. 


Remember, you get out of it what you put into it!
If you are diligent in preventing the target behaviour from occurring and being rewarded then you will have a much easier time working on the replacement behaviour.

Problem #1: Jumping up on People

This is a very common complaint, especially around adolescence and amongst larger breed dogs. Remember how I said behaviours that are rewarded are repeated? This means that if a behaviour is continuing to occur then something or someone is rewarding it.

So, if you don’t want your dog to jump up on people as an adult or teenager, begin working on ‘sit for attention’ or ‘four (paws) on the floor’ from an early age

This is not about introducing a training regime where your dog must earn your affections through obedience, but rather about ensuring that you instil good manners in them. 

6-month old Nova Meggitt practises calm at the local ca
Being proactive and consistent are two of the best things you can do to prevent a behaviour that you don’t like developing.

One of my go-to techniques for jumping on people is ‘go to bed’ or ‘mat work’

I love the versatility of training a mobile settle station because it means this exercise can be used for a variety of different scenarios and once you have worked up to the required level of distraction, it can be taken anywhere. 

When I use this technique for excitable jumpers, I proof the behaviour well beyond a reasonable level of distraction before we apply it in real life, so that we can be sure we have set the dog up for success. 

This prevents any fallout from excessive frustration that will likely occur if we put a dog in a situation that they are not yet equipped to handle.

Problem #2: Digging in the Garden

I love it when clients ask me in Puppy School how to prevent digging in the garden. 

Because I get to discuss the normal dog behaviours that we view as ‘bad’, and the "have your cake and eat it too" solution.

Cavoodle Hoagie Hobbs-King loves digging at the beach!
If your dog is digging for fun and not as a symptom of another more complex issue such as separation distress, (an appointment with your local qualified force free dog trainer is recommended if it is) why not create a legal digging area? The clam shell pools you can get from the hardware store are perfect for this.

Bury a whole bunch of exciting treasures in your dog’s new digging haven. This provides extra value when digging in their special area instead of your garden bed. 

Putting some temporary fencing around the no-dig garden areas can be helpful in the early stages of introducing this exercise to your dog. 

Alternatively, you can just keep an eye on your dog when they are in the garden and praise them lavishly for digging in the right place, maybe even run over and have a little dig with them, they will love you for it! 

“Mum never does that with us anywhere else!” 

If they start to dig in the garden bed simply redirect them to their new special spot and encourage them to dig there instead. 

If digging is absolutely not an option whatsoever then my preferred technique would be to train a solid ‘leave it’ and ‘recall’ to be practised with the garden beds safely fenced off. Also find a replacement activity for your dog to do that will satisfy whatever behavioural itch they were trying to scratch with digging.

Problem #3: Excessive Barking

Barking does come under normal, natural behaviour but even as dog trainers we can totally understand why you may need to control barking. Identify your dog’s reason for barking, bearing in mind, that there could be several different motivations depending on the situation. 


What is the reason for your dog's barking?


  • Do they want your attention?
  • To have you open a door for them? 
  • To have a scrap of food from the table? 
  • To have you throw the ball
  • To tell a stranger they are fearful and want them to go away? [1]
  • As a means to relieve boredom

The list goes on and each function may have a different training technique to address it, depending on any number of variables. I strongly recommend that you make your own list outlining exactly what happened before and after your dog barked

For a dog wanting to be let into the house it might look like this: 

Screen door is closed ->
  Rover barks at door ->  Human opens door

In this scenario we can predict that barking at the door will increase because Rover’s barking is being rewarded by the opening of the door. In order to change this behaviour many people would instruct you to simply ignore Rover and not let him inside until he is sitting quietly. 


Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t work because barking is intrinsically rewarding
Yep, you heard me!

We cannot just ignore barking, especially not when barking has produced rewards for the dog in the past. The other problem with ignoring barking is that most of us are extremely bad at it, and we usually cave in really easily. Often when I see clients who have attempted to ignore the barking I find that they have inadvertently conditioned perseverance and only increased the magnitude of their dogs barking. 

In the case of Rover at the door, we could replace barking with any number of alternative behaviours. Standing, sitting or lying down at the door would be more appropriate. For any of this to work we must be paying attention



Jess' dog Snow, Bull Mastiff x Cattle Dog 

If we aren’t there to reward the replacement behaviour when it occurs, our dog will very likely fall back on their tried and true methods.

Another option and one of my favourites for reducing but not completely stopping barking, is to train ‘Speak’ and ‘Quiet’, adapted from Dr Ian Dunbar’s video Woof/Shush. 

This behaviour was easily one of the most useful things I taught to my late dog Snow, it allowed her to have a bit of a bark when it was appropriate. 


If it wasn’t (or when I had had enough) I could say “Hey Snow, shhhhhhhh”. Bliss, we both got to have our cake and eat it too!


A Note on Bark Collars and Punishment

It would be remiss of me to leave out any mention of citronella collars, anti-bark devices, and other aversive training aids or techniques – particularly when talking about excessive barking. You will notice that I haven’t made mention of any kind of punishment for any of the examples!

The reason is that they are simply unnecessary and modern dog training no longer advocates their use – be it for the behaviours mentioned above or for any other. 


Punishment suppresses behaviour but it does not show your dog what you want them to do instead

The fallout from the use of punishment (even if it is applied correctly) can be immense and it can even make things worse. I could go on and on about this but Dr Susan Friedman explains it far better than I ever could in this paper.

Try to remember that
if your dog is not able to do what you need them to - it is not their fault. If they cannot do what we are asking then we haven’t properly prepared them for the situation we have put them in. We are supposed to be the more intelligent species, aren’t we? I think we owe it to our dogs to think ahead in order to help them learn in a fun and positive way rather than waiting for them to fail and then scolding them for it.

Conclusion

As you can see the techniques that we choose to use when training or altering behaviours in our dogs can be as unique as our dogs themselves. The first port of call after identifying the behaviour you want to change should always be to figure out what the function of the behaviour is for your dog.

What are they getting out of it and is there any way that you can help them get what they want in a way that you feel is more appropriate.

When we begin to try and see the world from our dog’s perspective, to understand their motivations, it becomes much easier to find a solution that will satisfy you both.

[1] 
Fearful or aggressive barking must be addressed in person by a qualified, experienced force free dog trainer without delay.
[2]
For my fellow behaviour nerds ... The correct term is Reinforcement/Reinforcer and not Reward.

written by Jess Sandstrom, March 2019 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved)


About the Writer


Jess Sandstrom has been working with dogs professionally since 2012. Beginning in Rescue she then moved on to complete formal qualifications in Dog Training: Diploma of Canine Behaviour Science and Technology (CASI); Statement of Attainment in Dog Training (TAFE); member of Pet Professional Guild Australia; Association of Pet Dog Trainers; Association of Animal Behaviour Professionals.

Jess believes that by helping her clients create a deep relationship which goes beyond the basic dog/owner dynamic, this benefits not only the team she's working with, but greatly reduces the risk of dogs being surrendered to shelters or abandoned due to behaviour which may be labelled as ‘antisocial’.

She uses science-based, positive reinforcement techniques, allowing both person and dog the space to learn how to communicate with each other without the use of force, and allowing their relationship to flourish.

For more information, please visit www.sandstromdogtraining.com.au
Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sandstromdogtraining/ or
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sandstromdogtraining/

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