Most dogs have some form of ‘bad’ behaviour that owners would like to correct. This behaviour can range from minor issues such as pulling on a lead, through to aggression, which can have far more serious consequences.
Some bad behaviour may never have been corrected at the puppy stage, such as jumping up at people, but bad behaviour can also be a new and unexpected trait in your dog. If the latter is the case, this could mean that your dog is unhappy, sick, or has developed a new fear or anxiety, so it’s important to understand what your dog is trying to tell you.
What is classed as bad behaviour?
What we see as ‘bad behaviour’ may actually be a fun game for your dog – your new shoes may simply appear to be a fabulous new chew toy. Barking at other dogs may not be bad behaviour but the result of your dog feeling overwhelmed.
Your dog’s bad behaviour can not only have a major impact on their health, but also your happiness. So, it’s important to take this behaviour seriously as soon as you see any early signs of issues, especially with things like aggression, which can be dangerous.
Common ‘issues’ that can be classed as bad behaviour include:
- Pulling on the lead
- Fear of loud noises
- Phobias or anxiety
- Jumping up at people
- Barking at other dogs or people
- Recall problems
- Destructive behaviour
- Toileting in the house
- Attention seeking
How to correct bad behaviour
No matter the breed of dog, from Great Dane to Jack Russel, one rule is always the same – the earlier you approach an issue, the higher chance you’ll have of working with your dog to fix it. Even an old dog can learn new tricks.
Reward Based Training
This technique can be successful if your dog’s behavioural problem is related to a breakdown or lack of training at a young age. This method rewards good behaviour and ignores or aims to re-shape the bad.
If you are able to find the cause of your dog’s bad behaviour and work out what you want to train your dog to do instead, then this method can be really effective. For instance, if your dog pulls on a lead, don’t tell them off. Simply stand still and wait for them to stop pulling and for the lead to slacken. Once it does, reward your dog and continue walking, repeating the process as and when required. The method does require patience but can be the simplest way of correcting behavioural issues.
If you try by yourself and don’t succeed or if you simply do not have the confidence or patience to address behavioural issues alone, then for straightforward behavioural problems, such as poor recall or jumping, a reputable trainer is recommended. A weekly training class could make a world of difference, resulting in a content dog and a happy owner.
Usually, these classes come with ‘homework’, in which you will practice correcting this bad behaviour in your own time too, usually adopting reward-based training, as above.
For dogs displaying panic with loud noises, aggression, general anxiety or withdrawn behaviour, you should seek the advice of a veterinary professional.
A vet will be able to check your dog for any underlying health problems – if a dog is in pain or is feeling unwell, this can cause their behaviour to become problematic. If a health issue is found, medical treatment may correct bad behaviour. If, however, your dog is given the all clear, your vet can offer some help and advice but also may recommend a dog behaviourist to help you correct the issues that you are experiencing.
Dogs who are excessively destructive, or who bark the house down in your absence, could benefit from the help and guidance of a qualified behaviourist for their more complex issues. These behaviours are generally an attribute of underlying emotional distress, or anxiety and fear.
A behaviourist will work with both you and your dog to find the root of the problem, creating a training plan for you to undertake, which should correct poor behaviour. This strategy may involve a mix of reward-based training, socialisation, and other methods.