Preventing Bad Behaviour from the Beginning

By Tamsin Durston

Preventing Bad Behaviour from the Beginning

Why do dogs behave badly?

Puppies are not born knowing which behaviours are okay from our point of view, and which are not, so although we might not always like the way our dogs are behaving they can’t misbehave deliberately, and doing things just to spite us is just not possible for dogs! Barking at people walking past the window, digging up the garden, eating food rubbish out of the bin, running off with and chewing our slippers or going to the toilet in the house are all examples of behaviours we might not be happy about, and yet these actions – barking, digging, scavenging, chewing, toileting - are all normal dog behaviours! It’s important that we help them to learn when we’re happy for them to do certain things, and when we’re not, otherwise they have no way of knowing what we expect from them!

Take chasing for instance, so that they get to enjoy this natural behaviour and not become frustrated because they can’t, we can teach our dogs that it’s okay to enjoy chasing a toy, all safely under our control, but teach them not run off chasing after joggers or motorbikes and to stay close to us instead when needed. Unlike children, we can’t necessarily teach dogs to understand the risks involved with chasing things like traffic, but we can teach them a much safer alternative and make it so rewarding for them that they’ll always choose that instead, and it will become their routine behaviour through practice!

Dogs aren’t born understanding what is good or bad behaviour, they only know whether behaving a certain way works out well for them and results in something great happening, or not! If a certain action makes them feel good then they’re likely to behave that way again, but if it doesn’t work out so well for them they’re unlikely to bother doing it again. So it’s up to us to teach our dogs what to do to get a good outcome, making sure we always reward the behaviours that we want them to do again!

How to prevent bad behaviour from the beginning

  1. A trusting relationship is key!

It’s important to build a strong, lasting bond with your dog so that they can trust you to keep them feeling safe and secure and lead them away from dangerous, frightening or over-exciting situations where they might easily become overwhelmed. Having fun with your dog, playing with them, training them and getting them out and about to explore the world around them, as well as settling down for quiet time together too and giving them confidence on their own, will help your bond go from strength to strength. The good news is that Dog School classes teach all these things!

  1. Understand what your dog tells you and how to give them what they need to be happy

Learning exactly what your dog needs to be happy and confident, as well as how to recognise how they are communicating with you and what they need from you at any given moment will enhance your relationship and help your dog to trust you. Our handout on Body Language will help you understand your dog’s communication and to respond appropriately to avoid them getting into difficult situations.

  1. Preparation makes perfect - setting things up for success

You can help your dog to behave well by guiding them into being much more likely to make good choices, so they just can’t go wrong in the first place! Ask yourself “how can I set things up so my dog will behave in the right way?” before you do anything new, then prepare what you need to make sure your dog does well! For example, if you’re visiting friends with your dog this might be very exciting. They might jump up, bark and be unsettled. Planning ahead and taking calm, relaxing things for your dog to do, such as their blanket to lie on with a long-lasting tasty treat or food-stuffed Kong toy, gives them something quiet, rewarding and enjoyable to do that you can be proud of!

  1. Always reward good behaviour

Dogs learn through the consequences of their own actions. If something good happens to them directly in response to their behaviour, they’ll be more likely to behave that way again as it worked out well for them. If things don’t work out well for them, well they probably won’t behave that way again! We can help them learn that ‘good behaviour makes good things happen’ by always being ready to reward them for being good, or by making the way we’d like them to behave rewarding all by itself! Rewards can be anything that your dog likes, for example being groomed or travelling in the car! It all depends on what your dog enjoys! All dogs are different so they will all find different things rewarding, however most dogs enjoy food, toys and our attention!

  1. Ignore – or interrupt if you can’t – unwanted behaviour

If your dog is behaving in a way you’d prefer they didn’t be careful not to accidentally reward this by giving them attention in any form. If you can, ignore them until they are doing something different that you do like and reward that much better choice. If you can’t ignore them – they might be doing something dangerous or upsetting someone else – then interrupt them calmly and quietly, without too much direct attention, and give them something else to do instead that you are happy about and can then reward so they know this is a much better choice in future.

  1. There’s no need to punish – getting angry never helps!

At Dogs Trust Dog School we encourage fun, reward based training so that your dog will always enjoy learning, and do not advocate any training which causes pain or fear. Experts now know that historical training methods which use punishment or pain can lead to a number of behavioural problems. These include confusion and fear (which we now know is the biggest cause of the problems that people seek professional help for) as well as a breakdown in the bond between you and your dog. Your dog needs you to be someone they can trust to guide them safely through life, so it’s important to emphasise that getting cross or frustrated when they’re getting things wrong is counter-productive. Getting angry can make your dog worried or confused about you, which can potentially lead to problems in the future.

  1. Be clear and consistent

Consistency means always giving your dog clear guidance on how you’d like them to behave and making this good behaviour rewarding for them, so they’ll do it again! Making sure everyone in your household treats your dog in the same way means they won’t become confused! Think carefully about how you would like your dog to behave and make sure you always reward these behaviours. Decide on a rule and be consistent in sticking to it so your dog always knows what to expect.

Help your dog get things right and be a “good dog”!

Want to teach your dog all kinds of good behaviours that will be useful for everyday life such as walking nicely on lead, sharing things, coming when called, settling when they’re on their own and meeting people and other dogs calmly? Have a look at our training videos covering a range of dog training topics or find your local Dog School.