How To Stop Unwanted Behavior

In this post:

  1. What’s considered unwanted behavior?
  2. Redirect your dog’s unwanted behavior.
  3. Prevent, ignore, or manage unwanted behavior.
  4. Teach and reinforce the wanted behavior. 

Please Note: Wag Enabled content (videos, posts, and articles) should not be used to diagnose behavioral issues. The content provided in this article is meant as an educational tool. You should always work closely with your pet’s veterinarian and a professional dog trainer and/or certified animal behaviorist.

When you bring a new dog or puppy into your home, you’re in for a bit of an adjustment phase. It will take a bit of time to get to know your new housemate, his/her characteristics, personality, behaviors, and habits. At the same time, your dog is getting to know you, your home, and your rules. This can either be a stressful time as you get annoyed each time your new dog breaks an unknown rule or you can use this time as a way to secure a loyal and steadfast best friend.

What’s considered unwanted behavior?

Before you can start training your dog, you need to decide what behaviors you are going to consider unwanted. There are two ways for you to decide if you need to stop a behavior or not.

The first one is pretty simple. Before you bring your dog home, decide what you don’t want your dog to do. What are yo willing to live with? I do not live with your dog, you do. I cannot tell you what you should let your dog do or not do as long as the behavior is not dangerous. Ask yourself questions that start with “Is it okay for my dog to….?” Some examples include:

  • Is it okay for my dog to bark at the door? Mine are allowed as long as they stop when I tell them to.
  • Is it okay for my dog to be the furniture? My dogs are allowed on my furniture.
  • Is it okay for my dog to get into my bed? My dogs are only allowed in my bed when I invite them.
  • Is it okay for my dog to get human food from the table? My dogs get food scraps in their dog bowl as long as it is dog safe.
  • Is it okay for my dog to jump on me when I come home? I love it when my dog greets me at the door with kisses but no jumping.
  • Is it okay for my dog to jump on new people? My dog is not allowed to jump on people unless asked to give hugs.

 

The second part is to avoid any behaviors that might be or become dangerous. Keep in mind that what is now cute puppy behavior may turn into undesirable behavior in your adult dog. If you wouldn’t want your adult dog jumping into your arms, then train your puppy not to do so. It’s much easier not to let a behavior start than to retrain your dog. I like to use the Rottweiler test to see if a potential behavior might be dangerous.

Ask yourself, would I like this behavior if a 90 lb rottweiler (or any other large dog) did it? 

If you cringe at the idea of seeing a child being chased and nipped at by a 100 lb. German Shepherd, your Shih Tzu should not be allowed to do that either. If you think having an Akita growl at you while cuddling with their owner is a bad idea, your Chihuahua should not be allowed to do that either. If you think a huge pitbull barking at the door will deter thieves, then go ahead and let your Lhasa Apso bark at the door, as long as both breeds stop when you ask them and they do not get aggressive.

UNSAFE DOG BEHAVIOR

Redirect your dog’s unwanted behavior.

Many behaviors are not bad; they are just not wanted. Jumping is just your dog trying to get closer to you and barking is your dog talking to you. We need to give them an incompatible behavior in order to help them overcome their unwanted habits.

For example:

  • You want your dog to stop jumping – You could ask them to sit, lay down, or wait. This will literally prevent them from jumping.
  • You want your dog to stop barking – You could ask them to stop, fetch a toy, or go to bed. They can’t bark if they have a toy in their mouth.
  • You want your dog to stop begging at the table – You could give them an interactive toy to play with while you eat or feed them while you eat.

You should know that this does not stop unwanted behavior. This method works best for things that you don’t care as much about and want to allow your dog to partake in once in a while (or always). For example, I allow Truffle to jump and bark at the door when someone knocks on it. I encourage that behavior. When I need him to stop I tell him “That is enough” and he stops the behavior. Or when people first come over, I ask him to go lay down on his bed until the guests are ready to say hi.

Prevent, ignore, or manage unwanted behavior.

You need to make sure that your dog can’t do the unwanted behavior. If your dog is allowed to do something, even once, he will continue doing that. Whatever gets him what he is after, he will repeat the behavior over and over.

  • Behaviors you ignore are things like barking at you for dinner, mouthing on you, or begging at the table.
  • Behaviors you prevent are access to inappropriate chewing objects, barking at the door, and stealing food from the table.
 

Ideas for solving some basic behavioral problems:

  • Jumping at people: Stand on the leash so he literally can’t get his feet off the ground or have him go to his bed so he is away from the people. Literally teaches your dog to not jump.
  • Barking for attention: You have to ignore it until he stops. You can’t even give a command in this one, because he wants your attention and he does not care what kind of attention he gets. Over time your dog will learn that he can’t get attention by barking at you.
  • Begging at the table: Send him to another room so he literally cannot see the table and thus can’t beg.
  • Puppy chewing: Put away anything you don’t want the puppy to chew on.
  • Leash pulling: do not move. If you continue going forward while he is pulling you allow him to pull. If you just stand there, he has no choice but to eventually stop pulling and come to you.

I do want to caution against ignoring unwanted behavior. If your dog is acting up out of fear or anxiety, he actually needs help from you or a veterinarian,  professional trainer or behaviorist. Other examples:

  • Excessive barking: your dog could be in pain and trying to let you know. Carefully observe your dog for any signs that this is the case.
  • Chewing: your dog could have an upset tummy and is trying to eat things to help him comfort himself. Some chewing is a result of neurological disorders like Pica.
  • Jumping up: your dog could be afraid of noise or not feeling good and is trying to get you to comfort him or her.
  • Biting you when being handled: perhaps it hurts him when you touch him there.

Teach and reinforce the wanted behavior.

This is the most important step in stopping any unwanted behavior; you have to reward the behavior you do want. Rewards can be anything. It does not always have to be treats. You could pet your dog, verbally praise them, allow them to get on the sofa, go outside, go for a walk, play tug. Anything that your dog likes can be used as a reward.

Things you can do:

  • If you are just being lazy at home and your dog is relaxing by your side, praise him! Let him know that you like it when he is relaxed.
  • Your dog did not bark when the mailman rang the doorbell, praise your dog.
  • Your dog did not bite the kid when he was pulling on her tail, praise her like crazy.

 

There is no such thing as too much praise for your dog, so feel free to let your best friend know when they are doing the right thing!

TRAINING BASICS

Getting help with unwanted behavior

I cannot emphasize this enough, always work with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues that might be causing your dog’s unwanted behavior.

Once you’ve ruled out a medical condition, work with a positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist who bases their technique in current animal behavior research. You can find amazing behaviorists and trainers through our “Find a Pet Pro” section or reaching out to Wag Enabled directly.

Final Thoughts:

Phasing out unwanted behaviors can be a long and tedious process. It’s important to celebrate the victories, no matter how small, so that your dog feels some relief from the training. A little bit of joy and celebration can go a long way in helping you both feel refreshed and ready to tackle some new training. And please remember, if you feel your dog is acting out due to fear contact a professional to address the issue. Don’t ignore it.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions