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How To Prevent Dog Behavior Problems


puppy under the table

Every day, I get calls to help fix a dog's or puppy's behavior problems. All of them could have been prevented. The only exception to this, and excluded from this article, are dogs from a rescue or shelter that came to the new owners with destructive behaviors.


(For accurate content, we will only refer to a dog bought directly from a breeder or a pet store. We will talk about rescue dogs in another article.)


I have worked with many puppies in my dog training career. So far, in 2020, I have trained over 150 puppies ages 9-16 weeks old. I also have one of my own. She's a 10-month-old Mini Australian Shepherd that I got at 10 weeks old in May. She has no behavior problems. However, if I did not follow the tips I provided, she could easily have many undesired behaviors.


The behaviors I see most include potty training issues, anxiety, play biting, stress, fear, jumping on people, socializing with other dogs, pulling on a leash, and aggression.



HOW DOGS LEARN

Before I explore how to prevent dogs' behavior problems, I must first talk about how dogs learn. Without getting too scientific, there are two ways that dogs learn.


  1. Through association (classical conditioning) - dogs learn things good and bad, without any formal training, from the first few minutes you have them. Dogs build associations with everything in their lives. It's up to the owners to assist in guiding the dog on what they should associate with pleasant and unpleasant.

  2. From consequences (operant conditioning) - dogs learn behaviors you want, usually followed by a food reward and praise. Dogs learn the behaviors you don't want, followed by a correction and redirection. For example, if you train your dog to sit, and he does, you reward him with a treat to help reinforce that behavior.


Classical Conditioning Examples:

Your dog learns, on its own, that when you grab the leash, it's time to go outside, and they run to the front door for the walk. This is an association that the dog has learned based on past experiences. This is classical conditioning.

Your dog learns, on its own, that you leaving the house is not a good thing, and he begins to cry, bark, and get anxious. He has developed an association that your leaving is painful, not pleasant.


Operant Conditioning Examples:

You teach your dog to sit, and each time you say the command, your dog sits. Immediately after he sits, you reward him with a treat and praise. This is a consequence of a behavior, otherwise known as operant conditioning.

You teach your dog "leave it" when he picks something up off the ground while on a walk. When your dog removes his mouth from the ground, you reward him with a treat and praise him for leaving it.


WHY DOGS DEVELOP BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS

Dogs' unwanted behaviors can start as soon as the first day you have the dog in your home. If these behaviors are not corrected and redirected, and rules are not established from that first day, behavior problems will likely occur very soon. For example, the dogs only need to pee and poop in the house 1-2 times before they associate that it's the correct behavior.


Dogs ultimately thrive in an environment where they are provided with clear structure and communication. Desirable behaviors are rewarded, whereas undesirable behaviors are discouraged by implementing clear rules and avoiding any forms of psychological and physical intimidation.


Modern scientifically-based dog training and modern dog behavior modification focus on teamwork, creating a harmonious relationship between dogs and owners.


Below are a few reasons why your dog may have developed a behavior problem:

  • Behavior was never corrected and redirected

  • Dog has built an association that it’s the correct behavior

  • Dog lacks discipline and obedience

  • Dog lacks structure and rules

  • Broken relationship between owner and dog

  • Lack of leadership from the owner


HOW TO PREVENT DOG BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS

Start training your dog as soon as you have them in your home. I have videos of my puppy Dixie, the first day I got her on May 5, teaching her how to walk on a leash, come to me, "leave it" when play biting and block her from certain rooms in the house. She was potty trained in one day and has never touched her teeth to my skin from play biting. She has never barked in my apartment and has no issues staying in her crate when I leave.


Here is a short list of things you must do to help prevent dog behavior problems:

  • Start training the dog the first day you have them

  • Correct and redirect immediately before unwanted behaviors get reinforced

  • Consistently teach the dog the behaviors you want

  • Reinforce the good behaviors; don’t allow the unwanted behaviors

  • Build a great relationship with your dog based on respect and leadership


WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG HAS ALREADY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS

When you get frustrated with your dog's behavior problems becoming intolerable, it's time to take action. Obviously, the first step is to hire a professional dog trainer to help you get the behaviors fixed. Remember that some intense behaviors, reinforced for many months or related to anxiety, fear, and aggression, will be more challenging to control.


  • Hire a dog trainer immediately

  • Stop reinforcing the behaviors you don’t want

  • Design a new structure for the dog to create discipline

  • Create rules and enforce them

  • Begin to rebuild your relationship with the dog


If you have any further questions about this article, please contact us.

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