Bad habits happen to the best of us… pets included. Your dog may not be biting his nails or staring at his phone for too long before bed, but it’s possible he’s picked up some bad habits throughout his life whether you’ve had him since puppyhood or adopted him at an older age.
As pet owners, we know that love is unconditional. However, this doesn’t mean that we should allow inappropriate behaviors such as stealing or begging for food, jumping on guests, pulling too hard on a leash, or urinating indoors. Fortunately, with the correct methods and lots of love and patience, you can always train a dog regardless of age.
Why Do Dogs Misbehave?
Dogs don’t necessarily act out or misbehave for no reason. Before you get too annoyed at Fido’s rebellious streak, consider what he may be trying to accomplish through his negative behavior. Common factors at play in bad canine habits include:
Boredom. A lack of mental and physical stimulation can lead to restlessness, causing negative behaviors and bad habits such as constant barking, chewing on household objects, or digging in the wrong places.
Attention seeking. Perhaps your dog is trying to tell you something; maybe he simply wants you to pay more attention to him. Keep in mind that any response to a dog’s behavior, good or bad, is still attention. If you shout at your dog anytime you see him scouring the countertop for scraps, he will learn that this behavior is effective when it comes to getting the attention he craves.
Accidental encouragement. Somewhere along the way, your furry friend may have inadvertently learned that his bad behavior is acceptable. If he barks when he wants to tell you something (like that he needs to go outside) and you respond, he will learn that barking is an appropriate method of getting your attention. Even if you only give in to those puppy dog eyes and sneak some scraps on rare occasions, your dog has learned that there’s a chance begging will work in his favor. If that’s the case, why would he stop?
- Medical issues. If your typically calm dog suddenly starts acting aggressively, he could have a thyroid issue. If your previously housebroken dog starts urinating in the house, there’s probably more to it than a bad attitude—he could have a UTI. Pet Honesty’s CranBladder UTI Strength Chews can help to support a healthy kidney, bladder, and urinary tract function.
Pay attention to your dog’s symptoms if there is a sudden change in behavior and remember: it never hurts to call your vet.
Reversing bad habits may seem tedious and challenging, but it can be a good bonding experience for you and your pup—especially when done with positive reinforcement. Some good starting points include:
Mental stimulation. Work on introducing a new command each week, preferably related to the bad habit you want to fix most. For example, “leave it” or “drop it” can be effective if your pooch is often trying to steal food; “down” is useful if he likes to jump on visitors. Continue practicing old commands as well, for the sake of consistency and familiarity. Not only will Fido be getting your undivided attention on a regular basis, the mental stimulation will tire him out and make him less likely to misbehave. A tired dog is a good dog, after all!
Exercise. If you’re gone all day and your dog is cooped up inside, it’s only natural that he will have a lot of pent up energy by the time you get home. On top of that, he’s super excited to see you! Help your pooch get some of that energy out while also spending quality time together by going for a daily long walk, taking some time to play fetch in the yard, or even investing in a backyard obstacle course.
- Food. Treats are one of the most popular ways to provide positive reinforcement. Who doesn’t want to give their pup a treat after they successfully follow a new command? When your dog is misbehaving, try to redirect his behavior by giving him a chance to succeed. For example, if he’s begging for food at the table, instruct him to go lie down. If he does, reward him with a sustainably sourced treat. Instead of scolding your dog for jumping up on guests as they come through the door, instruct him to get down and/or ignore him. Once all four paws are on the floor, he can have a treat.
According to a study conducted by the Humane Society and reported by ASPCA, 10 percent of pets are given to shelters each year due to behavioral issues. However, most of those issues can be resolved by evaluating the situation and figuring out why the dog is acting out, and what he is trying to communicate.
When training your pet, remember that consistency is key; a well-behaved pet is often a reflection of its owners patience and diligence.