It’s important to recognize that dogs are not humans with fur. Many of the behaviors that we find problematic, such as barking, whining, digging, chewing, scavenging and hunting other animals are really just normal dog behaviors and can be explained as “dogs truly being dogs.”
In many ways, modern or urban dog training is what we do to decrease normal dog behaviors and increase those behaviors we, as city dwelling humans, prefer. But we should keep in mind that these behavioral “problems” are usually only problems to us.
And remember that historically these behaviors were usually bred by humans into a particular breed of dog. For example, Siberian Huskies and others in the Spitz breeds are descendants of sled dogs and typically pull when on a leash. Australian Cattle Dogs drive cattle by nipping at their heels or tails and may do the same to children, bikes and cars. Terriers (everything from the diminutive Yorkshire Terrier, to the American Pit Bull Terrier) were bred to hunt and kill vermin and typically have a high prey drive and like to dig.
The easiest way to coexist with our canine companions is to provide more appropriate (aka - human accepted) outlets for these behaviors.
Some of the most common behavioral issues include:
- Leash pulling
- Greeting manners
- Destructive chewing
- Puppy nipping and rough play
- Submissive and/or excitement urination
- Urine marking behavior
- Separation anxiety
- Resource guarding
- Prey drive
If your dog is exhibiting any behavioral issues, ask yourself the questions below:
- Is my dog getting enough exercise?
- Is he being left alone for long periods of time?
- Does he have interesting toys to keep his mind engaged and stimulated?
- Is he getting enough attention and playtime?
- Am I reinforcing bad behavior? Some examples include telling a fearful dog that “It’s ok”, verbally scolding a dog when they are seeking attention, etc.
- Does my dog have a safe place that is dog-proofed with appropriate chew toys, or am I leaving my own belongings within reach?
Regardless of the issue, we don’t recommend punishment, as this is rarely effective in resolving behavior problems. Punishment will not address the cause of the behavior, and in fact it may worsen any behavior that's motivated by fear or anxiety. Punishment may also cause anxiety in dogs that aren't currently fearful.
Never discipline your dog after the fact. People often believe their dog makes this connection because he runs and hides or "looks guilty." But dogs display submissive postures like cowering, running away, or hiding when they feel threatened by an angry tone of voice, body posture, or facial expression. Your dog doesn't know what he's done wrong; he only knows that you're upset.
Punishment after the fact will not only fail to eliminate the undesirable behavior, but may provoke other undesirable behaviors, too.