What Behaviors to Accept and What to Change

Liz Palika

Changing Dog Behaviors

My dogs are welcome to get up on the furniture. In fact, my furniture was chosen with my dogs in mind. The chairs and love seat are dirt brown colored leather so that they don’t show the dog hair or dirt quite as much as fabric covered furniture would. Plus, the leather cleans easily. Blankets tossed over the furniture help keep it clean too.

A neighbor is horrified by my choices, however. She carefully brushes off the chair before she sits down, even though I wiped it off and removed the blanket before I asked her to have a seat. Thankfully, she’s not a part of my decision making process as to whether to allow the dogs on the furniture or not.

I made the choice to allow my dogs on the furniture because I enjoy a dog leaned up against me as I read. I like rubbing a dog’s tummy while watching depressing news on TV. I invite the dogs up on the furniture because I like their company. It’s my choice. You have the same choices as far as what canine behaviors to accept and which ones to change. After all, this is your dog, your home, and your life.

Take a Look Around

Before deciding whether to make any changes, take a look at your life with your dog. Living with a dog should be a balance between both of your needs - with the slant going towards you. After all, you work hard for your money and should enjoy your home.

As you look at your home, has your dog ruined some of your things? You may want to make some changes if your dog is being destructive. If your furniture is chewed, shoes are destroyed, and everything has to be placed out of his reach, then changes are overdue.

Is he a counter surfer and food thief? If you can’t leave a plate on the coffee table while you go grab something to drink, then there’s a problem. Stealing food is rude and potentially dangerous for your dog.

Is he a trash can raider? This is also a dangerous habit. Items in the kitchen, bathroom, and home office trash can be toxic or could cause an intestinal obstruction.

Does your dog dig holes in the backyard deep enough so that people could trip and fall? Does he dig up your garden? Does he chew on your plants? Do you get angry when you go out in the back yard and see the damage?

Are there any other canine behaviors that bother you? Do your neighbors complain about our dog’s barking? Does he dash out the door or gate any time it’s opened? Is he misbehaved in the car?

After answering these questions, and taking a look at your home, decide which canine behaviors bother you and which you’d like to change. As so many self-help guides state, “The first step in creating change is to admit that there is a problem.”

One Step at a Time

Changing behavior – yours or your dog’s – isn’t always easy. If you’ve ever changed a behavior of your own, perhaps you stopped smoking, or you created a new good behavior, like starting to exercising, you know it’s tough, but it can be done.

The first step is to gain your dog’s attention. That means doing some obedience training. If you and your dog haven’t attended a basic obedience training class, that should be your first goal. You will learn how to teach and communicate with your dog while your dog learns how to focus on you and to cooperate with you. Plus, in a group class, the two of your learn how to ignore distractions.

If you and your dog have successfully attended a class previously, then perhaps a training tune-up is in order. Polish those skills. Then, as you begin working with your dog, concentrate on preventing those bad behaviors from occurring. Put trash cans away, fence off your garden, and stop your dog from dashing out the open gate. By preventing the behavior from occurring, you can break the cycle of bad behavior while you begin teaching your dog.

Keep in mind that dogs repeat behaviors and actions that are rewarding. For example, if he dumps over the kitchen trash can and finds a tidbit of food, that food is a reward. He thinks, “Ah ha! There are treasures here!” He is then more apt to dump the trash can again in the future so he can gain another reward. When you prevent the behavior from occurring, you are interrupting that cycle.

Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. A tired dog is a happy dog with a happier owner. Exercise his brain, too. Both obedience and trick training will do that. The commercial puzzle toys now available are awesome and these are fun for both of you.

Then, using your training skills, work on teaching your dog which behaviors you like and which you don’t. Be very clear in your communications with your dog. Be consistent, too. Don’t allow him on the furniture one day, for example, and not the next.

Let Me Know

Several common canine misbehaviors have already been discussed in my behavior series here. Check out the Behavior and Training home page for a more complete list of subjects already explained. In the coming months, I’d like to discuss other behaviors you would like to change, but I need to know what they are. Comment on this article and give me some ideas. Barking? Trash can raiding? Growling when on the bed? Hiding under the bed? Or? Let me know. 

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