Your Dog’s Not Perfect? Perfect is an Illusion.

Liz Palika

Is Your Dog Perfect?

I love my dogs and think they’re awesome. Bashir is handsome, smart, and would do anything for me. Sisko is thoughtful, cautious, and just plain silly. My puppy, Bones, is still developing his personality, but so far he’s attractive, funny, affectionate and smart.

Are they perfect, though? No, they aren’t. But is anyone – human or canine – absolutely perfect? Of course not. We all have our flaws and idiosyncrasies. The key to living with dogs is understanding why dogs do what they do and learning how to manage the behaviors we dislike as we work towards changing those behaviors.

Repeating Rewarding Behaviors

Dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them. If your dog raids the kitchen trash can and finds some food tidbits, he’ll raid the trash can again because the food is a reward. Every time he finds food there, the reward becomes stronger.

Rewards don’t have to be food, though. Chasing a squirrel is great fun and, even if he doesn’t catch the squirrel, that sense of fun, the release of energy, and the adrenaline rush all become rewards.

Attention can also be rewarding. Every time you praise your dog, give him a treat, or otherwise provide positive reinforcement for something he does, you are increasing the odds he’ll repeat that action in the future.

Making a Change

Changing behaviors that have been rewarded in some way can be difficult. If you’ve tried to break a bad habit of your own, you know it can be tough. You may have the desire to change it, but it also takes will power, time, and knowledge as to how to go about it. The same things apply to changing your dog’s behavior, except your dog doesn’t realize there may be a problem. Nor does he particularly want to make a change. It’s up to you, then, to help your dog change.

Dog proofing your house and yard will decrease destructive behaviors. Depending on your daily routine, crate training your dog will keep him safe and prevent problems. Obedience training is important for all dogs. Exercise, play time with you, and ongoing socialization are all important too, as they help keep your dog mentally healthy.

To manage an undesirable behavior, you need to determine when, where, and how the behavior occurs and then try to change the circumstances. If your dog jumps on you when you come home, for example, begin by teaching your dog to sit and reward him well for sitting. When he sits every time you ask, then teach him to sit (and reward him well) when you come home. If he’s sitting, he’s not jumping on you.

Preventing the problem from occurring is one way to manage a problem behavior. By interrupting a behavior that has become a habit, and by doing so long enough that the habit is weakened, you can prevent the bad behavior from occurring. When the bad behavior doesn’t happen, and therefore isn’t rewarded in some way, your dog’s behavior changes.

Many articles are already posted on this site under the Behavior & Training heading that address specific behavioral issues and more articles will be posted in the future. These articles address why dogs dig, eat stool, and various other problem behaviors and what to do about the problems. Since changes take time to implement, you also need to be able to prevent and manage the behavior until you can implement a change.

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