Breaking bad habits: How to get the best out of your dog

Breaking bad habits: How to get the best out of your dog

Is your terrier a troublemaker, chewing on anything they can get their paws on? Is your Shiba Inu an instigator, constantly marking the living room with their wee? Just like us humans, some dogs have bad habits that are hard to break. In this blog, we’re going over the common causes of bad behaviour and tips on how to get the very best out of your four-legged friend.

Why is my dog ‘acting up’?

When our pooch acts up, we are often quick to assume they’re doing it for no reason. In reality, there are many reasons your Rottie is ‘misbehaving’—or as she’d like to call it, being a rebel with a cause. Some of the most common inappropriate behaviour coming from our furry companions includes:

  • Chewing

Your dog is probably munching on that corner of your favourite wooden chair to combat boredom or relieves anxiety and/or frustration.

  • Begging

Our dogs’ ancestors would be stunned to find out their descendants have everything handed to them without having to lift a paw. Domesticated dogs rely on people to give them things, which is why they give pawrents those puppy eyes for extra food, a toy or attention, and when they receive it, it reinforces begging to take place.

  • Excessive barking

Barking is not a bad habit in itself; it’s one of our mutts’ many ways of communicating with us and other dogs! When they bark excessively, however, it may be because they’re experiencing boredom or separation anxiety. Since the doggie smartphone is yet to be released, your hound is relying on their howl to reach you!

  • Lead pulling

When your dog pulls on their lead and you take one step forward, your dog has just made the connection that their pulling causes you to move your feet, which is what they need to reach all the best pee mail spots! If you follow quickly behind, this only validates to your pooch that they should be the ones taking the lead.

  • Digging

While your pooch may excuse it as having a green thumb (or paw), digging in the yard can be a sign your dog is understimulated and/or stressed and needs to blow off some steam.

  • Peeing in the house

We’ve all been there:  you’ve got your sock soaked in wee because your pooch has made a puddle in the hallway for the hundredth time. It could be that your pooch is trying to mark their territory, especially if a new pup or person is at the house or has moved in. No new housemates? Your dog may be taking a leak due to fear or separation anxiety. 

  • Over-excitement before walks

Does your mutt turn into a bit of a maniac as soon as they hear you grab their lead? This can be the result of your pooch not getting enough daily exercise. Alternatively, this can mean they’re overstimulated due to too much physical exercise and not enough mental stimulation, with this imbalance meaning they don’t know how to calm down.

What can I do to change this?

So, there may be some method to your pooch’s madness, but it doesn’t mean you want their naughty behaviour to continue—for your sake and that of your dogs, especially as the main cause of most of these bad habits is anxiety related. Here are our top tips to get your pooch behaving properly and make them feel more at ease.

  • Balance physical and mental exercise

Making sure your pooch is getting an equal balance of physical and mental stimulation is ideal to curb bad behaviour. Getting your dog walking, hiking, swimming or playing an intense match of tug-of-war with you are great ways for them to blow off some pent-up steam—making them too tired to make a commotion at home. Complement physical exercise with mental exercise, like giving your dog a puzzle (like a snuffle mat), interactive toy (like a Kong) or allowing them to go on a sniffari (walk at your dog’s pace and let them smell as much pee mail as they’d like), as these activities release happy hormones in your pooch’s brain, making for a less bored and therefore less destructive mutt!

  • Reward good behaviour 

A top tip from dog behaviourists is to train your dog by praising them for desired behaviour (known as ‘positive reinforcement’, ‘reward-based training’ and ‘force-free training’), as opposed to punishing them for bad behaviour (negative reinforcement). Punishment is ineffective and frightening for your dog because they often don’t understand what they did wrong. Dogs are highly motivated by rewards, so using treats or praise when your dog does something that you like (e.g., walking beside you rather than pulling the lead on your walks, or peeing outside as opposed to on the carpet) will make your dog more likely to repeat that good behaviour. Your dog is happy that they received a reward, and you’re happy because you didn’t yell at your pooch. It’s a win-win!

  • Stay consistent

For you to get the best version of your pooch, you need to remain consistent when teaching them to ditch their bad habits. Dogs learn through patterns, so stick to one verbal or non-verbal cue for each action you want them to take (e.g., use ‘here’ to call them over to you, and don’t interchange it with ‘come here’ or ‘come’). Also, make sure everyone living with your dog is on the same page as you. If you are praising your dog for not begging at the table while your relative is sneaking table scraps to your pooch, your dog will become confused as to which action is right (To beg or not to beg, that becomes their question!).

  • Have patience

Asking a human to change their bad habits is difficult, let alone your pooch who isn’t as easy to communicate with. Be patient with your dog when encouraging them to replace their bad habits with good ones; frustration and anger will only make them less willing to cooperate with you. Also, be kind and patient with yourself. If you or your dog take a step back one day in training, that’s okay. What matters is that you provide a positive space for your dog to feel comfortable and trusting—which is the best environment for dogs to become the best version of themselves.

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