Dogs misbehave in lots of ways, and the underlying causes are as numerous and varied as the undesirable behaviors. Getting to the root of your pooch’s problem is essential to correcting it. Start by ruling out medical problems with your veterinarian’s help, especially if your dog’s behavioral problem is new. You may also need support from a professional dog behaviorist or trainer.
Types of Misbehavior from Dogs
Excessive vocalization, including barking, yelping, whining, howling, and other sounds, is common in dogs. Sometimes, dogs are simply defiant, while other times they may nip or bite, jump on people, repeatedly dig up the yard, growl menacingly, pee all over the living room, or chew all the shoes in the house to shreds. Many dogs turn to destructive behavior when they’re left home alone. They may knock over furniture and fixtures, tear the arm of the couch open, pull everything out of drawers and cabinets, or otherwise trash their home. Take comfort in knowing your dog’s misbehavior is probably not unique, that it’s nothing personal, and that it’s correctable.
Causes of Misbehavior in Dogs
The causes of dog misbehavior are as varied as the types. Again, behavioral changes are potential warning signs of a health problem, so head to the vet if your dog’s bad behavior started recently. In many instances, canine misbehavior results from too little physical activity or mental stimulation. Stress may also make your dog act out, and it can result from environmental changes, a new person or animal in the home, noise, increased travel, and any number of other sources. You might also inadvertently reinforce a problem behavior and convince your dog she’s doing something right; for example, if you respond to an attention-seeking behavior by scolding your dog or paying her some other negative attention, she still perceives the behavior as successful. Some things people perceive as misbehavior—like scavenging the trash—are natural and continue until properly trained away.
Solutions to Your Dog’s Misbehavior
Obviously, the fix for your dog’s unacceptable behavior depends on what it is and why it’s occurring. Often, paying more attention to your dog and increasing physical and mental stimulation can help end destructive behaviors. Fit in more walks, playtime, and trips to the park. Get your dog new toys, including puzzle toys that release treats. Determine whether there’s a new source of stress in your dog’s life. If you can’t eliminate it, talk to your vet about behavioral therapy, stress management, calming supplements, and medications for severe problems. Solutions may be more basic, such as providing chew toys, ridding your home or yard of pests that are setting your dog off, or just closing the blinds to prevent your dog from barking at everyone passing by outside.
A Few Words About Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the best way to teach your dog how to behave. When she acts appropriately, especially during training, reward her with praise, physical affection, and sometimes treats. Offer rewards immediately so your dog associates them with the behavior. Punishment or negative reinforcement doesn’t stop your dog’s misbehavior. Punishment serves only to weaken your bond with your pet and make her afraid of you. The best result you can hope for from negative reinforcement is your dog hiding her misbehavior from you rather than stopping it.