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The Art (and Science) of Modifying Your Dog’s Behavior

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Dog guardians, are you interested in bringing out the best in your best friend? Great! Here’s arecipe’ for modifying behaviors that contains four basic ingredients: 

  1. Train
  2. Manage
  3. Compromise 
  4. Acceptance

These concepts are the base for raising a healthy and happy dog using a humane, force-free approach. Blending each of these four ingredients into practical solutions to everyday challenges can serve both you and your inquisitive canine. Just follow these steps:

Spaniel leash walking

1. Train

Teach dogs life skills to help them adapt to our human way of life. With pawsitive, proven approaches to dog training, inquisitive canines become experts at making good choices. Here are some top dog training tips for inquisitive pet parents:

  • Know yourself, your needs, and what it is you want. When dog guardians first determine what it is that they want from their dogs, they know what to train. 
  • Train the behavior before you need the behavior. Waiting until it’s too late can create more chaos and frustration for everyone. 
  • Use humane, force-free training techniques that motivate dogs, help keep them engaged, and allow them to learn to trust whoever is working with them.
  • Avoid common mistakes that could encourage your dog to misbehave. For instance, if your dog jumps on you and you push him away and tell him “No!”  but he keeps jumping on you, it’s possible you are inadvertently reinforcing this behavior. 
  • Focus on what you want from your dog, instead of unwanted behaviors. Reframe the “I don’t want my dog doing ____…” to “I want my dog to do _____.” 
  • Since behaviors that are rewarded are repeated, reinforce good choices your dog makes, so they repeat those behaviors instead of the ones you don’t want. 
  • Rather than ignoring your dog when he or she is doing something you like and want, reward desired behaviors. If you feel your dog is barking excessively, pay attention to her when she’s quiet, especially around triggers that would normally start the barking festivities. 
  • Use humane, force-free training equipment such as a well-fitted harness, as opposed to items that choke and cause pain. This type of pain-free gear promotes the human-canine bond while helping to avoid the development of negative conditioned responses, fear, and anxiety
  • Continue attending classes and workshops, or even brushing up with private training, just to help keep your dog’s skills maintained. Or maybe learn something new – sports and other specialty classes are loads of fun! Lifelong learning can help keep pups of all ages mentally and physically fit. 

What it all boils down to is that people whose behaviors predict fun and games, sustenance, safety, security, kindness, and a loving hand can be perceived as reinforcing to a dog, enhancing a relationship of trust and the development of a stronger partnership. 

Husky in crate

2. Manage

Consequently, providing a safe, enriching environment for our inquisitive canines can help not only solve, but prevent some common behavior problems faced by pet guardians. Dogs behave to get more or less of what they want. This might include attention because they’re bored and want to play, hungry and want to eat, are under the impression you might be going somewhere they want to go too, or scared of something and looking for someone who can provide a safe haven. So, when pet parents aren’t training their dogs, they can manage the environment to help prevent unwanted behaviors from occurring:

  • Avoid giving inquisitive canines access to areas and situations that would likely increase undesired behaviors. For example, if you want to stop your dog from digging in the yard, the simplest answer is, keep them out of the yard unsupervised. If that is not a viable, or fair, option, pet parents who want to allow their dogs to spend time in the yard, can monitor and reward dogs for partaking in alternate behaviors such as sniffing around, lying down and relaxing, playing fetch, or engaging with an enrichment activity on their own. 
  • It’s best to provide enrichment activities for your dog to: ensure they’re getting mental stimulation, help build self-confidence and independence, and redirect their hunting and problem-solving energy to something productive. From the above example, an enriching space, such as a digging pit for a dog who likes to dig, can help channel this innate behavior.
  • Allow dogs to set their own pace when it comes to new people, pets, places, and things. Do they want to be pet by everyone? All the time? In every situation? Or do they prefer to take things slow and get to know and trust someone before interacting? If it’s more the latter, remember to manage these types of scenarios by being your dog’s “bodyguard.” If someone wants to say hi, and your dog prefers not to, you can help by managing the distance and creating enough space so the person can say hi from afar.
Terrier mix dog tail

3. Compromise

We’ve all had to compromise in our lives at one time or another. We’ve had to determine what is at stake, what the potential outcomes could be, what we might have to “give up” or work on, and what we would gain from any given decision. As focused as we might want to be on training our canine pals to be infallible companions, sometimes it’s better for everyone when we negotiate and compromise. 

For instance, when addressing a challenging behavior issue, the initial step dog guardians can take is understanding why the dog is behaving in a certain way (digging, barking, jumping, pulling on leash etc.). Behind every behavior is a need. Can you compromise and meet your dog halfway, figure out the ‘why’ and provide for the underlying need? 

This approach might require some investigation on your part. The way a dog communicates, especially through body language and vocalization, can tell a person a lot about his or her emotional state — happy, excited, fearful, upset, or tired. Once guardians have a clearer understanding of their dog’s motivational drive, they can then decide if they want to give the pup a legal outlet for a behavior, completely redirect Fido or Fluffy to an alternate behavior, or agree on allowing a version of a certain behavior. 

Although letting dogs be dogs might require you to compromise at times, being able to express species-specific innate behaviors is fundamental to canine welfare. So, how about allowing your dog to bark — but at a lower intensity or shorter duration? Or being okay with pulling on leash but only while walking from the car to the entrance of the dog park or along a certain section of your usual route? (Just be sure to try to avoid potential outcomes that could harm your dog, other animals, people, or objects.)

4. Acceptance

Sometimes it’s even possible to learn how to turn some of your inquisitive canine’s trying behaviors into ones you can embrace, or perhaps, accept. To do this, dog parents can adapt as follows:

  • Make sure your expectations are realistic, that what you envision regarding training and behavior matches your dog’s abilities. 
  • Consider all the wonderful things your dog already does, their unique personality traits and all the good things they bring to your life. And think about where you want to put your energy. Do you want to spend hours, days, and weeks (or more) trying to decrease one annoying (not dangerous) behavior? Or instead, accept your dog as a unique individual and focus on and reward them for all the fantastic things they’re already doing? 

There are only so many hours in the day and only so much time we have with our BFFs (best fur friends). How do you want to spend that time? When it comes to behavior modification, pet parents can train dogs to perform behaviors and even help change their emotional states. And a healthy helping of management, compromise, and acceptance are often the secret ingredients when it comes to helping pups thrive in our human world. Using this recipe for success empowers you to enhance the bonds you have with your inquisitive canine – and doesnt that just take the cake?

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