First thing to remember is that most problem behaviours are only problems for the human. In the vast majority of cases, the dog is just doing what comes naturally to get something it wants; your attention, food, play or that comfortable spot on the sofa.
Some problem behaviours are complex and will take time and expertise to identify the issues. However, most problem behaviours can be tackled by following a number of relatively simple steps; that and a lot of time and commitment on the part of the owners!
Step 1 – Ask yourself ‘Why is my dog doing this? What are they trying to get? What reward are they actually gaining from doing this behaviour?
Your dog will pull on the lead because he wants to get somewhere; the park, that other dog, that stick he wants to chew. So if they pull and you follow they will quickly learn that pulling gets them to wherever or whatever they want. If jumping up to greet us gets attention (even when we’re yelling or pushing him off), he’ll learn that jumping get attention and do it again next time. If begging at the table gets the odd treat, she will always beg at the table in the off chance that she will get some food. If every time they sniff the work surfaces in your kitchen they find crumbs of food they will learn that any surface might have the odd tasty morsel to eat.
Step 2 – Remove the reward.
Once you have identified why they are doing something you can stop them gaining the reward. Stop, walk backwards or change direction if they pull on the lead. Give them no attention of any kind if they jump at you. Clean work surfaces thoroughly and never leave food within reach. Never feed from the table. If there is no reward for doing a behaviour there is nothing to be gained and that behaviour will slowly decrease over time.
Step 3 – Tell them what to do rather than what not to do.
This is the most important part. Identify what the problem behaviour is and train an alternative. Ask yourself ‘what would I rather they be doing in this situation?’ It is important that the alternative is a specific behaviour that you can train and reward rather than them simply not doing the problem behaviour. For example, if the problem behaviour is jumping up at you, the alternative behaviour should not be ‘not jumping up at you’ it should be ‘having four paws on the floor’. If the problem behaviour is chewing the table leg, the alternative could be chewing their own toys. If the problem behaviour is chasing the cat, the alternative could be holding a stay while the cat is in the room.
Training alternative behaviours may take a long time with many small steps towards the goal but giving them something to do rather than simply telling them what not to do will give a much faster results when dealing with problems. It also negates the use of punishment.
Step 4 – Be calm, consistent and patient.
Stay calm around your dog even if they are being annoying or frustrating. Be 100% consistent when training an alternative and be aware that your dog may try harder to get your attention if performing a certain behaviour has worked for them in the past. Teaching is only effective when we’re consistent. If one day we allow jumping and the next day, because we’re in our work clothes we no longer tolerate it, it’s confusing to the dog and a source of stress.