Dog behavior is complex. There are many variables that are operating simultaneously that influence what your dog is doing. There is a single rule that can help identify why behaviors continue to occur. All of it is a result of its reinforcement. Simply put, dogs do what works for them. An easy example is thievery. If your dog is bored and wants your attention he will choose a behavior that has a history of eliciting a reaction from you. Some dogs learn that stealing an object will get their owner to respond in a way the dog sees as a reward. This can be confusing to owners. “Why would my dog want me to scold him?” For many dogs this is way more fun than being ignored. They don’t even mind that you may be chasing them around the house yelling, “No!” For a dog, negative attention is better than no attention at all. And look, no more boredom. A more complex example is destruction. There are many reasons for destructive behavior but in each case it is relieving the dog of some unwanted feeling such as too much energy, an outlet for anxiety or fulfillment of your dog’s natural urge to chew.
Your dog’s environment is one of the first things to assess when a new, undesirable behavior is occurring. The environment includes daily routine, relationships with people in the home, exercise regimen, feeding habits, etc. For the average owner, some environmental conditions are difficult to identify. Environmental improvements can and will manage and ultimately reverse the undesirable behaviors. Certified trainers and behavior consultants can provide an objective look at the situation and identify a holistic approach to help you help your dog without using punishment.
When all conditions that are weighing on your dog are identified, a plan to help shape your dog’s responses can be developed. With most behavior issues, basic training and simple behavior principles need to be established. This will give you the tools you will need to work with the dog and reinforce desirable and eliminate unwanted behaviors.
Positive change happens over time. No owner is expected to be a training or behavior expert. Choosing a good behavior and training partner can help identify the problems in play, create a plan for your dog, and teach you what you need to know to maintain a relationship that is both cooperative and mutually beneficial.