Updated: Jun 3
Start typing the question “how can I stop my dog from…” into Google and it will offer to complete the sentence with an array of common dog problems. Dog problems which, when you think about it, are in fact normal behaviour for the species, are connected to traits that make them good at the job they were bred for and are usually communicating a need.
Dogs have similar needs to us; the need to feel safe, to be free from pain and discomfort, for a nutritious diet, for exercise, for sensory stimulation and for social bonding. If they need something, they have only body language, vocalisation and behaviour to communicate with us. To a dog, either it works or it doesn’t, or it’s safe or it isn’t safe. Your dog isn’t secretly plotting your demise!
Tempting as it might be to bellow “No!” when Fido does something unsavoury, “No” doesn’t give your dog much information. Imagine this; you start a new job, thinking you know what you’re doing when your boss leans over you and shouts “No”! There’s no further explanation, he/she just keeps interrupting you. How do you feel? Anxious? Frustrated? Annoyed? Depending on your personality, you might decide to wait until he/she isn’t looking and carry on doing it your way. You might lose your temper and snap at him/her. Or you might just give up trying to do well. These are also the options our dogs face, when we attempt to correct without teaching or without addressing the underlying need that’s driving the behaviour.
So what can you do? Start by turning the question around. Instead of “how can I stop my dog from…”, ask yourself “what would I like my dog to do instead?” and then create opportunities for them to practice it. When considering replacement behaviours it will help if you replace the unwanted behaviour with something that scratches the same itch- digging up your plants? Get a child’s sandpit for them to dig in instead. Preventing rehearsal of unwanted behaviours is also important because practice makes permanent. Baby gates and long lines are examples of ways to prevent rehearsal of the things you don’t want.
Of course it’s not always this simple. Behaviour and training problems are like a jigsaw puzzle with lots of pieces that influence the bigger picture. This is where the help of a qualified trainer comes in. We look at the whole picture; your dog’s history, health, routines, previous training, individual needs and so on, to put together a plan that addresses the root cause, not just the symptoms.