When people come to obedience classes with their dogs, or look for dog training advice in general, often it’s because they want to know how to stop problem behaviors. Frequently, people want to know, “How do I get my dog to stop barking?” “How do I get my dog to stop jumping up on people?” How do I get my dog to stop chewing on [fill in the blank]?” Dog training can become a complex subject. After all, there are many books and television shows on dog training, and the continuing need for information indicates that this is not a simple topic.
While there are no quick fixes this post and the next will be a primer on dealing with problem behaviors in dogs. The first thing to realize is that “How do I get my dog to stop…” is not really the right question. You can’t train a dog not to do something. You can only train a dog to do something. The best way to eliminate unwanted dog behavior is to control the environment so that unwanted behavior doesn’t happen in the first place. So, if you’re just about to get a new puppy or dog, you have a golden opportunity to start fresh. Puppy-proof your home, keep the puppy away from garbage, cat litter boxes, etc. Take the dog outside often so that housebreaking doesn’t become a problem in the first place.
If that opportunity has passed, and you’re dealing with problem behaviors already, then don’t lose heart. There are ways to bring the issues under control, but it’s going to take an approach that focuses on the big picture, rather than just the behavior that you want to eliminate. I’ll repeat: you can’t teach a dog not to do something. So you will need to think in terms of behavior modification rather than just getting one thing to stop.
Behavior modification means that you will need to achieve something like a “lifestyle change” for your dog. And this requires that you change your behavior too. Typically, when there is a problem behavior, it’s because of a pattern like this: everyone in the family goes about their business, dog barks/jumps/chews/gets into garbage, dog gets yelled at. Repeat. Sound familiar? It hasn’t worked yet to stop the problem, and it’s not going to. So it’s time to try something else. Follow a new plan. There are three parts to this new approach: 1) Control the environment 2) Exercise 3) Teach alternative behaviors. So, how is this done? The next blog post will expand on these steps.