Even with the best intentions and training tactics, many pet parents unintentionally interact with their dogs in ways that undermine good behavior and cause confusion for their pets. This, in turn, can lead to a stressed-out and badly behaved dog. In order to change your dog’s behavior, you may need to start by changing your own first.
Here are five things you should stop doing right now. Because as much as your dog’s behavior might stress you out, your behavior may be causing him stress, too.
Labeling your dog as “dominant.”
Dominance is not a personality trait; it's a situation-specific behavior. True dominance aggression issues are extremely rare. Behaviors commonly considered a sign of dominance, such as humping, frequently stem from insecurity or hyperexcitability. In addition, pet owners who label their dogs as dominant often feel more justified using harsh training methods, such as alpha rolls and prong collars. However, these tactics do little to encourage long-term behavior change and can foster a fear of the pet owner.
Assuming your dog behaves badly by choice.
Your dog behaves the way he does, because a behavior is natural to him or is being reinforced by your response. To base his actions on choice, your dog would have to share your view of right and wrong and use that shared moral code to guide his behavior. Dogs don’t function that way; they are motivated by outcomes not morals. That guilty behavior your dog exhibits when he does something you think of as bad? It’s a reaction to your response and has nothing to do with repentance. He’s just trying to appease his unhappy human.
Unstructured interactions with your dog open the door for behavioral problems. Without clear boundaries, behavior can quickly get out of control; this can lead to confusion and anxiety for your dog when he is punished for behavior that is sometimes tolerated. Unfortunately, in many situations, a dog’s go-to response, such as jumping up to greet or mouthing a person’s arm to get attention, is not necessarily acceptable to humans. Clearly expressing your expectations about acceptable behavior is more likely to result in consistent good behavior.
Expecting your dog to obey simply to please you.
A simple “good dog” and a pat on the head works as a reward for many dogs, but when it comes to major distractions or a behavior that takes extra effort on your dog’s part, praise and petting may not be enough. When you ask your dog to perform a difficult behavior or to do a behavior in a highly distracting or emotionally laden situation, the rewards should be immediate and substantial, and should have value for your dog: a special treat, a game of tug, a chance to walk on a loose leash — whatever he loves the most.