“No! Bad dog!”
How many times have you scolded your misbehaving canine with those words? Probably too many. But before you fly off the handle, one of the most important things to understand about correcting bad behavior is that punishment doesn’t work. Many times, dogs don’t understand what they’re being punished for, and will respond by learning to hide the behavior.
To help you get a handle on your dog’s conduct, we’ve listed common bad habits. We offer tips here and we also link to longer articles on each subject as well. But remember, it is always important to discuss behavior issues with your veterinarian who can determine if they are caused by a medical problem. If he gives you the all clear, consider enlisting the help of a trainer or behaviorist to teach your dog appropriate go-to behaviors.
Chewing Inappropriate Objects
Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, since they explore their environment with their mouth. It also relieves stress and boredom, and helps keep their teeth clean.
When you catch your dog chewing inappropriate objects (like shoes, as many dogs do), redirect the chewing to an appropriate item, like a chew toy or stuffed Kong. Then praise your pup for selecting an acceptable outlet for his chewing behavior. Talk with your veterinarian about which chews are safe for your dog.
Barking at the Doorbell
Dogs bark at the doorbell for any number of reasons. They could be excited or anxious about visitors, or they might bark as a watchdog tendency. Some dogs even equate their barking with you opening the door, so they think they’re training you to open the door when they bark. One of the best ways to stop barking at the doorbell is to teach and reward an alternative behavior, like sitting on a nearby mat and waiting for the door to be opened.
Digging in the Yard
Digging is an extremely rewarding activity for dogs, whether they’re digging to reach a scent or simply to release pent-up energy. Help your dog practice this behavior appropriately by giving him a sandbox or section of the yard where he’s allowed to dig.
Make sure this area has clearly marked visual boundaries, and use treats and toys to make this new digging place more exciting than the old one.
Barking in the Car
Those shrill yaps from the backseat can be your dog expressing many emotions, from fear and frustration to exuberant joy. The best way to address barking in the car is to employ restraint equipment, like a harness or a crate to help your pet feel more secure. Other options include using a pheromone spray to help relax your dog, or giving him a chew toy to focus on during the car ride.
Begging at the Table
No matter how cute or desperate for food your dog looks, consistency is the key to curbing dinner-table begging. Make sure no one in your family feeds the dog from the table.
Even if his begging only works once in a blue moon, he’ll repeat and escalate the behavior until all his barking and whining pays off with a rare food reward. Instead of giving in, provide your dog with an appropriate dinnertime activity, like enjoying his own toys or food puzzles.
Urine Marking Inside the House
This is one of the most “eww”-worthy bad behaviors. Dogs pee on things to mark territory or leave messages for canine friends, which is generally acceptable outdoors. If you catch your dog urine marking (or even preparing to mark) inside the house, quickly interrupt him with a “no” or an “oops” and take him outside. Then reward and praise him for choosing to urinate outdoors.
To prevent frequent urination in the same household spot, remove the scent of previous urine marks with a good enzymatic cleaner.
Stealing Food Off Counters
Trainers call this bad behavior “counter-surfing.” It’s one of the more difficult habits to break, since Fido experiences a huge reward for stealing the food: He gets to eat it! The easiest way to solve this problem is to eliminate the opportunity. Don’t leave food around, and use baby gates or fencing to restrict your dog’s access to the kitchen when you’re not there to supervise him. Teaching the “leave it” command is useful for when you catch him in the act of stealing snacks.