Many dog trainers disagree with me on this, but not all dog behaviors should be addressed through training. Just like people, dogs have basic needs for food, water, shelter, physical, mental, and emotional stimulation. These basic needs must be satisfied before you can work effectively to change your dog’s behavior. If you were so hungry every day that you couldn’t concentrate, you wouldn’t be able to pay close enough attention in a class to learn much. This same idea applies to dog training. If the underlying cause of a behavior is not addressed, you won’t successfully change the behavior. You may be able to replace one behavior with another, but if your goal is to have a well-rounded dog, you must address the problem at the root of the behavior.
“How can I keep my dog from getting so excited?” owners frequently ask. It is possible that your dog is not able to stay calm because his basic need for exercise is not being satisfied. If he isn’t neutered, he may have no outlet for that energy. When your dog has pent up energy — of any type — it doesn’t just go away. If you have an intact (unneutered) male dog, or a sporting breed dog without a job, or any young dog under the age of three, it’s probably not reasonable to expect your dog to be calm in all situations! Your dog needs to go to the dog park or somewhere else where he or she can run full speed and chase other dog s and be chased by other dogs at least three times a week for 45 minutes each visit, and that’s for an average sporting breed dog. If you have a high- energy dog he may require a lot more exercise than that. Understanding the underlying motivation for your dog’s behavior will give you the insight you need to change the behavior.
If your puppy won’t stop chewing on your hand, or the leash, it probably isn’t that he doesn’t understand that you don’t want him to do that or that he doesn’t take his lead from you. You can refocus a puppy’s attention and get him to stop chewing by pulling your hand away or giving an audible correction, but unless you give him something else to chew he will go right back to chewing on your hand one second later. It’s because he isn’t capable of sitting there and not chewing on something. If he’s a young puppy his attention span is about one second long — maybe less. This is not a behavioral problem, but rather an unreasonable expectation on your part. You’re asking your dog to do something he isn’t capable of doing under the circumstances. Puppies will be puppies – they can’t be anything else.
If your dog barks all day while you’re at work, then it’s probably not because he simply likes to bark. He may be bored, or spending too much time alone, or feel insecure, or may not be getting enough exercise. He’s probably barking for a combination of reasons. If you buy a bark collar to discourage the barking it won’t solve the problem. It may suppress the barking, but the underlying problem will still be present and your dog will probably find another way to satisfy that unmet need. He may start digging up the flowerbeds, or jumping the fence and running away, or chasing the neighbor’s dog through the fence, or chewing up the door frames.
Another common scenario is owners trying to calm their dog down when it fixates after seeing another dog, or cat, or person. They say that they have tried a harness, a choke chain, a Halti, making the dog sit, and none of them seem to work. That’s because they are treating the symptom and not the underlying problem. A Halti may help you get your dog back under control when he gets out of control, but it is much better to keep him from getting out of control in the first place. To be effective you need to address the fact that he gets excited around other dogs rather than the pulling, lunging, and barking. Then you can keep him from fixating in the first place and avoid those problem behaviors altogether.
Before attempting to change any dog behavior, make sure that you understand what is behind the behavior. Why does the dog exhibit that behavior? What does he get out of it? If the behavior is not a “learned” behavior, then there is no reason to try to “unlearn” the behavior. The take away here is to make sure you are addressing the real issue, not merely treating the symptom. Because after all, dogs will be dogs!