top of page

How Do I Stop My Dog From...

Dixie jumps all over the company as they come into the house. Jax counter-surfs. Sadie bit the neighbor kid. And Bruno growls at people who approach when he has a chew toy.

We might be tempted to describe these as "bad behaviors".

After all, they make us feel very bad. The people living with these dogs might feel anxious, afraid, embarrassed, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, or angry.

They want the behavior to STOP, and understandably so. The dog's behaviors are causing the human to experience a lot of stress, and it's likely the dog is experiencing a lot of stress as well.

Dogs and humans are similar in this way: the more stress we feel the more likely we are to respond emotionally rather than logically.

And that's okay. We are only human. Our dogs will forgive us.

Likewise, we can be empathetic and understanding when our dogs are having a hard time, and leading with their emotional brain.

Let's think logically for a moment, and set up a plan.

That's what this post is about -

How do we change behavior?

Let's start with what we know:

- The more a behavior is practiced, the more ingrained it becomes.

Ex: It's much easier to quit smoking after your first cigarette rather than kick a 10 year habit (though both are absolutely possible!)

- The more a dog is exposed to a thing in a negative way the stronger that association becomes.

Ex: Every time you go to the dentist you experience stress and pain. Even though the dentist is nice, you dread going more and more with each visit.

Let's set up an example dog:

Penny lunges and barks at other dogs she sees on walks. She typically practices this several times a day on her walks, creating quite a habit. The behavior starts to be automatic!

Penny is telling the other dogs to get away from her. Because ultimately they do go away, this behavior is reinforced. It's working.

Finally, Penny is getting lots of practice seeing other dogs and feeling fearful about them. Each time she does it's a very stressful event for her - she has to resort to barking and lunging. It takes days for her stress hormones to level back out. This is not making her feel better about dogs - she is not going to "get used to" them. In fact, quite the opposite.

So let's do away with terms like "good" and "bad". Behavior is information. It makes us feel good or bad, it can have good or bad consequences in our lives, but to best help your dog consider their behavior as a clue for you. Penny's behavior is telling us that this situation makes her feel bad and she needs our help.

So. How do we help?

Our first step to changing this behavior and helping Penny is management.

Management asks -

How do we prevent occurrences of this behavior from happening?

If applicable, how do we prevent negative associations from accumulating?

For Penny, management asks how do I prevent Penny from being closer to dogs than she is comfortable with?

I might just need to go the other way when we see a dog, or cross the street. Or I might change my regular route, or the time of day I'm walking. For some dogs it might be best to drive to a church or cemetery rather than use my neighborhood. I might even stop walks all together.

If your dog is stressed on the walk (and you are probably also stressed on the walk) then who is it benefitting? Most adult dogs are not physically tired by walks - it's the mental enrichment that really benefits them. So we can totally stop the walks, and provide other forms of mental enrichment and physical exercise until the dog is ready to enjoy them!

I'll know my management is working not only because I don't see repetitions of the behavior, but also because my dog is more relaxed.

How can you tell if your dog is as relaxed as we would like?

I'm glad you asked! There are so many ways we can take a temperature check and see where our dog's stress levels are. It's important to check in multiple ways, and really get to know your dog, because every dog will respond to stress a bit differently.

Stress Checklist:

- Body language. I could talk about this forever, so instead I'll link a few of my favorite videos here, here, and here. Watch for lip licking, yawning, panting, and turning/looking/moving away.

- Dige