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Reversing Bad Habits In The Dog

Every dog owner knows that training is the key to instilling desirable behaviours in our canine companions, and that it is much easier to stop a problem before it forms, or nip it in the bud, than to let your dog fall into bad habits and later have to correct them! However, with the best will in the world, now and then your dog might fall into bad habits or start acting in undesirable ways, and it can be difficult for the owner of handler of the dog to know the best way to go about dealing with this and reversing the bad behaviour.

If your dog has started to pick up bad habits or is forgetting their manners in certain situations, read on to find out how to tackle this behaviour, and reverse bad habits for good.

Make sure that no one is sabotaging your efforts!

Firstly, it is important to look at why your dog might have fallen into bad habits in the first place! If you are clear that it has simply happened because of a gradual blurring of your dog’s boundaries and a failure on your part to correct bad behaviour, this is relatively straightforward, and the onus is on you to undo the problem! Also, talk to your family and anyone else that lives with you to ensure that they understand your dog’s boundaries, and are not inadvertently undoing all of your good work and confusing your dog, such as by feeding them when they beg, or allowing them to sleep on their beds if these things are forbidden.

Setting clear boundaries

Decide upfront what you want to achieve, and what is and is not allowed of your dog. If you are not clear about this, your dog certainly won’t be! Physical boundaries are important too in some cases, for instance, if you want your dog to stop digging up a flowerbed, fence it off, or supervise your dog in the garden until they learn to leave it alone. You can always close doors to rooms that your dog is not allowed into, or keep items that your dog is prone to taking without permission out of their reach.

Removing the reward gained from bad behaviour

Whatever undesirable behaviour your dog is manifesting, their ultimate desire to do it will come down to a simple equation of action and reward. For instance, if your dog likes to dig through the bin, their reward comes from potentially finding food scraps. If your dog enjoys chewing on your shoes or a certain item of furniture, the sensations and textures that this provides will be a reward of its own. Sleeping on a human’s bed might be snuggly, warm and comfortable and just what they want!

There is a twofold aspect to removing the reward from behaviours of these types: ensuring that your dog does not gain from the bad behaviour, and providing a viable alternative for them. Here are some examples:

  • If your dog likes to dig in the bin, you can use child catches to keep the bin firmly closed, and ensure that any food waste is placed in your outside bin right away. Offer treats when your dog willingly leaves the bin alone when told.
  • If your dog is prone to chewing things that they should not, consider using a dog-safe repellent spray on the items in question so that they are unpalatable to your dog, and provide good alternatives to chew.
  • For dogs that like to sleep on the bed, either close off the room in question, or find other ways to make it undesirable such as turning down the heating or removing the bedding from the bed during the day. Make sure that your dog has a nice snug bed of his or her own to go to!

Positive reinforcement and redirection

Positive reinforcement training is the most effective way of teaching a dog to do anything, so use a combination of redirection and positive reinforcement to teach them new behaviour patterns.

When your dog is up to no good, tell them “no” firmly, and when they pause or stop, offer a treat and praise. Keep repeating this procedure until your dog gets the hang of it, and comes to learn that there is a better reward on offer if they are good!

Keep your dog occupied

Dogs that are bored or lonely are exponentially more likely to act out and pick up bad habits than other dogs, and it will also be harder to train them out of them. Ensure that your dog is getting enough attention, and is not left alone for long periods of time. Spend plenty of quality time with your dog when you are at home, and ensure that they have plenty of toys and games to keep themselves entertained with!

Finally, ensure that your dog is getting enough exercise to fulfil their needs, as a tired dog is much less likely to get into mischief!


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