What is Bad Behavior?

What is Bad Behavior?
August 11, 2010 by Steve Duno

As amazing as my old dog Lou was, he did have a few niggling problems.  Perhaps the most incurable was his love for garbage; he would have done almost anything to get at our fragrant discards.  Spending his first six months as a feral gypsy made sure of that; he’d survived by eating squirrels and rabbits, and by raiding as many rural garbage cans as possible.  The odd things that came out of him that first week- foil, gum wrappers, plastic spoons, small skulls, yogurt lids- Lou was a veritable canine recycling plant.


In the home, he quickly learned to open cupboards and get at the garbage, or anything in the food pantry not sheathed in metal.  Even when we installed state-of-the-art baby guards on all cupboards and drawers, he quickly learned how to defeat them and get to the goods.  We had to permanently relocate any and all discarded “delectables” behind locked doors, until Lou became too old to pull off his slight-of-hand break-in move. 


Whenever some behavior of your dog clashes with your expectations, she is said to be "misbehaving."  The dog might not think of her behavior as being improper, though; in fact, she might not see anything wrong with it at all.  Lou certainly didn’t think he was doing anything bad.  For instance, marking and chasing behaviors are natural, normal behaviors for dogs, both wild and domestic.  For your dog to chase your cat around the house seems absolutely par for the course to her.  She in no way means to be malicious; it is simply an expression of her normal instincts.


Domestication tends to butt heads with Mother Nature’s natural programming.  When you ask your dog not to perform an instinctive behavior, you are in reality going up against millions of years of evolution.  That’s what “domestication” is- a comprehensive attempt to alter behavior to suite the new environment, so that the benefits of that adjustment outweigh the disadvantages, for both parties.  So, one major cause of misbehavior in a dog is caused not by the pet’s desire to annoy you, but by the owner’s inability to find a way for the dog to divert its natural instincts in an acceptable way, or to cleverly let the animal know what the new rules are concerning good and bad behavior in the home. 


A good way to minimize bad behaviors in your dog is to try to think like her.  If you were a dog, wouldn’t you find that little hamster a tremendous temptation, especially with it sitting atop the easily accessible desk, in an open-topped fish tank?  Sure you would.  Scratch one hamster.  This “misbehavior” could have been avoided by you looking around the home through the eyes of a dog and seeing all the temptations.  The hamster should have been in a dog-proof area, out of reach.  End of problem before it starts. 


Or, let’s say you put your young dog into a fenced-in front yard and keep her there all day while you are at work.  The dog develops a chronic barking problem, and your neighbors complain.  Why is she barking so much?  Simple.  A stranger walks by the house, and your dog woofs a bit out of a natural proclivity to guard territory.  The stranger keeps on walking and disappears; your dog thinks the barking made him go away.  So each time someone walks by, your dog will again bark, and assume that she triumphantly caused the stranger’s departure.  Over weeks, this becomes a self-reinforcing behavior, and you end up with a barker.  The simple solution is to place an outdoor dog in a fenced-in back yard or dog run, with no visual access to pedestrians, bikes or cars.  Management 101.


Your dog has the reasoning capacity of a two year-old child.  You wouldn’t expect a toddler to behave like an adult, would you?  Most dogs will never get beyond that intellectual stage, so do not assume she can discern an adult human’s conception of right and wrong.  Instead, manage your dog’s environment so that as little trouble as possible can be gotten into.


In addition to prevention, there are other ways to avoid dog misbehaviors.  Again, think like a dog; do you want to have nothing to do all day?  All dogs need mental and physical stimulation to keep themselves occupied and out of trouble.  If you do not supply your dog with acceptable distractions, it will find ways to entertain itself that might not meet with your approval.  The bored dog will get into cupboards, closets, and other areas you consider off-limits, simply out of a need to satisfy its instinctive curiosity.  Get down on all fours and think like a dog; what is there to investigate? 


A good rule of thumb is, if it’s there, the dog will find it.  So, thinking like your pooch again, look around the home and see if you can spot items that she might want to investigate.  Well, look at that, a cupcake left on the counter.  Guess I’ll just jump on up there and eat it.  Then you come out of the bathroom, find the food half-eaten and on the floor, and proceed to badger the dog.  Bad move.  The whole thing was your fault.  You should punish yourself- no cupcakes for you!  Next time, put the food where your pooch can’t get to it and the undesirable behavior won’t occur. 


Use this logic often.  Dog-proof the home.  Remove anything you value from her environment.  Food?  Put it in your mouth or in the refrigerator.  Houseplants?  Hang them, put them in heavy metal stands or move them to a safe room.  Anything that your dog has had a history of getting into, remove from her domain.  If she tends to be destructive, keep her in an area with nothing to destroy, then give her things that she can vent her attentions on, like vet-approved chew toys,  cheese-filled hard rubber toys, lawn mower tires, etc.  It’s often as simple as that.


If you make an effort to understand the root causes of your dog’s misbehavior, then take steps to prevent it from occurring again, you and your dog will have a happier relationship.  Just remember that the dog isn’t acting out of malice or spite; it’s just doing what it thinks is necessary, and what its instincts tell it to do.  Thinking like a dog and staying one step ahead will cut most bad behaviors off at the pass.  It worked with Lou- it’ll work for you.

Add a comment

Comments (2)

Next time, put the food where your <a href="http://www.buyonlineboots.co.uk/">Cheap Uggs UK</a> pooch can’t get to it and the undesirable behavior won’t occur.
Thu, 12/06/2012 - 00:42
Although strengthen <a href="http://www.borseitalialv.eu/">Borse Louis Vuitton</a> supervision, but there are still <a href="http://www.bootsuggsshop.co.uk/">Cheap Ugg Boots UK</a> some government employees to take advantage of loopholes.
Wed, 01/09/2013 - 00:12

Dog of the Week!

Meet: Niko