How to analyze a dog’s behavior problem

The first step in dealing with dog behavior problems is to understand why your dog acts the way he does. He probably didn.t turn bad overnight. (The exception would be irregular or aggressive behavior as a response to a medical condition.) Most behavior issues start small and grow out of control as the behavior is continually reinforced. If you look back to when your dog’s problematic behavior began and ask a few simple questions, you should be able to develop an effective plan to deal with it.

Questions to ask yourself

The following are some questions to consider as you analyze your dog’s behavior problem. Be sure to discuss them with everyone who’s in regular contact with your dog to get the full story.

What triggers the behavior?

Does it only happen when certain people are present? Is it only in certain rooms of the house or particular areas outside? Is there an object that prompts the behavior? Determine what triggers your dog’s response and it will be easier to manage him as you work to retrain an alternative behavior. For instance, if Aunt May is the only person your dog barks at, then you can crate him when she visits until he learns a new way to greet her.

How often does the behavior happen?

Does your dog do it non-stop or just occasionally? Does he do it every time the trigger is present or are there other times? Your answers here will help you further refine what causes the problem behavior.

What reinforces the behavior?

Your dog will repeat a behavior when it’s rewarding and avoid or stop a behavior when it’s not. If you ignore your dog when he jumps up for attention but the kids run for his favorite toy and play with him, he’ll continue to jump up because there’s a chance he’ll be rewarded for it. Remove the reinforcement for a behavior and you’ll go a long way toward eliminating that behavior.

What have you done previously to stop it?

Think about the ways you’ve tried to end your dog’s behavior problem in the past. Did he ever change in response to something you did? Were you successful for a short while before the behavior returned? Your answers here will give you some insight into what motivates your dog. You may also come up with some creative ways to overcome the problem based on what you’ve done before.

Once you have a good grasp of the issue, including what seems to cause it and why it continues, you can work to manage your dog’s behavior problem and train an alternate or incompatible behavior to overcome it. Then you’ll be well on your way to turning your furry ball of terror into a respectable canine companion.

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