The Only 3 Strategies You Need to Deal With Your Dog's Undesirable Behaviours

If I'm honest, I struggled a bit with the title of this one - what I might deem 'undesirable' or 'problem' behaviours, another guardian might consider perfectly acceptable. Equally, dogs do what works - my undesirable (rolling in fox poo) is my dog's dream! Either way, the point stands that there are only three strategies that you need to know to deal with them.

1 - Tolerate

Pretty much what it says. You can put up with it. For example, if your dog is a dedicated puller then you could just tolerate it. Get used to the fact that one arm will be longer than the other, and that you might go places faster than you originally intended! The other example that I often use is Ripley's behaviour around our chickens. He likes to chase them. He doesn't really want to catch them, he wants to flush them, but of course they can't fly so usually end up in his mouth. He has not yet killed one, but nevertheless tolerating this behaviour is really not appropriate. My final example relates to the dishwasher; in this house, a pre-rinse is undesirable to the humans whilst being highly desirable for Ripley. In many households, this behaviour would be tolerated or even encouraged.

2 - Manage

When it comes to managing a behaviour, you put measures in place to prevent your learner from practising the undesirable behaviour. In our lead walking example, options include two-point harness, head collars or only walking where you don't need to use a lead. For the chickens, it's about being mindful that Ripley doesn't get free access to the garden when the chickens are out of their run. He's either shut inside, or goes out on a lead. With the dishwasher, I can ask him to go to his crate, mat or bed whilst I load the dishwasher. The thing to be aware of with management is that it can fail; doors don't close properly, equipment fails, etc. You need to think about the implications of a management strategy failing - lead walking and the dishwasher aren't exactly life or death situations, but chicken chasing is traumatic for the chickens, if not for Ripley. Equally, I don't want Ripley experiencing that level of stress, albeit eustress rather than distress.

3 - Train

Again, fairly self explanatory! You can take the time to train, usually alternative behaviours. You can't teach a dog what NOT to do, but you can train them what TO do. Loose lead walking training often fails because people find it boring. For many dogs, to get it reliable requires a lot of repetition. In the meantime, you have to manage the behaviour in other places to ensure they don't practice the lead pulling. Often people think that using management tools such as harnesses or head collars will teach their dog not to pull - they don't, they just make it more difficult or uncomfortable for the dog to do so. As soon as you remove the tools, the pulling is likely to return. There's no magic fix here - training is key. I could take time to train Ripley more appropriate behaviour around the chickens, and actually we have done this to a certain degree. Honestly though, the motivation to do so in full isn't really there. Management is working, without having a big impact on our lives. With the dishwasher, I have an amalgamation of manage and train - I've trained him to go to a mat in the kitchen whilst I load the dishwasher. It's more management than training really, but it works for our situation and if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

So those are your choices - it's OK to have a combination of them going at any time, so managing a puller whilst you train loose lead walking (never try to train loose lead walking when you actually need to get somewhere!), or tolerate some licking of dishes whilst you train them to stay on the mat once you've asked them to go there. Overall, applying these three strategies to any undesirable behaviours should get you the results that you are looking for.

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