Managing Unwanted Behavior

Bulldog chewing on a slipper

Whadda you mean it's not mine? It was on the floor!

If you had a friend who was trying to give up chocolate, would you invite them into your house and then eat their favorite chocolate in front of them? If you had a friend who was in the throes of nicotine withdrawal, would you smoke in front of them? For most of us the answers to these questions would be no. Yet we seem to ignore this courtesy when it comes to our dogs and in the process forget about one of the most useful tools in preventing unwanted behaviors— simple management.

Dogs do what works for them. If chewing helps to relieve boredom, stress, teething pain, or simply the need to chew, they are going to grab whatever is available and palatable to them and chew on it. It makes no difference to them if it’s a $1000 pair of Manolo Blahniks (yes I watched Sex in the City) or a ratty, smelly, hole ridden pair of house slippers that a wife has been trying to get her husband to throw out for years.

Teaching our dogs the rules of acceptable behavior is not something that is accomplished in one or two sessions. It takes good instruction, patience, persistence, repetition, and consistency to help establish new behavior. There is one more thing that needs to be in place throughout the teaching of a new, acceptable behavior— management of opportunities to practice the old unwanted behavior.

For our purposes here, management simply means that the dog is not given any opportunity to practice the old unwanted behavior unless you are specifically ready & able to intervene and re-direct the dog towards the appropriate behavior. To some this may seem overly simplistic but it is not an easy thing to practice sometimes. Kicking off your shoes after a hard day’s work is a physical and mental reward for us and it’s something that’s done without our notice; that is until five minutes later when we’ve come back from changing out of our work clothes to find Fido happily relieving his over excitement from your arrival by going to town on those discarded shoes.

One point I would like to make here is that Fido is not to blame in this example. There is no intent behind his actions other than to got some relief or find an outlet for his energy; he simply hasn’t practiced the new behavior enough for it to replace the older hard wired one. Dogs are not devious; they are not willfully misbehaving or being spiteful regardless of how much their actions remind us of ourselves.

Remember that when we are trying to change a dog’s default behavior, any chance the dog gets to practice the old hard wired behavior without being redirected to the new acceptable behavior prolongs the time it takes to establish the behavior you want. The best way to set yourself and your dog up for faster success when learning a new behavior is to make sure the dog can’t practice the old behavior unsupervised.


Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee