How to train a dog to stop being ‘naughty’

Many of our clients come to class to find out how to train a dog to stop unwanted behaviours.  For example how to train a dog to:

  • not jump on visitors
  • not pull on lead
  • stop being destructive
  • stop barking

While it can often feel like our dogs are doing these things to be naughty, or to spite us, the real reason is usually simple; dogs are doing what works for them.

It is our perception about what behaviours from our furry companions we like, versus what we don’t like. For example, digging in the garden is a behaviour that feels good for dogs to do and they don’t see it as right or wrong.  It is the human perception that decides that this behaviour of digging up plants is ‘naughty’.


How to change the behaviour

To transition from the behaviours in our dogs that we don’t want, to the behaviours that we do want instead, there are a few things to think about:

  1. What’s is happening before the behaviour
  2. Understanding why your dog is doing the unwanted behaviour
  3. What behaviour do you want instead

Before we go much further, we need to define behaviour.  Behaviour is something that observable only.  So, a behaviour can be a dog sitting, wagging their tail, lying on their mat; digging in the garden etc. On the flipside, behaviour is not a dog being naughty as there is nothing observable in that statement.

So, let’s use the example of a dog jumping on visitors to work through how to train a dog to stop doing this behaviour.


1.What’s happening before the behaviour of jumping?

Our visitor is arriving and at the sound of the door bell, we can see Fido’s level of excitement appears to be increasing. We can observe this increase in Fido’s excitement level as he wags his tail more, starts pacing a little and his breathing rate increases. Note, depending on the dog, this excitement could be from good or bad stress (but that’s another blog topic).


2. Why is the dog doing the unwanted jumping behaviour

For many dogs, jumping on the humans provides information to them about the human and this is the functional reason for the behaviour. For other dogs, this behaviour of jumping can be a combination of information seeking and looking for reassurance in a potentially stressful situation.

This is why the advice of ‘just ignore the jumping dog’ doesn’t usually stop the unwanted behaviour. By ignoring the dog, the dog is still practicing the behaviour; and the function of the behaviour to gather information is still being met. Worse, if you have a dog who is stressed or unsure in a situation, and they jump on humans to seek reassurance, then by attempting to ignore them can heighten the stress they are experiencing.

Ideally, if we know what happens in the environment prior to a dog being likely to jump, our first step is to manage the environment to help set our dogs up to succeed and feel better about a situation. For a dog who jumps on visitors, our approach depends on the individual dog. For example, we may start with the dog safely in their crate with a yummy chew when the visitor comes in. While the dog is enjoying their chew, they can gather information about the visitor from the safety of their crate and with the visitor at a distance away sitting on the couch. This set up may not be suitable for some dogs. For other dogs this will help them feel safe and give them time to gather information without being too close to the new visitor.

For many dogs, after some time to observe the visitor from a distance and the safety of their crate, you may find that their excitement level has decreased significantly. This can result in them being less likely to jump on the visitor after coming out of their crate. However we also want to help our dog know what to do when they get up close to our visitor, read on to step 3.


3. What behaviour do you want instead of jumping?

For most people, four paws on the ground is what we want instead of jumping. Often, we end up paying the dog more attention when they do the behaviour we don’t want.  Instead, to train a dog to stop doing unwanted behaviours, we need to start noticing (and rewarding) the behaviours that we do want.

Start with an easy set up for your dog. If you know your dog gets very excited when Aunt Mabel and her kids visit, this is not the time to start trying to train the new behaviour of four paws on the ground. If Aunt Mabel is coming to visit and you haven’t been working on training the behaviour you want, refer to step 2 above for now.

Instead, start with ‘pretend visitors’ who are really just members of the family who live with the dog. We start this exercise with pretend visitors because this is a situation your dog will be able to succeed in. When the pretend visitors arrive, get them to do all the things a normal visitor would do such as ring the door bell etc. Have fun with it and play dress ups. If your dog is succeeding and keeping all four paws on the ground most of the time, then you can make it slowly harder for your dog. For example, the pretend visitors may get more excited in how they speak or move. If your dog stops being as successful, tone down your level of difficulty.

So, in summary: to train your dog to stop doing the things you don’t like, think about why the behaviour is happening. Then think about what you can do to help them be in a mental state where they can offer behaviour that you want instead.


Need Help with How to Train Your Dog?

If you want help in applying this information to change any unwanted behaviours your dog may be doing, we offer one on one training and group classes depending on your needs.

A word of caution, the above outline of how to change the behaviour of unwanted jumping is intended as general information only. Depending on your dog and your circumstances the above information may not be suitable for you. For this reason we recommend getting in touch with us for your training and behaviour questions.


Written by Tara Ross