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The #1 Cause of Misbehavior

Between my Private Training clients and the group classes that I teach, I meet a lot of dogs, which means I see a lot of dog behavior (and misbehavior).

  • I see the 120 lbs Mastiff pulling mom around everywhere;

  • I see the 7.5 lbs Chihuahua that barks at mom and dad throughout dinner; and

  • I see the 80 lbs Labrador jumping on guests (and mom and dad and the counter and...everything).

Regardless of the misbehavior or "bad" behavior I see, the underlying, number 1 cause of the behavior is the same across the board: something is rewarding the behavior.


Every time I see misbehavior, the first question that needs to be explored and answered is, "What is rewarding this behavior?" If you can get good at finding and understanding the answer, you'll probably be able to solve a lot of your dog's behavior "problems" by yourself - no trainer needed (don't tell my CPA I said that)!

First, though, let's take a step back and understand one crucial fact: dogs do what works out best for them.


Dogs are all about exploring, satisfying their curiosity, accessing resources (what they consider to be resources), and, in general, making themselves happy. Your dog doesn't really care about making you or other dogs happy, about respecting you, or about being a "good boy" just to be a good boy. The main goal is to do all the things that are working out for them and getting them the good things they like.


That said, it's really easy to think that your dog has, at least, some inherent wish to behave well; in a lot of cases, being a "good boy" gets him good things, so, naturally, your dog is going to do the "good boy" behaviors - again, generally not to please you, but to get the rewards offered for those behaviors.


Second, bear in mind that rewards are not limited to JUST treats! Your SideKick has access to a wide variety of rewards:

  • The obvious and necessary rewards/resources, such as food, water, a comfortable place to sleep

  • Social rewards, such as praise and petting or play

  • What I call "real life" rewards, such as sniffing interesting stuff, rolling in dead animals, chasing a squirrel or leaf, etc.

Ultimately, your SideKick offers "good boy" behaviors because we have rewarded the behaviors in some way (intentionally or unintentionally). The root of all dog training is showing your dog that cooperating with you (by offering "good boy" behaviors) will get them the good stuff they like.


So, if you have a dog that misbehaves, the first question you should ask yourself is, "What is rewarding this behavior?" Somewhere in your SideKick's mischief, they are finding rewards (obvious or hidden). Let's look at the examples I provided above:

  • The 120 lbs Mastiff pulling mom around everywhere is likely pulling because it gets him to the fire hydrant to sniff, the person to be pet, the other dog to greet; pulling mom is really working out, so it continues to happen.

  • The 7.5 lbs Chihuahua that barks at mom and dad throughout dinner is almost certainly getting attention (even if that is asking the dog to be quiet), but may also be getting food from the table every now and then; she has decided that the barking is getting her that attention and food, so why not keep barking?

  • The 80 lbs Labrador jumping on...everything is definitely getting attention, petting, praise (even if it is, "Oh, get off of her, down, Down, DOWN!"), play (even if it is hands pushing at him to get off of something), and food or scraps or things to chew.

Once you figure out what is rewarding the misbehavior, you've got two options: limit the rewards they're currently getting for the misbehavior (management or prevention) and reward the "good boy" behavior you want to see instead. These two options employed together form a one-two punch approach to misbehavior!


Happy training!


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Dog Training in Milwaukee, WI

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