How to Get Your Dog to Behave

Many times, the key to getting your dog to do what you want -- or stop doing what you don't want -- comes down to using the right technique. A basic knowledge of how behavior modification works can take you a long way in dealing with your dog.

There's a simple, basic principle underlying all behavior modification techniques, which is that your dog -- like any animal -- will behave in ways that increase the chance of getting it what it wants, andase to behave in ways that decrease the chance of getting it what it wants.
  • Positive Attention -- Positive attention includes giving your dog food rewards, praising them, playing with them, or interacting with them in any friendly, positive way. Any time your dog does anything you like and want him to continue doing, (i.e., chewing on the appropriate toy, doing something cute, when your dog complies with what you ask him to do - sit, down, wait, etc.) give positive attention. Do the same at the moment the dog stops an unwanted behavior (leaves the cat alone, stops chewing on inappropriate item, removes feet from the table top, etc.).
  • Interrupt and Redirect -- When your dog is engaged in something you don't want him to be (chewing the wrong item, feet on the table, walking toward something inappropriate) make a short, sharp sound with your voice (i.e., Ah-ah! Or Hey! with a hand clap added if needed).
a.  This should startle your dog, and you should get that “deer in the headlights” look. At that moment, praise your dog for disengaging. After the interruption, your dog, left to his own devices, may return to the source of interest. If this happens interrupt your dog again, praise them for ceasing the unwanted behavior, and redirect them to do something else (i.e., give them the appropriate chew toy, have them walk toward you, have them sit, etc.). By engaging your dog in something new, you reduce the chance that he'll return to the original behavior.
b. After a time your dog will learn that the sound means to stop what he's doing. Always remember to praise your dog when he does stop.
The ‘startle’ sound is much more effective than saying ‘no.’ He’ll just naturally respond to the startle sound, but over time may tune you out when you say no. If you think about it, repeating no sounds a little bit like you’re barking at your dog. It’s as if you’re all barking together, which isn’t going to teach your dog what you want him to do or stop doing.
  • Ignore -- Ignore any behavior(s) you want to disappear forever (i.e., jumping on you without an invitation, demanding attention by barking at you, demanding you interact with him by pawing, leaning, bumping, placing a toy in your lap, putting his head in your lap to be petted, jumping on the furniture, jumping up toward your face, etc.). You must be absolutely consistent in this -- if you sometimes ignore your dog for jumping into your lap, and sometimes welcome them, the dog won't get the message. Also, be prepared for your dog to become very insistent with the undesired behavior before it goes away. If the dog isn't getting results with an action that worked before, they will step up their efforts, and it may become increasingly difficult to ignore
This material used with permission from The Sacramento SPCA.