Why Does My Dog Chew, Jump, Bite, Bark and Whine?

As is my custom, when I find myself teaching clients a particular lesson over and over, I immortalize the lesson in writing. So, here goes ...

Pretty much every dog I train has some sort of behavior "problem." I enclose "problem" in quotation marks because that is what humans call it ... but that's rarely what it actually is. More accurately, the "problem" is just a simple dog behavior, such as chewing, barking, jumping up on people, nipping, whining, etc. Those are "problems" for us, but they are just ... what dogs do.

Clients try to fix or cope with behavior problems, often fruitlessly, and when I arrive on the scene they ask: "Why does my dog do that?" The answer is unexpectedly simple.

Dogs do what works. Period. If your dog persistently jumps, barks, chews, or exhibits most any other behavior "problem," it is because doing so fulfills some need your dog has. The dog may need or want interaction with you, something to chew on, to drive away some perceived threat, to access food, and you are usually reinforcing the behavior by giving the dog (sometimes inadvertently) what he is seeking. Something is paying off, or else the dog would be finding another behavior that does pay off.

Most behavior problems can be solved in four steps:

1. Ask yourself what the dog is achieving by exhibiting an unwanted behavior. How is it paying off?

2. Ask yourself what behavior you would rather the dog exhibit in the context the unwanted behavior is occurring.

3. Find a way to make the unwanted behavior not pay off.

4. Teach the dog an alternate behavior and reward the dog for the behavior by giving him the resource he was trying to access by exhibiting the original, unwanted behavior.

In other words, show the dog an alternative pathway to accessing the things he needs. Once your dog discovers that the old behavior has ceased to work, and that the new behavior is rewarding, he will stop being "problematic."