Change Your Thinking to Change Your Dog’s Behavior

Bad Behavior is only a Game.

I recently changed the way I think about training my dog. I have one of those high spirited dominate alpha males who instinctively thinks he is the leader of the pack and is always testing my authority. I often thought, why is he so challenging, he knows he is not supposed to do that because I’ve told him “no” a hundred times.

Boomer, my dog, likes to steal things and be chased. To him it’s a game, a fun activity that he knows will get me going. He takes the towels from the hanger in the bathroom and flaunts it in front of me, stopping to make sure I see him before he runs off.

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I found that if I ignore him, he just lays down and later I can get the towel from him. At first I thought that he just made a mistake, but then I realized its just a game to him. The problem was that he never asked if I wanted to play, he just started a game of keep away. The mistakes my dog makes are neither mistakes nor accidents. I just misunderstood the game, and even though it was fun to him, it wasn’t necessarily fun for me!

What’s Right and Wrong

As I thought about this game, I also realized that he was challenging my role as leader of the pack, and my ownership of the towel. Why shouldn’t he own the towel, or have his own towel. It was an instinctive challenge to my leadership and authority. Also, I realized that nothing by itself is either good or bad, it’s thinking that makes it so. If one can only remember back to our pre-school years and all the frustration and trouble there was. That’s because we were going through a learning curve about what is right and wrong behavior. Your dog is new to your world and it’s perception of right and wrong are different.

It’s perfectly acceptable from a dog’s perspective to pick anything up and claim ownership of it, whether it is a stick or anything else he found outside. The same is true indoors as well. It’s also OK in a dog’s world to tear something apart, chew it up, or destroy something, but not true in your world.

Be a Pack Leader and Change the Game

I was gaining insight into a dog’s world and how a dog thinks, and now I was changing my thinking on how to train them. Dogs are pack animals, and there is always a pack leader, followers, and those that want to be the pack leader. The alpha male or female grew up in a litter and learned that if it fights long enough and is persistent that the others in the litter will yield. So, your dog will discover many options, then think about the options, and either go along with you or subvert your efforts to control him.

Your alpha dog’s job is to oppose you and challenge your place as pack leader. Your dog wants you to be consistent in your responses otherwise he doesn’t know what to think. If he starts playing a game with you, you have a choice not to play. The difficulty is that if you don’t play he will either try harder, get depressed, try a different angle on the game or stop. Your goal is to negotiate, stop the game early, or start a different game with something acceptable. So, I will get the towel from him, but then bring him a ball and start a different game.

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Eventually, he will think about it, and bring me the ball when he wants to play instead of the towel.
Emotions Tell Him What to Do

It seems everybody tells their dog “don’t do this or that”. What their dog hears is only “do this or that.” Dogs struggle with the concept of “don’t do something.” To get your dog to stop doing something, simply distract him with a very brief sound and something else to do. He will learn after awhile. If you just stay on the theme of “don’t do this or that” the situation just continues to worsen, as the dog does what he knows or thinks is best for his home and you. The longer you continue the more confusing it is to him. The more concerned you become about his behavior, the more he believes you are worried and he is unsure about the reason. Certainly if you’re worried, then he should be mimic you and get worried also. He doesn’t even realize that it’s his behavior you are worried about.

Have you ever noticed that when you come home, your dog is really excited to see you, and that if you really become animated and excited, he becomes even more excited? That’s because he plays off your emotions and actions. If you run, he runs; if you run faster, he runs faster.

Dogs Learn by Repetition

Dogs can learn and unlearn any behavior by repetition, preferably in four different but similar settings or situations. The first time your dog hears a new command, he has no idea what is being requested. The second time he hears that command, he begins to comprehend. The third time, he fully understands, but he may resist the new command.

He has to think it through to be sure he understands, and it may take him a few moments to think it through. This happens usually on the third request, or instance, of trying to teach or break a behavior. So, when your dog thinks about the new behavior being learned or unlearned, praise and patience, are required during the few moments it takes to correctly understand this new information. He needs time to think things out. He’s going to think about the idea, then glance at you. Then back to the idea, now thinking of you. Then think about the idea, then think about you. Give him time to think and comprehend. Allow his choice to dictate your next move. Chances are, he’s going to make one last try at having his own way.

There are only two choices he can make. He’s either going to do it correctly, or, he’s going to do it wrong. If he gets it wrong, try a similar setting or situation later in the day. This process gives you the opportunity to allow your dog to progress at his own speed. The third time your dog is given a command, he’ll probably do it incorrectly just to see if you are going to be consistent.

Thank you for taking the time to read our article.
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