The best way I know of to prevent common nuisance behaviors around the house is to not let them happen.
How do you do that?
You stop them every time they happen. It is inevitable. And when your dog knows that it is inevitable, it doesn’t take very long before they decide it’s not worth their while to try. Because you will stop them. Every. Single. Time.
Now I have mixed feelings about talking about this, because this is a concept I learned long ago when it was associated with pain, fear, and retaliation. Dog pulled on the leash? You corrected them with a collar correction. Dog jumped up on you? You kneed them in the chest. I could go on and on, but the dog learned two things. If they did something you didn’t like, it would be stopped. That was the good part. The second thing they learned is that you can be scary and erratic and in need of a watchful eye. That’s not good, and there’s no reason for it anyway because you can absolutely separate out the concept of the inevitable from punishment. We do it with kids all the time and it’s not scary at all. Here’s a dog example.
Your dog gets on your couch and is not allowed there.
You remove them. Within one second of being up there, you remove them. What happens if you remove them two or three times in a row and they still jump up? You remove them from the room. What happens if it’s still an issue? You crate them or put them outside or attach them to you or whatever works for you. Not for a long time – just a few minutes.
You don’t need to scream or yell. First I tell my dog, ‘eh!’ – that is a warning I will use for life for pretty much anything I want to see stopped. No response? I remove them physically by picking them up or by their collar or with a leash. Back up on the couch? I remove them from the room. Start making trouble? Outside. Can’t catch the dog because he avoids you? Drag a leash in the house. You get the idea. You won’t get on the couch.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter that much exactly what you do. You simply need to convince your dog that when they do specific things that you’re not thrilled about, you are going to stop them. Because you said so.
And what happens if you are not consistent?
That will depend on how much the dog benefits from the behavior. If they snag something off your counter and you let them, and if it’s particularly tasty, then you can count on the fact that counter surfing will come back pretty regularly, even if you stop that behavior nine times out of ten. So maybe you shouldn’t have tasty things on the counter where the dog can get them while they are young and learning, and save both of you some trouble.
But if it’s a behavior that doesn’t bring the dog a lot of value, it may go away even if you’re not consistent. It just depends.
So the second thing, in addition to the rule of inevitability, is that you better have a pretty good idea in your head what behaviors you absolutely never want to see. And then you are going to stop them, without exception.
I know this is hard. We have other things to worry about in our lives, like phones ringing and children crying and jobs to do. But here’s a rule of reality: you’re going to get what you allow, plus what you train for. And the purpose of this blog is not to talk about training, it’s to talk about things you didn’t train for, or cannot train for, or will not train for. Training is good! but when it comes to basic house rules, I tend to use the inevitable more than training. Inevitability is a fine management strategy that leads to understanding – training, I suppose.
Manage misbehavior at the exact moment it happens – before the dog even knows it’s misbehavior!
You can run out the door and visit guests, but that’s it. Then you need to come back in. If you go wandering off? I’m going to bring you back in. It is inevitable.
You cannot sleep on my couch. You jumped up there anyway? I will remove you within one second. It is inevitable.
You cannot bark hysterically at me when you want something. If you do that, I will stop your barking by telling you to stop. Still barking? I will putting my hand through your collar and hold you still. If you continue to bark after my clear communication to stop then I will remove you. It is inevitable.
At the same time, I’m pretty sympathetic to the reality of puppies and dogs, and I accept that they have needs too. So if I remove the dog from the couch I like to make sure they have another soft place to sleep. And I’m not going to make my dog go hours and hours between meals when I know they are young and hungry and then expect them not to eye the leftovers on the table. I’m going to give them things to eat and chew! (and not leave leftovers on the table to keep an eye on). And I don’t expect my dog to know to come when called until after I train it, so I’m not going to let my dog run out the front door if they are too young to understand a recall cue. I will prevent that too.
But for now? For this blog? The thing I want you to focus on is the inevitable.
Sometimes people say things to me that I find it a little confusing. They tell me that their dog pulls on a leash or runs around barking at them or makes trouble in their house and I get the feeling it is allowed to continue. Why is that? I keep thinking, why don’t you tell them to stop? And if they don’t, why don’t you stop them?
Presumably sometimes the handler doesn’t actually know how to stop the dog, or it’s been going on for so long that the process of stopping the dog is not going to be trivial.
So maybe start there. Make a mental list of the things your dog does that you find irritating around the house, and set up a plan for the inevitable.
First a verbal warning. Then back it up physically if necessary – there is no reason for this to be painful, but it should be inevitable. Still no go? Remove the dog altogether if you haven’t made your point. Your dog may need to drag a leash around the house for awhile or have one attached before critical points when you know the beahvior will soon occur – that’s fine.
What if you’re afraid of your dog? What if you approach your dog to remove them from the couch and he is growling at you?
Then you have bigger fish to fry, and you need to get hold of a professional. I won’t give advice on aggression over the Internet without seeing what’s happening.
The earlier your puppy learns the rules of inevitability, the easier your life is going to be.
Remember. Inevitable. Tell me your plan in the comments.