Helping pet owners to address their dog’s behavioural problems early on can help save a lot of issues down the track…

As pet professionals you no doubt see your fair share of badly behaving dogs. Whether it’s begging for food, incessant barking or aggression, these behavioural issues need to be addressed early on.

Unfortunately, many pet owners misunderstand their dog’s behaviour problems and this causes them to mismanage them.

Indeed, the first step in addressing common dog behaviour problems is to identify and understand them. This is where you, as a trusted pet professional, can play a really important role.

dog behaviour, puppy chewing

Common dog behaviour problems

By identifying dog behaviour problems and advising pet owners that many of these issues can be addressed through appropriate training, you can help stop the trouble from escalating. Certainly, this may even help stop a dog from being surrendered.

Some of the most common dog behaviour problems include:

  • Barking
  • Chewing
  • Digging
  • Biting
  • Jumping up
  • Begging

According to Jo Righetti, animal behaviourist and founder of Pet Problems Solved, dog owners often wait for their dog to behave well and this doesn’t happen. For example, they may wait for their young dog to stop jumping up. Instead, they should teach and/or reward the dog for calm, four-paws-on-the-floor behaviour.

Of course, the problem is that many pet owners simply don’t know how to teach their dog.

Jo explains that some owners use old techniques, which may be punishment based. “However, just as we no longer advocate physical punishment for human children, we also don’t advise this for dogs.”

Instead, pet owners can be encouraged to think of positive ways to reward their dog for good behaviour.

“As a behaviourist, my advice is to socialise young dogs correctly. Introduce them to many, many positive experiences and this will set them up for life, preventing many unwanted issues,” advises Jo.

Happy dog outdoors

Dog training tips

“Manners (or ‘petiquette’) are essential. Teaching a dog to sit is useful, as is waiting – perhaps on a mat or in a specific area of the home,” says Jo.

“Additionally, keeping four paws on the floor and getting off the sofa is desirable in most households.

“I like to ask owners to look at what their dog does naturally, then put that on command and reward. Most dogs sit, so when they do this issue a command, ‘Sit’, along with a hand gesture and verbal praise. This is an easy way to encourage pet owners to train their dogs.”

If you have a client or customer who is concerned about their dog’s behaviour or you can see that the dog is frequently misbehaving, offer up some advice.

Encourage pet owners to decide what type of behaviour is important to them. Then suggest they consistently reward their dog when they act in a desirable way.

Jo also suggests managing unwanted behaviour by keeping the dog on a lead (even in the home!).

obedient dog, positive dog behaviour

Reinforcing good behaviour

Learning styles can be positive or negative, reinforced or punished. However, Jo says that in general positive reinforcement is the most pleasant to use and to receive.

“Clicker training is useful as it can be carried out by anyone who handles the dog, is consistent and there’s no fumbling for treats. It is, as I like to explain it, a promise of a reward to come for the dog. So, in this regard, it is positive training.

“Ultimately. It will come down to which learning style the owner finds the easiest to use.

“Most dogs love food, so most owners find rewarding with treats the easiest way to train. Once the dog has learned a behaviour, then owners should be varying the reward schedule. For example, rewarding every second sit with a treat; using praise for the other times will help strengthen the behaviour.

“Or, if the owner wants their dog to come quicker when they call them, they should only reward fast responses.

Training should be consistent and ongoing. Most dogs love this interaction with their owner,” says Jo.

A final work on pet behaviour…

For pet owners to avoid running into behavioural issues with their dogs down the track, they need to iron out any issues before they become habits.

Jo says, “Prevent issues before they appear. For example, play sounds of thunderstorms to your young dog and make this a positive event by pairing it with food, play or pats, to prevent future thunderstorm phobias.

“Seek help when problems become hard to manage.”

Pet professionals can assist pet owners to see when their dog is misbehaving. You can offer advice on how they can address their dog’s behaviour and even refer to a pet trainer if need be.

Most importantly though, you can educate pet owners that it is easier to deal with difficult behaviour early on and a dog will not ‘grow out’ of bad behaviour.

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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