Dealing with unwanted behaviours

Step 1 - Triggers, Behaviours, Consequences

All behaviours exist for a reason. There is always a trigger for a behaviour, the behaviour itself and the consequence of that behaviour.

Trigger > Behaviour > Consequence

Consider a territorial dog who barks at post being delivered:

Trigger: The dog sees the postie approaching the door

Behaviour: The dog barks

Consequence: The postie leaves

From the dog’s perspective this behaviour is effective and is self-reinforcing. Effective behaviours are destined to be repeated and become stronger the more they are practised.

Consider what the triggers and consequences are for your dog’s behaviour. Think about it from their perspective. Are they inadvertently being encouraged to practise unwanted behaviours? Is their behaviour self-reinforcing, like in the above example?

Step 2 - Control and Management

Control and Management means temporarily putting in place restrictions/changes to your normal environment to prevent your dog from being allowed to practise unwanted behaviours whilst you remedy the problem.

Control and Management needs to be carried out ASAP and consistently applied by everyone in the household whilst you work on the long term, permanent solution. Practise makes permanent, so prevent practising mistakes!

Step 3 - Mutually Exclusive Behaviours

Mutually Exclusive Behaviours (MEBs) are those that your dog can’t do at the same time as the unwanted behavior. Training an MEB can be a simple solution for unwanted behaviours. Not everything has an MEB, but some common examples include:

  • Lying down instead of jumping up

  • Running to their crate at the sound of the doorbell, instead of to the door itself

  • Walking at your heel instead of tugging on the lead

  • Eating or holding a toy in their mouth instead of barking

Step 4 - The Long Term Solution

Step 4 varies depending on the nature of the problem, what Control and Management is possible, whether an MEB exists, and a range of other factors. Speak to a qualified trainer to understand what to do next (and what not to do!). Avoid punishment and force as this is normally ineffective and creates new problems.