This week I’ve had a consultation with a couple whose dog has been (in what most owners’ eyes would be considered to be) very naughty around the house. Doing things like:
- Stealing things
- Ripping things up
- Running up and down the house
- Jumping all over the furniture
- Mouthing them
- Biting the furniture
- Running and jumping up at them
I thought I would write an article about it because this kind of behaviour is very common and very much misunderstood. It appears to people as though the dog is just out of control and disobedient. Intentionally being naughty in order to wind them up, assert itself etc.
The truth is that a lot of these behaviours are quite natural. That doesn’t mean they are excusable though. Let me explain.
How things are for the dog.
When a dog first comes into our home they don’t know what anything is. They don’t know what the rules are. They don’t know whether anything is safe. They don’t know who is in charge. Thus it is natural for them to explore things, which means picking things up, chewing them, running around. It also means they they will push the boundaries, by jumping up, mouthing. They want to raise their height to see what happens. Raised height means raised status. Chewing is a very natural behaviour too, that’s like us picking things up with our hands.
It is also highly likely that they will be feeling stressed. With all of the newness and not knowing where they stand. This stressed feeling means the hyperactive behaviour will continue. Chewing has a calming effect on dogs, which is why it is commonly seen in stressed dogs.
The impact we have.
With all those things already going on for the dog, then enter human owners, who are also stressed because their dog is behaving in a way that they do not like. They think that the dog is just being naughty and disobedient. They intervene with commands, telling off, eye contact and so on.
This involvement is like pouring petrol onto a bonfire. It adds more fuel, so the situation continues, worsens and repeats.
There is another way. This way involves creating a calm space. Gently guiding a dog away from things you do not want them doing, but calmly. Without giving them attention for it, or confusing them, or confronting them. There may need to be the occasional time out when a dog oversteps the mark. This again must be done calmly, and only for a short period so the dog gets another chance and learns through repetition what is acceptable and what isn’t.
When we create the right environment our dogs find it easier to come down from their adrenalin fuelled, hyperactive, naughty spell, and relax. Once they are completely relaxed THEN we can interact with them, in a calm and positive way. If we keep things calm, we allow our dogs to become calm. If we’re losing it, we can’t really expect anything better from them.
When I think of this I always remember a teacher I had when I was at school who lost the plot really easily. As a result the class’s behaviour often escalated, rather than the behaviour improving. However teachers who stayed calm, were consistent and stuck to their boundaries got much more respect and better behaved classes. The same is true with dogs…!