Dog Behavior Problems
Behavior problems in dogs are quite common, especially for puppies or dogs that are introduced to a new environment. In older dogs, behavior problems are often an indication that there may be a health problem present or that the dog is uncomfortable in their current surroundings. Because dogs lack the ability to speak to us directly, it can often be challenging for dog owners to decipher what it is that the dog needs. It is important that, no matter what kind of behavior problem you may be dealing with in your dog, you attempt to determine what may be leading to the behavior first.
The most common disruptive behaviors in puppy and adult dogs include:
- Separation Anxiety
- Fears and Phobias
- Excessive Barking
- Escape Behavior
- Destructive Behavior
What is Dog Behavior Modification?
The goal of behavior modification is to replace undesirable behaviors with more desirable behaviors. One of the behavior modification techniques that has been very popular, especially with dog owners, is positive reinforcement. This technique uses a system of rewards to obtain behavior from the dog that the owner desires.
Systematic desensitization and counter conditioning are also behavior modification techniques that can be used to help a dog overcome a fear or phobia about something, such as the fear of thunderstorms or a fear of people. Systematic desensitization is a rather fancy way of saying that you will have to get your dog used to experiencing low intensity versions of the thing he fears. You gradually expose your dog to more and more of the thing he fears until he is able to cope with it in a real situation. You do this by using counter conditioning and making the experience less frightening for him as he slowly confronts the thing that frightens him.
Other kind of behavior modification that work with dogs include the time-out, which is based on “extinction.” Extinction withholds a desired response. In this case it withholds attention by putting a dog in time-out when he misbehaves. This method words well when you have a puppy that nips, for example, or a dog that jumps up on you.
Behavior modification also includes negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement works by removing something that the animal (or human) considers unpleasant. If you are teaching your dog to sit by applying pressure to his hips, this is a negative reinforcement. When the dog sits, you remove the pressure, or the negative reinforcer, or stop pressing on your dog’s hips. This is not an especially good way to teach your dog to sit since it can put too much pressure on your dog’s hips, but it can work.
Punishment is another behavior modification method. It is used to discourage unwanted behavior. When you punish your dog you are applying aversive or unpleasant stimulus in reaction to a particular behavior. Punishment is not favored as a training approach at the moment, though it has been used in the past. Unfortunately it is still used with some dominance-based training methods.