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San Diego Humane Society

Troubleshooting Common Behaviors

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Dogs learn through immediate consequences of their behavior. The nature of these consequences determines how they will behave in the future.

  • If a behavior results in something rewarding like food, belly rubs or any kind of attention, the dog is more likely to repeat the behavior.
  • If a behavior does NOT result in something rewarding, your dog will offer it less and less.

Four easy steps to solving behavior issues

  1. Identify the behavior you want to resolve. A common examples is, “My dog jumps on people.” You can fill in the blank for a behavior that you wish your dog would not do!
  2. Prevent or manage the behavior from occurring: The more opportunities your dog has to practice the unwanted behavior, the better they get at it. For example, if your dog jumps on people, do not allow her to run freely through a party where she can practice the jumping behavior; instead, put your dog in another room or in her crate until you are ready to work on the behavior. If you are walking down the street and a person asks to pet your dog, you can lower her leash until it hits the ground, and then step on the leash to prevent your dog from practicing the jumping behavior. You are not pinning your dog to the ground in any way — she can sit, lie down or stand up — she just can’t lift her feet up to jump on the person. You can do this inside too!
  3. Reward the absence of unwanted behaviors: In the example of jumping, you should praise, pet and treat your dog any time she approaches a person and doesn't jump.
  4. Train a new desirable behavior to replace the unwanted behavior: Use positive reinforcement to teach your dog to sit when people approach by rewarding them with attention, praise and treats.

With practice, these steps will help reduce unwanted behaviors, like jumping, and replace them with desired behaviors, like sitting. This formula can be applied to any behavior problem you observe with your pet. Remember training your pet takes time, patience, practice and repetition.

Quick tips for common behavior concerns:

Problem: Your dog pees on the carpet.
Quick solution: Keep your dog off the carpet unless you know she is "empty" and safe.
Tips: Use doors or baby gates to keep your dog in an acceptable bathroom area, or use a crate to confine your dog. Reward your dog for "going" in the right place.

Problem: Your dog chews inappropriate items (remotes, wallets, shoes, socks, kid's toys, the mail, etc.).
Quick solution: Put loose objects out of your dog's reach, such as on a high shelf, in a cabinet or closet or in a room closed off by door or baby gate.
Tips: Provide attractive, "legal" chew toys and praise your dog for chewing on them.

Problem: Your dog barks at people passing by the house.
Quick solution: Prevent your dog from detecting the presence of people outside.
Tips: Shut the curtains. Move the couch away from the window. Install a solid fence or plant a hedge to reduce the dog's view (or hearing) of passersby. Keep your dog crated for short absences from the home.

Problem: Your dog pulls on the leash.
Quick solution: Use a front-lead harness or head halter.
Tips: Train your dog to walk on a loose leash by rewarding any leash slack and refusing to continue the walk when he pulls.

Problem: Your dog "attacks" the lawn mower, water hose, vacuum cleaner or other household items.
Quick solution: Put your dog in another part of the home before using the item.
Tips: Train your dog to accept the item by pairing low-intensity exposure to the item with treats when he is calm. Slowly (over many sessions) increase the intensity of the exposure, rewarding your dog when he remains calm.

Problem: Your dog digs up the yard or garden, or lies in the flower beds.
Quick solution: Put a low but sturdy fence around landscaped areas.
Tips: If your dog loves to dig, provide a sandbox with occasional buried treats or toys. The sand will be cleaner than dirt, and your dog will be rewarded for satisfying his digging urge in an area of your choice. Make sure your dog is cool enough (in summer) and warm enough (in winter), as digging can be a method of heat control.

Problem: Your dog gets on the furniture.
Quick solution: Keep your dog out of that room when alone. Turn the chair against a wall or upend it. Place a cookie sheet, box or baby gate over chair or bed.
Tips: Consider putting a blanket or sheet over the furniture and allowing the dog to enjoy its comfort. The cover is easily removed and cleaned.

Problem: Your dog runs into the street.
Quick solution: Keep your dog on leash or within a well-fenced yard.
Tips: This can save her life!

Problem: Multiple dogs in your home fight over mealtimes, doorways, etc.
Quick solution: Feed them in separate areas (different rooms, in crates or on tie-downs). Hold one dog back while letting the other dog through the doorway.
Tips: Train each dog to "wait" at doorways, and release one at a time using their own names.


Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society Adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

View Training Classes   Gift a Training Class


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