We get a lot of questions about dogs who misbehave …. dogs who counter surf, raid the garbage, destroy the flower beds, run away when called. You might know a dog like this, or it could even be your dog. One thing we all know is that our dog’s misbehaviour can be frustrating! You have spent hours teaching your dog what not to do, but he still does it. That’s what I’m covering in the video below.
When your dog does something like raid the garbage or destroy the cushions, and you walk in on it, it’s natural to think that your dog knows better as he looks guilty or does not even greet you.
It’s like the dog is blowing you off, giving you the middle doggie digit, or even being just plain vengeful. Or, maybe the dog is just plain stubborn. You might know a dog like this. You might even have a dog like this. When you see your dog has done or is doing something he should not, you feel frustration, maybe a bit of anger mixed in with disappointment. And it becomes a session of judgement… someone is to blame and that someone is the dog because he is guilty.
What if we suspend the feelings of frustration, anger and judgement for a short while when looking at all the naughty behaviours our dogs do. I take my view on life from Dr. Wayne Dyer … and his belief is that people are doing the best they can with the education they have and the environment that they’re put in. I believe our dogs are doing the same. Our dogs are doing the best they can with the education we have given them, in the environment we’ve asked them to perform in.
With anything your dog is doing at any point in his life; what if it’s the best he can do? If he takes a toy and does not bring it back, if he ignores you calling him, if he chases the neighbour’s cat … what if it’s the best he can do with the education you have given him, in the environment he is in at that time? Sometimes it can be really difficult to believe that it is the best your dog can do!
Let’s take something your dog knows how to do, but didn’t originally know how to do it automatically. Potty training is a good example. When our puppy or rescue dog first comes home, there may be a couple of accidents. But eventually we help our dog to understand that we want him to potty outside. We don’t go all “cray cray” on our puppy yelling at him for having an accident, because we understand he is doing the best he can and any accident is on us, because maybe we fed him and didn’t take him outside. We understand we are in this together with our puppy or dog and will have success.
As time goes by we are certain our dog is housetrained, but he then has an accident inside… we instantly think he is not well, and head straight to the vet. We believe our dog is doing the best he can, so this accident is not his fault.
So what is the difference between something like housetraining and chasing deer? The difference is that every distraction we add to our dog’s behaviour, we are adding a layer of complexity. With potty training, your dog grows to distinguish the difference between inside and outside because you know the steps and how to set him up for success.
Adding Complexity to Behaviours
Let’s look at a seemingly simple behaviour. “Sit” is something nearly everyone will train their dog to do. Most likely your dog will sit every time you ask when you have a cookie and are in your kitchen. But then you are in the backyard and ask your dog to sit, but you don’t have a cookie … chances are that sit is not going to happen.
Performing the behaviour in the backyard where there might be birds, squirrels, or the neighbour’s dog running back and forth is a different environment to being in the kitchen with you holding a cookie. It’s a massive increase in complexity for the dog that he has not been prepared for yet in his education.
There are layers of learning to any behaviour we want to teach our dogs, and distractions are added strategically to protect our dog’s confidence and grow his capability to perform the behaviour anywhere. Layering the learning leads to our dogs being able to make complex decisions in the face of distractions.
Your dog is doing the best he can with the education you have given him, in the environment you’ve asked him to perform in.
But Susan, My Dog Really Does Know Better!
It is important to understand that dogs are great at figuring out patterns of reinforcement. Dogs are also great at figuring out patterns of punishment, and they want to avoid that punishment. That’s why your dog might appear ‘guilty’, but in reality all he is doing is avoiding punishment. If he has destroyed the cushions and you come home and he does not greet you at the door, it’s not because your dog feels guilty. It’s because the association of bits of cushion on the floor and you coming home means to the dog it is not going to be a good welcome home and it’s best to avoid you because it’s a pattern for punishment.
I’m going to ask you how would your training change if you believe your dog is doing the best he can? What does that idea do when you turn the magnifying glass on yourself? When we think our dog is doing his best, we can ask ourselves the critical questions like: Did I put my dog in the right environment? Did I give him enough education?
If you’re honest with yourself, you can consider that you didn’t give your dog the right education, that you gave him too much freedom that he was not ready for, and you put him in an environment where he did not have enough experience with to be able to make good decisions.
It’s like you gave your 16 year old kid the keys to your Maserati the same day you gave him the keys to your liquor cabinet …. that’s too many choices and some bad ones are going to be made …. and that’s what happens with our dogs.
You might be thinking “all right, Susan, I’m going to believe you, my dog is doing the best he can …. what do I do now?”. The most important thing is to change the way your dog’s education happens, and from where I stand that education begins with games.
The first thing you can do is browse around my blog and try a search on any word that comes to mind that you would like to know more about …. layers and games and reinforcers might be good words to start.
Another option for you is the Inside Scoop Facebook Group (it’s a subscription group by Facebook that is $10 USD per month) where I’ve contributed on the topic of dog training and my friends Dr Karen Becker and Rodney Habib contribute on the topics of health and research.
The next thing to do is register on our Recallers program waitlist and while you are waiting, we’ll get you started with games you can play with your dog.
It’s The Same Mindset For Dog Sports!
This same mindset applies wholeheartedly to any dog sport! Say it’s agility and your dog knocks bars, breaks start lines, jumps off contacts, slows down, sniffs, makes up his own course … you could be annoyed and say “he’s blowing me off” or “he knows better” …. or you could say “he’s doing the best he can with the education I’ve given him in the environment I’m asking him to perform”. The latter is going to help you turn things around to see how you can grow amazing behaviours for agility (or the dog sport you want to enjoy with your dog). Join our Agility Nation and Handling360 notification lists and we’ll let you know when we are next running a Masterclass and when the programs are open to join.
There Is Nothing You Can’t Overcome
Once you adopt the mindset that your dog is doing the best he can, and you apply the gains in your dog training, there is nothing you can’t overcome. I don’t care how old your dog is, and I don’t care what past relationship you’ve had with that dog, because I know it can change today. Take a look at the links I’ve provided here for you. I’m really excited to help you on this journey to a new relationship and a better behaved dog.
Today I am grateful for everyone who has embraced the mindset that their dog is doing the best he can.
My dog loves eating poop and I don’t seem to be able to break him if that habit.
Not sure there is an environment to set him up for success; poop is just everywhere when you live in the back country. Any ideas where to start?
I have seen your video of calling the pups when after a squirrel, but do you know a way to teach them not to chase to begin with? Like birds, squirrels, cats
Hi Margie, the foundation for our dogs making that choice is Susan’s ItsYerChoice Game. You can learn more with Susan’s free ItsYerChoice Summit. Here’s that link for you:
Hi Susan, I have been struggling with my 3 year old blue heeler as we just got a new puppy. She was the youngest and spoilt puppy of the house and when we brought a new kelpie puppy in she started to snap and growl at her. This happens especially when I am playing with her, but even when she is playing on her own the blue heeler will growl and snap. I don’t want to yell at her but I feel it is my only choice. I really need your help on this. We all thought that the puppy and the blue heeler would be best friends, but now we are scared the the blue heeler will hurt the kelpie. 🙁
Now I understand why my misbehave for last few months. Your blog is really helpful. Thanks for sharing.
Susan, a friend recommended that I view your Hot Spots games to help with my pup who still is reactive when new people arrive on the scene. She just loves everyone! She know the place command, but often ignores it! Help Cathy
I agree with everything that Susan says but I am at a loss on how to manage, redirect or stop my young dog, 4 in January, not to bark at random people. Sometimes it’s people she knows, my grandson (7) who now stands and waits for her to stop, a friend, judges on course, the groundsmen where we trainetc . . The behaviour is random and nonspecific in that I never know to whom or when she is going to do this.
Any ideas would be welcome
Hi Lorna, Susan’s blog post on triggers will be a good help:
Oh, I’ve always been glad that my dogs aren’t cats so that they can’t reach food up on the table or counters. I can’t believe that dog not only found got up on the counters but also OPENED THE MICROWAVE. I wouldn’t even be able to be mad about that.
I am at a loss of what to do with my 17 months old sheltie. He loves material. I have mended the following which he has chewed several pillow case covers. chewed holes in my duvet covers, blankets, 3 dog beds A(removed stuffings). He does have chew toys but interestingly does not chew his stuffed toys or tugs. He is so clever, he chewed the edge of my friends jeans and she didn’t feel it. Any suggestions?
I am a current member of recalllers and the games have been fantastic for my high drive lab puppy who is 13 months old. I took her to run thrus today for agility just to practice start lines and a few jumps. She has been to this environment 3 times and she broke her start line and she was almost in the red zone with all the distractions! I do believe she was doing the best she could but it was good for me to hear this video tonight because it easy to think I have trained this . I now realize I have trained the start line but not in a distracting environment with other dogs!
Thank you so much for this! You must be able to read my mind (short story, lol!) as this came at a time when I’ve been feeling frustrated by my young BC’s performance in agility—spinning back to me, dropping bars, etc. I’m not very fast, she is, so I know I need to work on distance skills but I haven’t done so consistently. So I know it’s my fault! This article is just what I need to push me to work on these issues more consistently so that she can shine as the really amazing and brilliant dog I know she can be!
Dear Susan, I like to work with my two Cocker Spaniels. I did agility but as I am en elderly women with two dogs over 10, this activity is not possible for us any more. I startet with Rally obedience, my dogs do quite well most of the exercices, but only in front of our house, where we are lucky to have a lot of space. When we are working, they are with me, well concentrated, happy to do things with me. When we go to the class everything is changed. My dogs are looking for cookies left on the on the meadow. they don’t look at the other dogs, but their nose and attention is on the floor and I am really frustrated. People tell me to be more stricte with them. Reading you I know “they do their best”. Should I avoid to go to these classes, where we really don’t have fun.
Thanks for your advice
Hi Verena, the below post by Susan on recalls is also a good guide for working up to the big distractions like your class might be for your dogs.
How Do I Train My Dog To Come When Called?
Here’s another on protecting confidence with the layers of learning ..
Protect Your Dog’s Confidence
Susan, As a psychologist myself, I must say that this is one of the most useful and psychologically sophisticated vblogs you have done. I am delighted to see the principles espoused by Dr. Dyer applied to dog trainers and dogs. Kate
Thank you. Hope you could do something like this in the future to help some of us with fearful/aggressive dogs.
Hi Peter, here are two vlogs by Susan that are helpful.
Vlog: Dog Body Language, Fear and Aggression
Vlog: Understanding Your Dog’s Triggers
You can also search for the words fear or aggression to find posts.
Thank you just what I need to read!
I will share this with my clients!
So many dogs need for their owners to hear this video. Great information as always! TKS!
I have two dogs and one (or both of them) insist on digging holes in the drought effected almost nonexistent grass in our drought stricken Queensland Australia. Yes I can see they may be bored but how can I address their behaviour and educate them in the environment that hole digging is not a game that makes the humans happy? The digging is mostly done while they are alone although occasionally I look out and he’s going to town in a hole!
Thank you for always being so positive,
Regards Cheryl Leahy
My dog digs in the yard too. The nonexistent grass In my yard and it frustrates my husband too a point of being irrational and angry. I think the dog is frustrated and needs more exercise and mind stimulation. I wish the husband would help train or exercise 🙁
Thank you! Reminds me a bit of how I finally realized I was “an adult” when I quit blaming my parents for their shortcomings when I was growing up and realized yes, they really were doing the best they knew how. My relationship with them improved tremendously! (Or, as Mark Twain said: “At 18 I thought my father was a fool. By the time I was 26 I was amazed at how much he had learned.”)
Oh my, never thought of that way! Will really have to pay more attention! Thanks.