Dealing With The ‘Bossy’ Dog.
Dogs are pretty clever creatures and they can also be very good at getting what they want from their owners! Dogs are brilliant opportunists – it’s in their genes. If they see a rabbit fly past, they will grab the chance for a bite to eat. If the bin lid is open?….you get my drift? This isn’t really bossiness though – these behaviours are completely natural for them. Nevertheless, it can be frustrating for owners if their dog just seems to want to get his own way all the time. Read our Holidays4Dogs article on dealing with a ‘bossy’ dog.
Dogs have learned very well how to read human beings, – probably far better than we previously imagined. While we may place human attributes onto them, such as rudeness, or naughtiness – most so-called bossy dogs are just displaying natural behaviours.
Nonetheless, it might seem to the frustrated owner that ignoring a bossy dog, would only make matters worse – allowing them to ‘get away’ with being ‘pushy’ or demanding – but lets consider this in a bit more detail.
Why are dogs sometimes considered to be ‘bossy’?
Persistent behaviour such as pawing, whining, barking, staring, clambering all over us, even nipping and growling – are all things an unwitting owner can train their dogs to do, without even knowing it. Often a dog with bad manners has learned to be that way, because of our own faults.
So, what can be done, once bad habits have set in?
If you have a demanding dog, one of the best ways to deal with it, is to simply ignore him. In dog training terms this is knows as ‘extinction training’. In a nutshell, this refers to the idea that a lack of reinforcement causes certain behaviours to stop – i.e. ignoring the behaviour. However, this only works for something that has been previously reinforced – such as rewarding the dog with attention.
Therefore, ignoring your dog won’t work for things like pulling on the lead. It will work if you have previously rewarded your dog for begging at the table, however – by, for example, giving him a titbit in the hope he will go away.
Avoid accidentally reinforcing your dog.
So how do you do it? Basically, you must ignore your dog each time the behaviour occurs that you do not want. Let’s take a common problem – jumping up. A dog doesn’t actually regard this as a problem. It is natural for him to want to get near to the facial area of a person and jumping up is really his only option from his point of view. He is often rewarded for this behaviour by being petted. However, he may also be reinforced for any type of response, which could even be being pushed away.
In this case, ignore your dog each and every time he jumps up at you. Walk, or turn away, giving your dog no response. You will also need to advise any visitors to do the same. When your dog’s feet are firmly on the ground, reward immediately.
There is one issue to be aware of and that is the ‘extinction burst’. But – don’t worry, your dog won’t ‘pop’ if you ignore him too much!
This refers to the point where your dog has been ignored, but the behaviour you are trying to extinguish actually gets worse before it gets better. In the case of jumping up, the dog tries harder to reach his goal, by jumping higher, or more frequently. Basically, he is thinking; “I’m not getting anywhere with this, so I must try harder!”
Exercise and enrichment.
Not having enough exercise can sometimes cause a dog to seem bossy, or demanding. Engaging in enriching activities is important to keep dogs happy mentally and physically. There are lots of activities you can do with your dog from obedience, to canine urban agility.
Ignoring your dog in situations where he is being demanding of your attention is far better than resorting to punishment. Indeed, punishing your dog can end up causing more problems than you started out with. If you are patient and consistent in your approach, you will very soon see improvements to your ‘bossy’ four-legged buddy.