Dogs can be both a blessing and a curse. A dog that always behaves himself will be the best companion you can ever have. He’ll make you feel more secure at night, give you someone to play with anytime of the day, and prevent loneliness if the house is empty.
But what do you do when your dog misbehaves or won’t do as he is told? The response from most dog owners is to punish him. Their idea is that their dog must think he is the alpha, or pack leader, and is displaying dominance over them by doing what he wants. But there is an alternative theory, one that debunks dominance as a cause of aggression. What if punishing your dog is actually the worst thing you can do?
Anxiety vs. Alpha
Dr. Karen Overall, an Applied Animal Behaviorist, believes that most dogs misbehave because they’re anxious or because they don’t understand what you want from them – not because they think they are in charge. This is a major shift in thinking, and it might change how you deal with your dog when he is growling or disobeying you.
Overall believes that dogs look to their leader for security and trust. They want to enjoy spending time with their master, and know that they have their owner’s approval. If you are constantly yelling at your dog or punishing it for doing something wrong or not doing what you ask him to, it will make him more and more anxious. This anxiety then causes the dog to keep misbehaving, you get angry again, and the downward spiral continues.
Similarly, if your dog doesn’t understand a command or hasn’t been properly trained to do something, then he won’t know what you want. He’ll become confused which leads to anxiety and you’re back on that downward spiral.
What is the Solution?
Punishment is a very poor solution for managing a misbehaving dog, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as we’ve already seen, it increases anxiety and can make behavioral problems worse. Secondly, punishment has to be delivered at the exact time the misbehavior is occurring. If you’re a second too early or too late, you may punish the wrong thing. This confuses your dog even more, which again results in anxiety.
The solution Overall recommends for a misbehaving dog is to focus on his good behaviors instead of the bad. When your dog does something that you like, give him a reward. A doggie treat, a pat on the belly- anything that lets him know that you’re happy with his behavior. This reinforces to your dog what you want him to do and helps him feel more secure and trusting in you.
You should also give your dog more undivided attention with games, walks and cuddles. Dogs are always seeking quality time with their leaders, and by providing it, you make them happier and mentally healthier.
If your dog is disobedient, start by giving him more positive attention and rewarding his good behaviors. You’ll make him feel less anxious and because he will try and earn rewards, he is more likely to behave nicely. This will both improve your relationship with your little buddy and help to reduce naughtiness in your canine best friend. It’s important to understand that if your dog’s behavior is aggressive, then you should seek professional help from a veterinary behaviorist.