Unwanted behaviours are behaviours that, although are unwanted from our point of view (e.g. digging in the garden) are completely natural for your dog and can usually be “solved” through positive reinforcement and/or teaching your dog to perform an acceptable alternative behaviour.
It is important to realise that a behaviour problem is a SYMPTOM, not a cause. The cause could be a result of illness, pain or stress from the environment (either what he is experiencing now or has learnt from an experience in the past). So the first thing LSPCA recommends is to take your dog to the vet for a health check; no amount of behavioural counselling or dog training will “cure” your dog if there is a medical problem.
It must be highlighted that punishment for any unwanted behaviour will only exacerbate the problem. Whilst punishment is a widely-used tool in Malawi, this can be detrimental towards your dog’s well-being and your relationship with him. If your dog has learnt an unwanted behaviour from previous experiences, and continues to use this behaviour automatically when under stress (or another trigger), this means your dog has no choice when displaying that behaviour; it is his coping mechanism. If punishment is used to try to supress this unwanted behaviour (i.e. his coping mechanism), it will increase the stress levels and fear in your dog even further! This is now a welfare and legal issue. Try to imagine yourself in a stressful situation; at the dentist, before an interview or during an exam. You show signs of nervousness by pacing the room or cracking your fingers. Sometimes you may take deep breaths to calm your nerves. These are coping strategies and if taken away, your stress levels will naturally increase. It is therefore important to first diagnose the reason for the unwanted behaviour in your dog before you can solve the problem; by hitting your dog to stop him barking will result in a more nervous dog showing aggressive behaviours (e.g. biting).
If you are experiencing a behavioural problem, please contact us for advice or to set up a one-to-one consult with our canine behaviourist.