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Bark Bytes… Changing Your Dog’s Behavior


“How long should it take to change my dog’s behavior?” There are five characteristics that affect a dog’s learning process.

First is his relationship with you. If your dog believes he’s the Leader, then he’s not as likely to follow your instructions. From a human standpoint are you the boss at work or an employee? If you’re an employee, then you are not as likely to influence the boss’s behavior as he or she is to influence yours. The same holds true in our homes with our dogs. If you’re the boss, you get to make the rules. If your dog is the boss, he gets to make the rules. Of course, this is from his perspective.

Second is his willingness to learn. From the human perspective consider reading a book. If we can’t spell or don’t understand the meaning of the words we won’t be able to read a book. We need the foundations first. The same is true with your dog. If you haven’t built a good foundation first, then you’re not as likely to be successful. For example:

  • Let’s say your dog Scruffy has a tendency to not listen when you’re out in public. Does he listen when you are alone and there are no distractions or does he only sometimes listen? If he doesn’t listen without distractions, he’s not going to listen when there are other things vying for his interest. You need to build the foundation first.
  • Scruffy also pulls on the leash when on a walk around the neighborhood. How about in the house or in the back yard? If he doesn’t follow you or walk with you in the house or in the yard, he’s not likely to do them in the neighborhood. Again, if you haven’t built the foundation, he’s not ready to learn in a more challenging environment.

Third is the actual environment itself. If your dog is aggressive to other dogs, has anything bad ever happened to your dog? If your dog has been attacked five different times while walking in the neighborhood that could be part of the problem. Dogs learn by association. Who, what, when, where and how, matter. If you continue putting your dog in a stressful situation and he keeps having bad experiences, he’ll associate those bad experiences with who is there, when they happen, where they take place, etc.

If there are young children in your home and they are running around playing and yelling, which is certainly normal, your dog might not be able to concentrate on learning, especially if he’s a puppy. He’ll most likely want to join the fun and run, play and jump along with the kids. You might find that you have to find time when things are calmer and quieter to teach. Again, the environment can be a big factor.

Fourth is your dog’s personality and temperament. If your dog is a shy or nervous dog he’s going to have problems relaxing when facing new experiences such as meeting new people or seeing new things. If your dog is more confident, he’s not as likely to worry about those new situations. That doesn’t mean that the nervous dog can’t learn to accept new situations, but it is likely that you’ll have to go a lot slower.

Dogs are individuals, with their own personality and temperament. What one dog finds easy to learn another might find a real struggle. What one enjoys another might dislike. It’s important to learn about your dog’s likes and dislikes. Just as we learn in different ways, so too do dogs.

Fifth is communication. Remember that dogs are pack animals and communicate in a canine way, primarily non-verbally. As dog owners, we typically communicate verbally. This can lead to misunderstandings. When you learn to speak some canine and communicate with your dog in a language he understands, the learning process can go faster.

There are other factors as well. Your dog’s breed characteristics, his intelligence and his previous experiences are also part of the equation. These can also add challenges or assist in changing your dog’s behavior.

So how fast will Rover learn? That depends.

Understand the factors and take them into account. Work on establishing your dog’s respect and trust along with building a loving relationship. Build a good foundation first and expand the lessons from there as your dog shows you he’s ready to progress. Work in a suitable environment for what you are trying to achieve and communicate with your dog on a level he understands. When we put that all together we know what happens…a well-behaved dog!

Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit

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