Embrace the Naughty Things

By Sandra Roosna / March 30, 2022

How we define "naughty" is relative - it depends on the environment we've set up for ourselves and our dogs, & the rules we've put in place.

Unwanted behaviors arise from a number of things, such as:

πŸ’œ not understanding the rules

πŸ’œ not having an appropriate outlet

πŸ’œ attention-seeking

πŸ’œ a means to gain access to a resource

πŸ’œ need to explore and discover

πŸ’œ distress

The majority of problem behaviors arise from miscommunication - barking to alert us an intruder is coming, chewing on the table leg because their gums hurt, nipping at the ankles because they don't know who or what else they can herd.

We are programmed to become emotional in response to problem behaviors. When Spot rips up the dog bed after we've been gone for several hours, we often say "No", raise our voices, or reprimand the pup in other ways, because "he should know better".

We assume that Spot did it out of spite, while in reality he was distressed, and that ripped up bed was a note he left for you, explaining how scared and confused he was because he did not know why you abandoned him. Ripping the bed was the most sensical cry for help at the time, because all other forms of communication were ignored. Now he is even more confused by your response, because, well, "didn't you read the note?".

Certain problem behaviors may cease in response to punishment, but all you're doing is suppressing the behaviors instead of trying to figure out and work with the root cause of those behaviors. We are not actually listening to what our dog is trying to tell us and provide them with appropriate answers. You often see other problem behaviors pop up as a result of unmet needs.

If we obviously don't or can't be bothered to speak Dog, or give them the benefit of the doubt, how can we expect them to understand our words, actions, or how we feel?

Think of it this way: If a person stranded on an island shoots flare guns as you fly by on a helicopter, do you criticize the person for polluting the environment and fly off, or do you go down there and help them?

You recently adopted a lab because your previous dog was the sweetest most well-behaved lab?

So now your current dog has some pretty big shoes to fill. Max never got into the trash or stole food from the table, so why can't Charlie do better? Consider whether you previously lived on a farm where Max had more freedom to roam and play. Or he was probably just not that motivated by food. Every so often we get those "easy" dogs who don't need much and were just happy to be with you. But that is not the norm, you simply got lucky.

Expecting your dog to live up to your previous pup's expectations without putting in any work is inevitably setting them up to fail, and they are then labeled as "bad". It's very easy to put blame on others instead of considering whether there is something we could do differently to help them meet their needs and understand the rules. I'm certainly guilty of it.

More often than not it's not about how you fix what the dog does, it's about how we use the information given to us to change our actions and the environment. How do you teach them rules and boundaries in a way they understand?

Consider your dog's breed-specific needs. Where do you live? Are there any medical issues? What is your dog's nutrition like? Are there any changes in the household? What does your dog's learning history look like?

Embrace the naughty things. They provide us with valuable knowledge to help our dogs navigate this crazy world we've put them in.