Correcting Dog Behavior Problems

Dog behavior problems are best addressed with knowledge and consistency. Understanding the way a dog's mind works can help a dog owner make the best use of tools such as a clicker and treats or other things your specific dog wants. These tools supplement skills such as positive reinforcement, behavior interrupting, and shaping.

Inside a Dog's Mind

Understanding how a dog thinks and remembers gives the trainer a distinct advantage. Dog's will behave in the home the same way they would in the wild in terms of pack behavior. The alpha dog is the one who is obeyed. You need to establish yourself as the alpha, and your family members need to do the same.

Dogs work entirely on association and an extremely limited short-term memory. A dog quickly creates positive or negative associations to sounds, places and people. Punishment and other typical training approaches may inadvertently create a negative association in ways that work against dog training goals. Yelling at a dog who is barking, for instance, may be perceived as the alpha barking. This may lessen the dog's anxiety and thus reinforce that the behavior is a good idea.

Focus on Rewards

Dogs respond the most to positive training techniques versus punishment. A dog naturally wants to please the alpha and work for things he likes like treats or a favorite toy. Punishment, on the other hand, can instill fear and a negative association to the owner. It also stops at teaching the dog what not to do. It misses the powerful step of showing the dog what is wanted of him. Using rewards reinforce or encourage a behavior. Trainers call the technique positive reinforcement.

Clicker Training

A clicker is an effective tool in dog training that involves positive reinforcement. When the dog does something the owner wants, there's a click sound and then a reward. The sound helps the dog know exactly what he did right, and it creates a positive association to the sound itself.

A clicker can also be used before a time out or when the trainer wants to interrupt an unwanted behavior. If the dog is going toward the cat's food dish, the owner makes a specific click sound and then removes the dish. The dog is then directed to his own dish or his bed. When he goes to that place, the positive click sound is made and a treat is given. The trainer has thus discouraged one behavior and reinforced another.


Shaping basically means working up to a goal behavior in a step-wise manner with smaller goals on the way. It can be used to encourage complex behaviors such as bowing or in working with very small puppies. The small steps that lead to the goal behavior are rewarded each time until success is consistent. Then the reward is removed. The dog goes into an extinction response and will try harder to achieve the behavior and thus move toward the goal behavior. This is called free shaping.

Another form of shaping involves using a reward to lure the dog into doing a certain behavior. Even though the lure shaping can help teach a dog a behavior, free shaping encourages cognitive and creative development because it works with the dog's own initiative and problem solving.