By: Cheryl Nichols


My name is Cheryl. I am a Dog Obedience Trainer/Instructor. Today I want to speak to you about Behavior Problems. I'll begin with the story of Cosmo.


Cosmo, was a spunky little Maltese owned by a widowed, middle-aged woman. He was the apple of his owner’s eye. He was pampered and lived in the lap of luxury. Cosmo was unable to be on his own for even small amounts of time without pitching a fit and damaging the house. As a solution he would often travel with his owner in a small tote bag. Little price to pay for a happy dog, she would reason. He had no obedience training, but he was a small dog, what harm could it cause to pamper him and allow him his freedom? Cosmo on the other hand, had other ideas about what this pampering meant. He’d soon start to place himself on his owner’s lap anytime visitors would come to the house and growl viciously as they approached him. His owner would whisper soothing words and pet him softly, which only made Cosmo growl louder at his oncoming victim. He was guarding his owner, and in his mind that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. He was after all the boss, as he’d been shown as much throughout his entire life and he had a duty to keep his owner safe. Who knew what these strangers would do? Cosmo's owner brushed it off as an eccentric trait, something cute and not worthy of further thought. The day Cosmo bit a family friend and caused several puncture wounds she finally realized that her tiny pile of fluff was out of control!


How did this happen to Cosmo? Was he a typical, energetic, lovable puppy who suddenly turned into the dog equivalent of a raving lunatic? No, of course not. He was simply a product of too much affection at all the wrong times and too little training. His bad behavior was reinforced every time his owner would soothe him as he barked and snarled, and he was rewarded for being bossy each time also, as when he ran full tilt into someone he would get picked up as a result. He was never taught to be calm in the face of stress and relaxed alone. Instead, he was rewarded for his outbursts by being taken along on the trip. Cosmo was taught that he could do no wrong and that was his downfall. Cosmo’s case is a shinning example that this can happen to any dog, not just the Rottweilers or the Pit Bulls of the world. Aggression and disobedience show no preference to breed, age, color, or sex.

Now you may be thinking, but my dog is fine, he’s pampered and showered with affection and he’s never so much as grumbled at anyone. My dog is the exception! If you have a dog that is allowed to do as he pleases without any rules, boundaries or training and it hasn’t resorted to showing aggression to achieve his goals, then you’ve got a dog with a good, solid temperament. BUT, a lack of leadership and training can bring out any form of aggression in your dog that lies below the surface. The truth is, aggression is not the only side effect due to a lack of leadership on the owner’s part, it often has a ripple effect that can touch every aspect of your dog‘s behavior.

It’s very common for owners to unconsciously behave in a way that allows their dog to take over the household without even realizing they’re doing so. You no doubt treat your dog as part of the family, which in itself is not a bad thing, but those little actions we do everyday without even realizing it may be giving your dog the impression that he's the one running the house, not you. Dogs judge rank through daily interactions and simple behaviors, not big battles. Nose nudging is often the first attempt at moving up the ranks. This seemingly sweet behavior is not only annoying, it can give your dog the wrong idea about his place in your pack, and the idea that you live to serve him. Fawning over your dog for no reason, giving him excessive amounts of attention, allowing him to take over the furniture, pester you, push you around, and catering to his every whim are just a few of the ways your human behavior may be affecting your dog's behavior.

Each time your dog sits in front of you, places a paw on your knee or shoves a nose under your arm you think “He’s just looking for some attention.” Right? When you pet a dog who has nudged or pestered you, you are not saying “I love you”, you are actually saying “I obey you.” The dog gave you a clear command - “Pet me now!” and you obeyed. Complying with your dog’s demands, no matter how sweet they may seem, is the first step toward dis-obedient behavior. A common response to this is "But he just wants love." "What harm could it do?" A simple behavior can make such a big impact on how your dog responds to you. By petting your dog each time he nudges you, you’ve actually trained him exactly how to get the attention he seeks. To correct this, when your dog comes over for attention, you pet him, he nudges you for more attention and you ignore him, he gets frustrated and lies down, THEN you pet your dog and tell him how wonderful he is. You’ve just told him in no un-certain terms that you’ll no longer give in to his demands and the only way to get your affection is to quit asking for it. You rewarded him for calm behavior and ignored him for rude behavior.


Darting out ahead of you on walks or through doorways is another common way a dog will move up the ranks. It's often thought of as an excited dog, simply eager to get where you’re going. But if you pay attention to how dog’s behave with one another you’ll notice that leaders go first and followers follow. By following behind your dog you’re again telling him that he’s running the show. Instead, your dog should wait for permission before going through doorways and walk next to or slightly behind you. Exceptions would be Service Dogs. These are just a few examples of how simple interactions you may be having with your dog could give him the wrong impression about who‘s in charge.

Does your dog ignore you? Maybe he knows a command yet chooses to go sniff that cute poodle instead? This is such a common problem that most owners figure it is just the way dogs are. Not so. Not only is ignoring commands a bad habit, but it can be a strong sign that your dog literally does not think you're worth listening to! You may have taught him to do so by constantly repeating your commands. Constantly repeating your commands simply teaches your dog that you’re not serious and have no intention of following through on any command issued. Leaders are not inconsistent and they don’t bluff. So your dog won’t respect you as such if there is no follow through. Aggression, as well as many other behavior problems, most often comes from a dog that sees himself as the head of the household or ALPHA. As long as everything goes his way, he‘s peachy. Cross him, and you'll get growled at, snapped at, or worse.

“If your dog ignores you or walks away when you issue a command, take it seriously!”

Does your dog stop eating or chewing when approached? Let’s set the scene. Fido is chewing his favorite toy. He’s deep in the moment and having a grand time ripping it to shreds. You walk toward him, and he stops. If you make a move toward the toy, he tenses up, grumbles and moves his head to block your hand. This is not good. Nothing in your house belongs to him. Toys, food, bowls, beds are all yours. You allow him the privilege of using them. He has absolutely no right to claim them as his own or warn you from them. Does he mark the house, demand attention and generally act disobedient? These are just a few of the common behaviors many dog’s display. As owners it’s up to us to give our dogs direction, to provide structure and proper training. Without those things it’s nearly impossible to gain your dog’s respect. Love, you can get. Respect is earned. It’s that respect that will determine if your dog obeys your recall command or gets hit by a car, if he chooses to sit when you say so or plow over your guests. Dogs only obey who they respect, which means any work you put into establishing yourself as the leader of your pack is a worthwhile effort, whether you have an aggressive dog, or one that just needs some manners.