Problem Behaviors in Dogs: How to Stop Them Before They Start

How do you stop problem behaviors in dogs? The easiest way to stop bad behavior is to prevent them in the first place. Now, most people train their dogs by default. In other words, they let the dog act any way they want and then try to stop bad behavior after the fact. This is the hard way.

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The Premack Principle

David Premack developed the Premack Principle. It says “more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.” In other words, you work so you can get paid. The high probable behavior of pay will reinforce your less probably behavior of work. This translates into dogs as well. Your dog will do less probably behavior (like come to the leash) if it is reinforced by a high probable behavior (like going to the park.)

Before You Adopt a Puppy: What Do You Want

The best time to decide what you want from your dog is to think about it before you ever get your puppy. Sit down and think about how you want your dog to behave. What is important to you? The list will be different to each person.

  • Will the dog be allowed on furniture?
  • Does the dog need to remain quiet or can it bark?
  • Will the dog be allowed to jump on you as an adult?
  • Will you give your dog people food?
  • Will your dog be allowed around when you eat?

These are just a few questions to consider, but they should get you started on what you want from your dog. The more you know from the beginning, the easier it will be to train your puppy to act right later on.

Bringing the Puppy Home: What Does Your Dog Want

Once you bring your puppy home, start watching it to see what your adorable little puppy likes. This will be the key to rewarding good behavior later on and help in positive dog training.

  • Does your dog like squeaky toys?
  • Does your puppy like to play tug-of-war?
  • Does your puppy seek attention?
  • Is your dog motivated by food?

Each dog is different and will respond to different stimuli. One of my dogs loves playing tug-of-war but my other dogs could not care less. Bring out a squeaky toy and the little one goes nuts but an ear rub will have the Bassett eating out of your hands. Watch your dog to see what it likes.

Reward Acceptable Behavior

Now that you know what you want and what your dog wants, it is easy to apply Premack’s Principle. All you have to do is consistently reinforce the behaviors you do want while ignoring the behaviors you do not want.


It won’t take long before your puppy realizes it gets massive rewards for doing things you like. Then, as it grows older, you will have a dog that does the things you like and everyone lives happily ever after.

Real Life Example: Sleeping While We Eat

One of my pet peeves is a dog that begs for food. I do not like it and I will not tolerate such behavior. Therefore, I teach my dogs to lie down and sleep while I eat.

  1. First, I put the leash on my puppy. Then I take the puppy over to the table and place one foot on the leash giving my puppy about an inch or so. The dog can sit up and turn around but not walk away.
  2. Next, I begin eating. After a bit of restlessness, the dog lies down. While I continue eating, I use my other foot to gently stroke the dog. If the dog stands up, I stop stroking the dog. (This teaches the dog it gets love when lying down peacefully.)
  3. After I finish eating, I scoot the chair back and call the dog. Since the leash is released, the puppy can come over and I give the dog lots of love. (This teaches the dog that when I am finished he/she will get love again.)
  4. The last step is teaching the dog to lie down without a leash. Once the puppy has a firm down and stay, I begin training the dog to lie under the table. At this point, the dog is familiar with sleeping when I am eating.

I go to the table to start eating. If the dog comes over, I give the “down” command. When the dog lies down, I praise the dog and continue eating. If the dog gets up, I give the command again. Eventually, the dog associates me going to the table as time to sleep and me getting up as a time to get attention.

As a more advance technique, I teach the puppy to do this anytime I am holding a plate. As long as I have a plate, the dog lies down. (If I am on the couch, the dog can lay next to me as long as it does not look towards my food. If it does, it has to get off the couch.)

When I have parties and get togethers, this is what impresses people the most. As soon as we start to eat, my dogs lie down and wait for people to finish. Of course, when someone puts up the plate the dogs are back to seeking attention from anyone without a plate.

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