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Understanding Your Dog's Behavior: More Than Just 'Bad'

Yawning olden retriever dog on white background
I'm not a bad dog...I just REALLY suck at being human.

When your dog misbehaves or seems unmanageable, it's easy to get frustrated. Maybe they've chewed your favorite pair of shoes, had an accident indoors, or won't stop barking. Before you assume they're just giving you a hard time, take a moment to consider a different perspective:

Dog training quote

As a dog owner and puppy parents, this shift in perspective is pivotal.

Dogs aren't naturally inclined to do things just to upset us, anymore than we do things specifically designed to upset our dogs. Their behavior is often a form of communication or a reaction to their environment, feelings, or unmet needs. Understanding this is the first step toward fostering a healthier, happier relationship between you and your furry friend.


I was visiting a friend who has a dog named Fiona Her dog loves playing fetch, but had problems relinquishing the ball.

puppy playing with toy

When Fiona finally did relinquish the ball (after several back-and-forth attempts), my friend sat there with the ball, refusing to throw it so Fiona could see how it felt. Essentially, my friend chose punishment. "Well, let Fiona see how she likes it!"

No lesson was learned by Fiona other than that when she finally gathers up enough impulse control to let go of the ball, SHE DOESN'T GET IT BACK.

Punitive forms of dog training never work. Even though my friend never raised her voice to her dog, she was relying on punishing her dog rather than trying to communicate with her dog.

Punishing your dog's behavior only creates an inward struggle with your dog: their anxiety vs. what you are going to do about their anxiety.

By starting interactions from a place of empathy, rather than powers struggles over who is aLpHa, you are in a position of communication rather than battle.

When Your Dog Is Struggling: Recognizing the Signs

Dogs can't verbally tell us when something is wrong, so it's up to us to be attentive and compassionate observers. Changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, anxiety, avoidance, or unusual bathroom habits, can all be indicators that something in their world is amiss. These issues can stem from a variety of causes such as fear, anxiety, illness, or simply not understanding what is expected of them.

How to Support Your Dog Through Difficult Times

Table of Contents

1. Show your Pup Calmness and Patience:

Dogs are incredibly sensitive to our emotions. Approaching behavioral issues with patience and calmness will help your dog feel safe and supported as you work through your dog's behavior together.

black puppy being trained

NOTE: I didn't say you had to be calm and patient. Fake it. It's only a moment, not forever. You can do anything for a moment.

As Liz Taylor said:
Put on some lipstick, pour yourself a drink, and pull yourself together.

2. Seek to Understand Your Dog Rather than Control Your Canine:

dog playing with young child outside
Dogs and children thrive through communicative Piloting rather than punitive domination

Take the time to figure out the root cause of the behavior. Is your dog getting enough exercise? Are they bored or lonely? Could there be an underlying health issue? Understanding the cause is essential in addressing the behavior effectively.

3. Positive Reinforcement for Your Dog's Good Behaviors:

Encourage good behavior through positive reinforcement. Rewards can come in many forms, such as treats, praise, or playtime. Positive methods not only strengthen your bond but also promote trust and mutual respect.

4. Gently Negate Your Dog's Negative Behaviors:

Note that I didn't say your dog's bad behaviors. Your dog isn't a bad dog; your dog just really sucks as being human. And know what? We don't always do our best at being human, let alone being a dog.

You have three choices:

  • you like your dog's behavior,

  • you don't like your dog's behavior, or

  • you're ambivilent...ambevilent...Ambien..., or you just don't care about your dog's behavior.

If you like your dog's behavior, then give them a positive. If you don't like their behavior, give them a negative.

Pease don't give your dog Ambien

Only your mother tells you when your face is dirty.

Now let your dog know they need to wash their face. At Darwin Dogs, we call this Piloting your dog. Learn how here.

5. Consistency with your Dog is Not Key; Follow-Through Is:

Lemme explain with my daughter, River (16F) as an example.

Parenting through Piloting, rather than punishing

River is getting a 4.1GPA. She does chores without being asked, and has the ability to effectively communicate a difference of opinion without being aggressive.


If a maggot were to crawl into her bedroom it would vomit and die.

Yes, that's how bad her room is.

But do I care? No! She's an amazing young woman (when did THAT happen?).

So no, I'm not consistent. But if I tell her to clean her room, yes, I will follow through. I always win 100% of the battles I choose to fight.

Same goes for your dog.

Dalmatian puppy giving paw

As I'm writing this, my dog Arwen is barking at the people outside mowing our lawn. Frequently I will give her a negative for barking like that. Right now, I'm not in the mood to get up and address the situation, so I won't. It's not worth fighting, and I know that "Stop or I'll Say Stop Again" will not work. So when I'm ready to address the situation properly is exactly when I'll address it. But damn skippy I will follow through when I do choose to address it.

6. Canine Education and Training:

Sometimes, we need to learn new skills to be better pet owners. Don't hesitate to seek out resources, attend training classes, or even hire a professional dog trainer. Investing in education is investing in your relationship with your dog.

7. Doggie Health Check:

Puppy getting check up

Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can help ensure that there aren't any health problems contributing to your dog's behavior. Addressing health issues early on can prevent them from escalating into bigger problems.

Piloting My Friend's Dog

Back to my friend's ball hoarding pup, Fiona.

Fiona was struggling to calm down enough from the (positive) sensory impulses revolving around playing ball with her owner. In other words, she had to keep her engine on idle in order to effectively chase after the ball, but she was unable to get herself cooled down enough to relinquish the ball without being able to stim on the ball.

In other words, Fiona needed that ball to calm down enough to drop the ball.

So how do you work past this behavior? Guide her towards positive behaviors. I simply brough out another ball. And rather than making her drop the first ball, she merely had to sit before I'd throw the second ball. That caused her to drop the first ball. Wash, rinse, repeat.

She received a positive for calming down and showing impulse control (the ball got thrown), and I didn't have to fight an unnecessary battle. Soon she was able to calm herself enough to drop the first ball before the second was even thrown.

Darwin Dogs Training: A Promise to You

Here at Darwin Dogs, we understand that your dog is not just a pet, but a cherished member of your family. We are confident in our ability to help guide you through understanding and improving your dog's behavior with compassion, expertise, and a methodology rooted in empathy and positive reinforcement.

Our approach is direct, clear, and grounded in a deep knowledge of canine behavior. We promise to offer you comprehensive support, empowering you to build a stronger, more harmonious relationship with your dog. And we stand by our methods with a promise: If you don't see improvements, we guarantee your satisfaction with our service or your money back.

In navigating the challenges of dog ownership, remember, it's not about a struggle for control but understanding and responding to your dog's needs. By adopting an empathetic approach, you're not just addressing behavioral issues; you're deepening the bond with your loyal companion. And remember, every challenge is an opportunity to grow closer and understand each other better. Let's embark on this journey together, with patience, knowledge, and a promise of unwavering support.

Find out more about out dog and puppy training, as well as our 30 Day Best Dog Ever packages that include our satisfaction guarantee. Stop training, and start communicating today.

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog and Puppy

Training and Behavior

Serving Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio


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