Most ‘behavioural problems’ are the result of a mismatch between what dogs want to do, and what humans want them to do. We try to bring up dogs so that they understand and abide by human rules, but it’s not always easy. We may expect too much of a dog, or not understand what they’re trying to tell us, or how much of what we tell them they can understand. We and our dogs can both be a bit impulsive and make mistakes, especially when we’re stressed out. That's normal, and can happen to the best of us. The key to improving behaviour is to teach a dog how to behave, to set the dog up for success.

A lot of problems can be prevented and tackled through training, in the broad sense of teaching dogs rules and skills to help them cope with the human world, as well as teaching dogs skills so we can share enjoyable activities together. Some training games are useful for teaching a number of different skills. The ‘paper plate recall’, for example, helps to teach self control, accepting restraint, and sending a dog to a target, as well as strengthening recall. It’s described in ‘Recall’, but is also a useful start if you want to teach a dog to go to a mat and ‘settle’, which is handy to tackle ‘Attention Seeking’ when you’re busy and don’t need canine help. Settling a dog is also a good idea when you have visitors and want your dog to lie quietly in a basket rather than jumping on them, so helps tackle the problem of ‘Jumping up’.  Retrieve and tug games can be great fun for you and your dog, as well as teaching a ‘drop’ or ‘give’, which help to counter ‘Resource guarding’.

It makes sense to work with a professional trainer, or someone especially dog-savvy, who can give you ideas for training games tailored to your dog, and help you to structure a training programme. This is especially true for people with dogs from working lines which have been bred for particular behaviours that are an asset if the dog is trained to use its talents, and a problem if the dog is left to work out how to use them. Gundogs, for example, may like to carry objects around, great if you’re retrieving, not so great if your dog is playing ‘chase me if you want your sock back’.

Food rewards are used a lot in training, but they may seem boring to a dog who really wants to retrieve or tug. Even so it’s sometimes a good idea to bring out a stinky treat, to direct a dog’s attention away from a wildly exciting game, because dogs can get overexcited and bitey when they’re happy, and need to calm down. As explained in ‘Biting’ not all bite injuries are caused by ‘bad stress’.

Sometimes we’re not sure why a dog is behaving a certain way, and trainers can help us to interpret our dogs, and send them clearer messages. This is especially true for ‘Aggressive Threats’ (growling or snarling) which are a worry for many owners. 'Aggression' is a ‘catch all’ term for most people, and is often used to mean 'intending harm, or inflicting harm', including chasing cats or sheep. Chasing is technically predatory behaviour, or play rather than aggression, and can have more serious consequences than what is technically known as 'aggression'. Chasing can involve a dog trying to get close to a small animal, or worse, a child, with intent to harm, whereas growling is used to create distance between a dog and a potential threat. Chase games can begin as play for a dog, then change to become serious predation, if a dog gets carried away. Teasing out why dogs might endanger humans and other animals helps to prevent problems. Dogs can also be labelled 'aggressive' if they scare strangers with alarm barks, or by jumping up on them, without doing or intending to do any harm. It's reasonable for people to expect dog owners to control their pets so they don’t harm or scare other people, or other animals, so these issues need to be tackled, even if we know the dog means no harm.

In general, we can do a lot to ensure that our dogs behave well in public, like teaching them to sit nicely when we talk to strangers, and teaching a sit at a distance, and a solid recall, so they don’t rush headlong into trouble. We have to know our dog’s limits, leashing or confining them if we can’t trust them to behave well, and trying not to expose them to situations they can’t cope with. ‘Resource guarding’, ‘Touching, Handling and Vet Phobias’  ‘Barking’, ‘Jumping up’ and ‘Chasing’ are common problems where dogs can behave in ways that people see as ‘aggressive’.  However, if you’re worried about your dog’s aggressive behaviour, do find an experienced professional who can help. The earlier you can do this, the more chance you have of a happy outcome.

Separation Anxiety’ is often coupled with ‘Destructiveness’, but some dogs simply like chewing and ripping items to shreds – Labradors are notorious for this! It can help with both problems to structure the day and develop routines, so the dog knows what’s happening. Uncertainty can add to the stress of having one’s human go away for long periods, whereas a regular walk before the human leaves, coupled with a chew toy or kong, can help to settle a dog.  A trainer can help with developing daily structures and routines suited to you and your dog.

Walking dogs in the UK isn’t always easy, especially in built-up areas, because you meet a lot of other humans and their dogs. There are some tips in ‘Walking Together’, but again, training classes can help you to set up controlled situations, to teach your dog how to cope with the world out of doors.  Owners today face more challenges than in the days when dogs could walk the streets unattended, but we do have the benefit of better help with teaching our dogs how to cope with the world.