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Badly Behaved or Struggling?


Very recently I saw an article intended for parents/guardians of young kids; the article described the benefit of reframing kids who were “misbehaving” as kids who “were struggling to cope in a particular situation.” If you saw the kids as misbehaving you were more likely to get frustrated, angry and punishing. But if you saw the kids as struggling to cope, you’d be more likely to remain calm, patient and helpful.

 

Like many things, there’s a parallel here with dogs. Maybe especially with dogs. Dogs really don’t “misbehave” just to misbehave. If your dog is lunging and reactive with other dogs, he’s not doing it because he’s bad. What’s more likely is that he’s doing it because he’s extremely insecure, he’s worried about the other dogs, and he’s putting up a defensive front to ensure that they’ll keep their distance.

 

Once you realize this, you can take more proactive steps to correct the dogs behavior. The dogs problem is that he’s worried/afraid/concerned about the other dogs, so your first job is to teach him that he’s going to remain safe around them. This can be done by keeping distance from other dogs until he relaxes, helping him focus on doing other things such as easy obedience work or just playing with you, and then repeating this (gradually moving closer towards the other dogs) as long as he’s remaining calm.

 

Likewise, the majority of dogs who tear up all your belongings and have accidents in the house while you’re at work are having trouble handling your absence. It could be separation anxiety, it could be an excess of pent-up energy with no outlet. Either way, the dog is not misbehaving so much as having difficulty, and needs your help in learning to be calm while you’re gone.

 

Everyone loves a dog who never has any problems and takes the world in stride, but this type of dog is few and far between. The vast majority of dogs need their handlers help on occasion, or sometimes frequently, to cope with a difficult human world. If they do not receive this help, they struggle – and the struggle usually looks like bad behavior.

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