Dog Behavior: Why Does My Dog Do What He Does

“It never changes!” I keep trying to teach him not to chase and jump but he keeps doing it”. Why does my dog do what he does?  Shouldn’t he know better?”

You’ve seen this. A child “in fun” runs from a puppy or dog in the back yard. The dog behavior or “what the dog does” is to immediately give chase. Most times it winds up with a child crying. And, most times, no one saw what happened and the dog gets the short end of the stick. Sound familiar?

This “natural dog reflex” or “prey drive” includes running, chasing and biting.

I repeat, this is a natural dog reflex not a bad behavior in and of itself.

If no one is supervising the kids and dogs it can, and often has, ended in the puppy or dog nipping or biting the child. Now maybe the dog or puppy just mouthed and did not seriously bite, but it deserves to be discussed how a dog’s natural reflexes or “drives” can be incited to cause bad dog behavior OR good dog behavior.

Dog Behavior

You may not have thought about looking at your dog’s behavior as it relates to his actions or activities of his “natural dog reflexes or drives “so let’s take a look at what makes up each drive/reflex.

Prey drive: In the example I gave of the child running from the puppy or dog, it was clear what happened. It’s not a good idea to allow kids to run from or chase a dog. This just activates a dog’s prey drive and often amps them up to a higher, more intense level of play for which kids may not be ready.

Better way to channel prey drive

Instead, you would do better to teach your kids to play fetch with your dog so that you channel the dog’s prey drive in a positive way, like chasing the ball.

It’s always good to have rules to the game. Require your dog to sit before your child throws the ball. That keeps things fair and balanced.

Another productive way for your kids to play with your dog using his prey drive would be “hide and seek.” Do very short distances at first then begin to increase the difficulty as your dog better understands how the game is played. When the kids hide, they can help the dog find them during hide and seek by occasionally calling the dog’s name. Your dog gets praised and treated when he finds your child.

Defense drive: Here’s another good example of how kids can innocently provoke bad dog behavior. You’ve no doubt seen kids go up to the family dog quickly and with no warning grab the dog and hug it tightly. This scares the dog and the dog’s natural reflex is to run away or bite.

We are asking a lot of our dogs to ignore their natural reflexes or instincts to run or bite when a child suddenly grabs them without warning.

Since defense drive includes flight or bite, you can see how critical it is that you spend a lot of quality time desensitizing your puppy or dog to lots of kids and kid activity – on leash at first.

Better way to avoid defense drive

Here’s how you do it. Teach all kids to approach your dog “slowly” especially if your dog is a little uncertain around kids. As you know, kids can be highly emotional and loud.

Supervise having kids give your dog a food treat but requiring the dog to sit first. This will help the dog make positive associations with kids.

Remember, just because a dog gets used to one child doesn’t mean he will be okay with all kids. The more kids he likes the better.

Many owners take their puppy or dog to school to pick up their kids. With a few food treats in your pockets to dole out to the kids, there’s the perfect opportunity to work your dog around kids. If you are doing this already, hats off to you! Good job.

My rule of thumb for folks with new puppies is to desensitize your puppy to 90 kids in 90 days.

Why 90 days?

The window of socialization for puppies usually closes around 5 months of age. If you get your puppy at 8 weeks (2 months) then you have about 3 months or 90 days to get your puppy really good with kids and people.

The Fun Drive:  Pack drive: This is the fun drive as it includes activities that have the potential to create the ideal relationship you would want to have with your dog.  Let me explain. Pack drive includes all of the following activities: eating, sleeping, resting, grooming, walking, game playing and yes, obedience training. 

Certainly you can see the possibilities here!

One-on-one interaction with your dog in these activities provides opportunities to work on teaching your dog the rules by which he needs to live. That is, giving before he receives anything from you. Now let’s go through a few so that it becomes clear.

It’s a simple rule of requiring a sit and/or down for all of these things: his food, access to your furniture, before going for a walk or going, before passing through doors, before fetching a ball or engaging in a game of tug.

To keep him sharp on his obedience commands and to give him a reassuring “sense of place” as a follower, work on his obedience training (sits and downs) 3 times daily for just 2 minutes. He will enjoy your enthusiastic participation!

Everything I’ve mentioned does not take a lot of time. That’s the cool part. It just takes being consistent. But above all, have fun with your dog.

Thanks for stopping by and allowing me share my dog training knowledge with you. I truly hope you found answers and hope for helping your dog and his behavior.  Don’t be a stranger.  I’d love to hear what you think.  Please come over to my Facebook page to let me know how this article impacted you and the way you think about dog training.  Are you looking at it a little differently?

“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”

Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad.  Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog. 

His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.