Training Your Dog: 9 Hazardous Habits (and How to Break Them)


About six months after we moved in together, my husband started dropping hints that he wanted a dog.

I was opposed to the idea because I didn’t want my social schedule to be interrupted by the responsibility of having to walk and feed the dog constantly, but more importantly, I didn’t want the creature ruining my stuff with all its disgusting doggy habits. (See also: 9 Items Every New Doggy Parent Should Own)

Alas, eventually I caved. I even grew to love the little buggers — we have two now — despite that they’ve decimated my social schedule and some of my stuff.

So you don’t have to suffer the same fate, here are nine potential problems you’ll encounter as a pet parent and the corresponding ways to curb and prevent these hazardous habits in the future.

1. Dog Pulling During Walks

Unless you train your dog to walk by your side, he will have no idea that that’s what you want him to do. You can enroll your dog in an obedience class if you want to (they can be costly), or you can research tutorials online that will teach you the steps to successfully train your dog not to pull during walks. I recommend the latter because it's free, but the compromise is that you'll be the one doing all the work, which, to make it seem less daunting, you should think of as quality bonding time with your buddy.

I also recently came across this humane dog walking and training system called Walk in Sync that is great for DIYers. The harness is specifically designed to help you train your dog to stay by your side without hurting him in any way.

2. Dog Chewing Destructively

There are several reasons why the dog might be chewing your stuff, including teething, boredom, and anxiety. The first step in resolving this problem is to put away the clothes, bags, shoes, etc., that you’d like to stay intact. Is it really your dog’s fault that you leave your smelly shoes thrown about the house? To prevent the dog from ruining anymore of your things, provide it with items it should be chewing, like sturdy toys and bones. If your dog is chewing furniture that you can’t move out of the way, consider applying a nontoxic bitter spray to the area. You can also crate your dog to prevent chewing while you’re away, provided that you don’t plan to be gone for an extended amount of time.

3. Dog Jumping Up

Most dogs get excited when they meet new people — and that’s OK. But it’s not OK for them to jump up and bother someone else. To keep your dog’s feet firmly on the ground during these encounters, prevent him from running to the person. Allow the person to come to him and greet him while he has all four feet on the ground. In situations where you can’t stop him from jumping, inform the recipient of the incoming offense to gently push the dog off and reprimand him with a strong "NO." If the dog persists, ignore him until he calms down, at which time you can dole out loving attention.

4. Dog Begging for Food

Believe it or not, begging for food is not a natural behavior in dogs — it’s a learned behavior that you taught him whether you meant to or not. To nip this problem in the bud, start a routine of crating the dog when it’s mealtime in your house. This will keep the dog from begging, and it’ll keep you from feeding it the table scraps that further complicate the problem. If you don’t want to crate your dog while you eat — perhaps this is the time you feed him, too — be sure to give him a stern command to find another place to rest, away from you and your food, while you eat.

5. Dog Digging in the Back Yard

The same reason your dog chews your furniture applies to why he’s digging in your back yard — boredom and anxiety. To keep your dog occupied with other, more constructive (or at least, less destructive) activities, keep toys in the backyard or add exercise equipment that will tire the dog out so it won’t have the energy to dig.

6. Dog Not Responding to His Name Outdoors

Not every dog is the same — I think one of mine has ADD — and that means that not every dog will behave the same outdoors. This is an especially troubling fact when you need to get the dog’s attention. If your dog isn’t responding to his name, spend more time reinforcing it in controlled environments at first by using treats as rewards. As time passes, gradually introduce your dog to public situations, call his name, and reward him with a treat when he comes. Eventually he’ll get the idea, and you’ll have an easier time getting his attention when you need it.

7. Dog Barking Uncontrollably

Dogs bark for all kinds of reasons — out of fear, to warn of danger, because of anxiety, a need for attention — but none of these reasons are acceptable if the barking is incessant. In the past when someone rang my doorbell, my dogs would run to the door and bark. After having enough of that nonsense, I started sending the dogs to their room whenever the bell rang. After a while they became conditioned to the situation, and now they go directly to the room when the bell rings. If your dog is barking just to bark — no particular reason that you can identify — consider that it may be caused by anxiety, and you should take the necessary steps to make the dog less anxious, starting with visiting the vet.

8. Dog Playing Too Rough With Other Dogs

It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt — and in this situation, someone can get hurt very badly. If your dog is rough while with other dogs, it’s important to remove him immediately and give him a "time out"; the first thing you want to teach is that it is not OK for him to behave like that. Also try to limit the size of the group in which your dog plays — three or four dogs is ideal — to prevent other dogs from instigating the rough play. Spaying or neutering your dog early also can help prevent this problem from developing later in life.

9. Dog Eating Its Own Poopy

I know this sounds disgusting, but it’s totally a real problem. I’ve witnessed it, in fact, from a friend’s dog. Gross, gross, gross. If this sounds like your dog, there are a couple things you can do to keep your dog from eating its own poo. If it’s a consistent problem, cut down on the time you leave your dog alone outside. Instead, watch him while he does his business and clean it up right after. You may also want to consider that his diet is a contributing factor. Perhaps he’s not getting the nutrition he needs, which may mean it’s time to switch his food or visit the vet.

What annoying or hazardous dog habits have you dealt with? Please share your training tips and tricks in comments!

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Lars Peterson's picture

Just jumping in to second the suggestion for the leash used in the Walk in Sync video and course (haven't taken the course; I can only speak to the leash).

The staff at my terrier's obedience school advised that we switch to the "Easy-Walk Harness" (which looks to be the same thing), and walks were a breeze after that. Amazing. No pulling whatsoever.

Can't recommend it enough.

Another little trick to eliminate chewing and barking and other behaviors related to anxiety and boredom is regular, vigorous exercise. A tired dog is a quiet dog.

Guest's picture

You can buy additives to put in your dog's food to keep them from eating their own poop. My vet suggested adding about 2 Tbs of canned pumpkin (Not pumpkin pie filling) to their food if I didn't want to buy the commercial additives. Also, to help your dog to not be overly aggressive with other dogs it is very important to socialize them with other dogs starting from the time you bring them home. Also people need to realize that training their dog is a daily activity and all members of the household need to be involved - you will never be finished training your dog, it is a life long process. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort, go visit your pet owning friends and offer to walk or play with their dog.

Guest's picture

These are awesome tips. We had a hard time training our dog before but with patience and dedication, we were able to get rid of some problems. There's til the barking and the jumping but not as frequent. And no more biting of slippers and furniture.