Should You Ignore Your Dog's Bad Behaviour?

Luzelle & Puppy Sage of HausTralis Malinois at Starbucks Botany Auckland

By Luzelle Cockburn

There seems to be a growing number of people who believe that ignoring a dog’s bad behaviour will make it go away.

What could happen if you ignore your dog’s bad behaviour? What will happen if you do something about your dog’s bad behaviour? What could the potential fallout be of ignoring your dog’s bad behaviour?

“What could happen if you ignore your dog’s bad behaviour? What will happen if you do something about your dog’s bad behaviour? What could the potential fallout be of ignoring or not ignoring your dog’s bad behaviour?”

Does Ignoring Bad Behaviours Work?

The problem is that ignoring bad behaviour seldom makes it go away. Because many behaviours that we don’t want, like barking, stealing food, jumping up and chewing on your hands feels good. It’s called “self-reinforcing” because the dog actually enjoys doing the behaviour themselves. It feels good. So ignoring it really won’t make it go away.

Without going into a long scientific discussion and telling you about Skinner and Breland (and their beliefs which skewed their results) etc. the short answer is that if something happens that your dog dislikes it will reduce the occurrence of the behaviour (you can only punish the behaviour if it reduces, if the bad behaviour did not reduce, punishment was not applied according to the scientific meaning). If something happens that the dog likes (the consequence for doing the behaviour), the dog is more likely to do it again.


So let’s use an example: the dog tries to steal food off the bench and the breadboard fell on their head without food. Your dog is less likely to try and steal food off the bench again. If your dog tried to steal food off the bench and they got the food and nothing bad happened when they stole the food then they are more likely to do it again.


And here it gets interesting! In the case of escape artists, every success the dog has gives the dog more hope of success. Hope is great, but when it comes to things like a dog staying in their crate or run, I want to squash that hope from an early age. Because once a dog has hope, they will be more persistent in trying to gain what they want. And that can make it really difficult to deal with a dog who is escaping!

 The Victim Mentality

The whole thing of ignore bad behaviour and reward only the good has turned dog owners into victims. And it really isn’t helping you or your dog! Guys, you’re not the victim here. You’re your dog’s fireman, you’re here to take charge!

What happens when you act like a victim? Well, for one, you’re not acting like a leader. And your lack of action usually leads to a return of bad habits or a worsening of bad habits. But, I’m not blaming you. People spreading lies like “you should ignore your dog’s bad behaviour” isn’t helping.

What makes you look like a victim? Not acting when your dog is doing something they shouldn’t. Like for instance, ignoring barking, carrying on walking when your dog is pulling on the leash. If we don’t want those behaviours to continue we need to do something. Anything. I’m telling you now, please don’t just stand there and ignore your dog’s behaviour. If your dog is barking, whining, pulling on leash, or ignoring you, you do need to act!

What You Can Do!

What sorts of things can you do? Because I know from my own experience that one of the main reasons I acted like a victim when Zak did things is because I didn’t know what to do. I’d been told “ignore the bad and reward the good” but Zak just wasn’t that kind of dog. He wasn’t a Border Collie so that strategy didn’t work for him. So let’s cover a few examples here to help you:

I mean, OK, you can’t rub your dog’s nose in their mess, we’ve been told that a million times. So what can you do? Reduce the area of your home your dog has access to during the day without your supervision. Like, limit them to the laundry and outside only (personally I prefer a kennel and a run, but I do realise that some people don’t like those). Go outside with your dog and make sure they do their business outside. Yes, if that means you’re outside for 3 hours, that’s unfortunately what it means. Put toileting on cue so you won’t need to be outside for 3 hours. Best thing I ever did!

What about barking? When your dog barks when the doorbell rings, say “thank you”. If your dog barks after you say “no” then they can go into a designated naughty crate or the toilet (remove the toilet roll) for a few minutes (1-2 or however long it takes them to stop barking). If your dog stops barking after “thank you” then they can get a treat! Simple as that.

Of course these strategies might not work for every dog. And you must act every time it happens. But I’ve seen enough evidence that consistent action on the owner’s part can at least reduce if not eliminate barking within a week.

What if your dog is doing something else? Or what if you’ve been practicing your training for a week and your dog is still not improving? Well, then flick me an email! Let’s work out what could be a more effective strategy that can help you help your dog. I know every dog is different, and the suggestions I’ve made here might not work! But they’re the ones that most often work for me and most of the SolutionK9 Tribe.

What did you learn from this blog post? Comment below and tell us your views!

Need Some Help with Your Dog?

The whole reason I’m a dog trainer is to keep dog out of shelters and rescues and off death row. The best way to do that is to keep dogs with their families! So, I’ve put together some AWESOME FREE resources to help you with your dog! It’s all kept in The Dog Training Lab! 

What information is in there? Tips to help you with walking your dog on lead, toilet training, problem barking and so much more! What are you waiting for, head over now and get proven help with your dog!

Hey, I’m Luzelle!

If it has to do with transforming your naughty, embarrassing, frustrating or worrying dog into an obedient, well behaved member of the canine society that you can actually enjoy spending your life with, I can help.

Wanna know more? Check out the SolutionK9 About page!

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