Pushy and Demanding Behaviours!
Let’s talk about pushy and demanding behaviours!
“S/he’s so demanding!” “My dog’s such a bully!” “S/he knows what s/he wants – and s/he usually gets it!”
Do any of these sound familiar? Usually followed by a slightly apologetic laugh and faked embarrassment? A dog is demanding because it has been taught to be, and is being allowed to be. Animals learn very quickly how to have their needs (food, shelter, warmth) met. They don’t “bully” out of malice or spite because they’re not capable of malice or spite. They bully because it gets them what they want or need and because it is being permitted. Unconditional love is what is filling our shelters with entitled, pushy, and sometimes downright intimidating dogs, who are entitled and pushy through no fault of their own. If you give your dog everything it wants, unconditionally, it doesn’t see you as a loving, benevolent provider. It sees you – and likely every other human – as a pushover. Yes; your dog will stay permanently glued to your side, gazing at you adoringly. But it won’t do this out of any true sense of loyalty. It will do it because you are making its life easy. You are giving your dog what you, as a human, think it wants – not what it actually wants; or rather, needs. Which is (altogether now!): leadership, boundaries, and structure. So now we’ve diagnosed the problem, what’s the solution? Fortunately, it’s pretty simple!
1. Stop Free feeding If your dog is demanding, vocal and pushy, leaving their food out all day is only going to reinforce that (as in, “Positive Reinforcement”). So, take it away: they have done nothing to earn it.
2. Limit feeding time Set a deadline. Food is down for 10-20 minutes maximum. Whatever is uneaten after that is removed and either stored for later (if safe to do so), or discarded. The next opportunity to eat is whenever the next mealtime is, even if that’s not until the following day – and the same rules apply.
3. Switch it up Change feeding times. So many owners ask if their training session can be at a certain time because, “I feed him/her at [x] o’clock,” or, even worse, “He has his dinner at [x] o’clock.” So now your dog now expects their food at a certain time. I even hear, “Yes – and s/he starts fussing or whining if I don’t put it down!” So don’t! Sit down and have a cup of tea. Or whatever’s your preferred beverage of choice 😉. Then, when the dog is relaxed and not expecting it, feed them. And always, but always, make them sit and wait for the food. If you want to, fast your dog for 24 hours one random day a week. It does them no harm, and it clears out their system.
4. Use food as treats Rather than using additional treats for rewards during training, set aside a portion of your dog’s food to use as training rewards. If you’re not doing this, adjust their meal size accordingly. Nobody wants an overweight or obese dog, and the health problems that arise from it.
5. Affection on demand If your dog is nudging, pawing or mouthing you – and others – for affection, don’t give it! It’s rude and pushy behaviour. Your dog has trained you to give them praise for doing nothing. To a dog, affection = praise & reward. If they equate it with other humans beside yourself, you have created an additional problem – because not everyone likes dogs or wants to interact with them.
6. Inappropriate / Untimely Affection As the saying goes, check yourself before you wreck yourself! Or rather, before you wreck your dog! When and why are your petting your dog? If your dog is targeting next door’s cat and you’re completely oblivious, sitting there petting Fido and telling him what a good boy he is, you’ve just inadvertently reinforced the behaviour. Pet and praise when your dog is doing something you want them to do! In addition, I often hear people saying, “Good boy, it’s okay, good boy,” in a soothing voice when the dog is stressed and showing reactive behaviours. I’ll give you three guesses why that dog is targeting every dog it sees – and the first two don’t count 😄
7. Toys on demand Put the toys away! A dog is not a child. Play is wonderful as a reward, as well as a learning opportunity. By all means, play with your dog, with their toys – but limit the interaction time, and put the toys away when you are done. Leaving toys around is lazy. It’s the dog-owner equivalent of setting your young child down in front of the TV, or sticking an iPad in their hands, and leaving them to get on with it. Play – especially tug and puzzle games – enables you to form a stronger bond with your dog. Never, ever leave your dog unsupervised with toys, no matter how indestructible the manufacturer claims them to be. Swallowed toys or toy parts can cause internal injuries and blockages, possibly resulting in an emergency visit to the vet and thousands of pounds in surgery.
8. Settle down! Work with a reputable, balanced trainer to teach your dog to just “be”. When a dog is not exercising, working, playing or eating, it should be able to just settle on its bed, or any other designated place, until it’s time to go do fun dog stuff. Your dog doesn’t need to – and should not – be getting up and following your every move.
9. Rushing the front door Your trainer can also work with you to teach your dog that the doorbell, or a knock at the door, is the cue to go to their place or, if you’re not using the Place command, to simply move away from the area. Not only is rushing the door (any door) dangerous, as it can lead to dogs being run over and people being knocked down, it’s also rude and intimidating. It teaches the dog that it controls the door and the space around it.
10. Interaction with visitors Your dog shouldn’t be interacting with people unless you, and they, permit it and the dog is not stressed by it. All interactions should be calm, and cease when you give the command. If you haven’t taught your dog to be calm and respectful around other people, then they should be tied back, restrained, or crated when visitors come. If a visitor arrives who you know will rile your dog up with silly baby talk and over-enthusiastic energy then again, crate them (the dog, not the visitor). The crate should always be a place of sanctuary, and those good associations are taught when crate training is first undertaken.
11. Constant dialoguing Stop doing it. Dogs don’t, for the most part, communicate verbally. Constant meaningless chit-chat and fussing is what makes your dog restless and confused. Communications with your dog should be clear, concise and serve a purpose: commands, corrections and praise. Combined with spatial pressure, clear communication is highly effective. Lastly, don’t repeat commands. Constant repetition = meaningless dialogue.
12. Ignore it! This is one of the best tools in your toolbox. Don’t indulge bullying, whether it’s vocal or physical. Unless your dog is unwell or in pain, ignore them. They will learn very quickly that the best way to get what they want is by using the good manners you have taught them.
And remember: changing how you live with your dog changes your dog’s behaviour. Try it, and see for yourself!