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Canine Behavior

Desired and Undesired Behavior

Behavior can simply be described as anything your dog does. Some of what they do by nature is desired and some of it is undesired. Certainly as a trainer, and I would think mostly for an owner as well, that maximizing desired behavior would be our goal. Replacing undesired behavior with desired behavior and also preventing undesired behavior from occurring,  reducing its frequency of occurrence and eliminating it all together.

Examples of undesired behavior often surround how they handle stress to different aspects of life that might stress them. Until they are familiar with sites, sounds and smells, they may respond in inappropriate ways.  The world constantly presents them with new stimuli; sounds, sites and smells in particular, but also touch (ground, floors and footing) and even taste potentially (although this is heavily influenced by the sense of smell) that they must interpret and determine how to behave.  Some dogs in some circumstances pick behavior we like to see rather than what we do not want to see, but since they are dogs and may choose a behavior we don’t want, leaving the choice up to them is not a great idea.

Increasing Frequency of Desired Behavior

My goal for all my dogs would include increasing the frequency of behavior I want to see and eliminating behavior I do not want to see.  This is defined by me, their leader and trainer. How we respond to the behavior they choose and how we guide them in their responses has a big influence on their entire life.  In particular how they handle stress from new things, people and places early on impacts very significantly how they will handle things later in life. If taught to deal with stress in calming ways, because they experience it in controlled ways and easy to manage anxiety levels, including with investigation and patience, maybe some concern, maybe needing reassurance from me (a glance), but not fear unless truly warranted.

Having a dog who exhibits almost exclusively desired behavior can be a very relaxing and rewarding experience whenever and wherever you go, with whatever you may do.  But there is no free ride to this point.  This achieved by taking time to work with your dog in some way each day.  This might be just training daily behavior and correct choices like leaving socks and shoes alone in favor of dog toys, or not playing with cables and other things, or it might be self control behavior like sits, downs and stays, or maybe you go further into some tricks or other amazing things they can do well.

Value of Relationship to Behavior and Performance

Behavior is only part of the overall picture for having a great dog who is well trained however.  The relationship you have with your dog and the performance of desired behavior during the ongoing activities of your life together are fundamentally important as well.  Whether this is walking down the street, visiting friends, or getting involved in dog related activities, having a great relationship will create a strong desire to perform the desired behavior no matter where they are and no matter what conditions there are when it is called for.  Performing desired behavior under stress, in new places and in new situations is very important for you and your dog.  This is when their behavior is truly understood by them.

The performance of behavior must extend beyond the home and training environments into how they respond to the circumstances they will face in their day-to-day environment, as they go out in the yard, onto the sidewalks and down the streets.  Going into stores, and parks where people gather, these are where we want to continue to see desired behavior.  Desired behavior we would want to amplify, or increase in frequency and likelihood of occurring under a greater variety of circumstances.  We do this by making sure we can have successful behavior and reward it often.

Shaping Behavior with Positive Methods

This is a process of shaping behavior through “Operant Conditioning” in controlled circumstances so we can mark and reward successful desired behavior offered by the dog.  Occasional failure to present the desired behavior is good, as the lack of reward, or planned failure as it is known, creates learning.  This is why we try to create controlled circumstances that reward success 75% – 80% of the time. Rewarding often creates confidence and trust. Failing without punishment keeps the desire to try again high and given opportunity to succeed they will make the correct choice for the reward.


Children who are punished for failed attempts tend to try any behavior less often in their attempt to avoid punishment and not just the behaviors that are punished. This is very true of dogs too where a dog will be more reluctant to try and find the correct behavior than a dog who is rewarded for success and not punished on failure.  We can try to extinguish the undesired behavior; reducing its frequency until it is not presented, or we can replace it with another response, which might be a new behavior, or it might be an already present behavior. In other words, we can be a passenger in their  life, driving a nail in our relationship each time we punish them, or we can lead and teach them how to behave in our world. Certainly minor corrections where there is no meanness, or abuse can be used and may have value ,but caution is always required if one wants a happy dog, willing to have fun and try new things without fear.

The Value of Training Behavior Beyond Daily Requirement

In addition to the behavior they exhibit on their own, or require for day-to-day life, there will generally be behavior we want our dogs to be able to perform  for their benefit and for ours as well.  This is certainly true for trainers and likely for most if not all dog owners as well.  There are many things like enjoying a good kennel, sitting or laying in place, or maybe doing a few tricks that strengthen skills like self control and ability to focus and think. Or maybe you want to get involved in dog sports and activities for the benefit of your cognitive and physical health as well as for your dog’s physical and cognitive health.

All Dog Owners are Dog Trainers

In fact since all dog owners are dog trainers and must lead their dogs, guiding their development, training their skills and shaping their world is our completely our responsibility. Shaping their behavior into desired behavior and replacing undesired behavior with that which is desired is what we do for our dogs throughout their lives, whether we do special activities with them , or not.

Canine Communication

Canine behavior is unique from other species and is certainly different from human behavior.  We tend to rely a lot more on verbal communication and rely on behavioral components less so in most cases (but not all).  Dogs are certainly the reverse.  They communicate almost exclusively behaviorally by nature.  They learn verbal sounds, expressions and tones as part of this behavioral communication between themselves and other dogs as well as between themselves and people.  Words themselves; we add and ask for and they can learn, but verbal language and communication is non existent aside from a list of commands that are assigned meaning in behavior by us.  They do not have cognitive skills to rationalize and reason. They see, smell, hear and act on what they believe is the best response to achieve their immediate goal – receive reward, or avoid punishment; depending on the environment they are raised and the circumstances they face. Of course in my home, since I love my dogs, I prefer them to seek rewards of attention, affection, food and play over avoiding things out of fear.


As for what is rewarding to dogs, or what are referred to as “unconditioned reinforcers,” these include receiving food, play, attention and affection. All will increase desired behavior although to varying degrees depending on the individual character, breed and experience of each dog.  These are often shaped by trainers into what we want them to be by training them intentionally and improving our relationship with our dogs as a result.

Behavior is about stimulus and response. That stimulus may be an agility jump in their path, or it may be something you do, it can be anything. The behavioral response is what they do about it. Unconditioned reinforcers that reinforce desired behavior and therefore increase its frequency include the desire for food, desire for play and for human attention are instinctive and untrained These are used as a reward, to increase a response we want by marking the occurrence of the desired behavior then providing the reward immediately following.  Although not trained they can certainly be influenced by training, the environment and experience.  Again, the uniqueness of this reinforcement to each dog requires experimentation and effort to learn what works best for each dog.

Natural versus Trained Responses

Conditioned responses are trained responses. All responses are behavior whether they are unconditioned (natural), or conditioned (trained) and all have meaning. Some are desired and some are not, some are precise and some are not, some are relevant to the dog and some are not, some are intense and some are not.  There is a great deal of variety and versatility in what may be required for a healthy and happy dog. Natural responses are more durable over time and are likely to stick with a dog unless a particular traumatic, or stressful event alters that response. Trained responses generally require some form of periodic reinforcement to maintain these skills and desired behavior. To the benefit of the intelligence of dogs though, I have seen well trained dogs retain incredible skills without training for long periods of time.

Constant Process Throughout A Dog’s Life

Shaping their behavior as they grow is a constant process, sometimes easier than at others.  Being able to carefully see and observer their behavior in detail, define what you would like to see in their behavior – desired behavior – and set out to understand it, break it down into components that can be trained and shaped into what is desired are not natural skills to us and must be learned by people in order to improve the care and behavior of their dog in a nice and positive way. Everyone seems to understand punishment by nature.  Understanding how to reward and encourage successful desired behavior is much less common, but their are many opportunities to learn this way.

What it Takes to be A Good Dog Owner and Dog Trainer

Knowing what we want, observing what we see, shaping with success, controlling excitement & stress, perfect practice makes perfect.  This is what we strive to achieve as dog trainers and as dog owners.  What is written on the pages here and on ones to follow is intended to help with this process.

Behavior Category Posts
Future topics will include:

Dog agility training
Pet behavior training
Observation of behavior
Defining criteria for behavior
Shaping behavior
Operant and Classical Conditioning (Associative Learning) (Clicker Training)
Positive reinforcement
Markers, marking behavior and reward placement
Rewards and value
Offering behavior
Providing choice and opportunity for success
Working at the threshold of success and failure
Planned failure
Behavior adjustment
Behavior modification
Excitement and self control
Attention and Focus
Stress, distress, anxiety fear and fight, or flight


Feel free to make any suggestions, comments etc. This Page will be updated.



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