Encouraging good behavior and discouraging bad behavior with kind, positive reinforcement is the key to having a well-behaved dog. But you can only reinforce your dog’s behavior if you’re with him. A dog who misbehaves only when you’re gone presents a tricky challenge, but with a little understanding and some personal behavior behavior modification, you can make sure he’s as well behaved when he’s alone as he is when you’re there. The trick is to figure out the cause of his bad behavior and remove the motivation.
Separation anxiety and boredom are the two most likely reasons Lucky forgets his schooling when you’re away. He acts out either through distress at being isolated or through the need to entertain himself in your absence. Fortunately, you can rectify both of these issues with only small adjustments to your daily routine and habits.
Types of Misbehavior
Destructive behavior, such as digging, chewing and ripping up bedding are common solo misdemeanors. It’s very frustrating to return home to find your normally well-behaved dog has wrecked his basket or worse, your favorite shoes. Howling and barking are common bad behaviors that dogs perform when you’re gone, too. These habits can cause problems for your neighbors, so it’s essential to eliminate them. Soiling is another example of misbehavior that's associated with dogs when they're alone. You think you’ve housebroken Lucky only to return to a smelly mess. Welcome home.
For barking, howling and soiling the house when you’re gone, you’ll need to address the core problem of why Lucky does this. But if Lucky is exhibiting destructive behavior, you can prevent this behavior quite easily. Remove all objects he isn’t allowed to chew or bite, such as shoes, bags and bedding, and in their place, put chew toys. This won’t tackle the root of the boredom or anxiety problem, but will reduce his opportunities to misbehave.
Noted dog trainer Cesar Milan recommends you take Lucky for a long walk to burn off energy before you leave the house. Without that excess energy, he’ll be more interested in sleeping and resting than misbehaving. He also advocates providing lots of play and mental stimulation before you leave, so Lucky has had his fix of mental stimulation. This reduces the chances of his becoming bored when alone. Leave Lucky a selection of challenging toys, such as food puzzles and chews, to keep boredom at bay while you’re out. To encourage appropriate chewing in a destructive dog, engage him in play with the chew toys on a daily basis and give him lots of fuss when he shows an interest in the toys. This teaches him that chewing the appropriate toys has a positive outcome.
What Not to Do
Never scold your dog if you return home to discover evidence of misbehavior. You’ve already missed your opportunity to issue correction, so you just need to suck it up and focus on prevention. Dogs learn by association, so even if you do scold Lucky, he won’t know what he’s being punished for.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.