Trainers say these bad dog behaviors are actually easy to fix — & here's how

Expert tips for harmony in the home.

ByChristina X. Wood
Originally Published: 
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There is no better company than a dog. Adoring, loyal, and accommodating, they are almost always willing to go for a walk, cuddle, or play, and they ask for little in return. Many of us learn something about friendship from our dogs. But dogs need to learn plenty of things about living indoors with humans, and it’s up to you to teach them. It’s worth the effort, of course.

A well-trained dog is the best roommate there is, while a dog that barks or failed potty training will get you in trouble with the neighbors and destroy your home. It might seem impossible to stop a dog from pulling the leash, chewing the furniture, barking, digging, or jumping on people, but dog trainers say these bad dog behaviors are actually easy to fix. Here’s how.

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1. Draw a clear line around where dog food happens

A dog that begs every time you sit down to a meal is not a good dinner guest. But this bad habit is easy to curb. The first step is to make it clear that dog meals never happen at the table.

“It’s essential to always feed your dog their meals in their food bowl,” advises Sarah-Anne Reed, holistic dog trainer at Pack Dynamics and consultant at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “You can give them ‘human food’, but it’s important to either include it in one of their regular meals or as a snack but always in their food bowl and never immediately after you eat. Otherwise, your dog will start expecting you to share your meals with them.”

These 8-cup, nonslip stainless steel dog bowls are an ideal place for your pup’s mealtime. The rubber base makes them quiet and stops them from traveling, and they go right in the dishwasher. If you have a messy eater, put them on this splash mat to keep your floors free of spilled water and dropped kibble.

2. Use a baby gate to block access to meal times & food prep areas

To make it crystal clear to your little scavenger that meal times and food prep time are off limits to dogs, Reed says to “block the kitchen access with a baby gate to prevent them from hunting for food and tripping over them with a hot pan.” This adjustable baby gate is easy to snap into even a wide kitchen entryway, and is 33 inches tall to stop an eager pup from hopping over.

When it comes to homes with children, Reed asks, “[Is your dog] standing near the highchair, with mouth open, while your baby eats, just hoping that something will fall from the sky?” If so, “Put your dog in another room, in their crate, or behind a baby gate while your baby eats.” This will help your dog break this bad habit and understand that you have clear boundaries around this.

Also? “Clean up anything that may have dropped on the floor after every meal,” she says, “before letting your dog join you.”

Extra tip: Don’t reward a begging dog

Use your words and attention to send a clear message that begging does not register with you. “If your dog starts barking, whining, or pawing for food,” says Reed, “completely ignore them. Don’t look at them, talk to them, or respond at all.”

Removing all the possible rewards for this behavior will make it pointless for your pup to engage in it. Eventually, if you are consistent about this, your dog will give up on this behavior. And then you get to live with a dog that doesn’t beg, which is a joy.

Leash pulling:

4. Try a comfy balance harness with multiple clip options

Getting dragged down the street by a dog takes much of the fun out of dog walks — at least for you. While the only way to completely fix this is through training, Nicole Ellis, certified professional dog trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover, says you can get better control by upgrading from a collar to a harness. “For the poor walkers and leash pullers, try a front clip harness,” she suggests. “It won't be a full fix, but it will improve your walking! I use Blue-9’s balance harness with my dogs.”

This harness lets you snap a leash at your dog’s chest for greater control, or on their back for more relaxing romps. It comes in five sizes and each one is super adjustable for a custom fit. “With every strap being adjustable,” she says, “it's perfect for the escape artists too.”

5. Use a Halti head collar to get better control

For even more control over your dog, “a Halti or no-pull harness can do wonders for dog owners who struggle with teaching their dog to walk properly,” says Danielle Muhlenberg, Dog behaviorist at PawLeaks.

The neoprene padded noseband on this head collar is comfortable for your dog, allowing plenty of movement, but it gives you terrific control. When you pull the leash, it turns your dog’s head, stopping all the fightback you get when you tug on a neck collar. “It's also great for reactive or even aggressive dogs since you control your dog's head positioning,” she says.

Extra tip: Take time to teach your dog to walk at a human pace

“Dogs naturally walk faster than humans and would never walk at the same speed in a straight line if they weren't connected to a human by a collar and lead,” explains Andy Ramshaw, trainer and owner of Venture Dog Training. “So the act of walking next to their person needs to be taught.”

And a good way to teach anything to a dog is with positive training sessions that focus entirely on teaching the skill — without the interruptions of traffic, squirrels, and other dogs — at least until your dog has achieved some basic mastery. “[Start] in a low distraction environment and [reward] the dog for walking with no tension on the lead,” says Ramshaw. “It is a difficult skill for dogs to learn but achievable with patience and gradual progression.”

6. Use different leashes for different environments, like this one designed for traffic

Knowing what kind of equipment to have on hand during your walk isn’t only about your dog. “There should be different walks for different situations,” says Ramshaw. If you are hiking in the wilderness, for example, you might be willing to give your dog more room to sniff and explore on a long leash.

But “a walk across a road or to a specific destination [should] be done with a loose lead and the dog in the heel position,” he says. And this short leash and traffic handler is great for those situations when you don’t want any squirrel-induced errors. This short lead — available in three lengths — has a solid handle for excellent grip and absolutely no give.

7. When you go for a long & adventurous walk, use a long leash

“A walk in the park or woods should be done at the pace of shopping,” says Ramshaw. And for that kind of stroll, it works to give each other more space. This 15-foot dog leash will let your dog explore while you enjoy the outdoors and some exercise, without any risk of the two of you getting separated or your pup indulging the instinct to chase a deer or rabbit. The super comfortable handle won’t chafe or give you blisters, and there is a metal loop so you can attach a poop bag or whistle.

8. Try a dedicated no-pull harness that’s effective & fashionable

Corinne Gearhart, Fear Free-certified trainer and The Doodle Pro™, is also a fan of front clip harnesses for dogs who are still working on their leash-walking skills. “My favorite humane walking tools are front clip harnesses,” she says. These are not only comfortable for your dog while giving you better control, but they are cute garments.

And, why not get one that will look good on your dog? For a “more luxury choice” Gearheart recommends this no-pull harness with its lush “velvet padding under the arms.” It comes in lots of sporty colors — as well as some neutrals — so your dog can have a look for every occasion.

Destructive Chewing:

9. Engage your dog as a scent detective

Many dog owners know the fury of coming home to a dog that has destroyed a favorite pair of shoes or the new couch. Destructive chewing is expensive, maddening, and can quickly wreak havoc on your relationship with your pet.

According to Erika Barnes, founder of PetSmitten, “many ... undesirable behaviors ... to some extent or another, may be caused by a lack of physical and mental stimulation.” Though it might seem counterintuitive, the solution can be to walk more or even teach your dog a skill.

“Before trying more complicated solutions, I always advise owners to see if increasing their dog’s daily exercise and providing more mental stimulation might resolve the problem. More often than not, it does!” She says “scent training... is a fantastic way to improve your dog’s mental stimulation, as it harnesses one of their most extraordinary abilities-- their sense of smell!” This nosework guide will teach you to teach your dog to track items down based on their smell.

10. Give your dog something appropriate & long-lasting to chew

“For the dogs being destructive and chewing furniture, get a classic Kong,” suggests Rover’s Ellis. Before you leave the house, “stuff it with some delicious items like peanut butter, yogurt, or fruit to entice them and keep them busy and encourage your dog to chew it. Chewing can be calming for dogs, so giving them an appropriate outlet can save your furniture and keep your pup busy. Need it to last longer? Put in the freezer for a longer-lasting [treat].”

11. Help prevent inappropriate chewing with a bitter apple spray

If your dog has developed an attachment to chewing things that are not on your approved list of dog-chew items, you might need to create a disincentive to keep them off those things before other measures will be effective. “Consider spraying those items with something bitter,” says Ellis.

This no-chew spray won’t hurt your dog or your shoes, but they won’t like chewing anything that’s been doused in it. You can even use it on a hot spot or itchy place so your pet doesn’t chew off their own fur.

12. Give your dog a soft & cuddly toy that’s fun to chew

After treating inappropriate chew items with bitter spray, Ellis suggests “[encouraging] your dog to chew ... appropriate toys. Give [them] different options like a soft toy, a hard chew, and more!”

This dragon squeaker toy is an engaging option. The textured bubble exterior gives a satisfying response, while the squeaker makes your canine feel like an apex predator. But there is no fluff to create a mess. It comes in lots of colors. And this thing is tough — your dog won’t tear it to shreds before you get home from the store. It gets over 22,000 five-star reviews from people who say their dogs love it.

13. Make sure you have a hard chew option for aggressive chewers

For dogs with serious jaw power, this chew toy is a long-lasting option. It has the appeal of a natural stick (classic dog favorite), but tastes like maple wood and shouldn’t splinter. You can toss it like a stick for your fetch games, too. Reviewers love it, giving it almost 12,000 five-star reviews.

“My dog is a chewer and was destroying my furniture,” said one of them. “After getting this he's calmed down and this is his go to chew toy. It's hard and almost indestructible and will last for a long time.”

14. Keep plenty of bully sticks around for healthy chewing

“Chewing is a normal, natural canine behavior and its repetitive nature is calming,” says Ramshaw of Venture Dogs. “Dogs aren't able to differentiate between 'legal' and 'illegal' chew toys! It's the owner's responsibility to set up the environment so the dog or puppy has no access to 'illegal' chews like shoes, glasses, remote controls, phones, etc. And to supply the dog with a variety of 'legal' chew toys.”

Stock up on these 6-inch bully sticks so you can hand your dog a “legal” chew toy anytime. They are made from grass-fed, free-range beef that has no hormones and antibiotics and are completely digestible. They also remove tartar and plaque and help to keep your dog’s teeth in tip-top shape.

15. Try these yak cheese chews for a long-lasting option

Variety is the spice of life, right? The same is true for dogs. So when it comes to healthy chewing options, Ramshaw recommends keeping an array on hand, “like bully sticks, pigs ears, yak milk, coffee wood, or nylabone chews.”

These yak cheese dog chews are exotic, delicious, and can last even longer than bully sticks, so they are a great way to add some spice. They are healthy for teeth, have no gluten or grains, and you don’t have to put up with an unpleasant smell just because your dog loves gross things. These don’t smell.

Trouble with housetraining:

16. Use a dog pen so you can keep a close eye on a potty-training pup

“Potty training and housebreaking is a process that takes consistency and patience,” says Liz Dimit, Trainer for Dogtopia. You have to have time for it and you have to get good at spotting when it’s time to quickly get that dog outside. Until then, your carpets are in danger.

“The biggest tool I tell people to invest in is a puppy pen and tether,” she says. “That way when [you are] home with the pup, you always have eyes on them.” Because you can’t catch impending potty time if your puppy is out of sight. This metal dog pen provides a big (yet contained) play area and folds up when you don’t need it.

Dimit adds, “It’s also very beneficial to create a schedule for your dog as dogs thrive on consistency. The schedule should consist of taking them out regularly, especially after key moments. This includes after they wake up, after they eat, after they play, etc.”

17. Use a hands-free leash to keep your potty-training dog always at your side

Until the pup has mastered [potty training],” says Dimit. “You must always have eyes on them.” If you don’t have space to set up an indoor dog pen, one option for keeping them always in sight is to tether them to you. “Most people aren’t always able to have a dog pen or a sectioned-off dog area,” she says. “So, tethering them to you means you know where and what they are doing during that house-breaking learning process.”

This hands-free leash is the perfect tool for this. It clips around your waist so you can use both hands and has a flexible bungee so you don’t get yanked too hard. The quick-grip handle lets you grab your dog fast if you need to.

Marking their territory:

18. Use doggy diapers when you know your pup is likely to mark

If mistakes keep happening or your dog marks in predictable situations, save the carpets and furniture by putting a dog diaper on your pup.

“I'd recommend belly bands for dogs who mark indoors and especially for dogs who don't mark in their own home but mark indoors in public or on hotel trips when they smell other dogs (very common!),” says Gearhart, The Doodle Pro™. “They are reusable and washable but travelers can use feminine pads or liners inside and dispose of those instead of washing the full belly band on trips.” Your dog might look a bit silly sporting one of these but that’s a lot better than getting a huge bill from the hotel for damaged carpets.

Excessive barking:

19. Give your dog something more interesting to do than bark

“The first thing to understand is why your dog barks excessively,” says Dr. Courtnye Jackson, Veterinarian and founder of The Pets Digest. “Is it out of boredom or do they really just like scaring people that pass by your home?” If your dog is barking because they have nothing better to do, bring in some entertainment. “A quick fix is to engage a little more by taking them on longer walks or using smart toys like snuffle mats or puzzles that keep them preoccupied for a while.”

This big snuffle mat is sure to be more interesting than the sound of their own bark. It taps both your dog's brain and that powerful sense of scent to engage them in a hunt for food. Hide some treats in the folds and secret places on the mat and your dog will — quietly — get to work finding them.

20. Use a dog puzzle to keep your dog’s mind (& mouth) engaged

Here’s a dog puzzle that will get your dog thinking. In order to access the treats you have stashed in all the secret compartments, that clever canine will have to use their sense of smell and their paws to find them, and then slide the pieces to unlock the maze. It’s fun and challenging, and there is a snack at the end. That’s much more fun than barking. And you can put the whole thing in the dishwasher to de-slobber it.

21. Have treats at the ready to teach & reward your dog for silence

“If your dog has just grown accustomed to barking at everything, teaching them to be quiet on command can be useful,” says Jackson. “If your dog is treat-motivated this is fairly easy through positive reinforcement with treats when they are quiet upon command.” Keep your treats in this treat pouch so you can quickly and consistently reward your quiet dog, while reminding them of the command, whenever silence happens.

22. Invest in small tasty treats that are easy to keep on hand

If you are giving your dog lots of treats to teach them when they are being a good dog by not barking, try something small and meaty like these soft dog treats. They are tiny and are a tasty mix of turkey and duck. They have healthy fatty acids and are grain-free, so you don’t have to worry about feeding your dog lots of junk food.


23. Use long toys or a flirt pole to keep teeth away from your hands

“Puppy nipping is also [a] common behavior we want to curb,” says Dimit. “Socialization with other dogs is a key factor to help your dog learn restraint. Dog daycare is a great option to give your dog the socialization they crave and require. [But] when a pup starts getting nippy with humans, we need to change their access to hands and fingers,” she says. “This means using longer toys, switching out a toy during tug or fetch, or also utilizing a flirt pole which will keep arms and fingers well out of reach.”

This flirt pole has three squeaky toys that attach to a pole so you can play with your dog, but keep your hands far out of the fray.

Extra tip: Teach your dog not to nip you by telling them it hurts

Dogs nip because that’s how they play with each other. People don’t like it, of course, but you have to teach your puppy to play gently. “When playing with a puppy that starts to bite,” says Jackson, “quickly remove your fingers, hands, or what[ever] the pup is biting and make a high-pitched squeal.” This is what a puppy would do if a dog nipped too hard, so your dog will quickly get the message.

“Do not play with them again until they have stopped the action,” she says. “Repeating this usually works because the puppy understands that they won't get attention if they nibble and the high-pitched squeal alerts them to the fact that their bites may be hurting you. It may take a little while but most puppies eventually understand.”

Jumping on people:

24. Provide your dog a platform as an alternative to jumping

A dog that jumps on guests can do serious damage to your social life and even knock someone over and cause injury. It’s definitely something you want to curb, but it’s a challenge because humans are taller than dogs.

“For ... dogs that jump on guests at the front door, try placing a training platform like The Klimb, for your dogs to be elevated and wait patiently to be pet,” says Ellis. The dogs get what they want — to greet people — but your guests don’t get assaulted with sharp claws or an exuberant dog.

Extra tip: Teach your dog to sit when people approach

If your dog jumps on you when you get home, or on strangers while you are out walking or at the dog park, you will have to train both of those behaviors away. “You’ll want to work on the ‘sit’ command every time a person approaches your pup,” says Dimit.

“It’s also helpful to only have the visitor pet your dog if all their paws are on the ground. For jumping when mom or dad comes home ... ignore the dog until they settle down and then praise them when they are calm. Anytime we give attention, even to ... voice displeasure, the dog will take it as encouragement.”


25. Give the digging dog an indoor digging toy

“Digging can be frustrating whether it's in your backyard or on your couch cushions,” says Ellis. “But it's a natural innate desire of many dogs. Instead of reprimanding them, give your dog an outlet.” This digging toy lets them dig to their heart’s content anywhere in your house, without damaging the floors or furniture. Load it with treats and give them something worth digging for. “My dogs love the iDig in our house, it tires [them] out, keeps [them] busy, and [they have] fun doing it.

26. Let them dig in their own sandbox

Outside digging can also be an expensive problem, especially if your yard is landscaped and doesn’t have a fenced area where the dog can happily go to town. But, again, the solution is the same: Give your dog a place to dig that’s acceptable.

“I usually recommend a sandbox to many owners whose dogs are digging aficionados,” says Muhlenberg from PawLeaks. “It provides an outlet for your dog to still keep digging without harming the landscape and is probably the best solution, apart from a costly fence system.” This wooden sandbox is sturdy and will look attractive in your yard. It even has a cover to keep rain from soaking the sand or from small animals from using it for purposes other than digging.

27. For a budget-friendly dig option, try this burrow toy

To scratch that digging itch on a smaller scale, a burrow toy also keeps minds and paws active. This version has six squeaky little squirrels that can be stuffed deep into their log home, ready for eager paws to dig them out. It also has nearly 42,000 five-star reviews.

Says one happy buyer: “My dog is obsessed with this toy. She’s a beagle, so she tends to be a terror with soft toys and mostly food motivated so I was worried she’d either destroy it in two seconds or have no interest. NOT THE CASE! She loves digging the squirrels out and squeaking them. I make it more difficult by shoving other toys in too so they’re harder to get out.”