The backdrop to dog behavior: Is it really how you raise them?

A brown and black dog with their head tilted

Imagine adopting a dog and being so excited to work with them and form that amazing bond every pet parent dreams about. You did your research, and you purchased all of the gear. 

But two months after you bring your new family member home, they’re still afraid of loud noises. You've done everything you can to help them feel safe, so why are they still nervous? 

You've probably heard the saying "It's all in how you raise them" so many times regarding dog behavior, so why aren’t your training methods working?  

Even if a dog has been raised on gentle methods from puppyhood, it doesn't necessarily mean they won't ever be afraid or have behavioral challenges. While it can sound encouraging that a family's love and home life is the primary impact on behavior, it's also a lot of pressure for pet parents to be told that their decisions are the only thing contributing to their dogs’ struggles. 

So, if it's not just about pet parenthood methods, what does contribute to dog behavior, and how can we set our dogs (and us) up for success? 

Our Dogs Are Always Learning 

Our dogs are learning most of their lives. They learn how to interact with the world around them through patterns and consistency – whether it was an intentionally taught skill or accidentally discovered pattern. 

Did their bark just get your attention? Did grabbing your slipper get you to play their favorite game of chase? 

Dog laying on floor looks up smiling

To work with your dog, you want to teach them what to do and reinforce those choices by adding value to them. When you add value to certain choices, your dog will want to make them in the future. 

But if your dog is constantly learning, it can be exhausting always trying to teach them things. How do you help them learn what to do, even when you aren't actively teaching them? 

Environment is Key

A dog relies on their environment for a lot of information on how to behave, so you can begin by using that to your advantage through prevention and management strategies. 

Tailoring your environment to create healthy habits for both you and your dog takes some weight off of constantly trying to teach. By setting up your dog’s environment for success, you can help prevent some of those naughty yet fun behaviors, and you can focus on teaching your pup what to do a lot easier. 

Another important thing to remember is that some dogs feed off their environmental cues more than others. Sometimes, this can lead to stressful behaviors like barking at cars going by or being anxious when the smoke alarm beeps. 

While some of these are learned behaviors, some of them aren’t chosen — they’re innate and related to what your dog was bred to do in the past.  

Genetics Matter

Your dog's breed, while not an absolute predictor of behavior, does often play a part in this puzzle. Dogs were originally bred for many purposes, and some of those traits have lasted to the modern day. 

A puppy sits on a mat in a training class at AHS

Think about genetics as "background programming" on a hard drive. The “program” may not run until a certain “button” is pushed, like an environmental trigger or a specific situation happening. In some cases, these behaviors may never manifest. 

Genetics offer more insight into your dog, and they can help you better determine why a behavior may be happening. 

For example, a herding dog like a Border Collie is not likely to act the same as a natural dog like a Siberian Husky when encountering a bike – and that is okay! In fact, that's a part of what made them so well suited as man's best friend. 

The biggest change over time has been the dog’s development into more of a household companion instead of a working dog. Because of these changes, some extra quirks can pop up. 

Our Dogs Are All Individuals 

One of the joys of having a pet is their individual personalities and watching our dogs be themselves. Their less joyful quirks can also stem from their individuality.

It’s important to remember that dogs are unique beings, just like humans! Your dog’s behavior offers information about them. You can use this information to help your pup learn desirable behaviors, even when they’re having a hard time. This is how trust forms between you and your furry friend.

Because every dog is unique, communication and solutions can look different depending on the behavior, your dog's personality, and your home environment.  

Our Behavior and Training Team is here to help

 Our Behavior and Training specialists can help you build a strong relationship with your pet through healthy communication. We offer group skills classes, specialty classes, and private training sessions, depending on which training methods is right for your dog

If you have questions or a specific behavior challenge you’re hoping to work through, you can also use our free Behavior Helpline

Contact Us Today