Understanding Dog Tantrums

Dogs do throw tantrums, this behaviour often begins as experimental and normal but then is rewarded in one way or another so it becomes a habit that turns disruptive. Tantrums are a reactive behaviour to a situation in which your dog becomes frustrated or anxious and dogs who throw tantrums are usually green in their training, lack impulse control and may lack confidence too.

Tantrums can take the form of behaviours such as defiant barking, jumping (especially with arms wrapped around you), assertive biting/tugging clothing and/or the lead, refusal to move, or a combination of all of these behaviours. These are not to be confused with normal young dog mouthing and excitability, tantrums are usually much more intense, assertive and sometimes scary.

There are no teachable moments during the throes of a tantrum. It would be a mistake to think that you could train good behaviours through this time. Think about the child in the Lollie isle who throws himself on the ground kicking and screaming wanting a Lollie, there is no reasoning with this child in that moment, all he is focused on are the lollies, far better to let the moment pass and think about what you will do on the next visit to the shop to manage the situation better. The Lollie isle is the trigger and the time to solve the problem is between visits to the store.

Identifying the triggers for your dogs’ tantrums is a vital step in learning how to manage his behaviour. Do not continue to manage your dog blind to their past behaviour, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Make a note of when and where the tantrums occurred, what your dog was doing just before the tantrum and who was around at the time of the tantrum. A pattern will emerge from this record keeping which will give you the opportunity to prepare some training sessions around the trigger.

If the triggers are frustration based teach your dog some skills they can fall back on when frustration is beginning to build, these skills can be anything you like, weaving through your legs, heel, stay, high-five, rollover or shake hands. Basic obedience will get your dog through those trigger moments with behaviours you want, eventually pushing out the old tantrum behaviours. Work your dogs’ skills through three levels over several weeks.

Level 1 (Easy) away from their trigger

Level 2 (Intermediate) as soon as your dog is exposed to the trigger from a distance

Level 3 (Difficult) on approach to the trigger

Reward your dog with access to food, other dogs and/or off lead time to strengthen their skills.

Tantrums, where the trigger is anxiety or fear-based, should include another approach. Identifying anxiety or fear as a trigger should lead to many sessions around confidence building, the worst thing you can do is to force your dog into a situation when they are scared. Give your dog his favourite treats as he is exposed to the trigger at a low-level, this will help change his perception of the things he fears. It also would benefit the anxious dog greatly to teach him some fun games and tricks to perform during exposure sessions to the trigger.

Become familiar with canine body language so you can be aware of escalating behaviour and how your dog may be feeling. You are your dogs’ advocate and it is your responsibility to manage them for success so they learn new strategies for mastering their environment.

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