Correcting Bad Behavior in Poodles: How to Change Unwanted Behaviors

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Poodles" by Tarah Schwartz. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Tarah Schwartz

What is Bad Behavior in Dogs?

Any unwanted, destructive, or harmful behavior can be considered bad behavior. This can include chewing up furniture and personal items, excessive barking, and aggression. Bad behavior can be relatively harmless, yet still rude and disrespectful. Pulling on the leash, or jumping on guests, for instance, can be frustrating but there is not really any danger to you or your dog. However, bad behavior has a tendency to escalate and if left unchecked, you may find yourself with an unmanageable or aggressive dog. Behavior such as bolting out the door, growling, or snapping at strangers puts your Poodle and anyone near him in danger. Bad behavior must be corrected at the first sign to prevent it from escalating into a more dangerous and difficult to fix situation.

It Starts With You

Typically, dogs develop bad habits because their owners let seemingly harmless behavior go unchecked. They may think it’s cute when their tiny Toy Poodle growls at the neighbor, or when their adorable puppy starts carrying around a favorite pair of shoes, but before they know it, their dog is biting the neighborhood children and shredding valuable items. Extremely destructive or harmless behavior doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time and a lack of correction for dogs to become unmanageable. Some owners may not feel comfortable correcting their dogs, but it’s an important aspect of responsibly raising a respectful and well-behaved dog. Dogs must have boundaries, and those boundaries must be consistent. If you are not correcting your dog every time he behaves badly, he will only become confused about why he’s allowed to act this way sometimes, but at other times he is corrected. Extremely bad habits take a significant amount of time and effort to correct, but they can easily be prevented if you are consistent about your training from the beginning.

Finding the Root of the Problem

You will never be able to completely correct your dog’s bad behavior if you don’t understand why he acts the way he does. If you know your dog barks aggressively only when he sees other dogs on walks, but he’s fine with other dogs at home, you will know where you need to focus your training. However, if you have no idea why your dog has started snapping at strangers, you may not be able to completely correct the problem. You might be able to improve the situation, but without knowing the specific stimuli that is triggering your dog’s behavior, you’ll never be able to completely eliminate the problem.

Your Behavior Impacts Your Poodles Behavior

Toy Poodle bad behavior
Photo Courtesy – Bec Bland

One of the most important and overlooked reason for a dog’s bad habits is an owner’s behavior. It can be easy to blame all of your dog’s problems on him, but it’s important to consider your own behavior and whether the way you are managing your dog might be the cause. Poodles adore their owners and tend to notice even the most subtle changes in human body language. If they sense that you are not confident and may not be able to handle a situation, they may believe that they need to step up and defend you or handle the situation themselves. However, if you approach new or scary situations with confidence, your dog is more likely to trust you to handle it and take care of him. Though owner behavior is not the cause of every dog’s problem behavior, it’s an important aspect to consider when trying to find the root of your Poodle’s bad habits.

Controlling Their Enviorment

Another often overlooked cause of problem behaviors is how the dog’s environment is managed. If your dog likes to become destructive while you’re gone, especially if he has access to the entire house, then you need to take control of the situation by limiting his access or keeping him in a crate while you’re away from home. By controlling your dog’s environment, you will be better able to predict his behavior and correct it if he acts up. Depending on the severity of your dog’s problems, this may be a lifetime commitment, particularly if your dog exhibits signs of aggression. If you are committed to fixing your dog’s bad behavior, you must take the necessary steps to manage his environment so that you can focus on his correcting his reactions.

Bad Behavior Prevention

It’s often easier to prevent a problem behavior from developing than it is to correct it, but you must be consistent. Properly managing your dog’s environment and behavior from the beginning can seem like a time-consuming hassle, but in the long run, you’ll be happy you put the time and effort into your dog’s training. Proper management consists of understanding where your dog is in his training and adjusting his surroundings accordingly. If you know that your Poodle likes to chew up your shoes, either pick up your shoes or keep him contained in a smaller section of the house or in his crate.

Be the Pack Leader (So your Poodle doesn’t have to)

Preventing bad behaviors and managing your dog’s surroundings will also make it easier for you to establish and maintain your position as pack leader. Each time that you let your dog get away with a bad behavior, he will become more confident that he is the leader of your household. Martha Carroll-Talley of Custom Poodles says:

“They will rule your house if you don’t condition them to be second-in-command.”

Miniature Poodle peepingMake sure you practice strong leadership from the moment you bring your Poodle home. If you make sure that you are always the first to walk through a doorway, your Poodle is less likely to develop a habit of bolting out open doors. If you teach him to wait patiently for his dinner, he will also be less likely to become a resource guarder. On the other hand, if you allow him to rush through doorways or bully you for food, you’re going to end up with a dog who is difficult to manage and you will need to work even harder to erase the bad habits that you have allowed to develop.

How to Properly Correct Your Poodle

When you correct your Poodle’s bad behavior, it’s essential that you maintain a gentle touch and positive attitude. Bad behavior can be frustrating, but if you lose your temper, you may do more harm than good. There is no situation in which it is appropriate to hit or kick your Poodle. Your aggressive behavior is likely to be met with an aggressive reaction from your dog and you may be bitten. Your dog may become fearful of you, or even humans in general. Even the most severe behavioral problems can be improved with patience and a gentle touch, so if you find it difficult to maintain your composure during corrections, you may want to contact a professional trainer who can help you find a way to correct your dog’s behavior without anyone getting upset.

Timing is Everything

When correcting your Poodle’s mistakes, it’s important to remember that you can only correct the dog if you catch him in the act. If you come home and find that your throw pillows have been torn to pieces, this is not an appropriate time to punish your dog. You will simply have to clean up the mess and hope you catch him next time. Dogs do not have the same understanding of past events that humans do. Your Poodle will not understand that you are angry with him for tearing up the pillows and he will not associate any punishment with his previous actions. However, if you come home and see your Poodle with a throw pillow in his mouth, then it is an appropriate time for a correction.

Beware of Overcorrecting

Even if you catch your dog in the act, it’s crucial that your correction is only as harsh as necessary. Overcorrecting your dog may only result in fear, rather than behavior modification. Loud claps or stomps, or a firm ‘no’ are usually sufficient to interrupt your dog’s behavior. Many trainers also recommend filling a small spray bottle with water and spritzing your dog in the face when he acts inappropriately. Dogs don’t usually appreciate a sudden spurt of water in their face, so it’s a sufficient but harmless correction. Although the water won’t hurt your dog, it is a stronger form of correction than just saying ‘no,’ so use your best judgment to determine which behaviors warrant this type of correction. For more serious problems, such as fighting, you may need harsher corrections. Spraying the dogs with a hose, yelling, or banging metal food bowls together are appropriate in these situations. Poodles, especially the smaller varieties, can be seriously injured or even killed in a dog fight, so it’s important to adjust your level of correction accordingly.

Fixing Bad Habits

Patience is a crucial part of fixing your Poodle’s bad habits. His naughty behavior didn’t develop overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight either. It may take weeks or even months of consistent management and correction before you see any significant improvements. Whether you are attempting to solve the problem yourself or are working with a professional, it’s important to understand that it will take time for your dog to develop new habits, just as it took time for him to develop his bad habits. It can be frustrating to stay committed to your training plan, especially when you don’t see improvements quickly, but you must be patient and try not to lose your motivation.

Consistency is the Key to Success

Poodle stand
Photo Courtesy – Sherri-ann Harris

Consistency is another essential aspect of correcting problem behaviors. It can be difficult to stay committed to your dog’s training plan, especially when your work or family life become stressful, but if you want to solve your dog’s problems, you must stay focused and committed. A lack of consistency is how your dog developed his bad habits, so you must now be more consistent than ever to help him form more desirable habits. Depending on the severity of your dog’s behavior, you may need to practice this level of behavior management for his entire life, so be prepared to dedicate a lot of your time to your dog’s training, especially if you are dealing with serious aggression or fear issues.

When to Call a Professional

Some owners may think that the only time it’s appropriate to call a professional is when their dog’s behavior gets out of hand, but in reality, professional trainers can help you at any point in your dog’s training. If you aren’t sure about the appropriate level of correction, or your timing, call a trainer and discuss your problems. They can help you develop a training plan that is best suited for your dog and his specific bad habits. Catching bad behavior in its early stages often means it’s easier and less time-consuming to correct, so don’t be afraid to contact a professional at the first sign.

Aggression and Dangerous Behavior: Get Help Immediatly

If your dog is displaying any type of dangerous behavior, you need to call a professional trainer or behaviorist immediately. Aggressive, destructive, or fearful behavior can escalate quickly, potentially leading to tragedy, so it’s essential that you seek professional help as soon as possible. Most Poodle owners are not equipped to deal with serious behavioral problems, so the sooner your dog receives professional help, the better. If your dog is displaying aggressive behavior toward humans, he could become a liability as he may bite you, your family, or a complete stranger. Aggression toward other dogs may result in your dog becoming seriously injured or even killed, especially if he’s a Toy or Miniature Poodle. Professional trainers and behaviorists work with aggressive and fearful dogs on a regular basis and they will have the knowledge and tools necessary to help your dog overcome his problems.

Poodle-specific Bad Habits

Standard Poodle stiing
Photo Courtesy – Regana Jones

Many bad habits that are specific to the breed are related to their history as retrievers. Most puppies explore the world with their mouth, but Poodles can be especially mouthy, especially as puppies. You may find that your Poodle chews on inappropriate items or bites too hard during play. Poodles will often take things in their mouth and run off with them, playing hard to get. It’s important to discourage this type of behavior in its early stages. Most Poodle puppies don’t bite out of aggression, it’s simply how they play, and sometimes they may play too rough. Likewise, chewing and stealing are not done out of malice, but rather as a way to entertain themselves. Still, these habits are annoying and disrespectful, so be sure to encourage your dog to express his playful side in other ways.

Behaviors Stemming from Seperation Anxiety

Poodles adore their owners and make excellent family dogs. Unfortunately, their dedication to their families often evolves into separation anxiety. Excessive barking is a common problem with Poodles, especially when they are left alone. This can be a particularly difficult habit to break, so prevention is key. From the first day that you bring your Poodle home, you must remember not to make a big deal about leaving or coming home. The less concerned you are about leaving your Poodle, the less concerned he will be. Poodles are a social breed, so it may also be helpful to have another dog or other animal at home to keep them company, so consider adopting another pet if you’re concerned about leaving your Poodle home alone for long periods of time.

Size-specific Bad Habits

Toy and Miniature Poodles are prone to developing ‘small dog syndrome.’ This is a collection of behaviors that is frequently more tolerated in small dogs than in big dogs. Excessive barking, growling at strangers, and resource guarding are found more frequently in small dogs, simply because the dogs don’t present as much of a threat as larger dogs, so the behaviors are not corrected with the same consistency. To prevent your Toy or Miniature Poodle from developing small dog syndrome, it’s important that you practice firm and consistent leadership. Make sure your Poodle knows you are the leader of the pack. If you make it clear that you are in charge, your Poodle is less likely to feel the need to take over that position.

Meet Their Physical and Mental Exercise Needs

Standard Poodles often have a reputation of being high-strung or neurotic, but it is more often due to a lack of physical and mental exercise. Due to the Poodle’s prissy appearance, many people incorrectly assume that the dogs do not need much stimulation. However, Poodles are highly intelligent and athletic dogs that crave stimulation. The more physical and mental exercise your Standard Poodle receives, the more well-behaved he will be. Proper socialization and training will also help your Poodle learn how to appropriately interact with other dogs and people.

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