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The Solution to the Problem behind "Problem Behavior"

From the desk of Mogens Eliasen - first published: Date

Mogens Eliasen - the author of this article
on 'problem behavior'

It has been my experience from all my many years of "dog problem behavior" consulting that the reason for the problem behavior (separation anxiety, destructive or aggressive behavior) in more than 95% of all the cases was rooted in boredom.

I helped the dog owners solve their problems, not by doing anything at all in regards to "correcting" the unwanted behavior - I simply taught these people to teach their dogs to solve problems! Problems that are relevant for a dog to solve.

The driving needs behind all behaviors

The essence is that instead of asking, "My dog does this and that, how do I stop it?" you should ask, "My dog does this and that, what is the reason for that? What can I do to eliminate that reason, so the behavior will naturally disappear - or how can I re-direct this behavior towards something that is more acceptable to me?"

It is almost like treating a fever. You can chose to give the patient some drugs that will reduce the fever. But you could also try to find the reason for the fever (probably an infection) and then help the body eliminate that reason (giving antibiotics to fight the infection).

A dog example: Many dogs will jump up at people to greet them. Muddy paws on nice dresses are not necessarily everybody's favorite, so many dog trainers suggest that you "correct" the unwanted behavior by doing something safe, yet unpleasant to the dog, so you discourage this "problem".

Another example: When the dog is left alone, it always destroys something. You might never know what it is going to be next, and it really doesn't matter. You could, of course choose to just deal with the symptom and simply crate the dog when you leave it. This might save your home - but certainly not the dog's sanity...

It is important that you comprehend that there always is a reason for a behavior, and you cannot eliminate the behavior without dealing with that reason!

Why "correcting the bad behavior" cannot work

By trying to "block" or "eliminate" a behavior the dog feels a natural need for, you are doomed to create problems, both for yourself and for your dog. You cannot stop a natural behavior by "not allowing it", regardless what kind of training method you use. For every time you try and think you were successful, the dog will find another way of satisfying the need behind the behavior - and you can start over with your training…

The only way you can hope to have success is by dealing with the fundamental needs behind the obnoxious behaviors. If you can satisfy the need under circumstances you can accept, the obnoxious behaviors will disappear!

Think about it: a dog that is just fed will no have much interest in stealing food from your kitchen counter. But a dog that is starved will find a way to get a bite!

Your dog has a strong need to greet its pack members. If you want to be one of them, you better accept taking part in that greeting ceremony!

Also: all dogs are hunters, yet very few "pets" ever get a chance to hunt anything. But dogs are not born to know what they are supposed to hunt - it is all a matter of what you teach! "Hunting" can be as simple as searching for a treat that is hidden in the grass in your yard.

The simple alternative that works…

Now, understanding that the dog jumps at you because it has a strong need to greet you and wants to be polite and do a courteous greeting by making nose-nose contact with you, responding with something like pushing a knee in its chest is outright cruel! If you instead would simply squad down so your nose came within reach, then you would take away the main reason for the jumping. The dog will then quickly learn to greet you without jumping - without your having to "throw a wrench" into the fine machinery that makes your dog happy you.

The better solution to the problem with the dog chewing your furniture is to throw out 20 small treats in the yard and get the dog to search for them. This will make it work its nose for some 10-15 minutes (or more when it get more determined on its "hunting success") - and that will for most dogs be enough to make them relax for several hours!

By giving your dog a meaningful problem to solve (so it will work its brain, not only the body), you will most likely satisfy one of the biggest needs it has - and very likely the one that caused the obnoxious behavior. It takes no genius to figure out that the needs that linked to behaviors most people do not appreciate or enjoy for their "pets", you also have extremely good odds for hitting exactly those needs that were left unsatisfied. And those would be the ones that drove the dog to the undesirable activities that annoyed you.

So, in conclusion, if you can identify (or guess) the need that causes the unwanted behavior, then you can eliminate the unwanted behavior at times when you don't want it by simply stimulating and encouraging it at other times when you can accept it!


Mogens Eliasen


Mogens Eliasen holds a mag. scient. degree (comparable to a US Ph. D.) in Chemistry from Århus University, Denmark, has a extensive education also as military officer and in business management. He has been working with dogs, dog owners, dog trainers, and veterinarians since 1970. A large part of his dog work has been in the area of education and education planning, and as consultant for dog owners and dog training associations. He is a strong advocate of treating the dog with respect for its nature as domesticated wolf, and has published several books and videos on topics related to dogs, dog training, dog behavior, and responsible care of dogs. He publishes a newsletter "The Peeing Post" containing lots of tips and advice on all matters pertaining to dogs.

For more information about Mogens Eliasen, including links to other articles he has published, please send this e-mail to or visit or

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Titles available from K9joy®:

Anders Hallgren:
"The ABC's of Dog Language" (140 page book - 1996)
Understand what your dog is telling you - and communicate with it on its own terms. A must have for all dog lovers. Easy to read. Easy to use as reference.

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Dog's Social Behavior" (2.5 hr. video - 1998, updated on DVD 2006, with support materials on a CD)
How the dog's behavior is linked to its instincts and needs. What you can change and what is "for life". How you use this information to dramatically improve your relationship with your dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"BrainWork for Smart Dogs" (380 page e-book - 2003)
How you get a happy and well-behaved dog, stimulating its brain with 15 minutes of fun per day. Dogs need to work and use their instinct in order to be in mental balance. Everyone can do it with these instructions. More than 40 exercises to choose from!

Mogens Eliasen:
"Don't Pull on the Leash!" (40 page e-book - 2005)
The 5 simple steps in this complete training manual will effectively stop any dog from pulling on the leash, with no pain or abuse and no special equipment - and make the start of a much better relationship with the dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Is Your Dog's Drinking Water Safe?" (30 page e-book - 2005, updated 2006)
A layman's overview of how and why drinking water gets contaminated - and what you can do about it.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Feeding Your Dog - the Natural Way" (1 hr. video - 1998)
The fastest introduction to get you started on feeding your dog a natural diet. It explains the dog's physiology in simple terms, so you also understand why you should do this.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Canine Choice - by Nature" (80 page e-book - 1999, updated 2005)
The simple "how-to" about feeding a natural diet for optimal health.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Raw Food for Dogs - the Ultimate Reference for Dog Owners"
(340 page e-book - revised/expanded 2006)
Everything you need for making your own informed decisions about what to feed your dog, and why and how. Includes numerous examples of feeding plans plus two chapters on how to work with your vet, also if he/she does not approve of your feeding...

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Wolf's Natural Diet - a Feeding Guide for Your Dog?"
(125 page e-book - 2004 updated/revised 2006)
What we know and don't know about the wolf and its natural feeding, and about the dog and its domestication, and what we can and cannot conclude from wolf to dog... this is the big "why?" behind any responsible approach to feeding your dog.

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