How to Handle an Out-of-Control Dog

The young dog was jumping, mouthing hard, and bodyslamming. Reprimands made her behavior worse. How do you handle an out-of-control teen?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #24

Since she used people as chew toys, Prescription Number 2 was to teach her to deploy that sharky mouth elsewhere. No more bowl feeding for Xena! Now any food she didn’t earn during training came in food-dispensing toys such as the Kong and the Molecuball. Hollow toys were stuffed with a mix of half canned and half dry food and frozen overnight. The 30 seconds Xena used to spend eating breakfast and dinner stretched to 40 minutes, and afterward she often fell asleep.

Prescription #3: Reward Only Good Behavior with Attention

As for getting attention, Xena’s mouthing and jumping had worked well so far. True, that attention came in the form of reprimands and sometimes even shouting, but anything beat feeling bored and left out. Riled-up people could even be kind of exciting. That is exactly why reprimands didn’t work. Prescription Number 3: Xena’s guardians had to teach themselves to notice quiet, polite behavior, and choose those times to show Xena affection, toss her occasional treats, and invite her to go for a walk or play a game. Over time, Xena would learn to seek attention by lying down quietly near someone, for example, or resting her chin on his leg.

Prescription #4: Give Time-Outs

Many attention-seeking behaviors can be reduced or eliminated if we strictly ignore them. But jumping and mouthing are unpleasant, painful, and sometimes dangerous, especially to people who are small and frail. So, by itself, ignoring them won’t do. Prescription Number 4: From now on, Xena would get a 30-second time-out whenever she jumped on people or mouthed them. At home, she wore a short leash, maybe 2 feet long. Any mistake was marked with an “Oops!” and she was led to her time-out area. This could be her crate, another room, or a prepared spot where she could be tethered. During the time-out, Xena was completely ignored. Instead of gaining social interaction, her obnoxious attention-seeking got her briefly tossed from the party. The short leash made it possible to lead Xena to her time-out spot without grabbing her, and also helped thwart her attempts at keep-away.

Effective Time-Outs, and When Time-Outs Are a No-no

A few words about time-outs. First, a time-out must be delivered every single time the problem behavior happens. A behavior that still works occasionally will be very hard to get rid of.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).