Why? Or: what’s the practical application of that behaviour?


‘Why?’ is my favourite question. It saves time and frustration as I don’t do things just because ‘they have always been done that way’, because ‘it’s expected from me’, because ‘everyone does it’.

So, I’ve taught Lily to sit because it makes her focus on me and I can use it every time I want her to stop doing something else (rolling in fox wee, barking at strange dogs). I’ve taught her recall because it can save her life. I teach her tricks because she loves my attention and we spend time together having fun. I expose her to new situations, objects, sounds, people, dogs because it reduces the stress when she encounters something new unexpectedly. And so on.


I ask why she does things as well. She growls because she doesn’t want to be approached, she needs time to get to know people because she didn’t meet many as a puppy. She jumps and barks because she’s excited. Without knowing what causes her behaviour I will never be able to modify it.IMG_2114

Sometimes I see people shouting at the dog. Asked ‘why?’ they might say: ‘because he barks, pulls, misbehaves’. But by asking ‘why?’ I really want to know what the practical outcome of this behaviour is. Shouting will make the dog scared or excited or more agitated. If that is not the aim, shouting misses the point. ‘Why?’ or ‘what is the practical application of the behaviour?’ applies to the dog as well. So maybe he barks to scare someone off, or because he wants your attention, or maybe it’s a play bark or maybe he barks because you shout (bark) so he copies you.

Asking why a dog behaves as he does and why we react as we do helps. When we know what he wants to achieve and what we want, it’s much easier to find a way to make both parties satisfied.


13 thoughts on “Why? Or: what’s the practical application of that behaviour?

  1. Understanding the whys of your dogs behavior is indeed very helpful in figuring out how to modify unwanted behavior or help them deal with a stressful situation. Before I knew better, I used to yell at Tippy when she did things that frustrated me…like jumping on me. Turns out she was jumping because she was excited and my yelling just made her more excited, so, instead of calming her down, she jumped more. Once I became more calm, she did too. 🙂

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  2. Watch how someone treats their dog, and you see how they treat their children. If you cant understand a dog is like a 3 year old, you should not have one. Kindness and understanding go along way.

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  3. I enjoy reading your posts because they reassure me that training this 11 month old is tracking pretty well with your work with sweet Lily, and they give me another way of looking at things. Fergus doesn’t have the history that Lily must overcome, nor does he stress out unless there’s a fighter jet flying over, a vacuum cleaner running in his space or a squirrel taunting him at the windows, but I’ve taken to mildly, calmly praising him when he barks at the lawn guy mowing or blowing leaves near the house — he’s just protecting our turf. Cavaliers are not good watch dogs as they think everything and everyone is a cause for joy, usually. I don’t react at all when he goes nuts over the squirrels and vacuum cleaner. I don’t want him to think it’s a cause for reaction on my part, maybe eventually he’ll get it that he doesn’t need to react too much either.

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    1. Thank you for the lovely comment 🙂 You can try and redirect Fergus’s attention to something else when he barks. Or expose him to the sounds he dislikes by playing them quietly first (desensitise him) and giving him lots of fuss when he’s quiet 🙂

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    1. Dogs left alone often bark. They feel bored or scared, so it’s a good idea to give them a really long walk before they have to stay at home on their own. And something to do (chewing works for many). But dogs bark for many reasons and every dog is different. Some will always bark, but with some work, the barking can be controlled 🙂


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