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8 Effective Ways to Get Rid of Undesirable Behaviours

Getting Rid of Undesirable Behaviours

We’ve all experienced, or know someone who has, a pet displaying undesirable behaviours—be it excessive barking, jumping on guests, or chewing on furniture. These behaviours can be challenging to manage, but with the right approach, they can be effectively untrained. In this article, we’ll delve into various methods to address such issues. However, not all approaches are recommended, and we’ll explain why.


Before we explore the different techniques, let’s briefly discuss reinforcement. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding a desired behaviour to encourage its recurrence, while negative reinforcement involves removing an aversive stimulus when the desired behaviour occurs. To understand more about these concepts, refer to our Operant Conditioning article.

Any dog professional will have a strong grasp of operant conditioning. To understand the landscape of dog training in Singapore, check out our Dog Training in Singapore article.


Punishment refers to applying a negative consequence following an undesired behaviour. However, it’s not the recommended approach. Read more about why punishment is ineffective in our article on punishment.

It’s also crucial to note that negative reinforcement, which involves removing a negative stimulus when the desired behaviour occurs, inadvertently requires some form of punishment (to first apply the negative stimulus). Be cautious if employing this method, as punishment can be counterproductive.

8 Ways to Get Rid of a Behaviour

These steps are adapted from the Karen Pryor Training Academy. For those interested, the book “Don’t Shoot The Dog” is an excellent resource. Check out the book here.

1. Shoot The Dog

This term refers to resolving an issue using a drastic approach. For example, if a dog barks excessively, debark the dog. This method, while effective in eliminating the symptom, does not address the root cause of the behaviour. If the dog barks out of anxiety, it will still feel anxious even if it can no longer vocalize it.

2. Punishment

Historically, punishment was the industry standard but is now being phased out. Methods such as scolding, spraying water, or using a hiss spray aim to deter bad behaviour. However, punishment is not an effective training tool and often fails to teach the dog anything constructive. For more details on why punishment is an inferior training strategy, check out our article!

3. Negative Reinforcement

This method involves applying an aversive stimulus until the desired behaviour is exhibited. For example, if a dog is barking, shining a light on it until it stops barking and then removing the light is considered negative reinforcement. However, this approach carries the risk of associating the aversive stimulus with other neutral stimuli through a classical conditioning process, that may result in complex behavioural problems that are difficult to resolve.

Furthermore, excessive negative association with the training activity or the handler can result to a breakdown in trust and bond between the dog and handler. The excessive use of negative reinforcement can result in negative side effects. Because the application of a negative stimulus is actually punishment, the reasons why punishment is an inferior training strategy applies here as well.

4. Extinction

Ignoring a behaviour until it disappears is known as extinction. This method works for behaviours that are not self-reinforcing. For instance, if a dog barks for attention and you ignore it, the behaviour will likely disappear. However, if the barking stems from anxiety or frustration, ignoring it won’t resolve the issue, as these behaviours are self-reinforcing because barking alleviates some of the frustration or anxiety by venting it out. Understanding the root cause is essential for effective intervention, and rewarding desired behaviour can expedite the process.

5. Train an Incompatible Behaviour

Train your dog to perform a behaviour that is incompatible with the undesired one. For example, if you don’t want your dog begging for food at the dinner table, train it to sit by the sofa and wait patiently, as it cannot be at the dinner table and the sofa at the same time. Positive reinforcement is key to training new behaviours effectively. For more on the steps to shape and reinforce a behaviour, refer to our articles on obedience training.

6. Put the Behaviour on Cue

By putting a behaviour on cue, you can control when it occurs. For example, if your dog jumps on guests, create a cue for jumping and only use it during controlled situations. When guests arrive, do not give the cue, and the dog should refrain from jumping. Ensure you provide outlets for the behaviour, such as during playtime in designated areas.

7. Shape the Absence of the Behaviour

Reinforce intervals where the undesired behaviour does not occur. If your dog barks excessively, reward it for periods of silence. Gradually increase the intervals before rewarding. This method encourages the dog to exhibit the desired behaviour more consistently.

Shaping the absence of undesired behaviour is often superior to the extinction method because it addresses both self-reinforcing and non-self-reinforcing behaviours. Extinction can be particularly challenging when dealing with actions that an animal finds internally rewarding, such as barking due to anxiety. By focusing on reinforcing a period of the desired behaviour, you provide clear and consistent guidance to your dog. This approach ensures that your dog understands which behaviours are acceptable, and these desired behaviours become more frequent because they are explicitly rewarded. Instead of merely hoping the unwanted behaviour will diminish over time, you actively promote positive actions, creating a more harmonious environment for both you and your pet.

8. Change the Motivation

Identify and alter the underlying motivation for the undesired behaviour. If a dog chews on furniture out of boredom, provide engaging toys and activities to keep it occupied. Addressing the root cause can effectively eliminate the undesired behaviour.

Understanding that motivation is essentially the root cause of any undesired behaviour is crucial in addressing and changing that behaviour. To effectively alter motivation, it is vital first to narrow down and identify the root cause. For instance, if a dog continues to bark incessantly, it may be due to factors such as anxiety, boredom, or a response to external stimuli. By meticulously observing and analysing the specific situation and context in which the behaviour occurs, you can pinpoint the underlying motivation.

Once you have a clear understanding of what drives the behaviour, tailored strategies can be implemented to address it directly. Whether it involves providing mental stimulation, alleviating anxiety through training, or eliminating exposure to certain triggers, tackling the root cause will yield more sustainable and positive outcomes. This empathetic and systematic approach ensures a healthier, happier environment for both you and your pet.


When addressing undesired pet behaviour, it is generally not recommended to use punishments or aversive techniques (Approaches 1 to 4) due to their potential negative side effects. These methods can increase anxiety and stress, potentially worsening the behaviour over time, and they often fail to address the root cause, damaging the trust between you and your pet. While such techniques may have their place, they must be advised by a professional dog trainer. If you have any doubts, reach out to our chief behaviourist via and check out our behaviour change programme for more details.

On the other hand, approaches 5 to 8 are highly effective and come with a larger margin for trial and error. These methods are grounded in science and focus on positive reinforcement, consistency, and understanding the underlying motivations for behaviour. By utilising these empathetic and educational approaches, you can create a more harmonious and trusting relationship with your pet. Implementing these strategies allows for healthier, lasting behavioural changes, ensuring a happier environment for both you and your furry friend.

Untraining undesirable behaviours in dogs requires a thoughtful approach that considers the well-being of the pet. While some methods can quickly fix the issue, they may not address the root cause. Positive reinforcement and understanding the motivation behind the behaviour are key to long-term success. For more in-depth insights, consider exploring the resources mentioned in this article and continue to educate yourself on compassionate and effective training methods.

By leveraging these approaches, you can foster a harmonious relationship with your pet, ensuring both of you enjoy a happier and more fulfilling companionship.

Picture of Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster has trained various species in zoos, rehabilitated companion animals, and championed animal welfare standards. He represented Singapore in the Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group, focusing on amphibian care and conservation. Now, his main focus is in canine fitness and conditioning as well as essential canine skills.

Picture of Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

With over a decade of study in the animal behaviour and welfare sciences, Qiai earned her Masters from the University of Edinburgh and has since devoted herself to the welfare and behaviour of pets. She has worked as an animal behaviourist since, and her expertise lies in addressing pet behavioural issues such as fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.

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