Dog trainers provide group courses, drop-in classes, private training, and even online training. All in the hopes of helping pet parents meet their dog's needs but ultimately to have dogs behave and act in the way that their owners want & like.
And so when pet parents think of that desired goal, there's perhaps a question they should ask themselves before picking up the phone and reaching out to their neighborhood trainer: "Why is my dog doing this particular behaviour that I dislike?"
The answer to this question is a lot simpler than you may think. And if we begin to explore this motivator further and further, it can help us not only better understand but also relate to and appreciate our dogs, and thus make even better use of the training tools, approaches, techniques, and lessons we'll learn along the way. And so what is the magic answer to why your dog does what he does? Simply put, it's because it works.
Dogs are no different than you when it comes to making choices and decisions. We both have the capacity and will to choose what's the most beneficial and in our best interest. And this is why, we can then more easily begin to understand that our dogs do, repeat and practice both wanted and unwanted (by us) behaviours on a daily basis. Let's go through a few examples to further bring this to light.
Let's start with digging. Digging is a, more often than not, fun activity that the majority of dogs will be inclined to do naturally, and/or because they've seen another dog (or sometimes even a human) do it. This exercise can work in your dog's mind as a way to relieve stress, physical energy, or just an entertaining way to pass the time! For other dogs, it's an activity that ensures them that they'll get your attention once you see your dog digging in your backyard, where you may not want them to.
Regardless of the reason behind your dog's digging, ultimately it's a reason that makes it so this behaviour works in your dog's mind in achieving some kind of goal, and thus they then feel the need to repeat it.
What about barking? A dog's barking is a handy tool when it comes to communicating a myriad of feelings, emotions, and messages. Some can be as simple as "I'm very excited and barking helps me indicate that to those around me!" and in response to that, another dog can hear, understand, and respond in a way that fulfills the first dog's needs to get some excitement redirected back at him, likely in the form of play and engagement. It's easy to see in this scenario why a dog would try to repeat this behaviour under these circumstances.
In other cases, a dog can bark at another across the street to let them know that they're too close for their comfort. This type of bark is one mailman and delivery carriers experience often and is even more often repeated by dogs, purely because after the barking starts, the next thing that happens is the person or dog in question likely gives them the space and distance they were asking for. And so it makes sense in a dog's mind, as to why they would continue to practice this behaviour.
These examples and more are among many that help us understand that dogs don't do what they do for no reason. When they're young they try things on their own (which is where our guidance/training comes in best to redirect, prevent and manage unwanted choices) and if what they tried worked for them in one way or another, you can bet you'll see them do it again and again!