Dogs Are Opportunists: The Real Root of "Bad Behavior" | Pupford
May 8th, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
The next time you’re tempted to think your pup is being “naughty, bad, or disrespectful”, it may help to remember that dogs are opportunists.
While there are many behaviors we perceive as “bad”, dogs often act out of a desire to fulfill their own hard-wired desires and needs. Understanding this and adopting a mindset that empathizes with our opportunistic dogs can help you raise a well-mannered pup.
Here’s what we will cover:
- A brief history lesson about dogs
- What being an “opportunist” means
- 3 behaviors that showcase your pup’s opportunism
- How to train an opportunistic dog
Let’s get right into it! 👇
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A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON ABOUT DOGS
Before we talk about dogs being opportunistic, we need to do a very brief history lesson.
Dogs are typically believed to have shared a common ancestor with wolves. And although dogs have been domesticated for tens of thousands of years, the traits and characteristics of their ancient ancestors still remain with them.
While it’s true that with domestication many of the unwanted traits have been phased out, a dog’s desire to survive plays a daily role in the choices they make.
And when dogs were wild animals, they ate to survive.
History lesson over, now onto defining opportunists. ⬇️
WHAT BEING AN “OPPORTUNIST” MEANS
When we look through the lens of dogs once being wild animals, it gives great insight into their current behavior.
a person who practices opportunism, or the policy of adapting actions, decisions, etc., to effectiveness regardless of the sacrifice of ethical principles.
While our dogs don’t often deal with ethical principles, the main point of ‘adapting actions, decisions, etc to effectiveness’ (and I’ll add, expediency) tells a lot about our dogs and how they make decisions.
When a dog sees a squirrel and chases it, they aren’t thinking about whether that’s “okay” or not with us. They aren’t thinking about the “ethical principle” of whether they should be chasing and killing other animals. They aren’t thinking about whether the park they’re in has rules against .
Rather, our dogs are thinking about chasing after prey that could become food. And like we mentioned in our history lesson, dogs used to eat to survive.
They see a squirrel as an opportunity to improve their lives, and they’re going to go after it.
3 BEHAVIORS THAT SHOWCASE YOUR PUP’S OPPORTUNISM
There are truly countless behaviors that can be tied to our dogs being opportunistic creatures.
But let’s dive into 3 commonly frustrating behaviors that are most often your pup looking to capitalize on what they see as an opportunity.
1- RUNNING THROUGH OPEN DOORS & GAPS IN FENCES
🗣 Newsflash 🗣 Your dog does NOT try to go through doors before you because they’re trying to be a “pack leader”.
Your dog goes through doors because what is outside is a whole h*ck of a lot more exciting than the home/inside where they spend a majority of their time.
Doesn’t that seem obvious when you think about it..?
Your dog spends so much time inside and what’s right outside that door is a fantastic opportunity for them. Opportunities like potential prey, amazing smells, new dogs to interact with, or even just freedom to run.
So the next time your pup tries to burst through an open door, try to remember the real why behind that behavior.
PS- Dogs being opportunistic doesn’t mean we shouldn’t train and teach proper behavior.
2- GRABBING FOOD OFF THE GROUND & COUNTER SURFING
I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving I spent at an uncle-in-law’s house. He spent hours working on an extremely intricate and seemingly delicious turkey recipe.
It was pulled from the oven and put on the counter to cool before eating.
Cousin’s dog comes in.
Everyone gets distracted for what seemed like only seconds…
And… The whole turkey was in the dog’s mouth and taken outside.
No more turkey for dinner (well except for the pup)! 🦃
Of course, there were many mutterings of “where are that dog’s manners” or “that dog is out of control” or, my personal favorite, “that dog is so naughty”.
While ideally that wouldn’t have happened (we will cover how later), is the dog to blame? From the dog’s perspective, his natural survival instincts kicked in and he seized an opportunity to get food.
When your , snatches a questionable piece of food off the street, or even steals straight from your plate, remember that dogs are opportunists. Your pup is going after that food because that’s what their brain is wired to do!
Okay, here’s another popular one… ⤵️
3- CHASING PREY & LEASH PULLING
Some dogs seem to only have 1 speed while out on walks, pulling speed.
They pull toward other dogs, squirrels, food, or maybe just the air in front of them.
But why do dogs pull?
You’ve probably guessed it by now, but it’s because they see opportunities in front of them and their brain wants to get to those “opportunities” as fast as possible.
The idea of getting to an “opportunity” at a slow pace just doesn’t make sense to them. Walking “calmly” on a leash is completely foreign to our dogs.
The same goes for chasing after other animals or objects. Their brain has been wired to see a moving animal (especially a small one like a squirrel) as potential prey!
And prey = food.
And food = survival (or at least it used to).
Hopefully you’re getting the picture, so let’s dive into how to train opportunistic dogs (which are most of ‘em). ⏬
3 TRAINING TIPS FOR OPPORTUNISTIC DOGS
If you want a more in-depth look at training a well-mannered pup, you have to check out 30 Day Perfect Pup! You’ll get free (no credit card required) access to videos, written tips, and even an eBook covering topics like leash pulling, biting, potty training, and more.
Let’s look at a few ways you can train even the most opportunist of pups!
1- DON’T GIVE TOO MUCH FREEDOM
Too much freedom for puppies is probably at the root of about 90% of challenging behaviors you’ll encounter. And that’s especially true of your dog’s most “opportunistic behaviors”.
Potty accidents on your new carpet, electrical cords chewed up, bursting out the front door… Those all equate to too much freedom.
And while I’m not advocating you become a “helicopter parent” or shelter your dog from experiences, you do have an obligation to keep them safe and set them up for success.
In the first 12-24 months of your puppy's life, complete freedom around your home should be avoided. Letting your dog off their leash in an unfenced area at a young age is often not advisable.
So, utilize things like tethering your dog to you in the home (not always, but at times), crates, , and other tools to not allow too much freedom!
2- USE “SAFETY GUARDRAILS” IN THE EARLY MONTHS
As mentioned briefly above, guardrails for your pup’s safety can be vital to reducing unwanted behaviors. These type of safety guardrails are vital in the first 12-24 months of your pup’s life.
Here are some examples of opportunistic behaviors you can reduce with proper guardrails.
If your dog always tries to burst through doors, use a baby gate or barrier to not allow access to the door.
If your dog always in the kitchen, use a baby gate or barrier to not allow access to the kitchen unless you are in there with them.
If your dog constantly chews up your kid’s toys, don’t allow them access to the toy room.
When you leave your dog alone, leave them in a crate where they can’t get into mischief.
When you go explore outside, instead of letting your dog off leash consider using a
When you have guests coming over, consider leaving your dog in a different room or in the yard until they have time to calm down.
Of course, not all accidents or challenging behaviors can be avoided. But, with some guardrails, you can reduce the frequency of these unwanted behaviors.
3- FOCUS ON THE BEHAVIORS YOU
Many things we want from our dogs, , calm behavior when guests arrive, not chasing squirrels, etc., are completely foreign to them.
Their brains are literally wired to do the opposite!
So it is on us as pup parents to teach our dogs how to perform these behaviors and overcome their impulses.
For example, you can train your dog to sit and wait for a release before walking through a door.
You can also teach your dog to settle on a mat/place when asked, even when guests come in the door.
Or, you can even teach your dog to look at you instead of chasing after animals.
While I can assure you it is a lifelong process and takes hard work and dedication, it is possible.
Opportunism is at the root of challenging behaviors, and impulse control training is part of the solution. You can access 21 easy-to-follow, fun-to-play, and effective impulse control games as part of Pupford Academy.
4- BONUS TRAINING TIP
Here's a bonus . One thing that changed my experience with training our Labs was learning to use their “opportunistic tendencies”.
For example, my dog Scout has a very strong desire to chase and play fetch. That desire to chase is rooted in the opportunistic behavior of searching for food.
So, we learned to use her ball as a reward for good behavior.
Instead of using treats when (she didn’t focus well on treats outside the home) we threw her a ball each time she came back to us.
My dog Sunny loves food. She loves to search for snacks on the ground during our walks around New York City (there are plenty).
So, we started asking her to leave “street snacks” alone and rewarding her with extremely .
When possible, utilize your dog’s natural desires as rewards for good behavior!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON DOGS BEING OPPORTUNISTS
While knowing that dogs are opportunistic creatures won’t solve challenging behaviors, it will give you a better mindset as you approach their training and behavior.
Our dogs are wired to do things like searching for food, chasing after prey, and even barking to alert others of approaching people or animals. And when our dogs see an opportunity to do one of those things, they will! They aren’t often trying to be “defiant, naughty, or bad”, they’re just doing what dogs do! 🐶
So remember to limit freedom, use safety guardrails, and focus on training the behaviors you want your pup to do, not just trying to stop “bad behaviors”!
For an in-depth and 100% free online dog training course, ✅
What is your dog’s most challenging “opportunistic behavior”? Tell us in the comments below!