The Basic Principles of Changing Your Dog’s Behaviour

January 15, 2022 10:52

Be the change you wish to see in the world

‘Human behaviour has been shown to be highly influential on dogs’ behaviour and emotional state, and hence is pivotal to the success or failure of any dog-human dyad’. 

Dr Elyssa P, Characterising Dogmanship - GAP NSW staff.

Before changing your dog’s behaviour, it’s important to first consider your behaviour as the owner.

If you want to teach your dog something new, you need to be aware of your own agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and willingness to experience new things.

You need to accept that it may take your dog time to learn something new.

If you’re looking to change an adverse behaviour, you need to recognise how your own behaviour (and the behaviour of others in the same home) could be affecting or causing that adverse behaviour in the first place.

By adjusting your own behaviour first, you may actually be able to help your dog feel safer and more secure in your home, which will in turn influence their behaviour.

Positive reinforcement is key

When teaching a greyhound (or any dog) something new, we recommend reinforcing good (desirable) behaviours with positive rewards.

One example of positive reinforcement is using a food reward. For example, using a treat to lure your dog to walk beside you during a walk.

If your greyhound is not particularly food motivated, then you can try using pet rewards, play rewards, verbal rewards or a specific toy. However, many dogs will stop taking treats due to fear or anxiety, so it’s important to always work with your dog in an environment where they are able to think and learn.

Avoiding punishment, we are not ‘alphas of the pack’

It is important to have ambition in your human-dog relationship, however, this shouldn’t be confused with holding power over your dog.

Earlier on the page, we mentioned luring a dog using a treat, which is a much better approach than physically pulling or yelling at the dog.

When people exert power over their dogs forcefully and apply the threat of punishment so their dogs have little choice but to comply, this is an unhelpful foundation in which to build a relationship. In fact, such techniques can often cause your dog to react poorly (such as snapping or biting) by inducing fear and discomfort.

Instead, being a reflective and competent owner that is followed willingly - will result in a stronger relationship with your dog.


A good greyhound owner is conscientious without showing signs of neuroticism (a tendency to be in a negative emotional state). There are some situations where an owner’s stress could inadvertently influence their dog’s behaviour

For example, a person who is walking their dog erratically changing direction often and keeping the lead under tension could easily cause their dog to become hypervigilant.

On the other hand, an owner who is conscientious enough to allow the lead to become loose (if it is safe to do so) and walks at a calm pace is more likely to have a calmer dog during walks.

It’s important to always be mindful of your own behaviour and mood around the animal and how this may affect your dog in any given instance.

Being consistent

Try to remain as consistent and predictable as possible.

Consistency includes your hand gestures, movement, tone of voice and use of words.

For example, if you’re practising recall, it is best to avoid:
  • Sometimes walking towards the dog, sometimes staying still
  • Sometimes using a hand signal, sometimes not
  • Sometimes saying “come” and other times saying “over here”
It’s important to be patient and give the dog time to get accustomed to any changes in routine or environment.

Time is your friend

Petting your dog and sharing happy moments together can release hormones such as oxytocin, which reduces cortisol and your stress levels for a calming effect on the body.

It’s also been discovered recently that dogs experience the same hormonal changes during interactions. It is thought that this helps people and dogs form such strong bonds, even though they are two completely different species.

Over time, your companionship, predictability and positivity will go a long way to producing positive responses from your dog.

What behaviours should new greyhound owners be mindful of?

Toilet accidents

Toileting accidents can be a common occurrence for greyhounds that are new to a home. Even if they are fully toilet trained, new environments can create confusion.

The greyhound needs to learn where they're supposed to go, where the backyard/toilet area access is, how to navigate the house, etc. They also need to adjust to you as their new owner and how to communicate to you that they need to go to the toilet.


Another consideration is that greyhounds tend to freeze if they become nervous or overwhelmed during walks.

Instead of barking a lot like other breeds or pulling on the lead and trying to run off, greyhounds will just stand like statues. Unlike a small breed, it’s not an option to pick them up and walk to a new location.

To help them get walking again, you’ll need to encourage them with treats or guide them to a different route around whatever they’re nervous about. Focus on building their confidence and dialling back on the particular circumstances that may have caused the dog to freeze, such as walking less often or in less busy areas.

Socialising with humans

New greyhound owners will find that their new companions are typically mild-mannered and sensitive dogs.

They also tend to be very sociable with humans.

You generally won’t need to teach a greyhound not to jump on somebody who walks into your home; they're usually happy to stay on all four paws and just lean into people for a nice pat instead.

Of course, each dog is an individual and there may be some dogs that try to jump up when meeting new people. If this happens, it helps to teach the dog that the best way to get people to say hello is to perform an alternative behaviour (like touching their nose to your hand) and to use treats to help them keep all paws on the floor.

Human visitors should be instructed that the greyhound has a safe space (i.e. bed or crate),  that it shouldn’t be petted while laying down, nor have items taken from it.

Avoiding hugging

For humans, hugging is a peaceful and positive embrace, however, it’s important to consider that some greyhounds will see hugging as an aggressive motion.

At GAP NSW, we believe hugging causes sudden pressure to a dog’s neck or chest while also taking away its ability to leave a situation.

Instead of hugging, it's best to find one spot where your dog loves to be scratched. That can be a good alternative that will allow you to physically connect with them while also allowing them to feel safe and comfortable.

Adopt a greyhound: change two lives

All adopters from GAP receive the Greyhound handbook, which provides new greyhound owners with information on how to care for their new companion.

Dog ownership comes with significant health benefits. The presence of a pet in your life can help keep you calm, relaxed, and fulfilled.

We also let new adopters know that our behaviour team is always available to assist when needed. The team is available at any point in your greyhound’s life.

If you have any follow-up questions for us, please use our contact page, otherwise, take a look at our greyhounds for adoption!