Dog behavior - What’s normal, what’s not and solutions to help you address it

Dog behavior problems are often misunderstood by pet owners because we are not aware of the underlying causes of these behaviors. While we all hope that our furry friends do not get into mischief, there are times when we need to address their behavior before it gets more serious. 

Common dog behavior problems

Many dog behaviors are due to our pet’s natural instincts. Here are some common dog behavior problems that you may need to address. 

Chewing

Dogs explore with their mouths. They also chew to relieve stress and boredom. Unfortunately, dogs sometimes chew inappropriate items such as our leather shoes or newspapers.

dog chewing

Photo by James Homans on Unsplash

While chewing is natural for dogs, excessive chewing can become a dog behavior problem that destroys your belongings. Dogs chew on things for several reasons such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Excess energy
  • Teething (for puppies)
  • Curiosity 

If your dog seems to bite your stuff constantly, providing appropriate chew toys and keeping personal items out of reach are easy solutions. If you see your dog chewing on something that it should not, replace the item with a chew toy. 

Keep your dog confined when you are not home so that it can’t chew on things. Ensure that your dog has plenty of exercise to burn off excess energy. 

Separation Anxiety

Your dog may have separation anxiety if 

  • It starts to be anxious when you are about to leave
  • It misbehaves for the first 45 minutes after you leave
  • It follows you around constantly
  • It keeps trying to touch you whenever possible. 

Other signs of separation anxiety include chewing, vocalization, and inappropriate urination and defecation. However, note that these actions may stem from other behavior problems as well. 

Your dog may need some training, and behavior modification to overcome separation anxiety. Medication is sometimes prescribed by vets for extreme cases. 

Digging

Dogs dig. It’s part of who they are. Dogs dig for the following reasons:

  • Boredom
  • Excess energy
  • To hide possessions 
  • Escape to another area
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • To seek comfort
dog digging

Photo by Lawrence Chismorie on Unsplash

While digging is instinctive for dogs, it can become quite a problem if your dog keeps digging up your front lawn or your yard. 

The best way to deal with this dog behavior problem is to determine the reason your dog is digging and try to eliminate the root cause. If your dog continues to dig even after you’ve done all you can to stop it from doing so, provide a ‘digging area’ where it can dig freely. Communicate to your dog that it’s only acceptable to dig in a particular area. 

Begging

More often than not, dogs who beg for food have been given table scraps while the owner is eating. 

To break this habit, just ignore your dog’s adorable face and move him to a designated area when he begs for food. Have your dog sit at the designated area and reward this behavior with a treat. 

Come up with a phrase for this action and always reward your dog when he goes to the designated space. His big puppy dog eyes that he uses when begging for food may make this really hard!

Peeing at inappropriate places

There are moments when even house trained dogs feel the need to ‘mark’ their territory by urinating in it. 

Dogs may pee in the house if there is a new pet around. They may also do it because there are changes in the household causing stress. If there have been no changes, your dog may have a health issue that’s making it hard for him to hold his urine. 

Here are some general reason as to why your dog may be peeing or defecating at inappropriate places:

  • Lack of proper housebreaking
  • Territorial marking
  • Submissive or excitement urination
  • Anxiety
  • Underlying health conditions

Chasing

Dogs chase moving things because it’s part of their instinct. You can often see dogs chasing cars, animals and even people. This can cause dangerous outcomes and while it’s unlikely that you will not be able to stop your dog from trying to chase, you can still take the steps to prevent anything untowards from happening. 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Keep your dog on a leash or keep him confined at all times
  • Have a dog whistle to get your dog’s attention
  • Train your dog to come when it’s called
  • Be alert and aware of triggers (for example, joggers, smaller animals)
dog on leash

Photo by Mirko Sajkov on Unsplash

Biting

Dogs bite, nip or snap for a few reasons:

  • Defensiveness
  • Protection of property
  • Fear
  • Pain or sickness
  • Predatory instinct

Puppies do it to explore the environment and mother dogs discipline them not to bite too hard. If you have a puppy, you will have to continue teaching bite inhibition so that your pet knows that biting is not acceptable. 

Through proper training and socialization, you will be able to decrease the tendency of this dog behavior. 

Aggressive dog behavior

Aggressive behaviors include snarling, growling, lunging, biting and showing teeth. All dogs are potentially aggressive, regardless of its breed. Dogs with abusive histories are even more likely to show aggressive behaviors. 

Canine aggression can develop into serious dog behavior problems. Consult your vet to rule out any health problems that might cause your dog to have aggressive tendencies. Get the appropriate help for your dog as it is your responsibility as a pet owner to keep the people around you safe. 

Jumping

Dogs tend to jump when they are excited to see you. However, unwanted jumping can cause injury, especially when the dog is large. Small dogs that jump on small children can also be a problem. Thus, this dog behavior should be stopped to avoid anyone being hurt. 

One of the ways to discourage this behavior is by ignoring it. Do not call her name or even say ‘down’. Instead, turn you back to your dog when you see about to jump on you. By doing this, your dog will not be able to get the face to face connection with you and the hugs that it expects. This will enforce that jumping is not encouraged. 

Barking

Dogs may howl, bark, and whine, but excessive barking is a dog behavior problem that you might want to deal with as soon as possible. 

Dogs bark for several reasons:

  • As a warning or alert
  • To get attention
  • Boredom
  • Playfulness and excitement 
  • As a response to other dogs

Determine why your dog is barking excessively before you try to correct the vocalizing. Teach your dog bark/quiet commands and pay attention to underlying reasons as to why your dog might be doing so. 

Dog behavior training

Dog behavior training is vital as it builds a foundation for good and appropriate behavior in your pets. Many dogs thrive when there are boundaries as well as predictable routines. To train your dog, you will need to set up a schedule, get some equipment as well as learn the basics of dog training. 

Set up a schedule

Training a dog takes time and progress is usually made in small steps. You can have two or three 10 to 15 minute training sessions a day. 

Puppies have short attention spans and older dogs may become bored if the sessions are too long. Stick to one command or action per session so as not to confuse your dog. It’s always best to start with simple, basic commands. 

Equipment

While you will not need many items, a few basic equipment will help make the training process more effective. 

You can choose supplies based on what you are trying to teach your dog. For example, if your dog has a tendency to chase moving objects, and you want to teach your dog to stay put, you may want to get an appropriate leash. 

You can also use dog training treats to reward your dog when she obeys the commands. There are plenty of healthy, nutritious dog treats that are available for you to give your pet. 

Choose a method

There are several dog behavior training styles that you can use. Many trainers recommend positive reinforcement, such as using treats or praising your dog when she obeys a command. 

If you are unsure of the method that you want to do, do some research to learn about training techniques that would be ideal for you and your pet. 

Basic Commands

It’s always best to start with the basics when it comes to dog behavior training. One of the most simple commands is ‘sit’. You should also teach your dog to come when she’s called. Once you have taught basic commands, you can move on to more advanced commands or even some fun tricks. 

Get professional help

If you are unsure of what to do, you can find a professional dog trainer or join an obedience class. These classes can also be a supplement to your own training program. Your dog trainer can also help improve your program to increase its effectiveness. 

Additionally, you should also make a trip to a dog behavior specialist if you find your dog displaying sudden strange dog behavior. 

How to tell if your dog is happy? 

Dogs are not able to tell you whether they are happy, sad or frustrated as they can’t speak. As dog owners, we want to make sure that our dog is happy. Here are a few signs that show that your dog is happy.

  • Relaxed eyes and eyelids
  • Relaxed, at-ease ears
  • Relaxed mouth - they appear to ‘smile’
  • Relaxed body - they are not tense
  • Smooth brow 
  • Lolling tongue
  • Wagging their tail with their whole body
  • Your dog enjoys walks and playtime
  • Does not engage in destructive behavior
  • Happy barks
  • Has a good appetite and is eating well
  • Healthy coat
  • Sleeping well
  • They are excited to see you

Dogs who are stressed or unhappy will likely try to communicate their distress with you through their body language or behavior. Dog psychology aims to study dog behavior so that we can train our pets and provide all that they need. If your dog seems to be engaging in destructive behavior, do consult with a professional to get to the underlying cause.  

Conclusion

Dog behavior problems can be frustrating as well as develop into major issues if not dealt with appropriately. Fortunately, many destructive behaviors have an underlying cause and with proper and effective dog behavior training, you will be able to teach your dog commands that will help both you and your dog to manage these behaviors.

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