Whether you just brought home your first dog or you’ve been around dogs all your life, it’s not unusual for dogs to have behavior problems. Even if you’re an experienced dog owner you may still wonder why dogs do some of the things they do. Barking, chewing, biting/nipping, and other common behaviors can be misinterpreted and handled the wrong way by owners. If you have your first dog, you’re thinking of getting a dog, or if you simply want to better manage your dog’s behavior, it’s important to understand the most common dog behavior problems. That’s the first step to relating to your dog and preventing unwanted behaviors. And, of course, it always helps if your dog has a good foundation in obedience training. Training can help you prevent and control many common dog behavior problems.
Barking is a normal way for dogs to communicate. You can expect all dogs to bark, howl, or even whine to some extent. Some breeds are more vocal than others so this is something to consider when you choose a breed or dog. Most of us live in places today where excessive barking is a nuisance and a behavior prolem. Your neighbors certainly won’t appreciate your dog barking all day. However, before you can attempt to control or prevent your dog from excessive barking, you will need to determine why your dog is barking. Dogs generally bark for the following reasons:
- Giving a warning or alert
- Playing or excitement
- Responding to other dogs
- Seeking attention
Once you identify the reason(s) why your dog is barking, you can learn to control it. It often takes some time to teach your dog to stop excessive barking but teaching Bark/Quiet commands can help. If you are consistent and patient with your training you can succeed and your dog will be happier.
Chewing on objects is another natural behavior for dogs but it can become a problem behavior when your dog chews on the wrong things. If your dog is destroying furniture or your personal items, it’s a problem. The most common reasons dogs chew include:
- Boredom or Excess Energy
- Curiosity (this is especially true with puppies)
- Puppy Teething
Puppies will often outgrow chewing after they are finished teething so if you have a puppy that is chewing on things it doesn’t mean s/he will grow up to be an adult dog that chews on everything. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog that’s chewing, it helps to provide plenty of safe chew toys. Keep your personal items put up out of the way so your dog or puppy won’t be tempted to chew on them. When you are away from home for a few hours you can limit damage by crating your dog or puppy. If you happen to discover your dog or puppy chewing on something inappropriate, make a loud noise to startle him and replace the item with an appropriate chew toy. It’s also very important to make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise. Many behavior problems are the result of frustration or dogs that don’t get enough exercise. The dog has lots of energy and looks for something “fun” to do in the house – which leads to trouble. By providing plenty of exercise your dog is less likely to feel frustrated or have so much pent up energy.
Digging is another natural behavior that can become a problem. Some breeds, especially, love to dig. Terriers and Dachshunds, in particular, were bred to dig. Some of the reasons your dog might be tempted to dig include:
- Boredom or Excess Energy
- Comfort-Seeking (digging a den or a cool place)
- Hiding Possessions (favorite toys or bones)
- Hunting Instincts
- To Escape or Gain Access (under your fence)
As with other behaviors, try to figure out your dog’s motivation. Once you know why your dog is digging, you can work on stopping it. It often helps to give your dog more attention through play, give him more exercise, and provide training such as “Leave it” to get him to come away from a hole he’s digging. If he’s determined to dig, set up a special place in your yard where he’s allowed to dig such as his own sandbox, but make sure he understands he can’t dig in the garden.
Separation anxiety is often discussed today as a dog behavior problem. Indications can include chewing, vocalizations, inappropriate urination and soiling in the home, and other kinds of destructive behavior when a dog is apart from his owner. However, not all of these behaviors are always due to separation anxiety. Dogs can do some of these things for other reasons. Signs of “true” separation anxiety may include:
- Dog becomes anxious as the owner prepares to leave home;
- The dog’s behavior problems happen in the first 15 to 45 minutes after the owner leaves home;
- When the owner is home the dog follows him or her constantly;
- The dog tries to touch or be close to the owner as much as possible for reassurance.
Many dogs are temporarily sad when their owner leaves the house but they soon adjust. True separation anxiety is much more extreme. It usually takes training, behavior modification, and desensitization work to overcome this problem. In some cases medication may be needed. You may need to work with a behavior consultant. Your veterinarian can often recommend a good trainer or consultant.
Inappropriate Elimination or Soiling
Dogs that urinate or defecate inappropriately in the home often lose their homes. This is one behavior problem that many owners won’t tolerate. Dogs that ruin carpets or furniture can end up in shelters. As with many other dog behavior problems, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about this behavior so s/he can rule out any possible health problems. If there’s no health problem causing the behavior, these are some of the reasons why your dog may be soiling in the house:
- Incomplete house training
- Marking territory
- Seeking attention
- Submissive or excitement urination
Note that puppies can’t be expected to be house trained or know how to tell you they need to relieve themselves until they are at least three months of age. Once puppies are house trained, however, you should expect dogs to behave appropriately. A puppy may have an occasional lapse but you should make sure that house training is thoroughly completed.
Begging is a dog behavior problem but some owners encourage this behavior without realizing it. Unfortunately, begging can result in digestive problems for your dog and even obesity. Dogs beg for obvious reasons – they love food. They are scavengers by nature so if they can score something that tastes good by looking at you with pleading eyes, a dog gets lots of satisfaction.
You can discourage begging behavior by telling your dog to go to his place even before you sit down to eat. This should be a place where he won’t be able to stare at you – or you won’t be able to see him if he does. You may even want to send him to another room. If he behaves well, reward him with one of his favorite treats after you and your family have completely finished your meal.
Chasing is another instinctive dog behavior. It’s how your dog expresses his prey drive. In nature, if a dog sees something moving, such as a small animal, he would consider it to be prey and give chase. Today your dog may not be in nature but he still sees things that are moving and has the same instinct to chase. It can be dangerous for your dog to chase some things today like cars, or chasing a ball into the street. You may not be able to prevent your dog from trying to chase things but you can do some things to keep him safer.
- Be aware of your dog’s triggers, such as joggers, bicyclists, squirrels, cats, and other things that make him want to chase things;
- Keep a whistle with you so you can get your dog’s attention;
- Keep your dog leashed in public areas;
- Train your dog to come when called; this is usually done with the “Come” command.
Even with extensive obedience training, many dogs still have the urge to chase their “prey,” such as a squirrel or car. These dogs will never be reliable off-leash in public. However, many dogs can learn to listen to you instead of losing control.
Dogs jump up on people for a variety of reasons. Puppies can jump on their mothers to greet them. Puppies and dogs will also jump on people as a greeting. It can be a sign of over-enthusiasm. Jumping up is usually a friendly greeting but if you are on the receiving end of a jump from a 200-pound dog, it’s hard to see it as friendly. A jumping dog – large or small – can be dangerous. Even a small dog that jumps on you can knock you off balance or cause you to trip and fall. Children and seniors can be especially vulnerable to jumping dogs.
Dogs that jump up on people are usually seeking attention. The best way to deter this behavior is to turn your back on the jumping dog and ignore him or her. Don’t look at your dog or speak to him. It’s important for every person in the home to ignore the dog when he jumps up. Otherwise, the dog is still getting attention for his naughty behavior. If you keep ignoring your dog when he jumps up, then calmly pet him and reward him when he relaxes, it won’t be long before the jumping stops.
It’s important to realize that there are different kinds of biting. Puppies nip and nibble on each other and on people to explore how things taste, to practice fighting and hunting, and to learn their place in a “pack.” This is perfectly normal behavior and puppies learn “bite inhibition” from their mothers and from their human owners so they know what is acceptable as adult dogs.
Adult dogs can bite for other reasons:
- Dominance – fighting with another dog (over food, sleeping spot, jealousy, pack position, toys, etc.)
- Fear or self-defense
- Prey drive
- Protection of home and property
A dog that is in pain may bite you if you are trying to help him. He would not normally ever do such a thing but pain can cause a dog to do something out of character. A fearful dog may bite someone if he is cornered. Some dogs will bite if they are defending their home or their owner. These are probably not “behavior problems” since your dog doesn’t really have much control over them. Dominance or fighting with another dog in your home is a behavior problem. If you have two dogs that don’t get along they may fight over just about anything in the house. Just looking at each other could start a fight. You may need to work with a good trainer or behavior consultant to try to overcome the problem. In extreme cases you may need to rehome one of the dogs.
Dog aggression is more serious than a dog that bites out of pain or fear. Aggression can be directed toward other dogs or toward humans. Aggression directed toward humans is, by far, the most dangerous. If you have a dog that has shown signs of aggression toward you, contact a canine behaviorist for help. Most dog owners are not equipped to handle this kind of problem on their own. You need some professional guidance. You should also contact your veterinarian to make sure your dog doesn’t have a serious health problem.
These are some of the most common dog behavior problems reported by dog owners today. You will notice that in many cases we recommend that you have your dog checked by a veterinarian. This is because some behavior problems can be due to health issues. Many behavior problems are also linked to perfectly normal canine instincts. These behaviors only become problems when your dog does them in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or does them too much. Since they are instinctual, the behaviors can be hard to stop. Working with a good dog trainer or canine behaviorist is often a good idea to help with these dog behavior problems.