Behavior Problems in Dogs

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We all love our canine fur babies more than anything. However, they can develop certain unwanted habits. From time to time, they can also be challenging to handle – some more often than others.

Fortunately, most of those habits and behavior issue are minor and easy to live with. On the other hand, some can be antisocial and require correction.

Knowing how to react if such problems occur is quite helpful. First, you need to minimize the chance of the problem reoccurring and then try understanding why it happened in the first place.

For example, if your dog chews shoes, stop leaving shoes around. If the dog jumps to say hello, train it to sit when you come home and reward it for sitting instead disciplining it for jumping.

If it barks when it hears a noise outside, teach it to fetch and carry – barking is impossible when the mouth is filled with a toy.

Unwanted behaviors can be sorted into three categories:

  • Boredom problems
  • Excitement problems
  • Aggression problems.

To help you understand behavior problems, we have compiled a list of the most usual behavior issues, how they manifest and how to successfully approach them.

Boredom Problems

Boredom leads to anxiety and anxiety leads to creativity on the dog’s part. Usually, that creativity produces mayhem. Signs of boredom include chewing, excessive barking, howling, digging, fence jumping and rhythmically pacing back and forth.

All dogs need to chew on something. Channel that needs by providing lots of chewable toys and applying taste deterrents to objects that are not meant for chewing.

To turn of the howling and barking, you need to train your dog to “speak” on command. Attach your dog’s leash to a fence, stand few feet away and tease it with a toy. When it barks from frustration, give the “Speak” command and reward it with a treat.

When the dog consistently barks to the command, replace the food treats with verbal rewards such as “Good boy/girl”. Once the dog understands how to speak, give the command “Quiet” and reward it as soon as it stops barking.

When the dog gets used to this practice, set up mock departures, giving the “Quiet” command before you leave. Stand outside the door and listen. If it barks, make some noise to startle it and if it is quiet, return and reward it.

For fence-jumpers it is advised to install obstacles. Tin cans strung on a rope about 10 inches from the fence and 3 feet off the ground make a noisy deterrent.

Chicken wire on the ground at takeoff distance from the fence works well, but make sure the gauge of the wire is too small for your dog’s feet to slip through.

If your dog is an instinctive digger, redirect its energy away from the flowers or lawn to an acceptable area. Restrict your dog’s movements to a safe area within the garden and give it a sandbox. Chicken wire is also an excellent deterrent to digging.

Excitement Problems

Dogs show excitement in different ways. Some bark, some pull their leashes and some jump. For example, Terriers nip with excitement, while Bull Terriers chase their tails.

Physical stimulation and proper basic obedience training are at the root of preventing the overexcited behavior.

If your dog jumps on visitors to greet them, keep it on a leash or in another room when guests come to your house. If it jumps on you, as soon as you enter the room use a positive command such as “Sit” to prevent it from jumping.

Another option is to ignore flamboyant greetings, avoid eye contact and do your business without paying attention to the dog.

Never use high voices and never wave with your hands because that can increase the dog’s excitement. Once the dog calms down, give it the “Sit” command and reward it with a quiet “Hello”.

If the dog pulls its leash, do not accept the challenge and turn the walk into a tug-of-war session. Instead, go back to basics and remind your dog how to follow primary obedience signals.

Aggression Problems

Certain dogs are born with a greater tendency to become aggressive. However, problems only occur in homes that wittingly or unwittingly encourage the development of a dog’s aggressive potential.

Early and extensive socializing with the human family, strangers, other canine and non-canine pets and a whole range of experiences dramatically reduces the likelihood that a dog will reach its aggression potential.

It should be well understood that there is always a reason for the aggressive behavior. For the dog, that reason is always apparent. However, for us, sometimes the cause may not be that obvious.

It is of imperative importance that you understand why your dog shows aggression. Once aggression develops, it cannot disappear on its own.

Aggression needs to be contained, reduced and at the end – eliminated. If you cannot take those steps on your own, do not hesitate to ask for professional help.

There are several types of aggression in dogs:

  1. Dominance aggression

Dominance issues are the most common reason why dogs growl at or even bite their owners. In these cases, all sorts of physical punishment must be avoided. Physical punishment is provocative and can make things even worse.

Instead, use facial expressions, body postures and the tone of your voice to remind your pouch that he is not the leader of the pack.

You can reassert your authority over a pushy dog by attaching a leash to its collar and moving the dog to temporary isolation from the family. That temporary isolation should not be longer than several minutes.

It is not advisable to hold grudges and be mad at your dog. The best option is to review your relationship with the dog and determine why it thought it should challenge you.

Sometimes even little things send big signals to your dog. For example, if you are the leader, you eat first, and you go through doorways first.

Dominance aggression between two dogs is a different story. It usually occurs between two dogs that are relatively equal – same sex, size, and age. It is a common misconception that you need to protect the underdog.

Comforting the underdog only increases the problem. Dogs have their hierarchy, and we need to respect that.

Therefore, the higher ranking dog eats first, goes through doorways first and is petted by you first. If the dominance fighting cannot be contained, it is best advised to get the dogs neutered.

  1. Sex-related aggression

Sex-related aggression occurs in both sexes, but it is more commonly seen in males. In females, it happens only twice a year during their hormonal changes.

Pregnant women may become possessive over specific items (shoes, socks, toys) and display a type of sex-related aggression known as maternal aggression.

Male-to-male aggression occurs all year round. It is more common in dogs that as puppies were allowed to play rough games without being corrected.

Never let your puppy bite other puppies and dogs, put its paws on the other dog’s back or mount and thrust on any part of another dog.

Tolerant, well-mannered and older dogs usually let puppies get away with these conundrums, but unknown dogs may not be as tolerant and act violently.

  1. Fearful aggression

Fearful aggression is the reason why dogs bite strangers. Fear biting happens in dogs that did not meet lots of new people while puppies.

Fearful aggression is most common among small dog breeds. Watch your dog for signs of fear (body posture, teeth-baring, growling) and eliminate the problem before your dog becomes a nervous fear biter.

  1. Predatory aggression

This primitive and basic form of aggression can happen in any dog. Dogs instinctively chase moving things. Additionally, certain breeds (terriers, herders, sighthounds) are genetically primed for chasing and pouncing.

Early socialization combined with channeling the puppy’s desire to chase toys is the best prevention.

  1. Territorial aggression

Dogs like their territories and tend to protect them from strangers, especially if the strangers are perceived as threats.

The best way to prevent or overcome this issue is to introduce your puppy/dog to new people on a daily basis. It will be ideal if the introduction is made on a territory that your dog feels like its own.

It should be noted that there is nothing wrong with your dog alerting you when someone comes to your home. However, being compulsively protective of your shared territory is wrong.

  1. Food and toy aggression

Some dogs become quite possessive of their food and toys. Train your dog that being touched while eating is acceptable and non-threatening behavior. Teach it that hands near the food bowl will not take its food away.

You can kneel down beside your dog while it is eating and offer it something even tastier. When the dog gets used to this, hide the treat in your hand, put the hand in its food bowl and slowly open the hand. That way, your dog will learn to enjoy your presence during meal time.

  1. Health-related aggression

It is natural for sick dogs to feel grumpy or even aggressive. When something hurts, the dog’s natural response would be to bite. Always be extra careful when handling your ill dog. This form of aggression cannot be prevented because it is a natural survival instinct.

  1. Learned aggression

Irresponsible owners like teaching their dogs how to be aggressive. Learned aggression is hard to get rid of and always requires professional assistance.

In a nutshell, bad behavior develops because of 10 reasons. Those reasons include:

  • Not enough physical exercise – simply stated, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.
  • Not enough mental stimulation – mental stimulation is as essential and tiring as physical. Mentally stimulate dogs are well-balanced dogs.
  • Health problems – many health problems lead to changed behavior and acting up.
  • Genetic issues – a plethora of behavior issues ranging from aggression to hyperactivity can be inherited from the parents.
  • Inconsistent environments – lack of pattern makes dogs confused and anxious. Decide what you consider acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable and stick to your decisions.
  • Misunderstanding the “normal” dog behavior – it is normal for dogs to bark, howl, jump up, guard their possessions, pull on leashes, eat poop, nip, chase smaller animals, chew everything and growl when threatened. However, these behaviors are normal as long as they are moderate.
  • Changes in routine – dogs need a sense of security and stepping out of their routines may push them out of balance, thus causing inappropriate behavior.
  • Changes in diet – nutrition has a huge influence on behavior, and sudden diet changes may lead to acting up.
  • Poor or negative socialization – dogs need positive and controlled exposure to other dogs, new people, sounds, sights, smells, surfaces, and experiences.
  • Fear periods – this is quite normal for puppies. In fact, depending on the breed, some puppies during their brains’ developments may go through few fear periods.

Bad habits vary, and there is no universal approach to addressing them. However, most habits can be either diminished or corrected by following this simple and basic program:

  • Go back to basic obedience – make sure your dog understands all basic commands.
  • Ensure that your dog does something for you before it receives any reward.
  • Avoid problems by making sure you can enforce obedience commands.
  • Satisfy your dog’s natural needs by creating acceptable outlets for natural behavior.
  • Eliminate the satisfaction that your dog gets from unacceptable behavior. In some cases, this involves minor punishments.
  • Persevere do not expect miracles overnight. Usually, it takes more than three weeks to overcome bad habits.

More often than not, as a pet parent, you find yourself making up excuses for your dog’s inappropriate behavior, telling everybody it is just a phase or telling yourself that you have nothing to worry about, because your dog’s manners combined with its appearance make its actions and pushy behavior “cute” or “funny”.

However, you must realize that dogs do not have a sense of morality. They do not do things that are good and avoid things that are bad.

They do not even know what is right and what is wrong. They know and do what works. Therefore if you keep laughing when your dog misbehaves it will perceive the laugh as approval and keep misbehaving.

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