dog growling

Common Dog Behavior Problems and What to Do About Them

Dogs are faithful companions, and most are happy to be on their best behavior for their humans. However, even the best-behaved dog will have an occasional lapse. The key to dealing with dog behavior problems is to understand why the dog is acting that way so you can take the proper steps to correct – or redirect – the behavior in a positive way.

Some Common Dog Behavior Problems and What You Can Do About Them

Voiding in the House

One of the most common reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters is a failure by the owners to successfully house train the dog.  While human babies are given years to figure out how to use a toilet and not do their business in a diaper, we expect puppies and newly adopted dogs to figure out where to go to the bathroom in a matter of days!

  • The best way to house train your new dog is to set aside 2 – 3 days when you first bring your new companion home, to teach your new pup the house rules.
  • For your new puppy, take her outside every hour on the hour and praise her heavily when she voids outside.  She will want to continue the behavior which is making you so happy.
  • When you see her beginning to nose around for a place to pee or poop, or if she runs to the door, immediately take her outside.
  • If you catch her in the act of peeing in the house, verbally chastise her and immediately take her outside, even if she is still in the middle of peeing.  She will get the message very quickly that she is supposed to pee outside.
  • Do NOT ever hit your dog for any reason and do not chastise her in any way after the fact.  She will not associate your anger with the fact that she peed in the house the hour before.
  • Do not deprive your dog of water.  Once house trained, a healthy adult dog can ‘hold it’ for hours, even with ready access to water.
  • For male dogs, neutering generally decreases the urge to mark everything in sight and will greatly help with the house training process.
  • If your dog is house trained but pees when nervous or overly excited (e.g. when you arrive home; when guests come in) you must address the events which are causing the fear or anxiety peeing. Try to come home at approximately the same time each day, don’t make a big fuss over your dog when you enter and move quickly to another room so that your dog knows you are there to stay and that everything is ‘under control’.

Chewing

If you live with a dog, especially a puppy, you’ve probably found at least one of your possessions chewed to pieces. This is one of the most common dog behavior issues that owners face. Dogs chew for a number of reasons, including teething for puppies, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, and because chewing is a natural instinct for dogs and helps keep their gums and teeth healthy. So, while we may think chewing is a problem, it’s something that is a normal and healthy part of most dogs’ lives.

If your dog is a chewer, just try to keep whatever you don’t want chewed out of his reach and provide plenty of chew toys as alternatives to your possessions. This is especially important if he’s a teething puppy.  Please note that some veterinarians discourage the use of rawhide chews because they can be hard to digest and can cause gastric distress.  Make sure your pup has easy access to his toys and that they are generally in one area so that he associates that ‘pile’ with appropriate chewing objects.  If your pup has decided to chew on your furniture, you may want to spritz a little bitter apple or other natural flavor on the areas being chewed to discourage the chewing.  Be sure to test the product on a small area first so that you don’t inadvertently ruin your furniture.

Spend quality time playing with your pet to tire him out and decrease his boredom and loneliness.  Since dogs are naturally pack animals and will entertain each other, having at least two dogs in your house will also decrease destructive behavior directed at your possessions.

If you find your dog chewing something he shouldn’t be chewing, gently correct him and give him an appropriate toy to chew instead. Be sure that you correct him while he is doing the destructive behavior. Again, a dog will associate whatever he is doing at the moment with being scolded, so yelling at him even a few minutes later will not do any good.

Biting

Most dogs don’t aggressively nip or bite people or each other, and those who do always have a good reason, even if that reason is only good from a canine’s point of view. Dogs bite for a variety of reasons, including because humans have taught them to be aggressive or to protect their territory or things, because they are frightened or annoyed, or because they are sick or in pain. Dogs will play bite or nibble on each other but that is not the type of behavior you need to discourage.

To prevent aggressive biting, try to determine what is causing the stress which is leading to the biting and address that. If you understand what the root causes of the behavior are, you will be much more successful in addressing it.  Your dog should feel secure, comfortable and protected in your care and should understand the hierarchy and structure in the house. Pay attention to warning signs – most dogs will let you know that they are going to bite by growling, snarling, or barring their teeth. Raised fur, ears that are pulled back, cowering, or slowly wagging a lowered tail should also serve as warnings. If you see this behavior, determine what has caused it and address that.  In extreme behavioral cases, you may want to work with a trainer to address the situation.  If the cause is medical, immediately see your veterinarian.  Chances are that once your pup feels better, either psychologically or physically, he will no longer engage in aggressive biting.

Barking, Howling, or Whining

If your dog whines, howls, or barks at every sight and sound, he is probably disturbing not only you but others in the neighborhood as well. Some breeds are naturally more vocal than others, but even if your dog is noisy by nature, you’ll want to minimize inappropriate barking, whining or howling with some basic discipline. Tell him, “no!” firmly but without shouting when he is making unnecessary noise, but also realize that this behavior is a form of communication. A quick squirt of water from spray bottle will also discourage unnecessary barking.  If your dog knows that you are in control of whatever situation it is which is causing him to vocalize, he will calm down and let you take over.  If your dog is whining or exhibiting distress, ask yourself if your dog is warning you of something or is bored, sick, injured or upset? Is it dinnertime or does he need to pee? Be sure to give your pet proper care, exercise and attention, and you’ll find that he is quieter and less likely to bark, whine or howl unless he truly has something to say!

Jumping on Visitors

Even the most dog-friendly people may be bothered by an overly friendly dog who jumps up to greet them. In some cases, this common dog behavior problem is only a minor annoyance, but it can also be dangerous to children and older adults, especially if you have a large dog.

To keep your pet from jumping on you and your guests, you’ll need to train him so that he knows this is not acceptable behavior. One method is to use a pinch collar with a short leash that you can grab to gently pull him back if he jumps up. Another easy way to discourage jumping is to gently but firmly tap your dog in the chest with your knee and say “No jump!” as he is jumping up.  This won’t hurt him but will knock him back a bit and prevent him from landing on you.  After a few unsuccessful attempts to jump up, he will give it up.  Do not to encourage or respond to the jumping with positive attention.  Suggest that your guests move away from your front door quickly and not initially make a fuss over the dog, even if they don’t mind being jumped on. If your dog knows basic commands, you can tell him to “sit” or “stay” when visitors arrive.  Once everyone is settled in, he may go around and meet everyone, so long as all 4 feet stay on the ground.

Most common dog behavior problems can be solved with time, commitment, and consistent discipline. However, if you have a dog with a serious behavior problem that you cannot correct on your own, you will want to invest in some training classes or take a trip to the vet to determine if the behavioral issue has a medical cause.

 

 

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