Though dogs were domesticated 15,000 years ago, many dog habits are still instinctive to them. If not trained, these habits can turn into bad behaviours. To handle dogs with behaviour problems, the first step is to identify the dog behaviours and to understand what they mean.
Table of Contents
Dogs with behaviour problems
According to statistics, dog behaviour problems are often unobserved or misunderstood by most dog parents, especially new dog parents.
Due to limited insight about dog body language, typical behaviours, and the underlying causes of those behaviours, dog parents end up yelling at their fur babies. But the dog repeats the behaviour time and over again.
This is because yelling doesn’t work but it does make the dog aggressive or timid.
To avoid such situations and to have a healthy relationship with your furry companion, you need to decipher the signs and learn what’s an instinctive dog behaviour and what bad habits are unconsciously encouraged by us.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common dog behaviours, sudden behavioural changes in dogs, what they mean, and how you can handle dogs with behaviour problems.
Dogs are active and energetic animals, especially when they are pups and young adults. It is in this age when they are particularly hyperactive and wild.
Hyperactive dogs can accidentally injure themselves running around wilfully and wildly, so we must make sure this behaviour doesn’t cause harm to our dogs.
Signs: Zoomies (suddenly running madly around the place), barking loudly at nothing and running everywhere, knocking over things or other pets in the house, rough play with humans or other dogs
Causes: Puppyhood, boredom, insufficient exercise, no proper playtime, poor diet, rough play, bad upbringing
Solutions: Avoid encouraging sudden outburst of energy, take longer walks to release your dog’s energy, give plenty of exercise, enough playtime, a balanced diet, clicker training
2. Barking and Howling
Barking comes naturally to a dog and so does howling. Dogs bark for a reason but not all the time. Barking in frustration, anger or boredom is normal for dogs.
What’s not normal is excessive barking. Not only is it annoying, it is also harmful for your dog.
Some dogs may bark at passers-by without any reason and some may howl in unison with other dogs just because they are dogs.
Dogs in pain or discomfort may also bark or howl to express something is wrong with them.
Signs: Barking at walls, doors, random people, barking at nothing, howling at the television, car horns, sirens, alarms, howling with other dogs, etc.
Causes: Separation from mother (common in pups), boredom, fear, anxiety, neighbour’s cat, missing a human or dog sibling, pain or discomfort
Solutions: Spend more time with your pup, distract when excess barking begins, use a command to call and redirect your dog, desensitize from sounds of television, alarms, sirens, and other dog howls, keep the dog away from the triggers that cause excessive barking, give obedience training
Almost every dog on earth loves to dig to one degree or another, it’s a very common natural dog behaviour inherited from wolves.
Wolves used to dig to hide bones and other leftovers to consume them later on. This behaviour is still seen in dogs irrespective of breed, but feral and streets dogs do it more often.
My desi girls, Hyena and Selfie dig up the garden quite often and even after all these years of training I know deep down that they’ll do it again.
Digging is an inborn habit of domesticated dogs and we cannot fix this habit completely.
When I find my dogs digging up a flowerpot, I repeatedly say a “no” and distract them with their favourite toys kept in the garden.
Sometimes they show no interest in toys and go to another flowerpot to dig and give me the ‘we’ll dig again after you leave’ look. This is when I redirect them away from inappropriate digging places and onto a crate of sand and mud kept specially for them to dig away to their glory.
We need to be consistent and encouraging every single time we teach them that it’s safe and okay to dig in their crates and not anywhere else.
Catching them in action works better to solve the issue rather than scolding them afterwards.
It is important to know that digging is a dog’s thing and we must guide them instead of taking it away from them.
Signs: Digging up yards, spots in gardens, flowerpots, digging and hiding bones or food, etc.
Causes: Boredom, excess energy, anxiety, play, to hide bones, food & toys, nesting to cool off during hot days, to escape from places
Solutions: Special sand crate (bury some of their favourite toys inside the sand to lure them to their crates), praise when digging in the sand crates, this will encourage them to dig in this spot
Dogs explore the world with their mouths and chewing is a natural action for all dogs no matter which age.
Puppies mouth and chew everything out of curiosity. They also chew excessively during their teething phase. This chewing habit will fade away with time.
However, too much chewing can become a behavioural issue in a dog that can lead to destruction.
Signs: Chewing furniture, shoes, foot rugs, bags, and probably everything in reach
Causes: Teething (very common in puppyhood), curiosity, extra energy, boredom, need to chew (inborn habit)
Solutions: Provide suitable chew toys and dog bones, give plenty of exercise and walks, distract with sharp noise or command and immediately replace the item with a chew toy, till your dog is under training when left indoors use retractable gates to limit the dog in an area where less destruction can be caused
5. Biting and mouthing
Biting in dogs is mostly an instinctive behaviour and dogs use their mouth the way we use our hands.
Normally, curiosity and play biting are common reasons of biting in dogs. Puppies are famous for mouthing, an action which they put their mouth to our fingers and hands but don’t actually bite.
Typically, a mother dog teaches her young pups how much is ok to bite and disciplines them when needed.
However, biting can go beyond puppyhood and it is totally up to us to train our dogs to avoid accidental bites.
Signs: Biting during play, snapping at toys, nipping fingers, mouthing fingers and toes, biting other dogs while playing
Causes: Natural behaviour of pups, inquisitiveness, motivation to bite, rough play since puppyhood, defence mechanism when scared or threatened
Solutions: Bite inhibition, distraction with chew toys, watch for signs of aggression and tackle calmly, avoid rough plays, do not encourage play biting or biting at any intensity
One of the most frustrating issues in dogs with behaviour problems is disobedience. Not listening to you or not obeying a basic command that it already knows, is a typical behaviour of a disobedient dog.
If you ignore your dog’s disobeying behaviour, soon it can become a root to a multitude of other behavioural issues.
Signs: Not following taught commands, not coming to you when called, turning a deaf ear to his name
Causes: Poor training, too many words while training, only verbal commands and no gestures, inconsistence in training
Solutions: Go back to basic training, be consistent, every member in the house should use the same commands and rules for the dog
7. Inappropriate Elimination
Dogs do not know the concept of appropriate places to relieve themselves, we need to teach them.
However, if you have house trained your dog for urination and defecation, and it still accidentally eliminates inside the house, do not scold the pup right away but identify the cause first.
If you have trained your dog to eliminate in the yard, but the door to the yard is closed, then it’s obviously not the dog’s fault.
Generally, inappropriate elimination in young pups can happen during ongoing training, and improper and inconsistent training can carry this behaviour to adulthood.
However, in senior dogs, an underlying health issue like incontinence can cause involuntary peeing anywhere inside the house. Speak to a vet if this is the cause.
Signs: Pee or poop in places other than the specified area
Causes: Irregular training, not letting out dogs at proper intervals to release themselves, improper diet
Solutions: Seek a good trainer if needed, schedule ample of pee and potty breaks, understand your dog’s diet
8. Begging or Stealing food
Cannot resist those puppy eyes? You’re not alone, almost every dog parent is guilty.
Dogs begging for food is just a side effect of spoiling our dogs to an extent that we would like to give them everything that they ask for and the worst outcome is stealing food.
So, this is a learnt behaviour and the more you do it, the worse this behaviour will become.
Remember, dogs love food but not all food is safe for dogs. In your absence, your dog can accidentally consume some food that can later cause severe health issues like diarrhoea, vomiting, or even death.
So, if your dog has learnt to beg for food, it can be un-taught to do so.
Signs: Sitting beside the dining table, following you for food, sneaking into the kitchen,
Causes: Spoilt by dog parent, greed, hunger
Solutions: Ignore those puppy eyes, avoid when begging, be consistent, keep away human food from places your dog can reach, give your dog a balanced diet and proper number of meals in a day
9. Climbing on furniture
While it’s totally up to you to decide whether your dog should be allowed on the furniture, there can be instances of the dog scratching, tearing and destroying the couch.
Additionally, climbing on the chairs to get on the kitchen counter to steal your food, is definitely an issue.
Sometimes, dominance is seen in many dogs with behaviour problems. Climbing on a furniture and acquiring positions may be signs of dominance over you or other dogs in the family, just like wolves climbing on hilltops denote dominion and power.
Signs: Sleeping on the couch, climbing on the bed, getting on the kitchen counter using chairs
Causes: Separation anxiety, need for comfort, dominance
Solutions: Provide a comfortable dog bed, discourage climbing on furniture
10. Chasing moving things
The world’s majority dogs have this predatory behaviour of chasing after moving things, be it animals or vehicles. It is simple how they are wired.
While my fur baby, Selfie loves to chase rats, squirrels, cats, motorbikes, cars, little kids on bicycles or anything that moves past her, this behaviour can put her into some serious trouble, like it once did.
On a potty break, she chased some vehicles that were passing by our house and in full speed she accidentally bashed into the car parked in the yard. This caused temporary injuries on her leg but she has a permanent blood clot on her sides due to the abrupt hit.
Despite that, she still chases vehicles and small animals whenever she gets a chance because this is a natural behaviour in dogs and it cannot be completely stopped. However, it can be prevented.
Signs: Chasing madly after cats, squirrels, rats, cars, bikes, kids running, etc.
Causes: Predatory nature, absence of obedience training
Solutions: Socialize your dog more often, if your dog is a chaser keep them on a leash when outdoors, teach obedience cues like “no, stay, come” to control them better, lookout for triggers and fast moving distractions like cats, squirrels, joggers, bicycles, etc.
11. Eating poop or dirt
First things first, dirt or poop doesn’t smell gross to dogs in the way they might do for us.
Moreover, dogs are explorers and especially as pups they will smell and eat everything and anything that’s in front of them just out of curiosity.
Usually, dirt doesn’t cause any serious issues in dogs, but this doesn’t mean dogs can eat poop.
Signs: Smelling or eating poop
Causes: Curiosity, Instinctive habit, Intestinal worms
Solutions: Dispose your dog’s poop immediately (no poop-no problem), walk in clean environments and monitor your dog during walks, say “no” as you see them sniffing dirt and walk them away from the area, regularly deworm your dog (seek vet advice for effective deworming)
12. Leash pulling
Dogs do not pull their leash on purpose, they simply do not know how to walk on a leash. So, as dog parents it is our duty to teach them how to walk beside us during walks.
Bluntly put, leash pulling is a behaviour unconsciously taught by dog owners. It is a habit learnt during walks, when your dog pulls at the leash and you allow him to do so.
Most dog owners unaware of the fact just yell at their dogs and keep walking, this is when the dog learns that pulling pays off.
Leashing pulling can cause injuries to your dog and you, therefore it is important to be able to walk calmly with your dog on a leash.
Having said that, once we teach our dogs how normal walking should be done, the problem will go away.
Signs: Pulling leash while on walks, pace walking much ahead of you
Causes: Owner encouraging pulling, dog’s excitement for walks
Solutions: Use a no-pull harness, keep the leash short but loose, stop when you feel a pull, keep treats for positive reinforcements, walk together in a suitable pace for your dog, walk your dog beside you, take more frequent and fun walks
If a dog is well-behaved, the credit goes to the dog parent. And, if a doggo misbehaves, as a responsible dog parent it is time to address the issue.
To deal with dogs with behaviour problems, spend more time with your dogs and understand them well. If a behaviour is inherent like whining for attention, simply ignoring it will make it fade away.
However, if the behavioural change is noticed all of a sudden or roots from a health issue, visit a vet ASAP.
It is important to know that even the best trained dogs can have slips in discipline. No matter how much we want our dogs to be “good boys” at all times, there can be occasional bad behaviours.
We need to be aware that some of these are just normal dog habits, while others are learned through our positive or negative encouragement.
The trick that works for babies, works for dogs – attention is attention, be it positive or negative. It’s important to stay neutral and calm while handling dogs with behaviour problems.
The key is to determine the cause of your dog’s behaviour and keep helping your dog minimize bad behaviours.
We are all friends here and let’s be honest that at some point of time we all have encountered some problems with our dogs.
Do share your dog behavioural problems with me in the “ask me a question” box below. I would be more than glad to educate the community and make dog parenting easier.
Share this very informative article with all the dog lovers out there. Thank you