Common Behavior Problems and Solutions for Dogs

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DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR

This is the most common complaint regarding dogs, yet, there is no easy answer as to why the dog is being destructive. The most common reason is actually separation anxiety. We are typically gone from our homes for hours at a time and if your dog is lonely and bored, and, provided with the opportunity, he may engage in destruction. Unless you catch your dog in the act, don’t bother punishing him. He won’t associate the punishment with the destruction; he only acts guilty because he can see that you’re upset. Adding another pet to the home or providing interactive toys can help.

Dogs can also get destructive when they’re confined — the space may be too small or there might be something desirable on the other side that they can’t reach that they want.

Your best bet with any destructive behavior is a great offense, rather than defense. Never give your puppy an object to chew on unless it doesn’t resemble a forbidden object. (For example, don’t give your dog an old shoe to chew on unless you want him to chew on your shoes forever.) Puppies should be crated while you’re away, but never use the crate as a punishment. The goal is for your puppy to see the crate as a safe place.

AGGRESSION

Biting should always be discouraged from the beginning. Aggression is caused by one of two things: frustration and dominance. There is virtually little difference between a small dog’s aggression and a big dog’s, except that large breeds are more powerful and can cause more damage. For powerful dogs, they must see you as the pack leader — but not by you using force or any harsh or rough treatment; this will only make him more aggressive. You must always ensure that the dog you have matches your lifestyle. Do not get a high energy breed if you hate going outside and are a hermit. Always ensure that your dog gets enough exercise according to his activity level. Exercise burns up his excess energy and maintains a dog’s healthy state of mind.

EXCESSIVE BARKING

Always determine where and when your dog is barking. If it occurs when your dog is outside alone, keep him indoors or go out with him. If he always barks at strangers, it’s simply his natural instinct; he’s trying to protect his space. You need to show him that this is inappropriate. The solution is positive reinforcement. (Positive reinforcement is a great tool to use in most cases — always reward your dog when he behaves appropriately.) When he barks, call him and make him sit then reward with a treat. Repeat until he learns not to bark. Do not use punishment, it can cause fear and make the problem worse.

JUMPING ON PEOPLE

When he jumps up and receives the attention he wants, that’s a reinforcement. Instead, train him to see that jumping up will not get him attention. Ignore your dog when he attempts to jump up; look upward and fold your arms over your chest. Command him to sit. When he does, then reward him with affection. You need to be consistent and enlist the entire family in training.

PICA

Pica is the abnormal ingestion of materials that are not food — like soil, gravel, feces or materials. Puppies are notorious for this and sometimes the objects need to be surgically removed. Unfortunately, puppies are naturally curious. The most troubling form of pica is the ingestion of feces (or coprophagia). To change this, sprinkle pepper on the feces or put hot sauce into the center of it.

EXCESSIVE LICKING

This can lead to hairless patches or infected wounds. If your vet can eliminate another health concern, this is caused by a psychological problem: boredom, stress or changes in your dog’s environment.

TAIL CHASING

It may be humorous, but it should be discouraged. It’s often caused by boredom, not enough exercise and cage confinement. Your best bet is to distract your dog before he starts to chase.

PHOBIAS

The most common phobia is a fear of thunderstorms. Your best bet is to progressively desensitize  your dog to thunder. Quietly playing a recording of thunder while you give your dog positive reinforcement (treats or attention). Gradually you can increase the volume until your dog is comfortable with the noise. It’s best to condition him in 10-minute intervals each day. If this doesn’t help, you may need to get calming medication.

CHASING CARS OR RUNNING AWAY

The easiest way to prevent this is to keep your dog on a leash or in your fenced yard. Once your dog has learned to escape, you’ll need to employ behavior modification. You can squirt your dog with a water pistol or frighten him with a loud noise to discourage him from the road.

DIGGING HOLES

Dogs dig when trying to escape, to catch rodents (hello, you’re a dog, not a cat!) or to keep cool. Ensure that your dog has a cool place to lie down outside and has plenty of water during the summer when he’s left outside. For pests, eliminate them as much as possible. However, if you own a terrier, this is a natural behavior and it’s best to give him his own area where he can dig to his heart’s content.

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