BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Dog Behavior: Problems & Solutions for Unlucky Dog Owners

Bad dog behavior
John Walton
Written by John Walton

We like it when our dogs are calm and listen to our commands. On the other hand, when we’re confronted with dog behavior problems it means that we haven’t taken the necessary time to educate them, to show them exactly how we need them to behave. Being strong and firm, but loving and respectful at the same time, we can get past these issues and devise appropriate dog behavior training for our best friend.

This article aims to make a list of the most common dog behavior problems, as well as the best solutions to overcome them through diligent training.

Too much barking

This is one of the most common dog behavior problems. It is especially annoying, for us humans, because we don’t really understand how dogs think and why they bark. To solve this problem, you don’t have to only look at the effect (the barking), but at the causes as well. Some of the causes might be:

  • Fido hears other dogs.
  • You pooch hears noises and wants to alert you.
  • He’s bored.
  • He’s excited.
  • He’s anxious.
  • He wants your attention.

So, what can you do if your dog is used to barking? First, you have to identify the cause. If the cause is external – it comes from the environment – then make sure to take appropriate measures, like finding the source that’s making your dog bark and removing it. E.g.: try closing the windows so that your dog won’t hear disturbing noises. If the cause is internal – it comes from the dog itself – you should try some dog behavior training solutions. As such, you can teach your dog the compound command “Bark/ Quiet”.

Dog barking

First, you reward your dog’s behavior when he’s barking by giving him a treat each time he does it, after you say the word “Bark” to him. When he has learnt this, you teach him to respond to the word “Quiet”. After you reward your dog for barking, and let him do it 2 or 3 times, you say “Quiet” and immediately stuff a treat in his mouth to actually make him stop. Repeat this training procedure until he learns that sometimes it’s ok to bark, while other times he’s expected to remain quiet.

When chewing is an issue

Chewing is an unwanted dog behavior just for us humans. For them it isn’t a problem at all, since this is how puppies explore the world: through their sense of smell and touch. They can’t get an object in their paws and examine it like that; they have to taste it. So the main reasons for chewing are:

  • Examining the world.
  • Pain from teething.
  • Playfulness
  • Anxiety

The first two causes of chewing can be easily eliminated if you introduce chewing toys to your pup. Every time he wants to chew something that he’s not allowed to, give him the specific chew toy you’ve bought him. Another valid dog behavior training method used is crating. In case you have to go to work and your dog hasn’t given up chewing just yet, teach him to enjoy his crate-time: a place filled with his favorite toys and a blanket with your smell to remind him of you.

Dog chewing everything

The second two causes that determine dog behavior problems with chewing, playfulness and anxiety, can be readily solved by giving your dog enough time to exercise away all his excess energy.

Separation anxiety

Among all the dog behavior problems, separation anxiety is one of the biggest issues. Many owners give up their dogs because they can’t deal with this problem. Moreover, if the dog also barks constantly when he feels separation anxiety, the neighbors may call Animal Protection, which oftentimes finds the owners unfit to have a dog. The signs which show you that your dog may have this condition are when he/she:

  • Gets irritated when he sees you getting ready to leave.
  • Starts howling or barking.
  • Starts chewing or jumping on you.
  • Some dogs may feel/ act depressed.
  • Doesn’t eat or drink anything while you’re away.
  • Tries to escape.
  • Urinates or defecates accidentally.

If your dog has mild to moderate separation anxiety, you can help him with the proper behavior training, which includes two strategies:

  • Try to break the association that your dog makes between some actions like grabbing your coat or taking your keys and the actual leaving the house. Try things like putting on your coat and then turning on the TV for your favorite show or getting your bag, leaving through the front door and coming back through the back door.
  • Now that you’ve broken the first association, try building a new one. As such, play together for 20 to 30 minutes before leaving for work – he will begin associating your leaving with playtime. When you actually leave the house, give your dog a very special toy to play with, one that he doesn’t get very frequent access to. You can also leave him a puzzle, something new to discover. Also try leaving him some old shirt of yours, it will allow him to feel less alone.

Digging like a pro

Digging is one of the many natural instincts for dogs, and is only seen as a behavior problem when you’re uncomfortable with the actual holes your dog probably makes in your backyard.

Digging like a pro

Apart from instinct, dogs dig for various other reasons:

  • Lots of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Trying to get somewhere
  • Cooling off in the summer
  • Hiding things
  • Instinct

The training used in this situation entails different possible corrective strategies, depending on the cause. If the dog is very energetic or anxious, the best thing would be to exercise him more just so he can focus his energy on other activities. If he digs because he wants to get somewhere, consider giving him access to that place. If he’s just cooling off, find him a more appropriate spot for him – maybe a doggie pool. If he’s hiding his toys or he’s just acting out of instinct, teach him to do the same thing in a sand-box, by applying simple reward techniques.

Fido doesn’t come when called

A frequent behavioral issue for dogs is when they don’t come to you when you specifically ask them to. There are many reasons for which this may happen:

  • They are attracted by something else.
  • They don’t know they should come when they hear their name.
  • They are too agitated or anxious.
  • They associate you calling them with an unpleasant event, such as crating.

As with other problems, the most effective training is building desirable associations in his/her mind, whilst breaking the undesirable ones. As such, your dog should associate their name with coming to you.

You can achieve that by walking farther away from him, calling his name and then showing him a treat. You can gradually replace the treat with some other reward, like petting him or giving him a chew-toy. Besides, teaching him the “Come here” command is always a good solution, because you can say his name in a number of different other situations.

Fido doesn’t come when called

Another thing you can try is using his pack instincts: if your dog doesn’t come when called, try running away from him. In most cases, that will get him to follow you instantly.

Involuntary urination

Amongst the most uncomfortable issues for both you and for your furry friend, involuntary urination and/or defecation get a whopping frontal place. The causes can be:

  • The dog is younger than 12 weeks or very old
  • Fido is very agitated or happy
  • Medical issues: incontinence, urinary tract infections, diabetes

For young puppies, the effective dog behavioral training consists in house breaking. For this, you’ll have to keep a very tight schedule and teach him how to do his business outside. Take him out at regular intervals and build the association between peeing and a certain word, like “Outside”. He won’t get it from the start, so you’d better start by placing absorbing pads around the house. Dogs prefer this material for urinating/ defecating.

Involuntary urination

If your dog is older or has other medical issues, consider putting him in diapers or consult a vet to prescribe him some medication. If your dog behavior problems come out of anxiety, find out what the negative stimulus is and remove it. If you can’t, the desired behavior training consists of building a new, pleasanter association with that stimulus.

If the behavioral issues are a sign of too much excitement, teach your dog that the expected behavior from him is a calm one. Never reward him when he’s too excited, but give him a treat every time he waits patiently for something.

Puppy eyes: begging

Begging is another common dog problem, and this negative behavior is responsible for an increasing number of obesity cases in dogs. We often encourage this behavior, because we like it when our dogs act cute and try to cajole us for a treat: we interpret this as a sign of love. This particular behavior problem happens because:

  • They love food
  • They associate food with love
  • They want to please you

The behavioral training which gives best results is to never fall in the trap of feeding your dog when he’s begging.

Teaching him the “Wait” command is the best thing for solving this problem – if he waits an acceptable amount of time, he will get some food after you finish eating. You can also teach him the “Stay” command – your dog will learn how to stay in a specially designated spot, while you’re eating.

Dog begging

Moreover, make sure that he’s properly fed at all times and he’s not begging because he’s too hungry.

Chasing round and round

Chasing becomes an increasing problem for your dog especially when you take him outside. This is an instinctive dog behavior and you can never completely eliminate it. Understanding the causes though can show you the best solution to prevent it:

  • Lots of energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Triggers

The first thing you want to do to correct this dog behavior is train him to walk on a leash. Apart from this, your dog has to be properly exercised at all times: play with him, walk him and make sure he doesn’t have the necessary energy to run after something else.

Chasing round and round

You should also teach your dog that, when you go out, he should mainly focus on you and not on other targets. You can do that by calling his name from time to time or saying the command “Look at me”, and giving him a treat after. Try doing this as frequently as possible during the first few walks, as to make sure he’s learnt to concentrate on your behavior.

Besides all this, you have to always keep an eye out for various triggers from the environment and anticipate a possible chasing behavior from your dog. Most of these exciting stimuli – people riding bikes, kids running around, cars, other dogs – can’t be eliminated or avoided forever. Train your dog to calmly be around these stimuli. When he gets to excited, gently touch his back, belly or leg to distract his attention, give him the “Stay” command and reward him with a treat.

Pulling the leash

A dog behavior we want to teach our favorite companions from when they’re very young is properly walking on a leash beside us. The reason why the unwanted behavioral problem of your dog pulling the leash frequently appears may be due to:

  • You didn’t train him with a short leash
  • Your dog thinks he calls the shots when taking a walk
  • Curiosity and excitement to explore
  • Lots of energy

The solution for this dog behavior is a few days of proper training. The first thing you have to do is make sure you use a short, but loose leash. You should never pull the leash yourself in opposite direction. Play with your dog before taking him out and make sure you exhaust him quite a bit.

Teach your dog to walk politely on a leash

After that, put him on the leash, and if he starts pulling, stop and turn around without moving. He will have no other choice but to follow your lead. In fact, that’s what you have to train your dog to know: the expected behavior is following your calls. Never let your dog be the first out the door, and always be a step or two before him when you’re passing through a narrow place.

Besides, you shouldn’t let your dog sniff or urinate when he wants to during the walk; these should be the rewards he’s getting after properly walking in a leash for ten minutes or so. Apart from this, remember to give him treats, as to build a connection between the treat and the walk.

Violent behavior: biting

If you haven’t stopped your dog’s chewing behavior when he was a pup, you may later find out that this can turn into a regular issue of him starting to bite you or your guests. This behavior problem can appear because of many causes, like:

  • Pack mentality
  • Exploring the environment
  • Playing
  • Expressing dominance

Your dog must first learn that you are in charge, so never let him bite you – not even when he’s a cute pup and his behavior is funny rather than hurtful. Training your dog the desired behavior can be effectively done by teaching him the command “Off”.

Dog biting

Grab a treat and place it in your hand. Show your dog the treat and then immediately close your palm. Your dog will try to nip at your hand to get you to open it, but you’ll have to calmly say the command “Off” at regular intervals, until he gives up. When he has let go of your hand, open it and let him have the treat.

Do this for as many times necessary to train him. After he has learnt the “Off” command, replace the treat with a toy. You’re therefore training your dog’s behavior to always choose chewing a toy instead of your skin.

Jumping up and down

Jumping is a common dog behavior, an instinct that your dog has. In fact this is how puppies greet their moms, so your dog may just be greeting you. However, jumping can become a serious behavior problem especially if your dog is of a larger size and you want him to stop. Below are the main causes for jumping:

  • Happiness to see you
  • Anxiety
  • Dominance
  • Seeking attention

The worst thing you can do in these situations is to pet him when he jumps on you, hoping that will calm him down. Conversely, that will only reinforce your dog’s behavioral problem. You also shouldn’t grab his paws and push him away, since he can interpret that as the beginning of playtime.

Dog jumping

The effective training that corrects this unwanted dog behavior starts by first ignoring your dog when he jumps on you. This strategy for training your dog’s behavior is based on building a strong association in his mind between jumping and being ignored.

If you already taught your dog the “Off” command, you can use that to train him to get off you. You can also teach him the “Sit” command using the same reward techniques and anticipate the jumping behavior. Tell him to sit before he actually jumps on you, so he knows not to ambush you.

Really bad behavior: aggression

Most people who have aggressive dogs feel helpless when trying to take care of this problem. Before correcting this dangerous dog behavior, you have to make sure that your dog is indeed aggressive and not just playful. Here are the signs of aggressiveness:

  • Repeated biting that causes wound or bruising
  • Growling
  • Showing his teeth
  • Guttural barking
  • Charging

That’s why you have to train your dog the desired behavior as soon as possible, and not allow him near children or in public places without wearing a muzzle. If you don’t have a dog yet, but you’re considering adoption, be very wary of aggressive behavior. Apart from the manifestations, this behavior problem also has a plethora of causes:

  • Being afraid of something
  • Being protective
  • Being territorial
  • Being possessive
  • Trying to dominate
  • Feeling pain

The behavior training for this particular issue your dog has starts from correctly identifying the causes, and eliminating the negative stimulus which makes your dog feel scared or in pain. Your dog should also undergo extensive obedience training if he continues to think he should dominate you.

Mounting

To start with, you have to understand that masturbation is a very common dog behavior. Some dogs will lick themselves, while others will try to hump your leg. Puppies usually tend to mount each other, and that is the beginning of them learning sexual behavior. Dogs can even continue doing this after they have been neutered or spayed, simply because it feels good for them.

Mounting dog

If you can’t completely stop your dog from masturbating, mounting and humping are indeed disturbing behavior problems which must be stopped. In order to do that, try to understand why your dog is humping your leg:

  • Sexual behavior
  • Playfulness
  • Stress
  • Dominance
  • Compulsiveness
  • Medical issues: urinary tract infections, incontinence, priapism

Once you’ve ruled out the medical problems, you can try some training strategies to eliminate this dog behavioral problem. First, keep your dog exercised and preoccupied with other activities. Secondly, try anticipating the mounting behavior and distract his attention with something else, like a toy.

Thirdly, you can also use the “Off” command which we discussed earlier and reward him for leaving you alone. If neither of these solutions work, consider the help of a Professional Trainer or an Animal Behaviorist.

In conclusion

All that being said, to actively control your dog’s behavior and teach him what’s expected of him, you have to start from a very young age. You have to be very firm, and never fall in the trap of compromising – this will only deepen your dog’s behavior problems. We know it’s hard when puppies beg, cry, gently nip your hands like little beasts and generally try to be cute, but these are behavioral issues which must not be rewarded.

Be firm and assertive and use effective behavioral training that rewards the desired behaviors. You should avoid punishing the undesired behaviors as much as possible. Negative reinforcement doesn’t eliminate the cause, but the symptom. Your dog will likely not bite YOU anymore, but he can try to bite the neighborhood kids.

As such, surround your dog with love, exercise, toys and treats and you’ll most certainly get rid of all his behavior problems.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Aaron Musk

    I’ve tried the Bark/ Quiet command, which works perfectly for singular situations. I have an outdoor dog, and he always barks if he hears the neighborhood dogs barking as well. If I’m outside and tell him to be quiet, he stops barking. But the problem is that I don’t know how to stop him from barking at nights. I mean, is there another command, like “Quiet for 8 hours”? :D

    • :) Sadly such a command doesn’t exist. If you are really annoyed by the barking you could try collars that are specially designed to control this aspect.However, barking is dogs’ way of communication and at night they probably like to chat.

  • Alicia Jane

    What if a person adopts an adult dog and the training is not proving efficient?

  • It’s not the training, it’s the person who trains the dog. If you can’t make Fido obey you, try with a professional trainer.

  • Vanessa Rogers

    Our family friend’s dog suddenly exhibited some strange behavior lately. It’s a not the regular behavior she’s been known to have. Now, there’s some panting, whining. over attached to ball, restless during the night. She kept moving blankets, digging, and won’t stay put.
    Any ideas what are causing these behaviors?

    • Your dog shows signs of anxiety that is caused by a recent event that lead to agitation. You must determine what caused the problem before you can address the behavior that is being manifested right now. In addition, your dog can also have an appointment with the vet as this anxiety can be caused by existing health problems as well.

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