Our behavioral expert, Amber Drake, shares her top behavioral issues in dogs, which she addresses with many of her pet clients.
Behavioral Problem 1: Aggression
The most common behavioral issue in dogs is aggression. Why is this? The term ‘aggression’ refers to a large range of behaviors. Your dog may be guarding his food, growling when an intruder enters or even barking at a random stranger. All of these are classified as being aggressive. When you hear a professional discussing a dog who has aggression, this does not necessarily mean the dog is mean but could mean a whole host of actions.
What type of body language does a dog with aggression display?
Your dog may become still and rigid in their body posture, display a threatening bark, lunge, growl, show their teeth or snap. Each dog reacts differently and each case is different.
With aggression, there is not any ‘clear cut’ treatment, each case must be assessed individually. Each dog is unique as each case is unique with aggression. In the majority of cases though, regardless of the situation, aggression can be worked with and improve with time and effort.
Behavior Problem 2: Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is also extremely common in dogs and is one of the most common complaints among dog owners. Have you ever left your house spotless and came home to a disaster? This is likely due to your dog experiencing separation anxiety while you were away. Dogs with separation anxiety may defecate, urinate, chew the walls, chew items in the home, dig, howl and bark if left home alone. Dogs with severe separation anxiety may even display these behaviors if left out of the bathroom while you take a shower.
Treating separation anxiety depends on the severity of your case. Sometimes, leaving the television on can alleviate your dog’s separation anxiety while you are gone. You may also consider providing mentally stimulating toys while you are away. In mild to severe cases, reducing separation anxiety may take time. This will likely be a process. You should start by giving your dog a toy and leaving the room. Gradually, you can move from one room to another room farther away. Once your dog is comfortable with you leaving the room, walk outside but do not leave yet. Return in 5-10 minutes. Once your dog is comfortable with you going outside and sees you return, you can then try to leave the house and go run a brief errand. Do not make a big deal of leaving or returning, this only increases their anxiety.
Behavior Problem 3: Barking
Barking is another problem often addressed by canine behaviorists. Prior to stating barking is always a nuisance, it is important to note that barking is your dog’s form of communication. Just as we talk, dogs talk by barking. Each bark serves a different purpose.
When treating excessive barking, there are several questions to be asked in order to reduce the barking. First, when does the barking occur? Where does the barking occur? Who is the target of the bark? What triggers your dog’s barking? Finally, why is your dog barking? Many dog owners can determine the answers to all of these questions based on knowing their dog. For example, a dog owner can tell the difference between a happy bark and an angry bark.
Behavior Problem 4: Chewing
Chewing is a normal, instinctive behavior for your dog. This is how they explore the world around them. Puppies chew to alleviate the pain from teething. Adult dogs chew in an instinct to keep healthy gums and teeth. Chewing is also a method dogs use to reduce boredom and anxiety. Unfortunately, chewing can become a problem when our dog begins chewing our furniture, our clothes or our shoes.
If your dog is still a puppy, he is likely chewing to alleviate pain. Teething is a painful process and your puppy chewing reduces the pain in his gums. Chewing due to teething pain is generally gone by the age of six months. In order to reduce chewing on inappropriate objects, you should search for toys specifically designed to combat teething pain. Find a toy your dog likes and buy several of them. Then, when one is ‘chewed out,’ a new favorite can be provided.
If your dog is chewing because he is bored, find him some mentally stimulating toys or ‘give him a job.’ Food puzzle toys are excellent in combating boredom. Your dog will enjoy solving puzzles in an effort to get a treat. If your dog is getting too many treats in one day, to reduce the chance of obesity, you should replace the treats with his kibble in the puzzle.
Your dog may not be bored, anxious or chewing to alleviate pain. In these cases, he would simply be exhibiting normal chewing behavior. This is fine unless he is chewing on improper items. In order to prevent this behavior, again search for a chew toy. Look for multiple chew toys so your dog has options. This will prevent your dog from chewing on inappropriate objects. Dogs should also be taught what to chew and what not to chew. Use positive reinforcement to show this to your dog. If your dog is caught chewing on an inappropriate item, give him a stern, “No!” and give him an appropriate item.
When training your dog what to chew and what not to chew, it is important to never harm, spank or punish your dog for chewing. This will only damage the bond your dog shares with you. There have also been cases of people closing their dog’s mouth with duct tape when they chew inappropriately. Do NOT do this, this will harm your dog and there have even been cases of death due to this treatment. This treatment is inhumane and does not teach your dog at all.
Behavioral Problem 5: Mouthing in Puppies and Adults
Mouthing in puppies is often seen as cute; however, it is no longer cute when your adult dog is mouthing you. It is important to correct the behavior at a young age to prevent future behavioral problems. Most pet parents do not enjoy their adult dog chewing on their hands. How can you tell the difference between mouthing and biting? Mouthing involves lightly chewing or nipping on your hands. Mouthing is not painful as a bite would be. If your dog is mouthing, this is not a form of aggressive behavior. Your dog is not trying to harm you; he is trying to play.
In order to treat your dog’s mouthing behavior, start by ignoring him any time he mouths you. He wants your attention when he mouths you. If you do not give him attention, he will find another way to gain your attention. If this doesn’t work, emit a sharp “ouch” when he mouths you. He will connect your pain with his mouthing behavior.
If you have any questions regarding behavioral problems, feel free to contact Amber L. Drake, Canine Behaviorist, at ProfAmberDrake@gmail.com or via her website, www.AmberLDrake.org