Poor dog behavior is one of the most frustrating problems that veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and pet owners deal with. Because it is “behavior “ and not an underlying medical problem such as vomiting or diabetes, many pet owners think it will be “easy” to fix. However, it takes dedication to stop poor dog behavior. Some dogs have their owners trained and inadvertently encourage poor dog behavior.
Understanding and correcting poor dog behavior is important because it is one of the most common reasons that people abandon their dogs or give them back to humane societies and shelters. Some studies suggest that by the age of one year, a large percentage of dogs have been in 5 to 6 homes before finding forever homes. Much of this relocation is due to poor dog behavior.
Let’s learn a few tips about understanding your dog, common causes of poor dog behavior, and tips on what you can do at home.
Understanding Your Dog
If you have a dog that behaves badly, it is easy to wonder why. It is important to remember that a dog is a pack animal. This is an important point because many behavior problems can be corrected by understanding this, respecting this, and ensuring you are the pack leader.
As you understand more about dog behavior, you will understand that in some situations training is critical. For some dogs this is easy and for others it is hard. Training your dog takes intentional effort. It can take days, weeks or even months of consistent time communicating with your dog in a way he understands to have a well-trained pooch.
Another important point is to understand that training is not the same thing as punishment. In fact, training is about responding to your dog in a way he understands and doesn’t reward his behavior. Sometimes attention is bad. For example, if a dog is barking and you keep yelling “bad dog”, that is attention. He doesn’t understand your words.
Most Common Poor Dog Behaviors
Below are common poor dog behavior problems and tips to help.
Chewing is a natural behavior in curious puppies as they learn about and explore the world with their mouths. Chewing does have benefits to the teeth and gums. However when chewing is excessive, is on inappropriate objects, or leads to swallowing objects that are not digestible, it then becomes a problem. Some dogs chew when they are bored or stressed.
Veterinary behaviorists suggest that if you see your dog chewing on your favorite shoe, to immediately redirect his chewing to an appropriate item, like a durable Kong® toy or another chew toy. Just as it is critical to redirect his behavior, it is critical for you to praise his good behavior when chewing on the toy.
Ensure your dog has plenty of physical and mental stimulation with toys and playtime.
Begging at the Table
This may be an adorable behavior to some but annoying to others. Some people decline a dinner invitation at someone’s home because they have a dog that sits there begging and staring at you the entire meal. If you decide to fix this poor dog behavior, it is critical that everyone in the home is consistent with this training. It is confusing to a dog to have some members of the family feed him from the table and the other half yell at him.
One option to deal with begging behavior is to crate train your dog or feed your dog in a different room. You can also provide your dog with a food puzzle during dinnertime.
Digging in the Yard
Some dogs love to dig and find it to be great fun. Some of this behavior is based on instinct as they follow a scent, play, or release energy. However when digging is excessive and destroys your yard or flower garden, then it becomes a problem.
One way to deal with this behavior is when your dog is digging, redirect his digging activities to something you find appropriate. Play a game of fetch. Provide a treat toy. Go for a walk. You can also replace his inappropriate digging to a location you find acceptable such as a sandbox in your yard. Remember to reward good behavior when he is digging in the appropriate area.
Barking at Strangers
Dogs may bark at noises, doorbells other animals, or strangers. This can be acceptable in small doses but when it is excessive or you live in an area where everyone is a stranger, this can be downright annoying.
Your dog might bark at the doorbell because he is anxious or excited about visitors. Some dogs believe that their barking is what makes you open the door, so by barking they are trying to train you. Redirect your dog’s attention from the doorbell. Get your dog to sit quietly on the doormat and wait for you to open the door by rewarding this behavior with a treat.
Dogs on Furniture
Dogs may love the feeling of a comfy piece of furniture and while some pet parents encourage their dogs to be on the sofa, on the chair or sleep on the bad, other pet parents do not want this behavior in their dog. An important part of dealing with this behavior is to help your dog understand where you find it acceptable and where you do not.
Urine marking can be a difficult behavior to tolerate. Dogs will urinate to mark territory and/or to communicate with other dogs. While this behavior is acceptable when they are outside, it is not tolerable in the house. The best thing to do is if/when you catch your dog marking urine in the house, firmly tell him “Eh,Eh” and take him outside directly. After you are outdoors and your dog urinates or marks, give him praise or a reward such as his favorite treat.
Compulsive behaviors in dogs can include chewing, digging in the yard, barking, whining, pacing, and/or tail-chasing just to name a few. Compulsive behaviors are repetitive sequences of behavior that are fairly consistent in their presentation. These behaviors do not serve any purpose and can be destructive.