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Dog Behavior Problems and Training

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Barking, digging, chewing, running—these are all natural dog behaviors, and naturally you have to be accepting of them to a certain point. So how do you know when your dog’s behavior is a problem? It might be obvious if the behavior is excessive, disruptive, or compromises the safety of your dog, other pets, or other people. In those cases, you almost certainly have an issue on your hands that needs attention.

Common Dog Behavior Problems

There are lots of different dog behavior problems, but three that come to the top of the list are aggression, excessive barking, and destructive chewing. Here’s what you should know about these particular behavior issues.

1. Aggression

It’s not unusual for dogs to show aggression in certain circumstances, such as when they feel threatened by another dog or are startled by a stranger.

However, aggression can be a serious problem that can stress out and embarrass dog parents and cause injuries to the dog or the people and other pets around him or her. Qualified professionals should be contacted immediately to address the issue in such cases.

The term aggression actually refers to a number of behaviors, which can escalate from one to the other and warn you that your dog is reaching a boiling point. These behaviors can include:

  • Becoming noticeably rigid and still
  • Growling or snarling
  • Baring the teeth
  • Lunging or charging
  • Nipping or biting—either lightly or hard enough to break the skin

If your dog has started acting aggressively, it can help to uncover the reason for this behavior. Your dog may be feeling territorial, possessive, protective, or fearful when he or she becomes hostile. If you can understand the reason, you may be able to do something to prevent the situation.

For instance, if your dog growls or snarls when you approach the food bowl (an issue called “food guarding”), you can try backing off during mealtimes. Of course, many triggers, like passing by another dog or person during a walk, are tough if not impossible to avoid. In those cases, you should definitely get help dealing with the aggression. Aggression should never be considered “cute.”

You should also keep in mind that dogs who aren’t feeling well can start acting out. Schedule a visit to your veterinarian if your dog starts acting aggressively and you have no idea why. Your vet can help determine if there are any underlying illnesses or injuries that might be causing the problem.

2. Excessive Barking

Barking is one way your dog communicates with you. Your dog might bark to let you know that someone is at the front door or it’s time to take a walk together. But when the barking goes on and on or becomes disruptive to your household or neighbors, you may need to take action.

It’s helpful first to figure out what that barking is all about, as it could be the result of  a whole host of reasons. Motives for such vocalizations include:

  • Greeting – just a dog’s way of saying hello!
  • Social – dogs are social animals and may bark back to other dogs
  • Territorial – a perceived threat often prompts this kind of barking
  • Attention-seeking – dogs who bark for this reason might feel left out or need a little more of your time
  • Compulsive – this type of barking can sound monotone and have no apparent reason
  • Alarm – either your dog is alarmed or looking to alert you about something
  • Excitement or frustration – rather like people who yell out when they’re feeling super happy or very aggravated

Like with aggressive behaviors, if you can figure out the root of the issue, you may be able to fix the problem by addressing or avoiding the trigger. For instance, if your dog is barking to get attention, you can try spending more time together. You might take your dog out for longer or more frequent walks. This can have the added benefit of making your dog too tired to bark so much! If you can’t find the source of the barking, you should seek out help.

3. Destructive Chewing

Puppies chew to explore the world around them and relieve the pressure of teething. More mature dogs chew to keep their teeth and jaws healthy and strong. Also, dogs of all ages may chew to help relieve boredom, reduce frustration, or lessen feelings of anxiety.

While chewing is a normal behavior, it can become a problem if your dog is destroying things around your house, like your furniture or favorite pairs of shoes. These tips can help you stop your dog from engaging in destructive chewing:

  • Remove temptation – If possible, take away any items that your dog tends to chew on, like those tasty shoes. Sure, it can be tough to stop simply kicking your shoes off haphazardly when you get home from a long day, but they’ll be much safer tucked behind closed closet doors.
  • Offer safe chew toys – Let’s face it, you can’t stop your dog from chewing entirely—nor should you since it helps clean those teeth and strengthen the jaw. Be sure your dog has plenty of safe chewing options to satisfy the urge to gnaw.
  • Anti-chew sprays - Non-toxic sprays with a bitter are available are most pet supply stores. Spray them on any objects inappropriately being used as chew toys to discourage unwanted nibbling.
  • Supervise your dog – Try to keep an eye on your dog until the destructive chewing behavior is nipped in the bud. If you see your dog pick something up and get ready to chew, say “Uh-oh” or “No,” and gently remove the item. You can then offer something that’s OK to chew on and pile on the praise when your dog accepts it.

If your dog is crate trained, you can leave your furry pal in the crate when you can’t be there to correct unwanted chewing behavior. Just be sure never to use the crate as a form of punishment. Learn about crate training.

Dog Behavior Training

The kind of dog behavior training or treatment that would benefit your dog depends on the specific situation. If there is a health issue at the bottom of it all, the behavior may stop on its own once your dog is well again. Sometimes addressing or avoiding the trigger can be enough to deal with the behavior.

In other cases, specialized dog behavior training, medications, or behavior modification techniques may be needed. But keep hope—your dog should be able to get back to his or her tail wagging self with patience, time, and the right kind of intervention if needed.

Dog Behavior Training Professionals

There are a variety of professionals who can help with dog behavior problems. They each have different types of experience and training.

Dog Trainers

There is no standardized training for dog trainers, and their education and experience can vary quite a bit. They may have worked with other trainers, volunteered at animal shelters, taken courses, or received some sort of certification in dog training. If you decide to use a dog trainer, you should check out their qualifications and ask for recommendations.

Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)

These individuals have received training and accreditation through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCDT). To attain this certification, they must work a set number of hours as a trainer and pass a standardized test. They also need to adhere to a strict ethical code and continue to earn credits to keep up their certification.

Applied Animal Behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs), and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs)

Professionals with these titles have a Ph.D. or Master degree in animal behavior and may have completed additional graduate or post-graduate work. They are trained experts in dog behavior and behavior modification techniques. Many work through veterinary referrals and collaborate with veterinarians, especially when medications are recommended for treatment.

Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVBs)

These are veterinarians who have earned a special certification from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. A residency in behavior and an exam are required to become a Dip ACVB. One of the benefits of using Dip ADVBs is that they can prescribe medications for your dog.

If you’re not sure which kind of professional would be best, you can ask your veterinarian to point you in the right direction. It’s also a good idea to have your veterinarian check out your dog to make sure there are no underlying health issues that could be causing the behavior problem. Learn about the 5 most common dog diseases.

While dog behavioral problems can be bad news, the good news is that ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offers behavioral coverage.

Behavioral Coverage for Dogs

While dog behavioral problems can be bad news, the good news is that ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offers behavioral coverage. Having a plan with this added coverage can help you manage the costs of consultations, exams, lab testing, and medications needed to diagnose and treat these conditions. Find out more about what’s covered.


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