Common Dog Behavior Problems And How To Solve Them

At times it can be difficult to understand why dog do some of the things they do. We must keep in mind that they are not humans and they all come with instinct and habits that are contrary to peacefully cohabiting with us. However, with patience, the right strategy and persistence, any dogs behaviours can be modified to a more acceptable level if not removed completely.

So How Do We Do It?

It requires that we clearly show the dog what behaviour we want to happen. All dog behaviour training relies on one principal, that through repetitive reinforcement, we can trick a dogs brain into wanting to do the preferred behaviour over it’s instinctive one.

The old saying that “stupidity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results” rings particularly true with dog behaviour training. The number of times I have seen people walking their dog on a leash and jerking on it every 5 feet to try and correct the dogs pulling behaviour is countless! Owners often repeat this technique for years, without every considering if there’s a better way.

1. Jumping Up

Dog jumping up on a man

Be it in the dog park, at the front door or while you’re sitting low in a chair, the strategy to stop our playful dogs from jumping up is always the same.

Firstly you or anyone that interacts with the dog must be told that they need to refrain from giving the dog any type of verbal or physical praise when he jumps. We know this can be difficult as you want to shower your pup with affection, however with jumping in particular this can undo a lot of the hard work you have put in already.

As with many dog behaviour issues there is more than one effective way to solve jumping up, you may need to progress through them, or use multiple in order to get a result.

If you see no improvement after applying one technique several time throughout the week, that is a clear indication you need to level up your training.

  1. Ignore – If your dog is doing its jumping mostly at the front door due to excitement when people enter, the first port of call is to ignore them for a few minutes until they have somewhat calmed down.
  2. Turning around – A simple turn around when the dog jumps may be all you need for puppies. It shows them that jumping gives them the opposite effect of what they wanted, your attention. It is also helpful in the ignore phase.
  3. Paw hold – Gently holding onto your dog paw and ignoring them for a few second.
  4. Knee push – This is a gentle and slow physical push with your knee to get the dog off you.
  5. Standing on a leash – This is best accomplished with a guest or helper and is a great tool for when people are visiting who don’t yet know the dog greeting rules. In times when you know your dog will jump, keep your dog on a leash and stand on it to restrict them from jumping.
  6. Using treats – Does your dog have all four paws on the ground? Great, praise them with affection and treats. You don’t need to wait for your dog to do a backflip before its time for a treat, if you can see they are making even the slightest effort to maintain contact with the floor, dog some treats on the ground.

Luckily for us, jumping up is one of those behaviours that if you can fix it in one place it will tend to apply in other. If you can stop your dog from jumping on guests at the front door, they will likely no long jump on people in the dog park.

2. Leash Pulling

Husky dog pulling on leash

Pulling on the leash is a common and serious problem for dog owners, especially those who have large or powerful dogs. You can easily be injured when your dog pulls you over or suffer problems with your wrists or shoulders from persistent pulling. It isn’t impossible to teach your strong dog not to pull, but it does require patience and consistency in order to be effective.

If your dog is too strong for you to control on a standard harness, it is a good idea to use a head halter paired with a standard martingale collar to give you safe control.

Dogs pull for a number of reasons, including excess energy, desire to get to something, fear or anxiety, and habit. If your dog is overly energetic, she will need to be exercised sufficiently before walking training will be possible. If your dog has triggers like other dogs or smells that she wants to get to, or if she experiences a lot of anxiety in certain environments, you should start training somewhere free of these triggers. Whether you use a standard back-clip harness or a head halter, the steps to stopping the pulling are the same.

  1. Begin walking with your dog briskly. Slow down and let your dog sniff if she wants to sniff.
  2. As soon as your dog puts tension on the leash, stop. Don’t pull back on the leash, but don’t let your dog pull you at all either.
  3. IF your dog relaxes the tension within a couple of seconds, immediately start walking again. IF your dog doesn’t relax the tension within a couple of seconds, walk briskly in another direction, calling your dog to follow you.

That’s it. Simple right? If your dog has not had a chance to burn off some energy or if she is very anxious, she may continue to put pressure on the leash no matter how often you change directions. If you find yourself walking in erratic circles, you may need to practice in an environment with less stimulus to scare or excite your dog or let your dog exercise more before you attempt leash training.

3. Barking

Dog barking excessively

Dog barking can be a testing and frustrating habit to overcome. However with the right strategy applied consistently, barking can and will become a thing of the past. It is natural for dogs to bark to alert your attention to potential dangers or new things in your environment, and to communicate with other dogs and animals. You probably want your dog to bark sometimes, like when someone is at the door, but you don’t want her barking all of the time. Here are some things you can do to stop the barking.

Cover up windows. If your dog is barking at everything that she sees out the window, one solution is simply to cover the window. Some dogs will stop problem barking when they don’t have anything visible to bark at.

Call away from the cause. If you know what your dog is barking at, calling her away is a good way to show her that you understand that something is there, and that you don’t want her to bark at it anymore. Reward your dog when she comes to you and stops barking so she learns that you want her to be quiet.

Teach “Speak” and “Quiet”. By teaching your dog commands for barking and for being quiet, you can ask for which one you want. Simply say “speak” when your dog barks and reward her, and say “quiet” when she’s quiet and reward her. Eventually your dog will understand the meaning of both commands and respond accordingly.

Time outs. If your dog is ignoring all of your attempts to tell her to be quiet and seems too over-stimulated to calm down, a time out is a good way to teach her that barking doesn’t get her anything she wants.

Bark Collars:

In extreme cases, with difficult dogs coupled with an owner situation that does not allow for the presence and time to correct the behavior, bark collars are a good solution. Barking is a reason that dogs are kicked out of apartments and neighborhoods and end up at shelters. A bark collar might be your only solution to avoid losing your pet.

You should always start with citronella spray collars and progress to a shock collar only if absolutely necessary. Contrary to common belief they should not be worn all the time, only during the day time and only when you are not present to correct the behavior.

4. Chewing

Dog chewing shoes

Chewing is not only a normal and natural activity for dogs, but it is also essential for maintaining dental health and alleviating anxiety. Dogs seek out all kinds of different materials for chewing, especially when they are puppies and still getting a sense of what the world is made up of. Dogs explore the world through their mouths, and often it takes more than a few chomps for them to determine whether they want to chew on something or not. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog who chews on things that she shouldn’t, the solution is the same.

Provide Chew Toys. The first key to eliminating inappropriate chewing is to provide plenty of things that are appropriate for your dog to chew on. Provide as wide a range of safe chewing materials as you can afford, including natural products like dried esophagus, pig’s ear, hooves or horns and artificial products like nylon and rubber chew toys and food dispensing toys.

Redirect. Once your dog has as many chew toys available to her as she could possibly want, it is a matter of teaching her what is hers and what is yours. Reducing clutter helps your dog distinguish her toys from your stuff. Place a couple of decoy items like shoes or other things your dog has previously chewed near you while you are in a room with your dog and provide your dog with her chew toys.

Pay attention, and as soon as your dog approaches the things she shouldn’t be chewing and puts her mouth on them, redirect to the appropriate item. It may take several weeks of repetition before your dog learns what is hers and what is yours, and she may still destroy things when left alone, so is it a good idea to continue crating when your dog can’t be supervised.

5. Peeing/Pooping Inside

Puppy peeing inside

Potty training can be one of the more challenging aspects of dog ownership. If you have adopted an adult dog who has never been potty trained, you will need to start at the beginning as if dealing with a puppy. Even dogs that have previously been potty trained may forget their training during the time they spend in the shelter.

If you have been trying potty training and your dog is still peeing and pooping inside, it can be extremely frustrating. Here are some techniques to finally solved the problem.

Routine. A routine is essential to potty train your dog. Not only will a routine teach your dog when and where it is appropriate to go to the bathroom, but it will also teach her body how to hold it when she needs to. Establish a routine for feeding, crate time, and potty time to set your dog up for success. Start with brief periods in the crate between potty breaks and increase the time gradually to set your dog up for success.

Watchfulness. Every accident that you don’t catch sets you back. Even if you use a good enzyme cleaner to remove all traces of the accident, your dog will still remember where she went and that she was able to do it without interference. Therefore, it is essential that you watch your dog very closely when she is not in her crate or outside so that you can make sure she doesn’t have an accident. If you find yourself struggling to keep an eye on your dog or if she has managed to have a couple of accidents despite your best efforts, it is a good idea to try tethering your dog to you. You will be unlikely to miss an accident when your dog is tied to you.

6. Rough/Excessive Biting And Nipping

Dog bitting nipping

It is normal for puppies to play roughly with one another and with their mother. Puppies learn from one another how much rough play is acceptable and when a bite hurts. They also learn from one another the consequences of overly rough play when they are corrected by their mother or each other for bites that are too hard.

When puppies transition to living with humans, they must learn how to adapt their previous play behavior to appropriate behavior with their new family. If puppies are taken from their mothers and littermates too early, they may still have a lot ot learn about bite inhibition. When people don’t teach puppies how to play nicely and control their play biting, puppies grow up into dogs who play too roughly and who play nip.

If the dog is also frustrated from lack of sufficient exercise or mental stimulation, the rough and nippy games can get more intense and lead to actual bites. Some dogs are more likely than others to take play to a serious level, but it is not good for any dog to lose control during play.

Whether you have a puppy or an older dog who has never learned manners, it is essential to teach self-control and what is appropriate behavior. No matter how old your dog is, the steps are the same.

  1. Redirect with a Toy whenever your dog bites at you or jumps at you push a toy at her mouth and encourage her to play with it by playing a brief game of tug-of-war. Whenever your dog plays with the toy, tell her “get toy”.
  2. Ask “Get Toy” anytime your dog wants to play with you or is biting at your hands or feet. In this way, your dog will learn to go get the toy and ask you to play with her instead of biting at you. Your dog will get the satisfaction of being able to bite and shake something to her heart’s content while you’ll be able to play with her safely. Soon your dog will run to you with a toy when she wants to play instead of nipping at you.
  3. When Nips Happen don’t panic or be disappointed. Sometimes your dog will still want to nip at you even though she knows that she should be chewing on the toy. If your dog ignores your attempts to redirect her attention to the toy or refuses to go get a toy and continues to bite at you, it is important that you stop the behavior. Your dog must learn that biting at you will not bring her the satisfaction that she is looking for. Separate yourself from your dog for a time so that she will learn that biting at you means that you won’t play with her.

7. Running Away

Dog running away

If your dog bolts out an open door or runs from you if you drop the leash on a walk, you have not only a frustrating and embarrassing problem but a very dangerous one as well. Dogs who joy run away from their owners are not cognizant of dangers around them like roads and are unlikely to keep track of where they are, so they will likely get lost.

If your dog runs away from you, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean that your dog doesn’t love you. It just means that your dog enjoys running freely and a good game of chase. Since running away can be a lot of fun for your dog, it may take a lot of training to convince her not to do it.

Exercise

Dogs that run away are often under stimulated or under exercised. Providing plenty of exercise and activities for your dog may reduce or eliminate her desire to run away. Take your dog for long runs or play Fetch so your dog can satisfy her desire to run in a safe and constructive way.

Long Line Training

If your dog has had sufficient exercise but is still bolting out the door or away from you on walks, you can perform exercises with a long line to train your dog not to bolt. Attach a long line to your dog’s standard back clip harness. It is a good idea to use a line with some elasticity so that your dog is buffered from the pull when she gets to the end of the line.

  1. Hold the end of the line loosely while another person opens the door as if to go out
  2. Ask your dog to stay, holding a treat or desirable toy in her sight
  3. If your dog bolts anyways, pull her back and try it again

You may need to perform this exercise many times over several weeks in order to have any effect on your dog’s behavior. Take any opportunity when the door opens to practice this training, such as when friends come over or a package is delivered.

8. Leash Aggression/Reactivity

Leash agression

Here are some tactics to help you overcome leash reactivity in your dog so that you can both enjoy walks again. It may not be as hard as you think to change your dog’s mind about how she feels when she is on a leash. The key to success is a patient, positive attitude and close attention to what your dog is telling you.

Redirect. Start out of sight of the other dog. Slowly move closer, rewarding your dog whenever she looks at you. As soon as your dog notices the other dog in the distance get her attention. Reward enthusiastically when your dog redirects her attention from the other dog to you. Keep progressing closer, continuing to give treats for looking at you. Go further away from the other dog and try again if you get a negative reaction or if your dog loses interest in the treats.

Desensitize. Put yourself somewhere where leashed dogs are moving by frequently. Make sure you can vary the distance between yourself and other dogs. It is a good idea to put a vest on your dog at this time that says something like, “In training please approach slowly”. Reward your dog for looking at you in between allowing her to watch the other dogs. You should see signs of curiosity like your dog sniffing the air. If you see any negative reaction or if your dog refuses to redirect her attention, move further back from. When your dog is relaxed with other dogs going by you may be ready for the next step.

First Greetings. The first greeting should be controlled, with a friendly dog. Start at a distance and walk parallel with the other dog. Move closer and closer to the other dog until you and the other handler are walking side-by-side with the dogs on the outside. Allow your dog to sniff the other dog’s behind while the other handler walks ahead. Allow the other dog to sniff your dog’s behind. Finally, allow the dogs to walk next to one another and sniff noses briefly as they walk. If you see any sign of stiffness or aggression or if the other dog wants to overwhelm your dog, move away again for some time.

If it Doesn’t Go Well. If the first greeting doesn’t go well, don’t be discouraged. Give yourself some more distance and try again. If it still doesn’t go well, it may be that the dog you’ve chosen to meet your dog isn’t a good match. Try another dog and see if that works better. In general, the more mellow and easy-going the other dog is, the better.

9. Stealing Food / Kitchen Counter Surfing

Dog stealing food

You would think a roof over her head and a bowl full of kibble would be enough for your dog, but many dogs help themselves to whatever human food they can find as well. Stealing food isn’t just annoying for you, it can be dangerous for your dog if she ends up eating something that is bad for her.

Teach Self Control. If your dog will try to steal food right in front of you she is lacking in self control and the awareness of what is her’s and what is your’s. Teach self-control by asking your dog to wait before you give her anything that she wants. Your dog should have to sit and stay before she gets her bowl of kibble, before you throw the ball, before can you put on the leash to go for a walk, and before you do anything else that your dog wants to do.

Teach What’s Yours. Once your dog has developed the self-control to resist the urge to try to take any food she sees, you can begin teaching her what food hers and what is yours. Place some tempting human food on the table or counter where your dogs has stolen it before and tell her a command like “not for you”.
If your dog makes a move to try to get the food, push her back and firmly tell her the command again. As soon as your dog ignores the food or walks away, toss her a treat on the floor.

Continue repeating this, ideally using a nanny cam to practice when you are outside of the room as well. When your dog is consistently ignoring food on the counter or table you can begin to feel some confidence that she has learned what is hers and what is yours. If your dog still tries to get the food when you aren’t there but will controls herself when you’re watching, you may have a persistent counter surfing on your hands. Such dogs will need to be restrained when you are not there to supervise.

10. Begging For Food

Dog begging for food

This is one of those behaviours that in order to fix, the entire family has to be on board. A child secretly handing out scraps under the table is going to be a huge hurdle in getting the desired outcome.

Dogs are very intuitive when it comes to food resources. They are able to understand that two pieces of food later is better than one piece of food now, if they are given the structure for them to see it clearly. To teach your dog not to beg, you must teach her that your food is ALWAYS off limits, that she must keep out of your personal space while your eating, and that she will get rewards later if she doesn’t beg now.

  1. NEVER give human food. Even if your dog eats veggies, eggs, meat, or other human food as part of her normal diet, be very careful to feed your dog at different times and in her own bowl so that she learns that when you are eating these things, she won’t get to.
  2. Restrict Space. Your dog should not be allowed in the kitchen while you are preparing food or in the dining room when you are eating. Instead, tell your dog to go to her own space while you are eating. Give your dog a good chew toy, food dispensing toy, or other good treat to occupy her while you eat.
  3. Be STRICT. Never give handouts or let your friends give handouts, and NEVER allow your dog to stare at you or be underfoot while you eat. If your dog always goes to her own space while you are preparing food and eating, she won’t have any chance to beg.

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