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Guide to Behavior Problems in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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In the beginning, before the days of behavioral psychology, man intuitively knew that rewarding dog's desired behavior and punishing unwanted behavior would eventually encourage dog to conform more closely to his wishes and expectations. And so, training was created. Learning about canine training and behavior can help you understand what underlies your dog's behavioral problems and will help you acquire the patience and know-how necessary to work with him.

Even after formal obedience training and as recipients of oodles of love, some dogs develop disagreeable habits or unwanted behaviors. Learn about the potential problems that may occur, how to curtail these behaviors, and re-train your pet. With proper know-how, your dog can become a loving, obedient, and enjoyable member of the family.

Inappropriate Elimination. About 20 percent of all behavior problems in dogs fall into the category of "inappropriate elimination." This term refers to the unseemly practice of dogs either urinating, defecating, or both on the floor or furniture inside the owner's house.

Urine Marking. If urine marking by leg lifting in males or squatting in females, if conducted exclusively outside, it is not usually a problem for the dog owner and is certainly not one for the dog. The real problem arises when urine marking occurs within the home. As natural as leg lifting and other forms of urine marking may be, it's still not acceptable to have such signaling directed toward your sofa or best wingback armchair.

Submissive Urination. In order to display deference to a more dominant individual, a submissive dog uses deferent gestures, such as averting her eyes, rolling on her back, or urinating. These signals demonstrate that the dog recognizes another individual's dominance. But when submissive urination is expressed in front of a homeowner, or visitor to the home, it often has an aggravating, not appeasing, effect. Although a frustrating and embarrassing problem, submissive urination is one that is easily corrected.

Digging. Some dogs just love to get down and dirty by digging and digging. Meanwhile their masters can do nothing but watch as the yard starts to resemble a minefield. What you should do about digging depends on why your dog is scooping up soil by the pawfull in the first place.

Chewing. Whether the culprit is a young puppy exploring her new environment, an energetic juvenile displacing pent up energies, or an adult dog acting out distress caused by thunderstorm phobia or separation anxiety, a canine with a penchant for chewing can transform your valuable piano to splinters in a matter of hours.

Separation Anxiety. Most dogs adapt well to the typical daily separation from their owners. Unfortunately, problems can arise when an overly dependent dog develops an abnormally strong attachment to her owners. Separation anxiety may be manifested as destruction of the owner's property and/or other behaviors that may be dangerous for the dog and annoying for people sharing the dog's environment.

General Fear. It's heartbreaking to see an anxious dog respond to everyday events by trembling, cowering, balking on his leash – or even biting. If your dog seems generally uneasy or is frightened by specific places or events, you'll be happy to hear that he can learn to be more confident.

Fear of People. Although it is possible for a fearful dog to be frightened of his owners, this is rarely the case. Fearfulness is usually expressed toward strangers, toward unfamiliar people outside the family circle who are not frequent visitors to the household.

Fear of Other Dogs. Some dogs are aggressive toward other dogs through fear or anxiety. In the wild, this behavior is adaptive and protects the dog from harm; however, fear can also be maladaptive when the response is out of proportion to the real threat. Fears can reach such proportions that they impair a dog's ability to function acceptably in society. Typically, dogs that are fear-aggressive toward other dogs have been improperly socialized as pups.

Aggression. Aggression in dogs may be defined as warning, threatening, or harmful behavior directed (usually) toward another living thing. Aggressive behaviors include snarling, growling, snapping, nipping, biting, and lunging. Treating aggressive behavior may involve a combination of behavior modification techniques, drug therapy, surgery, avoidance, and management. Each case is unique, and the success of treatment varies depending on the diagnosis, and an owner's capability, motivation, and schedule.

Nipping and Biting. When puppies are playing with you or being petted, they sometimes begin to bite or "mouth" peoples' hands or arms. This is not aggressive behavior, per se, but is a step on the road. However, it is easier to "nip" the problem in the bud by training youngsters what is and is not acceptable behavior. I.e. teach "bite inhibition." And even if the behavior has been permitted to flourish, there are still corrective steps you can take.

Predatory Aggression. All dogs have some level of prey drive (the motivation to chase, catch and kill small furry or feathered creatures) because hunting and killing was a way of life for their ancestors and the means for their survival. Predatory aggression by dogs does not reflect a psychological problem and neither is the perpetrator vicious, malicious, or vindictive. Owners should supervise their dogs and use a leash when they take their dog out in public. They should also make sure that their yard is fenced.

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