Home Dog behavior Unwanted Dog Behavior: Preventing and Treating Behavioral Problems

Unwanted Dog Behavior: Preventing and Treating Behavioral Problems


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One of the main reasons people abandon their dogs to shelters is because of unwanted or destructive behavior by their dogs. These can include aggression, excessive barking, fleeing, chewing and digging, or a number of other behavioral issues.

However, with a little practice, most dog parents can reduce or eliminate these habits and live in peace with their pooches. That said, if you have aggression issues, it’s usually best to consult a professional canine behaviorist.

Any behavior can become much worse due to improper training or mishandling. Physical force is never effective and only weakens the bond you are trying to build.

But for your dog to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not in the world you share, you must act as the caring leader of your household. Here are some things to know about managing your dog’s unwanted habits.

Understanding Unwanted Dog Behavior and How to Approach Training

Many unwanted canine behaviors are instinctive, and most result from boredom or stress.

It is important to recognize that these behaviors are innate. When your pup digs up your flower beds, he’s not looking for revenge or punishment for removing his tennis ball. Dogs just aren’t programmed that way.

Aggressive behavior, pursuit, marking, and resource guarding are modern manifestations of dogs’ early instincts to acquire food and protect their territory and pack. Digging and chewing, on the other hand, are usually the result of boredom. Barking is a bit of both.

Jumping and mouthing are simply examples of one species (dogs) trying to make a connection using very different forms of communication than another species (humans) understands.

In order to reduce unwanted behavior, you will need to understand your dog’s needs and be an effective leader. Here are some key ingredients for effective training:

  • Set boundaries and be consistent.
  • Reinforce good behavior with lots of treats, toys, and attention.
  • Ignore unwanted behavior as much as possible.
  • Make sure your dog knows he is an important and beloved part of the pack.

Preventing bad behavior in puppies

Little puppy makes chaos at home

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Preventing bad behavior is always better than having to deal with it, and early training is essential.

Enroll your puppy in obedience classes and train with him daily, even after the class is over. Training not only teaches your dog manageable and helpful behaviors, but it also hones impulse control and provides essential mental stimulation.

It’s a good idea to add to your puppy’s repertoire of tricks and skills throughout his life.

Early socialization is the other key ingredient. Preferably before your dog reaches twelve weeks of age – when the window of opportunity begins to close and dogs begin to fear the unknown – expose your pup as much as possible.

Introduce them to people of all shapes, sizes and colors, young and old, men and women. Arrange meetings with dogs of different breeds, maturity levels and playstyles so they learn good canine manners and play behavior.

Finally, introduce your dog to a wide variety of sights and sounds, from kids skateboarding to toilet flushing to 4th of July fireworks.

Treating Behavioral Problems in Adult Dogs

Some of the most affectionate, loyal and intelligent dogs come from shelters where the majority are well over twelve weeks old. If you missed this window of opportunity for socialization, or if a particular behavior already exists, treatment can be very effective.

Providing your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise is essential to maintaining a well-adjusted dog. It is also an effective prevention tool.

It’s true: a tired dog is a happy dog, and the more your dog is physically and mentally stimulated, the less likely he will be to dig, chew or escape.

Like humans, dogs are social animals. Having them spend long days alone doing nothing is not only cruel, it’s an invitation to bad behavior. Failing to have something to do, your dog will create his own ways to have fun.

If you work all day or go away for long periods of time, consider hiring a dog walker or finding dog daycare.

Consult the professionals for serious problems

Obedient Continental Bulldog and his master.  Joint formation in a meadow.  Signals and hand signals

(Photo credit: K_Thalhofer/Getty Images)

Some cases require the help of a reputable trainer. Physical correction is never appropriate and almost always makes things worse.

For serious issues such as separation anxiety and aggressive behaviors, see a reputable trainer or behaviorist. In these cases, desensitization is usually the preferred method of treatment.

Essentially, desensitization associates positive reinforcement — treats, praise, attention — with whatever triggers the bad behavior, creating a new positive association with the trigger.

Put simply: your dog barks and rushes – anxious behavior – every time the neighbor’s kids cycle past – the trigger. Starting with very limited exposure, desensitization combines the sight of children riding bikes with lots of treats and praise – positive reinforcement.

Canine misbehavior is rooted in instinct and escalates when a dog is bored, stressed, or both. Early training, mental and physical exercise, and lots of attention go a long way in preventing and treating behavioral problems.

Has your dog ever had a behavior problem that you trained? What advice do you have for other pet owners? Let us know in the comments below!