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Top Ten Dog Behavior Problems

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Most experienced dog owners are familiar with common dog behavior problems, but some may wonder why dogs exhibit these behaviors. Barking, biting, chewing and many other common dog behaviors are often misunderstood and mishandled by dog owners. Perhaps you are new to dog ownership, considering getting a dog, or just wish to better manage your dog's behavior problems. Thoroughly understanding the most common dog behavior problems is the first step to solving and preventing them. A solid foundation of obedience training will help you prevent or better control common dog behavior problems.

1. Barking

Dog digging hole in front yard
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Most dogs bark, howl and whine to some degree. Excessive barking is considered a behavior problem. Before you can correct barking, determine why your dog is vocalizing in the first place. These are the most common types of barking:
  • Warning or Alert
  • Playfulness/Excitement
  • Attention-seeking
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Responding to Other Dogs
Learn to control excessive barking. Be consistent and patient. Also, consider teaching the Bark/Quiet Commands. Dedication and attention to detail can go a long way.

2. Chewing

Chewing is a natural action for all dogs - it's just a part of the way they are wired. However, chewing can quickly become a behavior problem if your dog causes destruction. The most common reasons dogs chew are as follows:
  • Puppy Teething
  • Boredom / Excess Energy
  • Anxiety
  • Curiosity (especially puppies)
Encourage your dog to chew on the right things by providing plenty of chew toys. Keep personal items away from your dog. When you are not home, keep your dog crated or confined to an area where less destruction can be caused. If you catch your dog chewing the wrong thing, quickly correct him with a sharp noise. Then, replace the item with a chew toy. One of the most important things you can do: make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise!

3. Digging

If given the chance, most dogs will do some amount of digging - it's a matter of instinct. Certain breeds, like Terriers, are more prone to digging because of their hunting histories. In general, most dogs dig for these reasons:
  • Boredom or Excess Energy
  • Anxiety or Fear
  • Hunting Instinct
  • Comfort-Seeking (such as nesting or cooling off)
  • Hiding Possessions (like bones or toys)
  • To Escape or Gain Access
If your dog digs up your yard, it can get pretty frustrating for you. Try and determine the cause of the digging, then work to eliminate that source. Spend more time with your dog, give him more exercise, and work on extra training. If digging is inevitable, set aside an area where your dog can learn it is "okay" to dig, like a sand box.

4. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most commonly discussed dog behavior problems. Manifestations include vocalization, chewing, inappropriate urination and defecation, and other forms of destruction that occur when a dog is separated from his owner. Not all of these actions are the result of separation anxiety. Signs of true separation anxiety include:
  • Dog becomes anxious when owner prepares to leave
  • Misbehavior occurs in the first 15-45 minutes after owner leaves
  • Dog wants to follow owner around constantly
  • Dog tries to be touching owner whenever possible
True separation anxiety requires dedicated training, behavior modification and desensitization exercises. Medication may be recommended in extreme cases, but this should be a last resort.

5. Inappropriate Elimination

Inappropriate urination and defecation are among the most frustrating dog behaviors. They can damage areas of your home and make your dog unwelcome in public places or at the homes of others. It is most important that you discuss this behavior with your veterinarian first to rule out health problems. If no medical cause is found, try to determine the reason for the behavior, which can come down to one of the following: Inappropriate elimination is unavoidable in puppies, especially before 12 weeks of age. Older dogs are another story - many require serious behavior modification to rid them of the habit because you must often alter their perception of themselves.

6. Begging

Begging is a bad habit, but many dog owners unfortunately encourage it. This can lead to digestive problems and obesity. Dogs beg because they love food - but table scraps are not treats, and food is not love! Yes, it is hard to resist that longing look, but giving in "just this once" creates a problem in the long run. In a pack setting, a subordinate would never beg from alpha dogs without reprimand. When you teach your dog that begging is permitted, you jeopardize your role as pack leader. Before you sit down to eat, tell your dog to stay, preferably where he will not be able to stare at you. If necessary, confine him to another room. If he behaves, give him a special treat only after you and your family are completely finished eating.

7. Chasing

A dog's desire to chase moving things is simply a display of predatory instinct. Many dogs will chase other animals, people and cars. All of these can lead to dangerous and devastating outcomes! While you may not be able to stop your dog from trying to chase, you can take steps to prevent disaster.
  • Keep your dog on a leash at all times (unless directly supervised indoors).
  • Train your dog to come when called.
  • Have a dog whistle or noisemaker on hand to get your dog's attention.
  • Stay aware and watch for potential triggers, like joggers.
Your best chance at success is to keep the chase from getting out of control. Dedicated training over the course of your dog's life will teach him to focus his attention on you first - before running off.

8. Jumping Up

Puppies jump up to reach and greet their mothers. Later, they may jump up when greeting people. Dogs may also jump up to exert dominance. A jumping dog can be annoying and even dangerous. There are many methods to stop a dog's jumping, but not all will be successful. Lifting a knee, grabbing the paws, or pushing the dog away might work for some, but for most dogs this sends the wrong message. Jumping up is often attention-seeking behavior, so any acknowledgment of your dog's actions provide a reward! The best method: simply turn away and ignore your dog. Do not make eye contact, speak, or touch your dog. Go about your business. When he relaxes and remains still, calmly reward him. It won't take long before your dog gets the message.

9. Biting

Dogs bite for reasons that can be traced back to instinct and pack mentality. Puppies bite and nip on other dogs and people as a means for exploring their environment and learning their place in the pack. Owners must show their puppies that mouthing and biting are not acceptable by teaching bite inhibition. Beyond puppy behavior, the motivation to bite or snap typically comes from the following:
  • Fear or Defensiveness
  • Protection of Property
  • Pain or Sickness
  • Dominance Assertion
  • Predatory Instinct
Though some breeds are thought to be dangerous, it is my belief that breed specific legislation is not the answer. Owners and breeders are the ones who can help decrease the tendency for any type of dog to bite through proper training, socialization and breeding practices.

10. Aggression

Dog aggression is exhibited by growling, snarling, showing teeth, lunging and biting. It is important to know that any dog has the potential to become aggressive, regardless of breed or history. However, dogs with violent or abusive histories and those bred from dogs with aggressive tendencies are much more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior towards people or other dogs. Reasons for aggression are basically the same as the reasons a dog will bite or snap, but overall canine aggression is a much more serious problem. If your dog has aggressive tendencies, consult your vet first - it may stem from a health problem. Then, seek the help of an experienced dog trainer. Serious measures should be taken to keep others safe from aggressive dogs!
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