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Common dog behavioural problems - and what you can do about them

Dog behaviour problems eating toy advice
© Shutterstock

It's natural for some dogs to be a bit mischievous, but we don't want them developing serious behavioural issues. These can have long-term effects on your dog's health, so here are some of the most common dog behavioural problems and what you can do about them.

By Daniel Mar

Manageable dog behaviour problems

These are behaviours that are completely normal for a healthy dog. However, they may cause issues for the human families when they are manifested in excess or directed towards the wrong target. It is therefore important to teach your dog some rules around these behaviours.

Chewing

Dogs love a bit of chew - it is one of dogs’ basic needs. However, excessive chewing can be a sign of an underlying health issue. It's also a problem for owners because a dog might chew on something inappropriate – they don't understand how much you spent on your new shoes! The most common reasons for excessive chewing include:

  • Puppy teething
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Curiosity

If you do catch your dog or puppy chewing on something inappropriate, then you can interrupt the behaviour. A noise that will attract to a different room is enough. Additionally, it is very important that you can give them chew toys and reward your dog with treats and praise whenever they play with it so that they will understand what is appropriate to chew on. One of the best things to do is provide your dog with physical and mental exercise, and lots of it! These will satisfy your dog’s motivational needs.

Digging

Digging is wired into dogs, especially certain breeds, like Terriers. These breeds were originally selected and used for centuries for hunting animals living underground, and this type of instinctual behaviour doesn't disappear overnight. Still, that's no comfort if they've just dug up all those new plants! Again, make sure your dog gets plenty of physical and mental exercise. If their need for exploration and play is satisfied, they will not need to find their own way to do it, such as digging. For breeds more prone to digging, it might be a good idea to set up a designated zone or maybe even a sandbox. That way they can dig without causing any damage to your garden.

Husky dog digging in garden
Huskies love digging
©Shutterstock

Jumping up

Dogs jump up for a few different reasons. Firstly, they could just be happy to see you, or they might be doing it to obtain your attention. This behaviour may be dangerous for example if a large dog jumps on a young child or simply inconvenient for some owners. Pushing them away or scolding them can be counter-productive as it might escalate the excitement of the moment. Your dog may think you're playing with them, and any reaction is going to reinforce this attention-seeking behaviour. As tough as it can be, the trick is to simply turn away and ignore your dog. It takes quite a bit of self-discipline, but dogs learn quickly and so it won't be long before they get the message. Additionally, you should always indicate your dog a more appropriate way of greeting people, such as sitting down or going to their bed.

Serious dog behaviour problems

Begging

Begging for food at the dinner table is another common, yet manageable, behavioural problem. But don't be too harsh on yourself - dogs know how to work those puppy eyes when they really want something. Still, be strong - and remember that food doesn't equal love. It can also lead to digestive problems as dogs’ systems are unaccustomed to much of our rich diet. Other more serious health problems include obesity or diabetes. Keep it simple and confine your dog to another room during family mealtimes. But if you really want them there, you can encourage them to stay in their bed by giving them some very tasty treats to chew on. You can always reward them after your meal!

Biting

Biting is a serious problem. Your dog becomes a risk to other people, and even to itself. The reasons for biting include:

  • Fear
  • Painful medical conditions
  • Inappropriate playful behaviour
  • Poor training and socialisation

It's vital to encourage the right kind of behaviours early on. Puppies are naturally curious, and mouthing and biting are some of the ways in which they navigate through the world. However, when your puppy bites you harder than you like, respond with a high-pitched yelp or a stern but calm ‘no’. This will encourage something called ‘bite inhibition.' It happens during play with other puppies, and they’re learning the power of their own bites and how to control them based on each others reaction. If your puppy does not calm down or stop you can leave the room for a few seconds. This will help your puppy understand that over excitement will lead to an end of play. If these behaviours continue, it's something that needs to be addressed immediately. You might want to think about seeing a behaviour specialist. This link to the RSPCA provides a list of fully certified experts.

Inappropriate Elimination or House-soiling

This refers to your pup eliminating in places you don't want them to. It’s frustrating for both you and your dog, and the first thing you want to do is rule out any underlying health issues. Take them for a check-up at your local vet to make sure it isn't a sign of anything too serious. If they get the all clear then it's a behavioural issue. This can include anything from lack of toilet training, anxiety, and it can be a response to changes in their environment. A new member of the household, like a baby or a new pet, is a common cause of inappropriate elimination. It's difficult to do, but try to remain calm and don’t punish your dog. That will make the dog anxious and more likely to repeat the problem. In the meantime, go back to some house training fundamentals. If the problem does not improve, it may be necessary to discuss it with a behaviour specialist.

Remember that dogs aren't born naughty, and most behavioural problems will stem from poor training or underlying negative emotional states. Take time to identify the source of the problem and you’ll notice that just a few tweaks in your dog’s routine can have a hugely positive effect on their behaviour.