Bad Dog! 10 Reasons Your Dog Might Develop Behavior Problems
1) Not Enough Exercise
Dogs need physical exercise to be happy and walks on leash around the block are not usually sufficient. Activities like off-leash runs, fetch, playing with a flirt pole toy, running with you with a bike leash such as a Walky Dog or Springer, or dog-dog play/daycare if they are social are more appropriate.
Flirt poles are an awesome way to exercise high energy dogs and you don’t need a lot of space for it!
2) Not Enough Mental Stimulation
The often forgotten mental stimulation aspect is imperative to having a well-balanced dog. Mental exercise can be just as tiring as physical; someone who works a desk job can be just as tired at the end of the day as a landscaper. Utilizing your dog’s daily rations for food enrichment activities or a bit of training as often as you can will really go a long way for your dog. Watch the following videos for some ideas about food puzzle toys you can buy or make and read my blog “Eat, Train, Love” for more information. Something as simple as hiding your dogs meal or spreading it out in the yard can be a huge enrichment activity for them. Dogs love to forage or work for their meals.
3) Health Problems
Health problems cause behaviour issues more commonly than people realize and is often missed. Think about it – if you’re not feeling too hot, you’re probably going to be cranky or not yourself. Your dog is the same way except they don’t have words to tell you why they are acting funny. Common issues that can change your dog’s behaviour are arthritis, hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, sore teeth, thyroid problems, epilepsy/seizures, ear infections, digestive issues, skin or environmental allergies, yeast infections, hearing loss, eyesight loss, and cancer. Especially if aggression or another behaviour issue shows up suddenly, contact your vet. There’s a good chance one of the above issues or something else could be causing your canine to be cranky.
4) Genetic Issues
Sometimes behaviour issues have genetic causes. Everything from aggression to hyperactivity can come down to what your dog inherited from its parents. If you are buying a puppy, making sure the parents have good temperament is imperative. If they do not, the chance of your puppy having a poor temperament is very high. Sometimes with very good socialization you can over-ride poor genetics, but often even with the best socialization program you can still end up with behaviour issues if your dog has lost the gene pool lottery. Genetic issues tend to show up very young and are difficult to treat with behaviour modification.
5) Inconsistent Environment/Training
If you sometimes let your dog jump on you because you’re wearing casual clothes, but at other times punish him for it, how fair is this to your dog? They do not know the difference and this type of behaviour is very confusing for them and can cause anxiety. It reinforces jumping or any other behaviour your are inconsistently rewarding. If you want your dog not to do something, you must be consistent in making that clear to him in a kind manner. If your dog jumps for example, take some time to practice sitting with positive reinforcement (providing something your dog likes such as treats or play immediately after the behaviour) and ignore your dog completely if they jump. This means no talking, touching, or eye contact as all are attention and can reinforce behaviour you don’t like. Cross your arms, turn your back and ignore your dog until all four paws are on the floor.
If your dog has a behaviour problem look to yourself: how do you respond? There’s a good chance you have been reinforcing the behaviour with attention and have actually trained your dog to do this! Another good example is barking. Dog barks, you yell, dog thinks you are barking with them and look at the attention I got! Dog barks more, you scold more, dog barks more and on and on it goes.
Having a consistent set of boundaries and rules in your house helps your dog to understand their environment is predictable. It also shows them that you provide guidance, leadership and access to all the good stuff. It’s important to take the time to teach your dog rules using patience and positive reinforcement. Take a look at my “Follow the Leader” post for a group of suggested rules for your household that are dog and people friendly.
Teaching your dog not to jump up takes patience, consistency, and knowing what to ignore and what to reward.
6) Misunderstanding of Normal Dog Behaviour
Normal dogs bark, pull on leash, eat poop, roll in dead things, jump up to greet, guard food and bones (to a degree), growl when they are threatened, they chew whatever they can get their mouth on, pee and poop wherever, nip, protect property or their family, herd, chase small animals, and sometimes kill small animals. All of these “nuisance” behaviours are all perfectly natural parts of a dogs repertoire, and will vary depending on breed. This is why it is important to find a breed that is compatible for your lifestyle. It’s simply unfair to get a mastiff and be shocked when he barks at strangers approaching your home. These dogs have been bred for thousands of years to be guard dogs. Siberian huskies and northern breeds may not be reliable off leash and may kill small animals. Border collies might herd your children. Daschunds are known to bark a lot. All of this is because of selective breeding to do a job or natural canine behaviour. Sometimes you can train an alternative behaviour, and sometimes you cannot. It depends on how genetically hard wired the behaviour is.
8) Change in Routine or Diet
Changing the routine can be stressful for your dog, and may cause them to act out. Just like us, dogs need a sense of security and drastic changes in environment or routine can really throw them off causing anxiety which is commonly expressed as problem behaviour. Moving to a new house often causes a lapse in house training among other things. A change in work schedule can confuse your dog and a new pet or child joining the family can be very stressful. In this case be patient with your dog and guide him through the struggle with kindness while they adjust to the changes.
Switching your dog to a poorer quality or less suitable diet might cause them to act up. Diet has a huge influence on how we behave (again, going back to health influencing behaviour) and switching your dog’s diet to something poor quality or that doesn’t agree with them may change how they act. Always feed your dog a good quality diet and change foods gradually over a week or so.
9) Poor Socialization or Negative Experiences
Socialization is the process of ensuring your puppy gets positive, controlled exposure to other dogs, people of all types, sounds, surfaces, and new experiences. Dogs need to be socialized to the human world starting as young puppies and continuing throughout their life. The period from 3-16 weeks of age is the most critical socialization period. This time lays a foundation for a well-balanced dog. If a puppy doesn’t get proper socialization during its critical period, it can grow up into a shy, fearful or aggressive adult. A well run puppy class can be a fun way to kick start your dog’s socialization foundation.
On the other side of the coin, even a dog who’s been well socialized can develop behaviour problems if they have negative experiences. Being attacked by other dogs or teased by children when out in the yard are a few examples of issues that can affect your dogs behaviour negatively. A poor experience at the vet, training class or groomer can do the same. It’s important to be selective on where you take your dog to socialize and which professionals you will trust to handle your dog. I would also advice against leaving your dog a lone in your yard when you aren’t home because you never know what can happen.
10) Fear Periods or Adolescence
If your normally fearless puppy suddenly turns shy one day don’t panic. It is normal for puppies to go through several fear periods as their brains develop. The first generally occurs somewhere around 8-12 weeks old and another around 5 or 6 months. Depending on the breed and bloodlines of your dog they may have more or less. It’s important not to panic and just let your puppy go through this phase. You may want to avoid going to the vet, training class, groomer, or new places for a week until your puppy is back to themselves. The reason is during a fear period if something frightens them it imprints very strongly on them. So, rather than trying to work through it, it’s best just to let it pass.
Adolescence starts at about 6 months and continues to 12 to 18 months usually. This is when most dogs are turned over to the shelter. This is a period where puppies start testing their world and their boundaries. A previously “good” dog may become a nightmare. Continued obedience training, maintaining structure and boundaires, patience and good management are a must during this phase. Management refers to setting up the environment so that the dog doesn’t get a chance to do “naughty” things and includes techniques like crating the dog when you cannot supervise directly.