Dealing with common behavioural issues in dogs
- by DR Roxanne Jones
It's fairly normal for dogs to display undesirable behaviour from time to time. Behavioural issues, especially in puppies, aren't particularly uncommon, and in the majority of cases, they can be dealt with effectively if handled lovingly, patiently and correctly. That’s why it’s so important to take your pooch to puppy school or socialisation classes.
Here are 6 common behavioural issues in dogs and how to deal with them.
- Relieving themselves where they shouldn't
This is very common in puppies and unavoidable before 12 weeks of age - after all, they need to be toilet-trained by you.
If your dog is toilet-trained and begins to eliminate where he shouldn't, this could be a sign of an underlying medical issue, so get your pooch to the vet. If this is ruled out, it could be a result of separation anxiety, excitement, territory marking, or improper toilet training, or your pooch may be looking for attention. If this is the case, you will need lots of patience and care, as you'll need to work lovingly to change your furbaby's perception of herself.
Note that rubbing your dog's nose in her mess, smacking her or reprimanding her won't fix the problem. Praising your dog when she goes in the right place is far more effective than attempting to punish her.
- Chewing the wrong things
Chewing is a totally natural doggy behaviour, as dogs chew to explore their environment, relieve stress and boredom, and keep their teeth and gums healthy. If you catch your dog chewing on something inappropriate, direct him to a safe and satisfying chew-toy instead. There are so many great options available. Chat to your vet about healthy, safe options for your particular type of pooch.
Digging is another common doggy behaviour that can leave owners pulling out their hair. But there can be some simple solutions - especially if you get to the root of the issue. Some dogs dig because they're bored - in which case, walk your dog, play with him more often, and find ways to keep him stimulated. If your dog is trying to escape, you may need to think of some clever ways to foil him (like extending your wall or gate down into the ground).
Some dogs feel vulnerable when left out in the open for too long, and he may be trying to create place of safety for himself. Get him a kennel to give him a cosy, safe space to retreat into. And, if he's digging just because he loves it, try cordoning off a part of your garden that you don't mind him digging up, and encourage him to dig there instead, giving him treats and praising him when he does, and discouraging him (verbally, not physically) when he digs elsewhere.
Aggression can be a fairly natural behaviour that dogs start practicing as young pups - when guarding their food or becoming territorial, for example. This is one of the reasons it’s important to socialise them properly and ensure that they know that you’re the alpha. Discourage aggression from a young age, otherwise they’ll think it’s their right to be bossy and aggressive. They must be taught that this behaviour isn’t acceptable.
However, aggression can also be caused by other factors, like fear, miscommunication or pain. Dogs may become aggressive when provoked by kids for example, which is why it’s critical to never let a child tug at a dog, tease her or otherwise antagonise her. Even the most docile dog can lose her patience eventually.
Also, if you display aggressive behaviour towards your dog - i.e, when reprimanding her - she may respond in a similar fashion, as she’ll be responding to your aggression in the only way that comes naturally to her. Pain can also cause aggression. Think about how you feel when you’re ill or hurt, and then imagine someone stepping on you accidentally, or intentionally irritating you. Dogs feel just as much as humans do, so always think about how you’d feel in your dog’s situation. This can often go a long way towards understanding - and avoiding - aggressive responses.
- Excessive barking
Barking is another instinctive doggy behaviour. Often, it’s to alert you to people arriving or something unusual going on, which is a good thing. But if your dog continues to bark long after the doorbell has rung, you need to figure out a way to curb the behaviour. Try acknowledging your dog’s bark after two or three yaps, saying ‘Thank you!’, and then giving your pup a treat or chew toy. It’s normal and okay for dogs to bark to alert you, but it’s not okay for it to go on forever.
Other ways to help curb your pooch’s incessant barking is by taking them to socialisation classes to help prevent fear and anxiety - this is often an underlying cause of non-stop yapping. Also make sure you’re providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation to ward off boredom, and praise quiet, calm behaviour.
- Jumping up
You may think it’s cute when your 40kg dog jumps up to greet you, but it’s less cute when he knocks your guests off their feet. Jumping up is a sign of dominance, plain and simple, and the way to cut it out is by ignoring it. Even if you think it’s adorable that your dog is so excited to see you return home, you need to ignore him until he’s seated. Allowing jumping - no matter the size of your dog - is encouraging all kinds of dominance-related behaviours and allowing him to think he’s the alpha. Don’t respond to the jumping, then reward him when he’s calmed down.
Many dog owners think the way to break bad behaviours is by punishing their animal, but actually, positive reinforcement of good behaviour is far more effective. After all, you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar! Chat to your vet if you’re struggling with these or other behaviours, and start turning your ‘Bad dog!’ into ‘Good boy!’.
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.