Common Dog Behavior Issues: A Pet Parent Guide

Common Dog Behavior Issues: A Pet Parent Guide

Alpha Paw Sale

Aug 25, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2011 and her PhD in veterinary oncology in 2015.


What Is Normal Typical Dog Behavior Problems?

Our canine friends can suffer from a variety of behavioral issues that can cause problems if we don’t manage them. Some dogs can dig, bark too much, howl, or chew at everything around them.

However, these are all common dog behavior problems and they can be fixed with the right type of training. Some of these behavioral problems exist because our four-legged buddies have health conditions that make it a struggle to train them properly.

Learning to distinguish between normal problematic dog behaviors, disorders such as separation anxiety, and actual health issues (like rabies), is extremely important for all pet parents.

If you notice that your dog is withdrawn, has lost its appetite, and doesn’t seem to interact with other humans or animals as much, schedule an appointment at the vet clinic. Sometimes, adding melatonin to their diet can help, but consult a vet first.

Time is of the essence in treating some medical issues, so go to your vet as soon as you feel something is off.

Common Dog Behavior Issues: A Pet Parent Guide

Common Dog Behavior Problems

Humping

Seeing your dog humping can be frustrating and embarrassing, especially if your dog is humping people. Some dogs might hump until they are neutered, so the procedure could be helpful. Oftentimes, this behavior has nothing to do with sex. They are humping as a sign of dominance. 

When it happens, distract your dog. Make sure your pet knows certain commands which will result in them getting a treat — if you ask them to sit and they know they are going to be rewarded, they might do it even if they might be more interested in humping a leg.

Being Overprotective of People and Property

Aggression and barking are extremely common in overprotective dogs. Naturally, they want to defend their owners and their toys or belongings as best as possible, but this can have serious consequences such as a bite.

Resource guarding is more common in dogs that suffered some form of emotional/mental abuse prior to being adopted.

Make sure that they understand they can have plenty of food and chew toys at any time and that there’s no need for them to be aggressive. Positive reinforcement, as well as obedience training, can be quite helpful in this case.

Pulling on the Leash

Training your puppy to walk on a leash can be stressful for the pet and you. It’s a challenge that you will have to face at one point or the other. Most dogs don’t understand that they are supposed to walk next to you, so training them early is key.

Getting the proper equipment, such as a harness instead of a collar, can allow you to have more control over your dog’s movements and can also prevent leash pulling. Also, if you want to teach a puppy to walk on a leash, you have to make sure you go outside and walk your dog several times a day.

Disobedience

If your dog doesn’t come when called and they don’t seem to mind whatever you might be doing, they could have passive disobedience. By contrast, active disobedience involves something that your pet does even if you’ve expressly told them not to.

The explanation for this type of behavior is that your dog is constantly trying to show you that they are the dominant one, the leader of your pack. Do not indulge your dog when they’re trying to convince you to do something. Use obedience training instead of yelling or chasing after your pet when they are being disobedient.

Chewing

All dogs chew, but when they do it too much and on things that they’re not supposed to chew on, it can be a problem. It can also be a symptom of separation anxiety or pica, a disease where the dog’s nutrition is not good enough so they might try to chew and eat unnatural things.

Your dog’s behavior could be the result of boredom or it could mean that they need more time spent outdoors with their owners. In any case, we suggest doggy-proofing your home as best as possible, meaning blocking access to outlets or other hazards that could affect a dog’s health and life.

Digging

If your dog is otherwise well-behaved but digging is something that they can’t help, just get your dog’s attention each time they feel inclined to do it. Try to find out why your canine friend does this. Are they digging because something was recently buried in that spot and they want to find out what it is?

Are they bored? Does your dog want to capture your attention? Do you have moles in your yard that could be at the root of this problem? Ask yourself these questions and try to eliminate the cause.

Food Begging

Begging for food is an extremely common behavior that a dog can show and the worst part is that they’ve probably been taught to do it.

Many pet parents spoil their four-legged buddies without intending to, especially during meal times when a little piece of food here and there may not hurt.

There are many common human foods that are actually toxic to dogs, so this behavior can hurt your dog. First, feeding them extra food can cause obesity, and secondly, it puts them at risk of food poisoning.

If you’ve made sure your dog is well-fed (perhaps they’ve just had a meal), simply refuse to give them what’s on your plate. You can stop and supply your dog with other entertainment opportunities such as giving them chew toys instead of what you’ve prepared for yourself.

Common Dog Behavior Issues: A Pet Parent Guide

Aggressive Behavior

Dealing with an aggressive dog can be very challenging and if you do not have training experience, we strongly suggest that you get a dog trainer to teach your dog not to react in this way. Dogs can exhibit subtle signs of aggression such as showing their teeth and growling.

They do not necessarily have to bite to be considered aggressive. While this common behavior can be fixed in some cases, sometimes your pooch might need to go through a dozen of professional training sessions before they minimize their aggression.

Barking Too Much

Barking is a way dogs communicate with one another and with their human friends. Your pet might come when called but they might also bark in acknowledgment that they’ve heard your command.

Excessive barking can be a problem, especially for individuals whose neighbors work from home and who might not withstand all the noise. Teaching your dog that barking is never the solution calls for a lot of time and patience and involves techniques such as obedience training and redirection.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can be a mental problem for many healthy adult dogs. It is more common in pets that tend to spend a lot of time indoors by themselves, such as when their owners are at work.

Separation anxiety almost always has a number of symptoms such as excessive barking, destructive chewing, or inappropriate elimination. Teaching your dog that you will come back can be challenging and you might need the services of a specialized dog trainer. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication for the time being.

Inappropriate Defecation and Urination

Incontinence can be a real health issue of older dogs but it can be treated or at least partially improved, in some cases. However, in other situations, inappropriate elimination is a result of incorrect housebreaking.

Puppies can urinate or defecate merely out of excitement, especially when they are very young, which shouldn’t be considered a problematic behavior. When it does tend to happen in their adulthood and it seems to get everywhere, you might have to realize what’s causing the behavior and train your dog not to do it.

Uncontrollable Chasing

Some breeds are more likely to chase around moving things, particularly birds. Excessive chasing can be normal behavior, but it can have dire consequences as your dog can put itself in a dangerous situation.

Socialize your puppy and train them to respond to a series of basic commands so that they are less prone to become distracted by anything that might move around them.

Biting

Dogs need to bite to defend themselves against other animals. When biting becomes a common occurrence or when your pet seems to want to bite everyone around you or other animals, this can be a sign of aggression or other behavioral problems.

Biting is more common in puppies as they have to sample the taste of as many things in their environment as possible. Spending enough time with your dog and teaching them that when they are good and refrain from biting, they can get a treat or a doggy cookie can usually solve this issue.

Hyperactivity

Hyperactivity is, without a doubt, one of the most common problems in dogs that can be encountered and it is particularly normal in puppies.

Dogs can be unruly and extremely energetic, but you should know that this tends to happen as they might not get enough exercise or you might not play with your pet enough. Give your dog enough entertainment opportunities every day and ensure enough exercise to solve this issue.

Stealing Things or Food

Another common dog behavior problem that pet parents have to deal with as soon as possible is stealing. This behavior tends to surface in dogs who have been at shelters or were not cared for properly and did not have adequate food or toys.

Make sure your dog gets the right nutrition from healthy dog food. You can even give them some multi-nutrient chews as treats every now and then to make sure that they don’t develop any deficiencies.

What Behavioral Changes Should Make You Call Your Vet?

Elimination Issues

If you have made sure to train your dog to go potty in a specific place or you know that they can hold it in for an hour or two before you manage to take them out for a walk and they start having ‘accidents’, something could be wrong.

Diarrhea or straining to defecate is not a normal dog behavior, and neither isn’t peeing everywhere. This is especially true if your pet is several years old and you have never had problems with them in this sense.

Naturally, peeing to mark their territory is another common behavior that some dogs can show, but if they pee too much, drink a lot of water, or on the contrary, they seem to strain or be in pain when urinating, it’s time to go to the vet.

Hiding

If your dog is rather sociable and friendly with everyone and all of a sudden, they start being withdrawn and they seem to want to hide under or behind the furniture, something is bothering them.

Sick dogs are more likely to hide under the bed or in any other confined spaces that they find in their living environments. If they are in pain, they will also avoid interacting with other individuals or other canine friends.

Dogs do this in an attempt to prevent any additional pain. An older pet might develop a form of dementia (canine cognitive dysfunction) and experience significant behavior issues such as not even recognizing their owners.

Common Dog Behavior Issues: A Pet Parent Guide

Lethargy or Sleepiness

Everyone knows that a dog may laze around for half a day if they’ve had a nice meal and they get to spend plenty of time with their owners. But if your pet seems to be sleepy all the time and might not even be interested in going outside or playing, it’s time to go to the veterinarian.

It’s perfectly normal to be sleepy or even slightly lethargic after a particularly intense play session, but if it happens too often, it’s up to you to try to determine the cause. When that proves to be impossible, go to the animal hospital.

Changes In Their Appetite

No one loves food more than dogs. Sometimes, this can even be problematic for them as they could end up suffering from bloat. They can’t control their appetite as well as their feline counterparts, for example, and they tend to pay less attention to the smell of the food before scarfing it down.

If your puppy usually has a healthy appetite and all of a sudden, they no longer want to eat, something is seriously wrong. The same goes for when they begin eating too much while also losing weight at the same time.

This could be a sign that they might have intestinal parasites or some other disease that could affect puppies and adults alike.

Sudden Vocalizations

All dogs bark and whine when they want something and can’t get it and might need your assistance. Owners should be aware of the difference between normal dog vocalizations and those that might be worrying.

For example, if you’ve gone out of your way to train your dog not to bark or whine, they might be naturally quiet. But if they suddenly begin vocalizing, especially when you touch certain areas of their body, something else might be at the root of the problem.

Some puppies can whimper or try to ‘talk’ to you so as to tell you that they are in pain, they feel fear or are otherwise distressed. Being able to decode their body language is essential in understanding if they need to be taken to the vet, or not.

Significant Mood Changes

It’s quite natural for dogs to be out of sorts every now and then, but if they experience sudden mood changes that are completely uncharacteristic to them, maybe they are suffering from a health issue.

An affectionate and independent dog can exhibit aggression or can become clingy without any apparent explanation. Other dogs might suddenly engage in rough play, practice excessive barking, or resource guarding even if they’ve never shown this behavior before.

More importantly, some dogs can have neurologic problems such as epilepsy. In that case, before they have a seizure, they could experience restlessness in the form of pacing everywhere, chewing on everything, or incessantly digging in the garden. The dog may begin to whine, shake, and salivate.

Preventing and Treating Behavioral Issues

Get Help

There are many resources online these days that can allow you to take the first step into training your dog, but you should know that you can’t do it all yourself.

You might lack the experience or professional skills that a dog trainer might use in teaching your dog to sit, bite, chase, stop begging for food, or engage in rough play.

Sometimes, it is just a matter of understanding your own limits and knowing how much time and effort you might spend on improving your dog’s behavior when someone else could do it in half the time.

Prevent Boredom

As instinctive as some behaviors might be, dogs are more likely to exhibit them when they do not get enough exercise and when they are bored.

Let’s face it. If you spend nine to 10 hours out of the house every day and your dog doesn’t have a companion, whether another canine friend or even a cat, they’re going to get extremely bored, and will show signs of anxiety and stress.

Once that happens, they can develop all sorts of behaviors from barking and whining to chewing and jumping on the furniture. Make sure your dog always has a toy to play with.

If you know you can’t spend a lot of time with your dog during the day, be a responsible owner and get another puppy. Two dogs can keep each other company while you’re out and about.

Common Dog Behavior Issues: A Pet Parent Guide

Final Thoughts

As we have mentioned, some behaviors might just be the results of bad habits, but others could be signs of disease. If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your dog is actually suffering from disease and their behavior changes are a consequence of that, get in touch with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Regular check-ups are necessary for all dogs, regardless of age and health status. Ideally, adult dogs have to be seen by a veterinarian once a year while older dogs need to be taken to the clinic for check-ups at least twice a year.

Alpha Paw Sale
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Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree in 2011 from USAMV in Iasi, Romania, and her PhD in Canine Oncology in 2015 from USAMV in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is passionate about anything from animal nutrition & welfare to veterinary parasitology & infectious diseases. As a responsible pet parent herself, she enjoys giving reliable medical advice that pet owners can trust, which is why she joined Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts on our mission to help our readers give their pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

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