Behavioural problems in dogs can be a source of frustration and concern for pet owners. But why do dogs misbehave? Understanding the underlying causes is crucial for effectively addressing and correcting these unwanted behaviours. So, let’s look into why dogs misbehave and delve into five significant factors that contribute to behavioural problems in dogs with actionable solutions to overcome them.
1. Lack of socialisation
One of the primary causes of behavioural issues in dogs is a lack of proper socialisation during their formative years. Dogs not adequately exposed to various environments, people, and other animals often develop anxiety, fear, and aggressive tendencies.
How to overcome it
Early and gradual exposure
Begin socialising your dog as early as possible, ideally during their puppyhood. Introduce them to different environments, noises, and people in a gradual and controlled manner. If you rescued your pup at an older age, and she never got the opportunity to be properly socialised before, don’t worry. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to socialise an adult dog and we have a whole article with useful tips on “How to Socialise an Older Dog”.
Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward calm and friendly behaviour during social interactions. This helps build positive associations with new experiences. Do take note that it is possible to overuse treats in positive reinforcement training to the point where it starts to resemble bribery. This occurs when treats are used excessively or inappropriately, and the dog begins to perform desired behaviours only when treats are present. Do fade out treats gradually once a behaviour is consistently performed. Begin to reduce the frequency of treats and replace them with praise or other forms of positive reinforcement like verbal praise, physical affection, and playtime.
If your dog exhibits severe socialisation issues, consider seeking the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist who specialises in socialisation.
2. Inadequate exercise and mental stimulation
Insufficient physical exercise and mental stimulation are major contributors to behavioural problems in dogs. Dogs are inherently active animals that require regular opportunities to expend energy and engage their minds. Without these outlets, dogs may resort to undesirable behaviours like destructive chewing, excessive barking, or digging.
How to overcome it
Incorporate regular play sessions into your dog's daily routine. Activities like fetch, tug-of-war, and automatic interactive toys provide both physical exercise and mental engagement.
Provide puzzle and nosework toys and engage in obedience training sessions to challenge your dog's cognitive abilities. Mental enrichment is as important as physical exercise.
Establishing a consistent daily schedule for feeding, exercise, and playtime provides structure and stability for your dog, reducing restlessness and boredom.
3. Lack of clear communication
Dogs are inherently pack animals and thrive when provided with clear leadership and guidance. When they lack proper training and consistent rules, they may become confused, anxious, and exhibit undesirable behaviours.
How to overcome it
Positive reinforcement training
Utilise positive reinforcement techniques, such as treats and praise, to reward desired behaviours. This encourages your dog to repeat those behaviours in the future.
Consistency in communication
Be consistent in your commands and expectations. Use clear, concise language and gestures to convey what you want from your dog. Here are some key points about clear communication:
- Use consistent commands. Stick to a specific set of commands for each behaviour. For example, if you use "sit" to ask your dog to sit, don't switch to "down" or other variations. This helps prevent confusion.
- Keep it simple. Use short, one-word commands whenever possible. Dogs are more likely to understand and respond to simple, clear words.
- Use a clear, firm voice. Speak in a confident, calm tone. Avoid being harsh or overly loud, but make sure your voice carries authority.
- Pair commands with gestures. Dogs are visual creatures. Incorporate clear hand signals or body language to accompany verbal commands. For example, hold your hand up when saying "stay".
Enrol in training classes
Consider enrolling your dog in a reputable training class, led by experienced trainers. These classes provide structured learning environments and allow for socialisation with other dogs.
4. Medical issues
Undiagnosed or untreated medical conditions can lead to behavioural problems in dogs. Pain, discomfort, or neurological issues may manifest as aggression, irritability, or changes in behaviour.
How to overcome it
Regular veterinary check-ups
Schedule routine check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your dog's health. Address any concerns promptly and follow recommended treatment plans.
Be attentive to changes
Pay close attention to any sudden changes in your dog's behaviour, appetite, or energy levels. These could be signs of underlying medical issues.
Perform regular home health checks
Conduct regular at-home assessments of your dog's physical condition. Check for any signs of discomfort, such as limping, sensitivity to touch, or changes in posture. Inspect their eyes, ears, and mouth for any abnormalities. Keep an eye out for changes in appetite, bowel movements, or urinary habits. Early detection of potential issues allows for prompt veterinary attention, improving your dog's overall well-being.
5. Environmental Stressors
Changes in the environment, such as moving to a new home, the addition of a new family member, or exposure to loud noises, can cause stress and anxiety in dogs. This stress may manifest in various behavioural issues.
How to overcome it
When introducing your dog to a new environment or situation, do so gradually. Allow them time to acclimate and provide reassurance through positive interactions. Remember, every dog is unique, and their comfort levels may vary. Some dogs may adapt quickly, while others may need more time and patience. Pay attention to your dog's cues and adjust your approach accordingly. With time and positive reinforcement, your dog will gradually become more comfortable in their new environment. If necessary, use the ADAPTIL Calm Behaviour Training (For Anxiety) Diffuser Kit for Dogs to help your dog keep calm in a new environment.
Create safe spaces
Designate a quiet, comfortable area where your dog can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. This provides a sense of security. Furnish with comfortable bedding and other familiar items like your dog's favourite toys or blankets. If your dog is comfortable with a crate, consider placing one in the designated space. Make sure it's appropriately sized, allowing your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. If you're creating a larger safe space, use baby gates or dog play pens to define the area and prevent your dog from wandering into potentially unsafe areas.
Maintaining a predictable daily routine can help alleviate stress by providing a sense of stability and familiarity.
Addressing behavioural problems in dogs requires patience, dedication, and a deep understanding of your pet's individual needs. By recognizing and tackling these five significant causes - lack of socialisation, inadequate exercise and mental stimulation, lack of clear leadership and training, underlying medical issues, and environmental stressors - you can pave the way for a happier, healthier, and well-adjusted canine companion. Remember, seeking professional guidance when needed is a sign of responsible pet ownership and can greatly benefit both you and your beloved furry friend.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.