Abnormal behavior in dogs — what causes it and how to deal with it
All of us who have a furry best friend has wondered at least once — how to deal with dog behavior problems? Even the best trained and behaved dogs sometimes have annoying behavior patterns. Well, no one is perfect, right? But, some issues take more time to resolve and stem from different causes. That’s why it’s crucial that all dog owners and lovers get acquainted with the most common dog behavior problems — their causes and solutions.
Those of us who are seasoned dog owners know that some behaviors can’t be avoided. Dogs bark, chew stuff, run around, and jump on us when they’re happy. Therefore, the absence of these types of behavior can be worrisome as well. However, when does a specific annoying dog behavior become a problem?
Normal dog behavior vs. abnormal behavior in dogs
It is rather difficult to separate healthy from abnormal behavior in dogs. Not only does each dog breed have a particular behavior pattern they follow, but each dog might have a particular set of behaviors that are normal for that specific dog (while it might be abnormal for others of the same breed).
What’s more, our puppies might act differently once they grow up — normal behavior will definitely change once the puppy reaches adulthood. Therefore, just like with humans, when talking about dog behavior problems, terms normal and abnormal are relative.
However, we can classify some behavior patterns as categorically abnormal:
- Excessive Barking
- Aggressive behavior
- Eating inedible items
- Destructive behavior
Here’s the thing — although we might not be able to classify all “bad” or “good” behavior patterns in our dogs, we can definitely spot new dog behavior problems in our pooches. In fact, if our quiet beasts start barking at everything and everyone for no apparent reason, while they didn’t do that before, it’s clear that this action is not only new but an issue as well.
So how to deal with dog behavior problems?
This question is especially crucial for new dog owners, or for those of us who are adopting older dogs. When we are taking in a dog that has already formed a particular pattern of behavior, it’s hard to tell if something is normal or not. When we don’t have the chance to raise the pup from the litter, so to speak, we have to pay close attention to all the signs of abnormal behavior in dogs.
Barking is the most common dog trait. Therefore, we can’t classify it as abnormal dog behavior from the get-go. It most certainly is a type of annoying dog behavior, especially late at night. However, barking is an integral part of our pet’s personality and species. Hence, it’s unavoidable.
Nevertheless, excessive barking can be a real problem. If your dog barks when someone approaches the door — there’s no place for worrying. The dog is protecting its territory, and, in turn, his family. However, if they bark at anything that moves or goes past the house, then you have a problem with your hands.
Of course, no one expects a perfectly quiet dog. Once you bring in a furry creature into your household, you accept that the noise comes with the territory. But not at the expense of your sleep, right? Still, keep in mind that dogs bark for various reasons. Therefore, 3 AM howling can also be justified, in some cases. So, why do dogs bark?
They are warning you or trying to alert you of something
This is the most common cause of barking. When we have a visitor at the door, our dogs have no idea we invited someone over for a chat. Therefore, they immediately assess the situation as potentially dangerous and try to alert us. That is really kind of them, but a real pain as well.
To put a stop on this behavior, we shouldn’t yell at our pets to keep quiet. That will make them be on alert even more. Instead, we need to assure them that they, and us, are fine and safe. So, speaking to a dog in a soothing tone will be much more effective. If we aren’t in a panic over the “intruder,” our dogs won’t be either.
They are excited or playful and happy to see you
Another case of excessive barking can happen when we step into our homes. Our best friends get really excited, and they vocalize that happiness. We can’t exactly blame them for it, right? We do the same with our friends (minus all the yelling). Therefore, instead of trying to completely shut our dogs up and attempting to out-yell them, or rushing to them to pet them and show them how much we missed them, we should try using a soothing tone.
How to deal with dog behavior problems such as barking
Try telling your dog to sit so that they can calm themselves before you reward them with a treat or a petting session. After a while, this behavior will become conditional, and the dogs will stop barking their little heads off as soon as we walk through the door.
There are a few more reasons that our dogs might be barking. They might be bored and are seeking attention. This can be remedied by not giving in. Reward positive behavior consistently and wait until the dog stops barking before you give them what they need.
Never reward barking. Instead, it’s best to find ways for the dog to communicate that don’t involve negative behavior. For example, if you always stand up to fill the water bowl when your dog barks next to it, it’s your own fault that there’s a clamor every time they are thirsty. Try teaching the dog to hit the bowl with a paw to signal the need. That’s much better than barking.
Digging, much like barking, is an integral part of dog behavior. It’s an evolutionary trait. Once upon a time, before they had plushy beds in our homes, dogs used to dig the ground to make a more comfortable sleeping spot. On the other hand, dogs tend to dig to hide their treats and treasures, as well. Therefore, this type of abnormal behavior in dogs isn’t precisely that atypical.
However, we can say that our dog’s digging is abnormal when it’s excessive, done out of boredom, or destructive. Furthermore, if our dogs are digging so much that they hurt themselves, then we can definitely categorize digging underdog behavior problems. In any case, there are various reasons why our dogs might be trying to dig their way to China in our yards.
They have too much energy and are bored
This is a common abnormal behavior in dogs. If we don’t keep our furry friends occupied enough, they will wreak havoc on our homes and gardens. Therefore, if our flowerbeds are looking worse for wear lately, we might need to provide our dogs with more activities. Try taking your dog for a long walk, hike, or a run. Once you tire them out, they won’t have any energy left for digging.
They might be making a hiding spot
If your dog is digging up the yard, they might be looking for a perfect hiding space. The ideal solution for this might be just to let your dog be. However, don’t allow your pooch to reign over the entire garden. Set aside one small area that will be a “digging zone.”
Sometimes we have to make sacrifices. Because hiding food and treats is normal for dogs, most of us aren’t keep on depriving them of that joy. Therefore, one corner of your garden can become their hiding space. However, you have to be careful and contain that behavior to that area alone. The reward/punishment system will work wonders while dealing with these types of annoying dog problems.
While determining the best approach on how to deal with dog behavior problems such as digging, sometimes we have to take extreme measures. So, to make sure that your dogs don’t dig out your entire backyard, you can try using deterrents like strong odors or even fences. That will keep the digging contained to one spot.
Some dog breeds have a more prominent tendency to dig — like hunting dogs, for example. In those cases, trying to completely eradicate this abnormal behavior in dogs is a lost battle. Therefore, the compromise we already mentioned is your best solution.
Dogs also dig out of anxiety and fear, or when they are seeking comfort. We can stop them from digging by addressing the main issue. Find out what got your pooch scared or sad, and deal with that problem. After that, the digging will stop on its own.
Another normal behavior that can turn into abnormal is chewing. For example, excessive chewing in puppies is no reason for concern. Since puppies are surrounded by novelties, they have to explore them to get to know the world around them. Using their mouths to do so isn’t unusual. What’s more, even adult dogs use their sense of taste to check out their surroundings. However, chewing that stems from boredom or spite are an annoying dog behavior that we need to put a stop to.
Excess energy and boredom
One or two destroyed pillows are more than enough for most of us to start wondering how to deal with dog behavior problems like chewing. Puppies are easy to handle. Firstly, they can’t really help their chewing. Furthermore, we can easily contain them. Puppy-proofing our apartments and homes is often a must.
What’s more, we have to be mindful and place most appealing objects out of reach. As we said, this isn’t a hard task with a puppy. But what happens when we start to notice those dog behavior problems in our adult pooches?
When our dogs are destructive, puppy-proofing works as well. When we aren’t at home, or able to keep an eye on our furry friends, we need to create clear boundaries for them. If training doesn’t work, physical limits will. Therefore, separate your dog into a secluded area with a fence, and remove all chewable objects from that range.
However, keep in mind that keeping your pup in close quarters for extended periods might lead to other dog behavior problems. So it’s vital that you take your dogs for plenty of walks and make time for play sessions. That will get rid of any excess energy, and it will keep the dogs more pliant.
Teething or teeth and gum issues
As mentioned, puppies are prone to chewing various items. Among other reasons, teething might be one of the causes. Since this is perfectly normal, all we have to do is correct their behavior — not eradicate it. We have to have a chew toy at the ready every time our pup starts gnawing on something inappropriate.
This strategy also works for older dogs who might have teeth and gum tissues, and on dogs who might be chewing on stuff for any other reason. The most important thing is training. Every dog can be trained. Therefore, every dog can be redirected to the correct form of behavior.
Having a chew toy at the ready and stopping your dog from chewing on the wrong things is the first step in chewing training. That will provide an acceptable outlet and save your furniture. Therefore, every time you see your dog chewing on something that they should not be chewing on, stop them with a sharp yell or a clap. Then, quickly exchange the inappropriate item with a chew toy.
Dogs pooping all over the house — now that’s definitely abnormal behavior in dogs. It’s natural for young pups, but adult dogs who are peeing or pooping in places they know they shouldn’t be — that’s a dog behavior problem you need to deal with straight away.
What’s more, out of all abnormal behaviors in dogs, this one is the most frustrating. Unless there’s a medical condition that the dog can’t control, potty-trained dogs shouldn’t urinate or defecate at inappropriate places. Therefore, when this type of behavior occurs, we must first seek the advice of our veterinarians. If there’s an underlying medical condition that’s causing this behavior, we must deal with it and treat it according to professional advice.
However, if the vet determines there’s nothing wrong with our pup, how do we deal with this issue? As with everything else, we must first determine why our friends are expressing this usually abnormal behavior in dogs.
Marking the territory
If our male dogs haven’t been “snipped,” they will be more likely to mark their territory by urinating indoors. Firm training and the reward/punishment system will help with this problem. However, asserting ourselves as clear leaders and the most dominant member of the household is also important. Not enough house training goes hand in hand with the already mentioned cause of marking the territory. Therefore, these are the areas we have to work on to stop these dog behavior problems.
Not enough confidence or too much excitement
It isn’t unusual to see our dogs get so excited about something that they pee themselves. While this might seem endearing the first time, it’s an annoying dog behavior every other time. Therefore, we have to modify it immediately.
As with different types of behavioral problems, we must never reward abnormal behavior. If our dogs pee themselves because they are excited, we can’t reward them with petting or a play session. We also have to work on muting the events our dogs perceive as very exciting. For example, we must teach our dogs that coming back home from work isn’t something to pee about.
The lack of confidence is another common cause of inappropriate elimination. Some dogs might urinate to show submission or out of fear. This is a much bigger problem than a puddle on the floor, and we must address it adequately.
First of all, we have to put a stop to this behavior as soon as possible. We can’t let the dogs form the habit of soiling the house. The main issue with this dog behavior problem is that the dogs view relieving themselves as a reward. Therefore, implementing the reward/punishment system might be difficult.
What’s more, because dogs can sometimes be really sneaky, we have to supervise them constantly. That’s the only way to stop them from soiling the house. In turn, we need to reward correct behavior. So when our dogs relieve themselves outside, we always have to have a treat ready and plenty of praise for them.
As with all other dog behavior problems, if biting becomes frequent after the puppyhood, it becomes a real issue. Playful nips here and there, the ones that are a result of happiness are alright, but painful bites that are meant to hurt aren’t. Therefore, this is another type of abnormal behavior in dogs that we need to deal with. But why do dogs bite?
They might be scared or defensive
These two causes go hand in hand. A dog might be protective over their property or scared someone is going to take it away. The property can be anything — food, a toy and even you. We can deal with this by trying to minimize possessive behavior. We have to teach our dogs how to share, and show them that no one will take what’s theirs.
Protectiveness of food is the most common problem. Therefore, we have to show our dogs that there will always be plenty of food. However, we also have to show them that they need to wait and show obedience. Make your dog wait for your command to start eating. That way, you’ll assert dominance and teach the dog patients.
We can also try a reward system. Dogs get really defensive when someone approaches their food. Therefore, we have to show them that isn’t always such a bad thing. From time to time, approach their food bowl and put in a couple of treats in there. Do so while they are eating.
Many dog behavior problems stem from fear
Another cause for biting might be fear. Dogs that aren’t trusting and friendly can see outsiders as a threat and get scared relatively easily. Therefore, when in an unfamiliar situation or surrounded by strangers, you have to show dominance and make your dog feel safe. Otherwise, they will lash out.
It’s crucial to work on early socialization and get your dogs used to an occasional stranger. Pin down the people your dog has the most issues with and give them treats to give to your dog. It’s incredible where bribery will get you, you know.
They might be in pain
Even though biting can be understandable when the dog is in pain, it can still be negative behavior. That’s especially true for dogs with chronic aches and conditions. However, there’s little that we can do for dogs with chronic pain. We must treat the primary cause first and then focus on correcting negative behavior.
The instincts that lead to biting
There are a few evolutionary instincts that can lead to dogs biting. The first one is the maternal instinct. Even if your pup is so well mannered that you’re bragging left and right, after she has puppies — all bets are off. The maternal instinct is one of the strongest, and anything that the mother perceives as a threat can get bitten.
Allowing the mother a safe space and approaching the puppies with care and thought is the best advice here. If you have small children, teach them not to approach the mother and the litter carelessly, since the mother might perceive them as a threat.
Another instinct to keep in mind is the hunting instinct. A game of chase can quickly turn into a real hunt, especially with more dominant dogs that haven’t been neutered.
We all love to give a treat or two to our pets, and maybe even a bite of our meal. However, when we invite Kujo over for dinner, we are giving one lousy habit a really firm stronghold. All it takes is one slip-up, and our pets will form the pattern of begging.
As much as we love to make our furry friends happy, we have to restrain the need to give in to their begging. Those sad puppy eyes might be worthy of a treat once, but not every time, because they can lead to obesity and digestive problems. Too many treats and in-between meals can lead to severe dietary issues. Therefore, it’s crucial to break this abnormal behavior in dogs.
It’s easy. In fact, it’s a matter of self-control. Only this time, it’s our self-control that’s the potential cause of bad behavior in dogs. We have to stay firm and not give in to our pleading dogs. While eating dinner, we have to resist throwing food down to them. That’s not loving, that’s sabotage!
So the best course of action is to teach your dog to stay put while you and your family are eating. It’s even better if they aren’t in the same room — that way, they can’t stare at you or whine and plead. A simple treat system will help you train your dog to stop begging. If they don’t harass you while you’re eating and don’t beg for food, have a tasty treat for them at the end of the meal.
Dogs love to chase — animals, objects, people, even their own tails! And while it’s lovely seeing them so carefree and focused, chasing can become a real problem for dog owners. Not only does it scare other people and children, but it’s also a potential hazard. Dogs can chase after something and then fail to find their way back home, or get hurt.
Chasing after pray
Even though the urge to chase down something that’s running away from them is natural, this behavior still falls under annoying dog problems. Dogs have been domesticated hundreds of years ago, and yet they still have the evolutionary traits of hunters.
Even those picture-perfect poodles will chase after something that rushes past them. However, in those cases, both the dog and the object of its attention are in danger. Therefore, we must do our best to train our dogs to go against their instinct.
Firstly, we have to be aware of what triggers our pups. Not everything will trigger a chase — sometimes it’s a car, and other times, a kid on a bike. The sooner we figure that out, the sooner we can start paying more attention and remove our dogs from triggering situations.
Furthermore, if our dogs are prone to giving chase, it’ best to keep them on a leash while on walks. Then, once we deem an environment safe enough, we can release our dogs and offer them an artificial substitute for a real-life chase. Throw the ball around or use toys designed for this purpose to get rid of excess energy and fill the need for the pursuit.
Dogs can quickly get bored and give chase to something that caught their attention. To prevent these types of dog behavior problems, we must keep our dog not only entertained but well trained as well.
Training your dog to answer your call and come when called is the first step of getting the urge to chase under control. What’s more, you can also use a dog whistle or a noisemaker to get your dog’s attention and to deter the attention away from a potential chase.
Still, know that teaching your dog to focus on you and your cues before they concentrate on anything else is a hard task. It takes time and patience.
Jumping goes hand in hand with the excitement we already mentioned. It is a typical form of greeting among dogs, but, like anything else, it can become a problem when excessive. Even though it’s a form of communication for dogs, it’s crucial that we keep it under control.
Not only is jumping, either in greeting or warning, annoying, but it’s a potentially dangerous pattern of behavior too, especially for dog owners with small children. Dogs can easily hurt an adult, let alone a child. Furthermore, jumping isn’t acceptable behavior for many other reasons as well:
- it’s harmful
- it can be a form of attention-seeking
- the dog might be trying to assert dominance
Therefore, as with anything else — we can’t reward negative behavior. We can quickly put a stop to jumping by lifting our knee and stopping the dog from essentially mounting us. Furthermore, we can also grab the pup’s paws and set them down. These are easy fixes.
However, they aren’t always applicable. Some dogs are very enthusiastic when it comes to jumping. Therefore, we need better solutions. The best option, as any parent will know this by heart, is just to ignore the jumping. Turn away and ignore the dog until they are calm. Then, reward positive behavior.
Last but not least on our list of dog behavior problems is aggression. Probably the most severe problem with the most severe consequences, aggression has to be treated immediately and with care.
Dogs show aggression by:
- showing teeth
Although there have always been rumors that some dog breeds are more aggressive than others, we must remember that any dog can become aggressive when mistreated. A loved and cherished dog will seldom turn to aggression, even if it’s a “dangerous breed.” Still, it’s also crucial to remember that history repeats itself. Therefore, dogs that have shown signs of aggression are more likely to be aggressive toward other dogs and people in the future as well.
Dogs show aggression out of:
- and to show dominance.
We have all heard of the expression that there’s nothing more dangerous than a scared animal. The same goes for dogs. Scared dogs are more likely to turn aggressive, which is why it’s crucial we make them feel safe. If other dogs are causing your pooch to become violent, try carrying treats on your walks. Give a treat to your dog before they spot the competition, thus averting their attention and lowering the chances of a violent outburst.
If our dogs are becoming increasingly aggressive or if the outbursts are becoming more frequent, it’s essential we call for help. Consult a professional like a vet or a dog trainer. There might be some underlying cause that’s the source of the newly-established negative behavior. Serious illness can often cause aggression, as the dogs are trying to defend themselves while in a weakened state.
A few parting words
Although it is difficult to know normal from abnormal behavior in dogs, we hope our list has helped you along the way. All characteristics can turn into dog behavior problems if they are frequent, excessive, and annoying.
However, annoying dog problems/behavior and negative patterns can be broken with care, training, and patience. Remember — you are responsible for your dog’s behavior, as it’s a reflection of everything you’ve taught them.