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Understanding Your Dog’s Misbehavior

dog chewing on shoe editedDogs misbehave in lots of ways, and the underlying causes are as numerous and varied as the undesirable behaviors. Getting to the root of your pooch’s problem is essential to correcting it. Start by ruling out medical problems with your veterinarian’s help, especially if your dog’s behavioral problem is new. You may also need support from a professional dog behaviorist or trainer.

Types of Misbehavior from Dogs

Excessive vocalization, including barking, yelping, whining, howling, and other sounds, is common in dogs. Sometimes, dogs are simply defiant, while other times they may nip or bite, jump on people, repeatedly dig up the yard, growl menacingly, pee all over the living room, or chew all the shoes in the house to shreds. Many dogs turn to destructive behavior when they’re left home alone. They may knock over furniture and fixtures, tear the arm of the couch open, pull everything out of drawers and cabinets, or otherwise trash their home. Take comfort in knowing your dog’s misbehavior is probably not unique, that it’s nothing personal, and that it’s correctable.

Causes of Misbehavior in Dogs

The causes of dog misbehavior are as varied as the types. Again, behavioral changes are potential warning signs of a health problem, so head to the vet if your dog’s bad behavior started recently. In many instances, canine misbehavior results from too little physical activity or mental stimulation. Stress may also make your dog act out, and it can result from environmental changes, a new person or animal in the home, noise, increased travel, and any number of other sources. You might also inadvertently reinforce a problem behavior and convince your dog she’s doing something right; for example, if you respond to an attention-seeking behavior by scolding your dog or paying her some other negative attention, she still perceives the behavior as successful. Some things people perceive as misbehavior—like scavenging the trash—are natural and continue until properly trained away.

Solutions to Your Dog’s Misbehavior

Obviously, the fix for your dog’s unacceptable behavior depends on what it is and why it’s occurring. Often, paying more attention to your dog and increasing physical and mental stimulation can help end destructive behaviors. Fit in more walks, playtime, and trips to the park. Get your dog new toys, including puzzle toys that release treats. Determine whether there’s a new source of stress in your dog’s life. If you can’t eliminate it, talk to your vet about behavioral therapy, stress management, calming supplements, and medications for severe problems. Solutions may be more basic, such as providing chew toys, ridding your home or yard of pests that are setting your dog off, or just closing the blinds to prevent your dog from barking at everyone passing by outside.

A Few Words About Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the best way to teach your dog how to behave. When she acts appropriately, especially during training, reward her with praise, physical affection, and sometimes treats. Offer rewards immediately so your dog associates them with the behavior. Punishment or negative reinforcement doesn’t stop your dog’s misbehavior. Punishment serves only to weaken your bond with your pet and make her afraid of you. The best result you can hope for from negative reinforcement is your dog hiding her misbehavior from you rather than stopping it.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • ginny kokubun February 26, 2013, 12:13 pm

    Thank you for this valuable information. I will try using these methods repeatedly. Do you have suggestions on how to stop the digging?

    • Shirley Jackson February 26, 2013, 3:53 pm

      Get rid of the moles in your yard. It isn’t an easy solution, but it works. Our mini goldendoodle loved to dig in the yard, but she wasn’t trying to be destructive, she was after moles! When we got rid of them her digging stopped.

  • Margaret Scarcille March 12, 2013, 6:24 am

    I adopted an eight (or about) year old Boston Terrier. He snubs his nose up at the Blue Wilderness food I am feeding him. I don’t know what his
    previous master fed him. Any addition I put into the bowl gives him
    diarrhea. Should I try another food. He also has a little gas problem in
    spite of the probiotic I am giving him.

    • VetDepot March 14, 2013, 11:32 am

      Hi Margaret. You might want to try a different food, but remember to always check with your pet’s veterinarian before making a diet change.

    • Christina T May 27, 2014, 7:33 am

      Margaret first I love Boston’s my Jackson was the best dog I have ever had, sadly passed a couple years ago but we had many years w him. Boston’s are a breed that ARE gassy. Some it will just not matter what you feed/they can clear a room lol. Whatever you feed, make it as high quality as you can afford-no corn no “by products” Blue is a good food- but obviously not setting right w him. Have you checked him for giardia? The p-biotics don’t always help – and be sure when you change food do it slowly. He could have some stress irritable bowel from home changes too.
      Good luck- try some boiled chicken (white meat) boiled white rice and boiled white potato- see if that calms his diarrhea down and then very slowly make some kibble change. Again a Boston is so special and you are so lucky!

  • Dee March 12, 2013, 3:13 pm

    my Schnutzer keeps bring dog poop into the house with his mouth and eating it. Could this be a diet problem or what else. Thank you for any help you can give me.

  • Victor monge March 25, 2014, 10:38 am

    I am fostering a 3 yr. cocker spaniel that while on walks he because very aggressive with strangers & kids and their high pitch voice. and he also likes to chase bikes. I recently paid $150.00 for an animal behaviorist which I think it was a total waste since she suggested I put the dog on animal Prozac.
    Please help me , what should I do?

    • VetDepot April 4, 2014, 9:40 am

      Hi Victor. The only advice we can give is to speak with a veterinarian. He or she may be able to recommend an animal behaviorist that fits your pet’s needs. Best of luck.

    • Christina T May 27, 2014, 7:45 am

      Clockers are such great dogs! A lot of times the problems are just needing some de-sensitizing . There is now the “yellow bow” that you can put on this dog while walking and do not allow people near while on walks. The high pitched voice may trigger some old demons in him. Some dogs are just ESP agitated with the noise for unknown reasons. Try going out in an area with few people, let him become adjusted as very short slow intervals, imagine being afraid of heights and someone sticking you up on top of a tall building – you would easier be able to conquer your problem starting a few steps from the ground! Be patient and realize it make take a while, go slowly and remember reward w praise or treat even for the smallest “ignoring the noise or predator” behaivor. Even stopping or having him look at you and you feeding a treat when the stranger passes and then lots of praise. Most of the time this behaivor you are seeing is due to fear not aggression as he wants to be mean. Fostering ? Do you have any idea of his background? Do not drug this baby, that can just bring in more issues, good for you for not listening and taking the time to help this dog. If the behaivor is over the top , try another behaivorist but first talk with your vet

  • Jo G January 26, 2017, 11:21 am

    Just adopted a 2 year old male, Black German Sheppard. Got him from a
    rescue. I think he was a junk yard dog. I give him high quality food, good treats and table food. With all this he still eats his poop. He is walked at least 5 times a day and sometimes he still has accidents. What would make him eat his poop?

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