Dog Behaviors and What They Mean
Dogs have learned to live with humans and like to please us. But, we still have to train them to avoid some of their more destructive behaviors. We have prepared a guide on some of the most common dog behaviors, what they mean, and how you can address them.
Pet Behavior Problems
Aggression and scavenging are the two most common dog behavior problems. There are many pet habits that owners also consider harmful or annoying. Yet, these two are the most dangerous for your pooch and the people and animals around them.
As a first step, if the issue is new and unusual in your dog’s routine, you should consider taking your pooch to the vet to rule out any health problems. It’s also important to note that some behaviors considered major for some owners are non-issues for others. For example, some owners would never let their dog sleep with them in bed while others prefer it. Some would rather their dogs didn’t bark. Other owners appreciate the notification when someone’s at the door. So, whether behavior is indeed a problem at all is up to you and your dog, and the potential consequences.
Common Dog Behaviors & Symptoms
Causes of bad or destructive behavior in dogs can be many, ranging from boredom to malnutrition to injury or illness. Sometimes we send the wrong signals, thinking we’re doing the right thing. For example, if your dog is growling or barking at another dog, you may try to pick them up or pet them. If you do this, your dog will think it’s okay and even desirable to act aggressively because you rewarded them for it. The same goes for dogs whining, barking, and howling to get your attention. If you react to this behavior and start talking to the dog, playing with them, or giving them food, the behavior will continue.
Some “weird” dog behaviors are instinctive, some are bad habits that have formed over time, and some might be signs of an underlying health condition. Below are some of the common dog behaviors that are easy to spot but might be very difficult to eradicate.
Behaviors that are instinctive include digging, chewing, chasing, and rolling in dirt, poop or dead animals. These make perfect sense for your dog and are natural dog behaviors, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for you. You can train your dog to minimize or stop these habits, but it won’t be easy.
Bad habits like resource guarding, jumping on people, climbing on furniture, begging for food, clingy behavior, and taking over your bed are encouraged by our behavior toward dogs. If you don’t want your pet on the furniture, you must set clear boundaries and be consistent. It’s also essential that you provide your pooch the comfort, safety, and enough food so they won’t have to claim it for themselves.
Health conditions can also cause your dog to act out, become aggressive, or growl and bite. Separation anxiety is a big problem for some owners. Their dogs mess up their home and destroy things while they’re home alone. Excessive licking, eating poop, defecating and urinating indoors can also be signs of illness or injury.
First Things First
Keep in mind that this isn’t a definitive guide as your dog might act out because they are bored. Before you draw any conclusions, make sure your dog is healthy and getting enough exercise. If you misdiagnose a bad behavior as acting out or attention seeking when there’s an underlying health condition, things can go south.
For some dog behavior issues that persist, you will need to consult a dog behavior specialist. Most owners turn to professionals to help deal with aggression, resource guarding, and separation anxiety. These experts can help with dog behavior training, no matter how severe or mild the condition may be.
You don’t have to hire a pet behavior expert to deal with problematic dog behavior. You can also try to train them yourself. Choosing the right approach and being consistent is vital to success. Always bear in mind what you want to achieve and then find the best way to get there. Arm yourself with enough patience and treats and avoid punishment as a training method.
List of Dog Behaviors
We have compiled a list of dog behaviors that owners find harmful or annoying. We would love to hear from you in terms of what behaviors you’ve dealt with and how and if you have something to add to our list.
Barking and howling
Excessive barking and howling can get very annoying, both for you and your neighbors. So, you should put a stop on the behavior as soon as possible.
Read more on How to Stop a Dog From Barking
Some dog breeds just love to dig, it’s in their blood. But if your carpets or your garden are getting destroyed, you’ll want to try to train your pooch to stop digging.
Chewing is one of the most common problems when the object of your dog’s attention are your shoes, phone, clothes, etc. Learn how to limit the destruction.
Read more on How to Stop a Dog From Chewing Thing
Play biting is especially common in puppies and it’s a form of a rough play. Your pooch doesn’t know better, so teach them!
Dogs with separation anxiety will get nervous and destructive when their owners are away. Find ways to help your anxious canine deal with the issue.
Read more on How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Urinating and defecating inside
Eliminating inside the home can be a sign of a health problem if your dog is potty trained. Take your dog to the vet to check for medical issues and find treatment.
Growling and biting
Growling and biting are often signs of aggression. If your dog gets snappy at other animals or people, determine the cause and start training. Stop dog growling and biting before someone is seriously injured.
Read more about the Best Ways to Handle Aggression in Dogs
Your dog might think that there isn’t enough food for them so they guard it with their life. Same goes for toys and their place on the sofa. The fun stops when the dog gets possessive aggressive and starts to act out.
Read more: How Do You Stop a Dog from Guarding Food
Begging for food or stealing food
When dogs get their eyes on a delicious piece of food, they’ll do anything to get it. If you want your dog to stop begging for table scraps or stealing your dinner, you must take precautions.
Going after small prey is an urge some dogs can’t resist if they’re not trained well. Teach your dog to sit, stay, and come to prevent them from running away.
Jumping up on people
Pets will get excited when someone comes to visit and might jump on people they like. This may be cute at first, but some people don’t appreciate the gesture. Teach your dog good manners.
This nasty habit can form because of preference, boredom or malnutrition. Some of us will never understand or accept dogs eating poop as natural.
Climbing on furniture
It’s up to every owner to decide whether their pets should be allowed on furniture. But when they get on the kitchen counter to steal your food, that’s definitely an issue.
Some dogs are just more of a lap dog. But when you can’t even go to the bathroom without your pet, that’s a sign your fur baby is too clingy.
Leash aggression and pulling
If not introduced to the leash early, dogs can get very unhappy about being restrained. They will not let you put them on a leash. When you manage to do it, they will pull and run in front of you all the time.
Rolling in dirt, poop or dead animals
This one is a doggy favorite. Did you just bathe your dog and they’re all clean and fresh? Be careful when you go outside because some dogs hate getting baths as much as they hate the smell of their shampoo. They prefer the natural odor, such as dirt, poop, and dead animal roll-on.
Taking over your bed
It’s up to you whether you’ll let your pet in your bed. But when they get all grown up and start to push you off, you need to get them under control.
Certain breeds that have a strong hunter instinct are likely to run away when they spot their prey. Regardless of the breed, keep an eye on your four-legged lover boy during spring and fall when the females are in heat.
Excessive licking is often a sign of a health issue. If your dog is licking themselves, they might be injured or have an infection. If they lick everything and everyone, there might be a less obvious issue. Take your pooch to the vet to get to the bottom of it.
Read more on: Why Dogs Lick and What it Means
Body Language and Diagnosis
It is sometimes possible to spot signs of aggressive or destructive behavior in dogs before it occurs. Learn to read doggy body language. Spot signs of discomfort, fear, or aggression. Prevent bad behavior before it happens. Direct your dog’s attention back on you or something else or take them out of a scary situation.
Here are some dog body language signals or tells you can learn to use to your advantage.
Shy or Nervous Dog
If your dog is shy or nervous, other than getting behind you, they may also yawn, lick their nose, shake off and pull their ears backward and flat against their head. If your dog is nervous around new people or other dogs, this might turn to aggression. If your pet feels threatened, instruct people to approach them carefully or not engage at all.
When your dog is scared or suspicious about something or someone, you can see the hairs on their neck and back go up. A suspicious dog will be stiff, with their head and neck raised, and tail high up. A fearful dog might try to pull back and start to growl or bark. The best approach here is to get out of the situation by walking the other way.
Whether it’s a toy or a bird or something else, if your dog is bowed, with a stiff tail, legs bent, and eyes wide open and fixed on a target, you can expect them to run off and start chasing whatever they’re after. If your dog is well-trained, you’ll be able to call them back and redirect their attention. Yet, some dogs find this hunter instinct very hard to battle. They can run off and get lost. If you notice these signs and you’re not sure your dog will respond to commands, keep them on a leash.
When your dog wants to play, they might bark at you to get your attention and get into a play bow, very similar to the stalking bow described above. But in the play bow, your dog’s body will be more relaxed and wobbly, and there will be a tail wag.
Does your dog get nervous, anxious or super clingy when you’re about to leave? They might be showing signs of separation anxiety. When you get home, you’ll know for sure if that’s the case. There’ll be a trail of destruction waiting for you.
Begging for Food or Getting Ready to Steal
Is your dog around the table while you’re eating? Do they sit there like a good boy, licking their lips? You already know they’re after your food. Some dogs might even jump up, whine, or bark at you. Ignore the bad behavior if you don’t want to share every meal for the rest of your life with your furry companion. If ignoring them doesn’t work or it’s too difficult for you, try moving the dog to another room while you’re eating.
Training and Treatment
It’s best to start training your dog the moment they arrive in your home. You’re the one that sets the rules, and with the right stimuli, the pooch will make it their personal mission to obey. Dogs want to make us happy; most respond very well based on how we treat them. Sometimes we encourage bad behaviors by providing attention, comfort, and treats.
This, in turn, encourages the dog to keep it up as that behavior brought them a reward. The best way to stop the bad behavior is to ignore it. Punishment doesn’t work. It might show a short-term result. But your dog will get frustrated, which could lead to fear or aggression over time.
Set the Environment and Ground Rules
Set up the right conditions, provide enough food, set the rules, and exercise your dog to keep them happy and obedient. One more thing. You have to be consistent. If you’re not consistent, your dog will be confused and won’t know what you want, which can be even more stressful.
Imagine feeding your dog table scraps and allowing them on the bed one day and then punishing them for the same things another day. Your dog will not understand any of it, so other than just correcting your dog’s behavior, you also have to adjust your behavior. Dog behavior training will not be effective without consistency. If something is a big no-no today, it can’t be okay in a couple of days.
Teach a Few Basic Commands First
Other than satisfying the dog’s basic needs and ensuring they are healthy, you have to teach them to come when called and to sit down. These two basic things can go a long way for further training.
Does your dog like to chew on your shoes and destroy your personal items? Limit their access to these before they’re trained not to chew. Also, ensure they have enough exciting dog toys to play with so they don’t go after the forbidden fruit.
Always reward good behavior with treats, praise and play time and ignore bad behavior. Never use punishment or negative reinforcement in training.
Destructive Behavior in Puppies
A new little bundle of joy has arrived at your home, and you’re both excited. But what happens when your puppy starts making a mess and destroying your things? It will be stressful for both of you at first. But getting a puppy gives you the perfect opportunity to start training early.
Pediatric Behavior Problems in Dogs
Some behaviors like chewing, play biting, jumping up on people, and getting on furniture are typical puppy behaviors. They don’t know the rules yet and want to have fun and show everyone how much they love them.
A common destructive behavior in dogs is chewing. Puppy chewing can be a big issue in the teething phase. During this time, you need to ensure your buddy has enough chew toys and little access to everything else.
Play biting can also be an issue as puppy teeth are very sharp and can cause injuries. Don’t encourage this type of rough play. Show your dog that they hurt you, and follow with a sharp ‘no’, pulling your hand back, and ending playtime early.
You can resolve most puppy behavior issues. You’ll need the right food, interesting toys, enough exercise, and a comfortable sleeping area for your furry buddy. Limit access to some areas of the house and to items they could destroy. Add a little praise and rewards, and you’ll have one happy puppy.
Puppy classes are also an excellent solution for some basic obedience and habits. Teach your puppy to sit on command and come when called and build from there.
How do you discipline a dog?
One of the best ways to discipline a dog is to ignore them or give them a time-out. You can also distract them with a loud noise, say ‘no’, or order them to sit. You can also use a spray bottle to spray some water on your dog to stop a bad behavior. If your dog is on a leash, you can use a quick leash snap. Other methods include taking away toys and holding back on rewards. Never hit your dog.
Why is my dog being aggressive all of the sudden?
If an otherwise non-aggressive dog suddenly turns aggressive, it’s possible that they might be sick or in pain. Dogs that are hurting will even snap, growl, or bark at their owners. Take your dog to a vet to see if there’s a health issue.
Why is my dog trying to bite me?
If you have a puppy, they might consider it a rough play. If an adult dog is trying to bite you, it might be that they didn’t learn that biting is wrong. Another possibility is that the dog is getting aggressive. First, rule out medical and other obvious reasons such as resource guarding and then address the issue.
Is it bad to let my dog sleep with me?
Some may argue that dogs are dirty, shed a lot, might have parasites, and don’t exactly smell like flowers. But if your dog is clean and healthy, and you like a leg warmer in the winter, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sleeping with a dog can actually improve your sleep if your pooch doesn’t kick or snore a lot.
How can I stop my dog from jumping on my bed?
You must set clear boundaries and be consistent. You can’t let your dog sleep with you for a week and then kick them out because you don’t feel like it anymore. Make sure your dog has a comfy and safe sleeping area, possibly even near your bed so they can still be close to you.
How do I stop dog aggression?
Try to determine the cause of the aggression before you can correct it. Rule out health issues first, then consider resource guarding, previous abuse, fear, anxiety, and a lack of exercise. If you have small kids around, limit their interaction with the dog until the behavior is corrected. In some cases, it’s best to call a pet behavior expert to help.
Why is my dog eating poop and rolling in it?
If your dog is eating poop, they might be missing some nutrients or they’re hungry. So, they may be trying to eat anything they can. Dogs also think that poop smells great so they will often indulge in it. It can also be instinct as dogs are used to rolling in smelly things to mask their smell while hunting.