10 Top Behaviour Problems in Dogs & How to Solve Them

10 Top Behaviour Problems in Dogs & How to Solve Them

It can be such a stressful time for dog owners when they are worrying about behaviour issues with their furry friends. Dog behaviour issues are so common and very often misunderstood. They can affect everyone in the household and can be extremely stressful to deal with. It's important that we educate ourselves so that we can understand where these problems come from and what we can do to help our canine companions. Here are ten of the most common problems encountered and some useful suggestions on how to help combat them.

1. Aggression

This is perhaps the most distressing behavioural issue as it can be very dangerous for all animals and owners involved. If your dog is showing signs of aggression it's vital you investigate why they are doing this, reasons for aggression include:

  • Genetics
  • History of violence or abuse
  • Fear
  • Pain/illness
  • Defence
  • Instinct to protect owner or territory
  • Prey drive

Aggression can be expressed in many different ways, for example: showing teeth, growling, snapping, lunging and biting. If your dog is showing signs of aggression, consult your veterinarian primarily, as this may indicate a health issue. If your vet confirms your dog is healthy, seek advice from a dog behaviourist and ensure you don't put your dog in any situation where they may be triggered.

2. Separation Anxiety

Dogs are very social animals, they usually live in a pack in the wild, so will treat their human family like that. They don't enjoy being on their own and can get very distressed if left for long periods. Separation anxiety causes great upset for both owners and dogs and it can manifest in different ways including:

  • Crying / vocalizations
  • Destruction of environment
  • Inappropriate defecation and urination

Separation anxiety requires behaviour modification training which involves desensitization techniques where the degree and period of separation is gradually increased so your dog adjusts slowly and doesn't get upset.

In some cases leaving the TV or radio on can help your dog to feel like they are not alone. There are also a few things you can leave your dog with if you are going out to help stop them from getting anxious or bored such as enrichment feeder toys or brain games but always ensure whatever you are leaving is safe for your dog and age and size appropriate and that it doesn't pose a choking hazard.

3. Inappropriate Elimination

Some dogs can have problems urinating or defecating where they shouldn't. This is certainly one of the most exasperating problems, as not only is it distressing for your dog, but also your furniture and flooring get damaged (and let's not mention the smell!)

The first thing to investigate if you find your dog leaving piles or puddles around the house is if there is an underlying medical condition as toileting in the wrong place can be a health issue as well as a behavioural issue.

If you get the all-clear from your veterinarian, then you need to investigate the underlying cause, which could be one of a few things:

  • Marking territory
  • Stress/anxiety
  • Excitation
  • No house training

Depending on what the cause is, behavioural training is usually the solution. You will need to go back to basics as you would with a puppy, teaching them not to go to the toilet in the house. Remember that accidents around the house are normal for puppies while they are training.

4. Destructive chewing

Chewing is a normal behaviour demonstrated by your dog, they use their mouths to explore their world, however, when it turns into excessive or destructive chewing, that's when we need to step in. Reasons for excessive chewing include:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Medical issues
  • Boredom/no stimulation
  • Curiosity 
  • Teething

It's important to make sure your dog has enough stimulation in their environment, including lots of age and size-appropriate toys that will keep them occupied. Make sure you are exercising them for the correct amount each day. Ensure the environment your dog is in is completely safe, with no access to wires or plugs or anything that your dog could chew and injure themselves with.

If you see your dog chewing something they shouldn't, distract them, remove it from them and replace it with an appropriate toy. It's also important to have your veterinarian examine your dog to rule out any medical conditions.

5. Excessive barking

Barking is a normal behaviour for your dog, and one of the primary ways they communicate. Your dog will bark for many reasons, some are actually useful to us as owners, for example, if they are alerting us to an intruder. Before you attempt to correct this behaviour, you need to be aware of why your dog is barking, in case they are trying to tell you something important.

Dogs bark for a number of different reasons, these can include:

  • Excitement
  • Fear/anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Response to other dogs or people
  • To give a warning

Try and figure out what is causing your dog to bark and then you will be able to train them not to (if it is unnecessary) by desensitizing them to whatever triggers them. You can also introduce commands to instruct them when to bark and when to be quiet.

6. Jumping up

Jumping up is a natural behaviour that starts when your dog is a puppy, they learn to jump up to reach their mother and often this behaviour is continued in later life when they meet and greet other dogs or people. Dogs can jump up when they are excitable or to exert dominance. They also jump if they haven't been trained not to or they are trying to take something from someone's hands such as their lead before a walk or a treat. Jumping up can be dangerous, especially if you have a young family.

Usually, the best method to train your dog to not jump up is to completely ignore them when they start jumping, this is to teach them that jumping gets them absolutely no attention from you, their loved one and they will be ignored until they have all four paws on the floor. Only then can you praise them. Dogs often jump up for attention, so if you shout or push them or give any sort of acknowledgement, even if you are telling them off, your dog will think they are being rewarded for this bad behaviour.

7. Biting

When your dog bites or nips we have to remember that usually, this is an instinct that they have that they can't override. Dogs use their mouths the way we use our hands. Puppies bite or mouth things in their environment as a way of exploring when they are young and usually their mother teaches them not to bite and how to control themselves, which is an important part of their development. We often need to continue to teach puppies that they cannot bite or chew things when they leave their mother and come into our homes.

There are many reasons older dogs will bite, and these are the same reasons we see signs of aggression as mentioned above: 

  • Genetics
  • History of violence or abuse
  • Fear
  • Pain/illness
  • Defence
  • Instinct to protect owner or territory
  • Prey drive

Stopping your dog biting will involve lots of training or retraining - allowing them to socialize properly and adjust to new situations with other dogs and strangers. Monitor your dog closely and get to know cues or signs they are getting distressed and remove them from the situation before they come to the point where they feel the need to snap. It's important to remember any dog will bite if they feel threatened enough. It's our responsibility as owners to reduce the occurrence of these incidents by socializing and training our dogs and being responsible with breeding.

8. Begging

Begging can be an annoying behavioural issue and it's a very bad habit, but what we don't realise is lots of owners unknowingly encourage it! Not many of us can resist those puppy dog eyes when our pooch gives us the beg-stare at the table and it's only natural to want to please them and give them what they want. They are another member of the family after all. It takes just one little morsel of something tasty and your dog then knows that all they have to do is sit there and look adorable and eventually you will give in. If your dog is fed human food regularly it can lead to obesity and tummy upset, not to mention strings of slobber all over your clothes from their drool!

When you are eating, it's vital that you don't feed your dog from the table at all, and only from their bowl at their meal time so they learn that human food is not for them. If your dog won't leave you alone, put them in another room or ask them to go to their bed or crate until you have finished eating, then reward them with some of their own food or treats when the meal is over.

9. Digging

If your pooch is a digger, you (and all your neighbours) will be well aware! It can be especially frustrating if you are a keen gardener and your pooch likes to 'help' with the backyard. It is a very common problem, mainly because it is an instinctive behaviour. Some breeds are more likely to want to dig than others, terriers for example were originally bred to hunt vermin so their urge to dig is very strong!

Reasons your dog digs include:

  • Boredom
  • Attention seeking
  • Excitability/excess energy
  • Stress/anxiety
  • Seeking comfort - to cool themselves down
  • Hiding toys or treats
  • To get away from something or get to something (under fences etc)

The first step is to try and understand why your dog is digging, then you can help them stop, for example, if you think they are bored or attention seeking or have excess energy then walk them for longer, play with them and give them appropriate toys to keep them occupied. If they dig and sit in the hole panting, they are likely to be too hot so offer them shade or allow them inside. If they like to bury things, designate a specific area they are allowed to dig and train them to only dig in this space - nowhere near your newly planted flowers!

10. Chasing

Chasing is another instinctive behaviour dogs demonstrate that can often be completely harmless but also can be dangerous or even fatal depending on what and where your dog is chasing.

It's no secret that dogs love to chase things, other dogs, cats, balls, and vehicles, basically, anything that moves is fair game to them. It is a predator instinct they have and it's very difficult to suppress. It's not possible to stop your dog from chasing things completely, however you can train your dog to return to you when you call them (their recall ability) and you can desensitize them to certain triggers such as other dogs, runners, kids on bikes etc. Keeping them on a leash will also prevent them from being able to run off but you will still need to train them not to chase and to focus on your commands when you are out and about as they may injure you or themselves if they are constantly pulling on the leash.

In conclusion, the key point to remember when reading this article is that these are all very common problems and if you are experiencing any of them, it does not make you a bad owner, or your dog a bad dog. Behavioural issues in our canine companions can be fixed with dedication and perseverance, and if you are online searching for the answers already and looking for help, you are already the conscientious owner your dog deserves, so keep up the good work!

Emma Chandley MRCVS Vet

Author: Emma Chandley MRCVS

Emma graduated from the Royal Vet College in London in 2011. She has a keen interest in surgery and went on to do a postgraduate certificate in small animal surgery and was then awarded advanced practitioner status in the same discipline.

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