Bringing a dog into the home and family brings with it the ultimate love and companionship. Many of their behaviours, especially when they're still a puppy, are completely endearing. But some of these adorable behaviours as puppies, can turn problematic later in life.
Most dogs are reliant on us for environmental stimulation and behavioural management, so it pays to keep an eye on the below issues before they truly become ‘problems’, and know what you can do to address them.
Even though barking is an enjoyable, natural behaviour for dogs, persistent barking can be a common behavioural problem for many owners with backyard dogs. Constant barking can be due to boredom, frustration, anxiety, fear or sometimes overstimulation. Try increasing your dog's time outside the house with regular, scheduled walks. You can also increase enrichment at home by trying scatter feeding techniques or boredom buster toys like this.
Identifying the common triggers is useful, for example if barking is associated with being left alone, think about the cues/actions you take when leaving the house and work to desensitise your pup to these over time. Rewarding ‘quiet time’ when your dog would otherwise be barking the house down is another great approach.
Chewing the Wrong Things
Chewing is also normal behaviour for dogs and puppies. So make sure you provide your dog with appropriate chew toys, as it allows your pup to de-stress and relieve mild anxieties. When dogs chew excessively to relieve boredom or frustration, it can become a problem behaviour for us. Rotate toys regularly to ensure they retain some of their novelty, and if prone to chewing shoes or furniture, try restricting access, consistently train them into chew more appropriate things, and again, try to understand what’s driving their behaviour: they might be seeking more play-time or on the flip-side, be frustrated with something else going on.
Jumping Up on People
This is one of those behaviours that can be adorable as a puppy, but it can become annoying or even dangerous as a full grown dog. Especially around small children or elderly adults. So try to address this behaviour early. Asking your dog to sit and providing well timed rewards when they do - praise, treats, or the desired action e.g. opening the door – can help reinforce the correct, desirable behaviour. The key here is in the timing of the reward/treat and a consistent approach. If associated with greetings when you enter the house for example, give your dog the reward of your attention only when they are sat, and calm. Get everyone in the family in on the training and you will be on your way to success in no time.
Digging up the Backyard
As with barking, digging is a normal dog behaviour. However, when done excessively, digging can be a frustrating behavioural ‘problem’ for owners. Digging can be a sign of boredom or separation anxiety (many dogs will dig when left alone) or even nervousness. Digging can be addressed using some of the techniques described above, and trying to understand your dog’s motivation to dig. If it’s just a healthy habit, you could consider a sandpit/sandbox and burying treasured toys for your dog to direct their attention and energy.
Aggression in Dogs
Aggression isn't always a full-out attack, and can be subtle. It can be growling to get off the bed, guarding a food bowl, or pulling towards and snarling at other dogs while on walks. Regardless of the display, aggressive behaviour needs to be identified and addressed. Negative experiences may trigger aggressive behaviours, so look for any triggers which could be causing the behaviour in your dog. Understand that aggression can be play, competition or related to (usually food) seeking. Avoiding the triggers and positive reinforcement with treats, praise (or both) can be useful; however, aggressive tendencies need to be treated with specialist help. Contact your veterinary team for advice. They may recommend a detailed behavioural consult who will be able to assess and work with you and our dog.
As always, if you have concerns about your dog's health or behaviour, it is important to speak to your veterinary team. They can provide expert advice on behavioural issues and training and if warranted, can recommend medication. With the right support and a consistent approach, many issues seen as behavioural problems are manageable and can be rectified with minimal impact on you, your family, friends and neighbours.
Most importantly, let’s ensure that our dogs are comfortable in being themselves, and enjoying life to the full.