Most Common Dog Behavioural Problems

If you’re sick and tired of your dog barking and lunging and are completely at your wit’s end with your dog’s “embarrassing” behaviour in public, please bear in mind that your dog is not giving you a tough time; he is having a tough time. Let’s chat about the five most common dog behavioural problems and how to deal with them.

Fear-based aggression

Fear is the most common root cause of aggression in dogs. Ears held back, lip licking, cowering, tail tucked under, whites of the eyes exposed, barking to get away from the trigger are all signs of fearfulness in dogs.

Why does it happen?

Aggression in dogs is typically a combination of nature and nurture. Some dogs may have a genetic predisposition to developing fear-based aggression, while others learn it over time.

Aggression is usually a product of the dog being repeatedly denied the ‘Flight’ option. A dog will choose either Flight or Fight options in case of a conflict.

When faced with a trigger, your fearful dog will always give warning signs like avoidance, growling, exaggerated yawns, trembling, etc., to get away from it. Your dog will choose to fight when these warning signs are repeatedly overlooked, and he is forced to deal with the trigger. This fight comes out in the form of biting, attacking, lunging, etc.

How can you help?

Your aggressive dog needs way more than obedience training. They need a behaviour modification program that addresses the underlying root cause. The training and treatment plan for aggression will depend on the severity of it and the trigger that causes it.

Here are a few tips for dealing with an aggressive dog:

  • Control and manage your dog and their environment to the best of your ability, to not put your dog in situations that will force him to become aggressive
  • Never punish your dog for showing aggression — it will make the problem worse
  • Consult a professional behaviourist before things go out of hand

Separation anxiety

If you have a dog that gets agitated and severely anxious when you leave, your dog may have separation anxiety. These signs typically include excessive whining, panting, salivating, urinating and defecating out of distress, pacing, chewing paws or other body parts, etc.

Why does it happen?

There could be several reasons a dog could develop separation anxiety, like being abandoned in the past, being left alone repeatedly for several hours with nothing to do, no prior experience being alone.

The signs of separation anxiety can sometimes overlap with a medical condition or can be confused for plain old boredom, so it’s important to seek Veterinary advice to make sure you know what you’re dealing with

How can you help your dog cope?

Your dog might need counterconditioning and desensitising to tackle the distress of being left alone. This means you have to focus on changing their existing emotional response to being alone.

Keep the following tips in mind while dealing with separation anxiety:

  • Start small. Train your way up to several minutes of isolation
  • Leave your dog with interactive feeders and soothing chew toys for self-engagement
  • Do not make a big deal of leaving and returning, and don’t engage a whiny dog
  • Make sure your dog gets ample physical exercise and mental stimulation

Consider speaking to your vet about calming medication in case of severe anxiety.

Hemp seed oil may help manage mild anxiety symptoms and calm stressed dogs. Apart from having an ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, hemp seed oil is known to help regulate mood and sleep.

Read Clingy Dogs: is Your Dog a Velcro Dog? for more insights about separation anxiety.

Excessive barking and yapping

A dog yapping constantly can be annoying, especially when they are doing so to seek attention. However, your dog barking could also be a sign of underlying stress, anxiety, or a behavioural issue stemming from fear or frustration.

How can you help?

All barking cannot be tackled in a similar fashion. A dog barking for attention must be ignored, not to encourage the behaviour. However, ignoring your dog barking in the backyard at people and dogs passing by will only worsen the problem.

Before making a training plan, make sure to understand the root cause of it. Once that is done:

  • Control and manage the environment to avoid getting your dog face to face with the trigger
  • Counter condition and desensitise your dog by teaching them to associate the trigger with something positive like treats or play
  • Teach an alternate behaviour

Make sure to rule out medical issues. Dogs may also be very vocal due to pain.

If the root cause of your dog’s excessive barking is anxiety, consider hemp seed oil or CBD oil, aka hemp oil, for severe anxiety symptoms.

CBD oil affects the endocannabinoid receptors in your dog’s body, helping your pooch to calm down. All animals have a highly developed system of endocannabinoid receptors, and treating symptoms with a natural, plant-based solution such as CBD oil is increasingly popular with pet owners. CBD oil can also help regulate the production of serotonin, the happy hormone that can improve mood, social behaviour, sleep, and appetite.

For mild anxiety symptoms, consider hemp seed oil — also 100% natural product and from the same plant but from the seeds only. Hemp seed oil works in a different way to reduce anxiety — through a combination of effects of the anti-inflammatory actions of the fatty acids, the antioxidant actions of Vitamin E and the anti-depressant actions of phytosterols.

At BUDDYPET, we recommend Marley — 100% raw, cold-pressed hemp seed oil from Tasmania.

For more insights on excessive dog barking, read Tired of Yapping? How to Stop Nuisance Dog Barking.

Leash reactivity

Leash reactivity is one of pet parents’ major concerns today, especially in post-pandemic life.

Why does it happen?

A dog becomes leash reactive either out of fear of the trigger or out of frustration to reaching the trigger. The dog shows over-the-top behaviours like barking profusely, lunging and/or pulling to reach or get away from the trigger. This trigger could be other dogs, people, cars etc.

How can you help your leash-reactive dog?

While dealing with this nightmare of an issue, make sure to:

  • Understand if your dog is fearful or frustrated
  • Focus on proper leash training
  • Use the appropriate tools, like a good harness, head halter, Martingale Collar etc.
  • Practice redirection and focus training in low distractions with high-value treats
  • Never force your dog to interact with the trigger

Resource guarding

Resource guarding happens when your dog gets possessive over his resources like food, toys, and other household objects, so much so that he is willing to fight for them. The most common signs are refusal to let go of objects in the mouth, growling, snapping, and biting the hand that approaches the dog guarding the object and food aggression.

How can you gain your dog’s trust?

Ignoring warning signs and snatching things from your dog’s mouth is probably what led to this problem in the first place. Make sure to follow these steps to gain your possessive dog’s trust –

  • Teach your dog to respectfully ‘drop’ things and ‘leave them’, rewarding them for this behaviour
  • Work on patience and impulse control
  • Never try to snatch objects from your dog or corner him
  • Never put your hand into your dog’s food bowl
  • Consult a professional if you have a confident biter at home

Some common myths that need to be busted:

“Punish the aggression.”

Respectfully back off when your dog growls at you. By doing so, you will discourage the growl and prevent the bite.

“A tired dog is a happy dog.”

Not really. Exercise is crucial but not the whole solution to fear-based behavioural issues and anxiety — these require effort on your part to help your dog overcome the issues as well.

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Dr. Ailsa Rutherford

Dr. Ailsa Rutherford

Senior practicing veterinarian. Member of the Australia and New Zealand College of Veterinary Surgeons in Emergency. Head of Animal Health at Buddy Pet P/L.