Problem Behaviours or Behaviour Problems?

Problem Behaviours or Behaviour Problems?

Any natural behaviour that a dog exhibits can become a problem behaviour if it is left unchecked or becomes destructive. In more extreme cases, these can escalate into behaviour problems which require much more training and sometimes professional help. It is important to know that many behaviour problems stem from anxiety or stress, so ensuring that your puppy is allowed to exhibit their preferred play/prey type and that you monitor their social cues not only out and about but also around the house can help prevent these from escalating too far too quickly. Below are listed some of the more common problem behaviours and behaviour problems as well as some of the strategies that you can use to prevent or minimise them.

Chewing
Another natural behaviour that can quickly become a behaviour problem if your dog becomes destructive. As we previously discussed, those dogs that NEED to chew and are not provided with an outlet are more likely to tend to this destruction. But there are other common triggers for dogs to start chewing:
• Puppy teething
• Boredom/Excess energy
• Anxiety
• Curiosity (especially puppies)

Encourage your puppy to chew the right things by providing plenty of toys and rotating through them to prevent boredom. Always remember that your puppy won’t be able to chew your personal items if you keep them away from your puppy. When you are not home, keep your dog crated or confined to an area where less destruction can be caused. If you do catch your puppy chewing the wrong thing, correct them with your Negative Marker and use the ‘Leave It’, “Drop It’, or ‘Give’ commands to stop them. Replace the item with a chew toy or something else appropriate to chew on.

Digging
Most dogs will do some amount of digging, its just instinct. And as we discussed last week, there are some dogs that just NEED to dig. Some breeds like Terriers are more prone to digging because of their hunting histories. In general, the most common reasons dogs will dig are as follows:
• Boredom/Excess energy
• Anxiety or fear
• Hunting instinct
• Comfort-seeking (such as nesting or trying to cool off)
• Hiding possessions (like bones or toys)
• To escape or gain access to an off-limits area.

As with most other problem behaviours, determining the cause of the digging and working at eliminating the source will be the key. Otherwise, providing an appropriate space to dig and training them to use that space will help save your garden.

Separation Anxiety
This is one of the most commonly discussed Behaviour Problems and it can manifest itself in any or all of the other problem behaviours! If your dog is exhibiting any problems behaviours, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have Separation Anxiety. True signs of Separation Anxiety include:
• Your dog starts to become anxious when you are preparing to leave home.
• Problem behaviours happen in the first 15-45 minutes after you have left.
• When you are home, your dog follows you around constantly
• Dog tries to be touching the owner whenever possible and begins to show signs of anxiety if this is prevented.

True separation anxiety requires dedicated training, behaviour modification and desensitisation exercises. In some extreme cases it can be caused by an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain and may require medications. Ensuring that you always give your puppy some ‘alone time’ and encourage their independence can help to prevent this.

Barking
Most dogs will vocalise to some degree, but excessive barking is considered a behaviour problem. Brisbane City Council considers excessive barking to be any more than six minutes in any hour between 7am and 10pm or any THREE minutes in any half hour period between 10pm and 7am. When you think about, that’s not a very long period of time.Before you can correct barking, you need to figure out why your dog is vocalising in the first place. Some of the more common types of barking are:
• Warning or alert• Playfulness/Excitement• Attention-seeking• Anxiety• Boredom• Responding to other dogs

Removing as many of these triggers as you can will be the key to controlling excessive barking. Another thing to try is teaching the Bark/Quiet commands as outlined below. Knowing what is going to trigger your dog to bark and also knowing the signs that they are about to bark will help immensely with training.

Teaching QUIET
Either do this training passively every time that your dog is starting to show the signs that they are about to bark or create a situation that you know will cause your dog to bark. An easy way to have a friend/family member knock at the door or to get them very excited during play.
When your dog barks, briefly acknowledge it by checking for the stimulus (looking out the window or going to your dog) – don’t verbalise anything during this process. Then get their attention by holding up a treat or a toy.Only give your dog the treat or toy when they have stopped barking.
Repeat these steps, but gradually increase the amount of time between your dog stopping barking and them getting the treat.
Choose one simple word for the command. As with all commands it should be easy to remember and should be used consistently by everyone in the house. Examples are QUIET, ENOUGH, SHUSH or HUSH.
Once your dog has remained quiet a few times, add in the cue. While your dog is barking, give your quiet command in a firm but upbeat voice while holding up the reward. Give your dog the reward when the barking stops.
Practice this cue frequently. You can do it anytime that your dog is barking but keep training sessions brief.

Teaching SPEAK

Again, choose a simple one-word command for a bark. Examples are SPEAK, BARK and TALK. This should not sound too much like another verbal command or too much like your dog’s name.
Once again, get your dog to bark naturally. As your dog barks, say your cue word in a clear, upbeat but firm voice.
Praise your dog and give a reward (treat or toy).Repeat the speak command process several times until your dog seems to understand.
Once your dog learns SPEAK and QUIET separately, you can use them together. Have your dog SPEAK a few times then tell them to QUIET.

Inappropriate Urinating/defecating
This is different to a puppy that is not fully house-trained and revolves around a dog consistently eliminating in an inappropriate space despite being fully toilet trained and having ample opportunity to eliminate in an appropriate area. It should be noted that there are several health problems that can lead to this behaviour, so it is important that you discuss this behaviour with your veterinarian FIRST to rule out any health problems.

If no medical cause is found, try to determine the reason for the behaviour. Following are some of the more common reasons:
• Submissive/excitement urination
• Territorial marking
• Anxiety
• Attention-seeking
• Lack of proper toilet training.
Many dogs require serious behaviour modification to rid them of the habit because you often have to completely retrain them and alter their perception of themselves.

Begging
Begging is a bad habit, but many dog owners do not see it as such and actually encourage it. Dogs beg because they love food, however table scraps are not treats, and FOOD IS NOT LOVE! In fact, having regular table scraps can often lead to digestive problems and obesity which can lead to a lot more problems. Those longing looks are hard to resist but giving in “just this once” creates bigger problems in the long run. Teaching your dog that begging is permitted sends them the wrong message.

Before you sit down to eat, tell your dog to go their mat/bed/crate which should preferably be in a place where they will not be able to stare at you. If necessary, confine them to another room. If they behave, give them a special treat – this should only be given once you and your family have completely finished eating.

Chasing
A dog’s desire to chasing moving objects is simply a display of predatory instinct and centuries of training. Many dogs will chase other animals, people and cars, all of which can lead to some pretty devastating and dangerous outcomes! While you often can’t stop your dog from trying to chase, you can take steps to prevent disaster. Your best chance at success is to keep the case from getting out of control. Providing dedicated training over the course of your dog’s life will teach them to focus on YOU before running off.
• Keep your dog on a leash at all times, unless in a dedicated off-leash area. It is important to note that this is a law in Queensland and can lead you with a big fine if you don’t comply.
• Train your dog to come when called and have excellent recall
• Have a dog whistle or other noisemaker on hand to get your dog’s attention.
• Always stay aware and watch for potential triggers like runners and bikes.

Jumping up
This is another natural behaviour for dogs as puppies will jump up to reach and greet their mothers. However, when they begin to jump up to greet people, they can also start to jump up to exert dominance. A jumping dog can be annoying and even dangerous if they are a big dog jumping on children especially.
Make sure you are continuing your training to teach your puppy how to be settled when meeting new people to help prevent this.

Biting
Dogs bit for reasons that can be traced back to instinct and pack mentality. Puppies bite and nip other dogs in their pack as a way to learn their place and to explore their environment. Owners much show their puppies that biting is not acceptable by using the techniques we went through earlier in the course.

Beyond puppy behaviour, the motivation to bite or snap comes from the following:
• Fear or defensiveness
• Protection of property
• Pain or sickness
• Dominance assertion
• Predatory instinct
It should be noted that ANY breed of dog can have a tendency to bite. Proper training and socialisation are essential to decreasing the tendency in your own dog.

Aggression
True aggression is shown by growling, snarling, showing teeth, lunging and biting. It is important to note that similar to biting, ANY dog has the potential to become aggressive regardless of their breed or history. The reasons for aggression are essentially the same as for biting, but overall canine aggression is a much more serious problem.

As we discussed in week 1, aggression does not emerge overnight. There will be subtle social cues and body language clues that your dog will start to exhibit. Often aggression comes from anxiety, however it may also stem from a health problem. As such, your first step should always be to consult your veterinarian.