Dog behaviour: How to deal with behaviour problems
Every dog’s behaviour is likely to be different depending on their training, but sometimes our dogs can pick up bad habits and what we see as bad behaviour.
No-one wants their dog to develop problems with their behaviour. It can make life more difficult for both you and your dog. It's important to understand that your dog is not acting out or behaving badly: they usually have problem behaviour because they don't understand what is appropriate, or because they are afraid.
According to our 2018 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report*, a whopping 78% of dog owners said they would like to change at least one behaviour shown by their dog. Thankfully, most problem behaviours can be trained away.
Which dogs can develop behaviour problems?
Any dog of any breed can develop a behavioural issue, such as:
- jumping up at strangers
- pulling on the lead
- destroying things in your home
- acting aggressively towards other dogs or people
- being afraid of fireworks.
Some of these problems are more serious than others. Many simple problem behaviours can be addressed with the help of your vet and some simple training. If you are looking for a dog trainer, look for one who uses proven and positive methods and is accredited, for example with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).
Dogs with more serious behaviour problems need to see an accredited behaviourist – someone specialised in dealing with behaviour problems in dogs. Anyone can claim to be a behaviourist so it’s important to look for someone who uses positive training methods and is accredited, for example, with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC).
What to do if your dog has a behaviour problem
Even small problems with your dog's behaviour should be taken seriously. The sooner you address an issue, the better chance you’ll have of working with your dog to correct it. This is especially important if you dog shows any signs of aggression, like growling, snarling or snapping.
Here are our vets’ top tips for tackling problem behaviours in dogs:
- Speak to your vet. The first thing to do is to take your dog to the vet. They’ll check your dog over for any signs of illness or injury that could be the root cause of their behaviour. Pain and illness can change your dog’s behaviour, just like in humans.
- See a behaviourist. If your dog is given a clean bill of health, your vet may refer you to an APBC accredited behaviourist. The behaviourist will work with you and your dog to find out what’s causing the problem and to put together a training plan to help solve the issue.
- Follow the plan. Once the behaviourist has found the cause of your dog’s problem, they’ll recommend a behavioural modification plan for you to follow. This will help get your dog back on the right track. This might involve a mix of socialisation, reward-based training and other techniques.
We would always recommend going to an accredited behaviourist if you are having trouble with your dog's behaviour. You can search for an APBC accredited behaviourist online.
If you need help training your dog. We'd recommend finding an approved APDT trainer in your area. You can search for a dog trainer near you online.
Other things you can do to help your dog
Most dogs that show signs of aggression are actually frightened. When they feel overwhelmed they can lash out.
You can help your dog using ‘socialisation’. This involves carefully introducing your dog to new people, animals, places and experiences in a positive and gentle way. It can help dogs become more confident in strange situations.
Socialising your puppy will give them the best start in life. Their ‘socialisation period’ – where they easily accept new experiences or things – is from birth to 14 weeks old. After this, they can be more wary of new experiences. However, controlled socialisation can help dogs of any age.
It’s important to take things at your dog’s pace and stop before they get overwhelmed, especially if they’re an adult
Punishing a dog for bad behaviour makes the situation worse. It will confuse your dog and can make them anxious. Instead, it’s much better to reward the good behaviours and ignore or re-shape the bad. This is called ‘reward-based training’.
Reward-based training is also a great way to bond with your dog. Training can start with simple commands such as “come”, “sit” and “leave”. Remember, your puppy or dog may have a short attention span, especially at the start! Five minutes training everyday rather than longer training sessions a couple of days a week are better as dogs respond well to repetitive training. But if you only have the option of intermittent training sessions, keep them to a maximum of fifteen minutes initially. You can build on this as you progress through your training.
You can also take your dog to training classes. This is a great way to get them used to other dogs and people in a safe, friendly environment. Check your trainer has been accredited by the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) and make sure the training class only using kind, reward-based training methods.
Safe spaces and supervision
If your dog is unpredictable around strangers it’s a good idea to have a comfortable area or room they can be secured in if you have a visitor or delivery. Make sure the area is safe for them to be in alone. This will help you and your dog feel calmer when someone unfamiliar comes to the door.
No matter how well trained your dog is, young children should never be left alone with them. Teaching youngsters how to act around dogs and how to read their body language is a great way to help both stay safe. As children grow older, they can take more responsibility for the care of your dog but make sure they are ready for the challenge.
Remember that dogs are dogs! No matter how cute they are or how much you feel that you can trust them, they have a cut-off point too, where they’ll take no more! So, remember that your pet gets fed up of too much attention too. This is worth keeping in mind when they are around young children or people who aren’t sure of how they should behave around a dog. As their human, it’s your duty to protect them by making sure they are well trained and have good manners, but also to protect them from situations that could cause potential problems.
Small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs should never be left alone with dogs no matter how long they’ve known each other, again dogs will be dogs!
* 2018 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report