'Bad' behaviour: dealing with your dog’s behaviour problems

Just like us, it’s easy for our dogs to pick up bad habits – something people may see as bad behaviour. Every dog is different, but with a bit of training and good socialisation all dogs can be well-behaved and good-mannered. We’ve put together some tips on dealing with your dog’s more mischievous side.

It goes without saying that a dog behaving ‘badly’ can make life difficult. No dog is perfect and we wouldn’t swap our four-legged friends for anything, but 76% of dog owners would like to change their dog’s behaviour according to our 2019 PAW report.

Thankfully, most of what we see as bad behaviour can be fixed with some positive training. Our dogs love spending time with us and given the right guidance will quickly learn the ‘good’ behaviours we want to see from them.


What do owners see as ‘bad’ behaviour?

Lab jumping up at stable door

Any breed can develop a behavioural issue, but according to our PAW report some of the most common issues are:

Some problems are a little more complex than others, but a lot can be dealt with a bit of training and guidance from your vet. If you can, it’s important to nip any unwanted behaviour in the bud ASAP. Even older dogs can learn with the right help!


Where to start?

If your dog’s behaviour suddenly changes, we’d always recommend a visit to you vet in case there’s a medical cause. Pain is a common cause of sudden behaviour changes in dogs. Once this has been ruled out, your vet can give you some advice and guidance on how you can help your dog.


Reward-based training

Jack Russell sitting looking up at owner

The first thing you should do is read up on positive training methods! They’re a lot more effective than punishing your dog (which can sometimes make their problem behaviour worse).

In a nutshell, reward-based training means rewarding the good behaviours your dog displays and ignoring or re-shaping the bad. For example, if your dog picks up one of your shoes for a nibble, ignore this but make sure you have a dog-friendly toy that is more exciting for them than the shoe. Once they drop the shoe in favour of the toy, make sure you give them lots of praise and play as a reward. 

Don't try to pull something your dog has picked up that they shouldn't have from their mouth. they can see thus as a tug-of-war game and are likely to hold on much tighter! 


Labrador in park with owner

Mostly, we find that dogs display unwanted behaviours because they’re actually frightened or not used to something. If you find that your dog barks when they see another dog, it could be that they’re feeling overwhelmed and this how they they let us know.

You can help your dog by slowly introducing your dog to new people, animals, places and experiences in a positive way. This will help them to be more confident in these situations.

Safe spaces and supervision

Dog asleep in crate

No matter how good we think they are, every dog will have their limits when things become a little too much. They need to be able to take themselves out of situations they are uncomfortable with. It’s a good idea to make sure your dog has their own space at home, where family members and guests know not to disturb them. This will give them an escape to help keep them calm and happy.

It’s also worth brushing up on your dog’s body language – they tell us a lot through this and a lot of situations can be prevented by recognising the signs. It’s important to always supervise your dog around children, no matter how good they seem with them. Teach children how to properly behave around dogs to help avoid any bad situations.

Need help?

Row of dogs at training class

Sadly, we can’t always fix everything with training at home. Some unwanted behaviours are a little more complicated so you might need some extra help.

1. Speak to your vet

You should always speak to your vet first – illness and pain can easily cause changes in our dog’s behaviour, so it’s important to have them checked over. Your vet will also be able to give you some advice and tips on helping your dog.

2. Go to a trainer

If you need some extra help training your dog, we’d recommend taking them to dog training classes or private sessions with an accredited trainer. You should always use an approved APDT trainer as their trainers use reward-based methods. Find a trainer in your area.

3. See a behaviourist

If your dog’s unwanted behaviour is more complex, your vet might refer you to an APBC accredited behaviourist. They’ll work with you and your dog to find the cause of the problem and put a training plan in place to help you both.


Before you go...

At PDSA, we work hard to make sure as many pets in need get the treatment they deserve. We treat over 200 pets every day who would otherwise go without. Just £3 could help us continue caring for animals in need across the UK - please consider donating today.

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