Dog behaviour: How to deal with behaviour problems

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 tackled and overcome.


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
  • barking
  • 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

You should take even a small problem with your dog’s behaviour 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 you 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.


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 16 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


Read our guide to puppy socialisation.


Reward-based training

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 dog may have a short attention span, especially at the start! Keep training sessions to fifteen minutes or even less.

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.


Read our guide to reward-based training.


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.

Small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs should never be left alone with dogs no matter how long they’ve known each other.


* 2018 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report


Puppy socialisation

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Reward based training

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PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report

Find out the state of pet ownership and care in the UK with PDSA's latest PAW report.

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